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Category: Travel

JaDa – Day 14

The trip postponed from yesterday was realised today, and it was a complete success. One of the main agendas of the day was to figure out where to get some worthy souvenirs to take home. In that respect, it was a success; also in terms of food, for Divya and Saikat. Reaching Kyoto city, our morning blues were wiped off by the crowd. After all the lamenting of not seeing enough people around, a Sunday morning in Kyoto station was more than what we anticipated. People filling up every nook and cranny of the station, we lost each other for a brief moment in the rush. The meticulous queues and discipline hold true only as long as you are not running late; even in Japan. The well-mannered crowd suddenly shed skin and ran around in frenzy. But as you move out of the station, the order and discipline falls back in place. We stood in a 30+ people long queue, to get into a bus to Shijo Kawaramachi; meticulously. A queue for a bus, really! Reaching the shopping street at Shijo-dori, we needed no map. We walked as the mind desired. Picking up random stuff, we immersed ourselves in the street shopping ‘exercise’. It was tiring and I didn’t want to shop anymore. But each store had something new to gain our attention, I gave in to my curiosity; shop after shop. Somewhere then, we entered Nishiki market. And it was a relief to me, as I had nothing to buy there. The famous food street of Kyoto wasn’t famous for their vegetarian delicacies, obviously.

As the two of them treated themselves almost at every shop to all the ‘crazy food’ possible, I remained awestruck. All that said, I found an amazing burnt caramel ice cream in a cone, delicious honey lime and a filling potato cheese ball for myself. That, and some dry fruits are pretty much the entire vegetarian option in the entire street! Strawberries and cotton candy are add-ons.

The most ‘adventurous’ we got in this otherwise normal trip was when Divya wanted to go to a particular shop for a particular thing! Trust me, it was shopping and it was boring. The only thing that kept me driving through the entire day was the curiosity to find something ‘Japanese cool’. Connecting to the ‘Kyoto free Wifi’ was also cool; the whole city had Internet! Navigating was not a problem, and we found the shop, bought the stuff and started back to the station. What else did I see? A ‘cat cafe’! A place where you sit and drink your coffee as cats ‘purrrr’ around! And people find it cool?!

It was a long day, and we had completely drained ourselves out already, by hardly 6 in the evening. We headed to the nearest bus stop. I have heard of ‘pushers’ in Japan, who stuff people into busy trains. Almost saw one at a bus back to Kyoto station from the busy streets of Shijo. He wasn’t pushing anyone, but was pretty much yelling at people to make some space for people boarding the bus. That’s the loudest I have heard a Japanese speak here. He reminded me of a typical bus conductor back in Kerala, yelling “Angottu keri nikkanam chetta. Football kalikkanulla sthalamundallo akathu!” (roughly translates to the same what I think the Japanese ‘pusher’ was trying to say). In no time, we boarded a train and reached Minami Kusatsu, and soon, i-house. With a long list of people for whom I wanted to buy something special, it was not even half the list and I was already bored of shopping! Is Amazon Japan a smart alternative? *deeply in thought*

JaDa – Day 13

A Saturday morning with a drowsy head is so bad! I didn’t go for a walk, I didn’t even get up on time. We had made plans to go out. Nothing felt good! But there’s always food to compensate! Made food, and more food, and succumbed to my cravings. Watching a movie, reading a book (first time after coming to Japan) and sipping on hot coffee, I missed people and the merriment. But again, such time and space are what makes you you! It was a quiet evening for some loud retrospection!

JaDa – Day 12

Ever since I have got here, a morning walk has been always on my mind. And it took 12 whole days to pull myself and go for a walk.  Whether or not I get healthy physically, it’s a soothing experience for the mind, to walk by the serene landscape in the chilly mornings. I plan to go for a walk every day, if only if I could be more stable with my sleeping patterns! Talking to mom in the morning is kinda helping to sort that out. I really wish this one habit stays with me, even beyond the Japan Days!

JaDa – Day 11

Soba Noodles is something Japan is famous for. But when Divya asked me to join her and her lab mates – Tadamori and Takato, I wasn’t very excited. One, it’s definitely not vegetarian, and I was too lazy to walk all the way. Yet, Divya bought me in enticing me with an awesome blog story. And trust me, that was completely worth it! With Tadamori and Takato, it was a fun trip to Soba House – a ten minutes walk from the campus. I went exclusively to explore the ambience at a Japanese restaurant, and see the Soba charm. Also was in my agenda to make fun of Divya using the chopsticks. Thanks to her, I got ample opportunities! Finally she gave up and asked for a fork and spoon. Don’t know what was more funny – she struggling with the fork or being a called ‘baby’ by Tadamori. Apparently, only Japanese babies use fork and spoon! It was my longest conversation with the natives, hence all the more exciting. I almost got the hang of dropping the prepositions while talking, and paced down myself significantly. In return, I got my name written in a chopstick set and Japanese numbers. All these days, Divya and me thought that price was not printed in packed food here. Today we realised that Arabic numerals are too mainstream for Japan, and hence they use their own numbers! We hoped to at least know the price without Google Translate until we dug the absolute truth out! To write 11 in Japanese numerals, knowing to write ‘1’ and another ‘1’ isn’t enough. It’s a whole different number! Each number isn’t made up of digits 0-9, but with an altogether different symbol. I am more thankful than ever to Google sensei and it’s Translate!

Around Soba house, we saw a 7 Eleven and a Star Bazar. Later in the evening, Divya and me again went to the place to buy some grocery. The thing about stores here is that it gives me a promise of survival every time. I saw more vegetables, more frozen vegetarian options, and even saw a cup noodles with just tomatoes and chillies! Department stores are my temples here. Every time I walk in, I am filled with inner peace and a hope of living through the next three months!

P. S. In Tadamori’s words, Google is sensei (teacher) since it teaches a lot!

JaDa – Day 10

For some days now, I have been tracking my ‘extensive exercise’ on RunKeeper. I was pretty sure I am exerting myself a lot and burning loads of calories. But when I turn to the app, it shows 0.58 km walked, 70 calories burnt at a pace of 20 min/km; and I am still panting for breath! What the fudge is that now! I’m surviving on minimal food, slogging like a dog (or, so I think) carrying myself up and down the hill, but it’s almost like none of it counts. I am still gonna be the same Humpty Dumpty forever! That doesn’t concern me as much my efforts going in vain; maybe I should just finish the packets of donuts now!

Things weren’t going great with people at lab. They are pretty friendly, but language was a huge barrier to cross. So I tried translating English to Japanese on Google and that worked like a charm! In less than a minute, I had a conversation started, wondered why they are not on Facebook, talked about LinkedIn, and befriended them on Line! And I thought not speaking Hindi was a huge setback! The one thing about this whole scene of international education is the small things like these. It gives you a greater perspective, and helps you to let go of the trivial things from the past.

JaDa – Day 9

Shiru Cafe has come in so useful now, not just because it’s free but also because that’s probably the only place where I can sit down and be sure of the food they serve. It’s just coffee and some confectionery/bakery. With amazing open air ambience! It takes you sufficiently away from the hustle (hardly any) of the campus, but still makes you feel connected to the place.

That was not all for the day. Ms. Kshipra from India had come down to the university as part of a cross-cultural seminar. It was nice to meet her, though it was brief and short. It was like someone from home finally came to check on you! I specifically loved the bit where she asked, ‘How are you holding up, vegetarian?’. For the one single conversation that we had back in India, that was too much detail to remember! Unexpected people make you feel good at unexpected times!

JaDa – Day 8

Great things come free! So does coffee. Today was about discovering how Shiru Cafe gives college students free coffee in the campus. We have known about it before, but I didn’t put in enough efforts to see how things work. Today, since Divya was keen too, we both went through the process and got our free coffee. As if that wasn’t exciting enough, we decided to go out on this crazy trip Gyomo Super – a store nearby famous for vegetables and Indian-like spices. Hopping into a bus, we did the first step correctly. We got the slip that had the boarding stop number. In both our interest, I’d rather not detail the rest of the eventful journey. But to sum it up, had it happened back in my city in Kerala, I could have updated my vocabulary on the local slang for delaying a bus full of people. But this is Japan. So none of that happened, instead we were offered help to get out of the confusion we created. Navigating with the map, we reached Gyomo and to my happiness, I found more vegetables and vegetarian food items than what I expected. The walk home was refreshing, though we were tired by the time we reached back. We should probably walk more. Or maybe get a bicycle?

Ritsumeikan Campus – BKC

P.S. Last night, the taxi we took was somewhere near Gyomo only. The distance I happily walked today, was impossible for me yesterday!

JaDa – Day 7

The first Sunday – one week of Japan! And it was Vishu too. Nevertheless, I slept through the day and woke up when it was breakfast time in India. My inner clock still ticks by IST, after all! With my cooking experiments, ample sleep, and a lot of time to oneself, today’s what I’d call a perfect Sunday! The day ends as I plan for a fruitful Monday morning at work.

JaDa – Day 6

Day 6 was indeed a day in Japan. We finally set out for a trip, except that it was less planned than what we wanted it to be. With a faint little hope of seeing a glimpse of the cherry blossoms, we started to Hikone. Boarding a bus in Kyoto, getting into the right train, asking for directions, and finally reaching the place only to see there’s no blossoms whatsoever – each of them was an experience in itself! Travelling with not family, not friends that you have known for a long – that was an experience too. You don’t realise what’s the best way to deal most things and it’s always by the time you figure that out. My day out with Saikat and Divya wasn’t bad. But it gave me an insight on how different we all are as individuals, but yet stick together in the common situation. That’s something life teaches you, as it evolves. More often than less, we do not need friends, love or family – we only need people. We need companions who just stay through and make life easier and happy. After a long day at the castle and museum, we walked back to the railway station. On our way back, we picked up some ‘Sakura specials’ – a special edition Coke bottle, a cherry blossom sweet and some sakura! The bottle looks cute, the sweet tasted like a normal Mochi (a traditional Japanese sweet – rice cake with red bean paste filling) in cherry blossom hue, and the petals are precious! Somewhere then, it started drizzling too.

Once we reached Minami Kusatsu, we explored the place and found a KFC! To my relief, a place that serves French fries finally! Adding KFC to our bucket list, we walked into Seiyu Store, ‘only’ to buy some butter, though we ended up buying a lot more than we could carry. Japan has turned us into shopaholics; but all we buy is food, food and more food! To add more flavour to the day, we also planned to drop by Raju – an Indian restaurant. Though a bit on the expensive side, I finally found some vegetarian food that looked familiar and trustworthy. I loved the food, not sure if the other two did though. But that’s okay – they have many options, this is my only! Now that Raju turned to be a Bengali, Saikat had a new found friend too. Things were good so far, until we had to catch a bus back to BKC. It was just 9.40 in the night, and we didn’t quite expect the mishap of not getting a bus. We weren’t sure if walking all the way was a smart choice; we had no choice after all. As we walked in the drizzly shivering cold night, I could see my death somewhere in that dark road. Saikat was cursing, I was praying and Divya was enjoying it both. As it turned out, God heard one of it and send a taxi by our way. With new found energy, we ran to it, hopped in and came back home. Wonder if it were the curses or the prayers that were answered!

JaDa – Day 5

I went to the college without Divya. I knew our schedules won’t match for long, but this was too soon. To make the walk interesting, I timed myself. It takes two minutes from the room to the ‘hundred steps’, another two to climb, and one minute to descend. In five minutes, I was on the other side of the hill and that felt very promising. I can really do it for the next three months! I still reached 5 minutes late than planned, at the lab. A lab mate who promised yesterday to wait for me, was still waiting patiently. Together, we walked to the other end of the huge campus. I still wonder why their buildings are so far away. To the unhealthy kid in me, that was more than acceptable levels of morning walk! Walking in to the seminar hall, I was still skeptical if I were really expected to be present there. Obviously, their presentations were all going to be in Japanese, I would just stare blank. Nevertheless, I sat down for the entire session. The most unexpected thing happened then, in the middle of the presentation, as the professor got up to discuss the concept with the presenter. After the discussion, professor turned to me and began to explain the crux of the presentation in English. In a class of 20+ students, he doing that entirely for my benefit was very moving. After all, I wasn’t part of the class and was just a newbie there. After the presentation, things got a bit awkward when lunch was brought. Students picked up food packets and indulged themselves. Being a vegetarian here is difficult; even more difficult is to make people understand that it’s possible to survive without meat and fish! I somehow conveyed the message and politely declined the food. Sensing my confusion or not, I was told that I may leave as things were done for the day.

With half a day at hand, I went over to the BKC International Centre inside the campus, with Divya. The place is aimed to help international students to interact with each other and feel comfortable. The hot chocolate felt good there 🙂 To get more comfortable, we headed back to the dormitory. And got really comfortable with a calm settling mood. The evening got more relaxing and rejuvenating as we took a walk to ‘Friend’s Mart’ again. There’s more to that place than the store. Walking by them, it reminded me of the buildings in Fort Kochi – pretty and small.

I miss home, but it feels familiar here too. Its mixed emotions!