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January 17, 2008

One day in the land of the rising sun

I know I owe my occasional readers a taste of my life in Japan. So, here is a description of one of my non-typical days spent here.

It was Monday, the 14th. Well, there is nothing special in the date. What’s special is that it was a holiday for my husband and he could take me out sight-seeing to Yokohama. The plan was to go on Sunday, but I was too lazy to get up in the morning for the purpose of sight-seeing. It sounded like the worst idea ever when my husband tried pulling me out of the bed. I promised him and myself that I will make it on Monday, and so I did.

We stay near the Hirama railway station. Hirama is a place in Kawasaki and falls on the Nambu line of the Japan railways. In order to go to Yokohama, we were supposed to take a train from Kawasaki. You can compare these two stations to the Whitefield and Bangalore City railway stations respectively.

We reach the Kawasaki station and head towards the Keihin-Tōhoku line platform. My husband had told me that it would take an hour an a half to make it to our destination from Hirama. I am, therefore, surprised, pleasantly, to discover that Yokohama is the next stop after Kawasaki in the train we have boarded. We get down at Yokohama and look for any sign that will give us an idea of how far the sight-seeing spots are. It comes as a flash of light to my husband that when he came here last, he had not come to Yokohama but had landed somewhere else. He suggests we take the train again and get down at the station after Yokohama. So, a few minutes later, we are back in a train heading to an unknown station we are supposed to get down at. He tries to shake his memory and reads the station names on a board inside the train. Fortunately, sometimes, you do get to read something in English here. However, these moments are very rare.

My husband thinks that the last time he came sight-seeing he had got down at a place called Ofuna. Meanwhile, I wonder if we are supposed to get down at a place three or four stops away from Yokohama, it cannot be Yokohama we are going to. The previous night, we had researched on the spots in Yokohama and made a list. I am now determined to verify with my list if we are even going to Yokohama.

We get down at Ofuna, and get lost again. We talk to the guy at the ticket counter but it doesn’t help much. Both he and we can understand only the names of the places in the conversation, nothing else. In our country, we need English to unite the diverse backgrounds, I guess. In this country, unfortunately for us, they have one language. And, it is not English.

My husband decides to call up his colleague to ask for directions when he realizes his mobile’s battery has run out. I keep my fingers crossed and ask him if he remembers his colleague’s number; in that case, we could call from a public phone. Thankfully, he does remember it and we spot a phone then and there. A few coins later, my husband tells me that they had taken a different route last time and his colleague has suggested that we go to Yokohama and contact the information centre there. I am completely exhausted by this time, not because of the travel, but because I am hungry. I sit on a platform bench to enjoy my cheese and corn bun, while my benchmate digs into his big Mac. My husband decides that he will eat once we reach our destination.

A little later, we are back in Yokohama via the Tokaido line. By this time, we are running at the station. We cannot afford to lose time. We have already lost an hour from the time we last came to the Yokohama station. We reach something called the Customer Service room. We check with the guy and he gives us directions to the Information Centre. We ask him which station we need to get down at to reach China Town. China Town is one of the sight-seeing spots I am not looking forward to. He tells us we should get down at Ichikawago which is three stops away, and that we should board a Negishi line train. We reach the Information Centre and manage a guide map, in English, to all the tourist spots in Yokomaha. Browsing through the map, I realize that all these spots stretch over a big area and three railway stations cover it. After perusing through the map, we decide to go to Ichikawago and rush to the Negishi line platform. We board a train, finally, to reach our destination, or so we thought. The next station comes, and people rush out, out of the train. I notice a couple standing opposite to us, on the platform. I find them giggling, and they seem to be looking at us. I notice our surrounding and figure out the oddity. We are the only passengers left in the train. Apparently, this is the terminus for this train. We come out of the train, completely irritated. We go out of the platform and ask a security man. We are told that we should go back to where we came from. Oh no, not to India, but back to the Negishi line platform. We figure out that there must be another train that will take us to our destination. However, we crib as no one told us we had to change trains at Sakuragicho!

Some cribbing later, we are at our destination station. As we walk hand-in-hand towards the China Town entry, I wonder if it is going to be worth the trouble. I take a couple of pamphlets as they are handed to me by pretty Chinese girls. I am not too sure if they are Chinese or Japanese. I feel bad that I am unable to notice the difference yet. I do not even notice the similarity. What I do notice is that I cannot remember a face in the tens or hundreds I see everyday.

I walk past rows and rows of small shops, selling everything from food items to clothes, from souvenirs to better future. There are a lot of palmist shops here. Palmists sit in rows on the pavement with a seat in front of each, and a ‘helper’ woos potential customers walking past. I am tempted to sit in one of those seats when my husband calms me down saying that they will predict my future for sure, but in Chinese or Japanese. It makes me more determined to join the Japanese classes I have been planning to.

We keep walking and I tell my husband, “I hope there is something worth seeing up ahead.” My husband looks at me and says, “This is the China Town. You are not looking around enough.” He further adds, “This is like the MG Road of Bangalore.” Yes, it is, but less crowded, less noisy, and more colourful.

We walk past the stores that glitter with something unusual but familiar. I look at the dresses on display and wonder if any will fit me. After twenty minutes of walking, I ask my husband if we can leave this spot and go to the next. China Town isn’t where my heart is. My husband takes me inside a two-storey shop and asks me to buy something. I know this is rare; it doesn’t happen to everyone. Unfortunately, it happens to the ones who don’t appreciate it, like me. I have never been interested in shopping, so I decline this offer and wait for the next. There is none. Instead of making another proposition, he takes the stairs to the second floor. I follow him, to discover a Chinese food court. I am delighted because I am extremely hungry. I know I can handle Chinese food better than Japanese. It took me a minute to realize there couldn’t be any vegetarian fare available; after all, we were in the land of fish and meat. Land of the rising sun? They should call it the land of the flesh – all sorts!

After talking in sign-language for five minutes, my husband orders a dish of egg fried rice for me. I am so glad I am an eggiterian. It would have been so difficult to survive here otherwise. Well, I am actually not surviving here with the local food. I survive with the self-cooked food and I indulge in it to an extent I am surprised I like my cooking that much! After a stomach-full, we go shopping for Chinese souvenirs in the Japanese land. In a few moments, we realize it doesn’t make sense and head towards our next destination, the amusement park, CosmoWorld.

We keep walking with the map in our hands and reach the port first. The port is called the Hashimata port. It has a lovely view. Though you cannot touch the water there, you can sense it with your eyes, ears and nose. My three senses awaken as I reach the port. I see a man and his daughter (not Japanese) feeding pigeons off their hands. As I wonder on the possibility of I doing it, I notice a noise and crowd disperse a few meters away. Evidently, there is some street show that has just got over and the street actor/magician/performer is thanking his audience. I want to see it, and look at the performer expectantly, waiting for his next performance. He, however, has no intention of starting it anytime soon. My husband tells me that this port is famous for the clarity of its water and that one could see the sea bed through the water. Looking forward to the spectacular sight, I peep down the railing into the water, to see a sea of plastic, boxes and other garbage floating on the water. This is so unlike Japan. This country is a spic and span country. You can go out in your best whites in the rains and come back dazzling. As I look away from the water to laugh at my husband, I also feel sad and disappointed. He assures me that we can see the clear water at the other end. We walk alongside the port railing in our search for clear water. I see the benches around the port, next to trees and want to sit down. My husband assures me that we can sit at the other side of the port after we have seen the sea bed through the clear water. As we walk along the railing, we notice that the water is clear so much so that we can see the pebbles, stones and small creatures clearly. It was a good sight. Encouraged, we keep walking along the railing until we hit the end; we are still away from the other end but we do not have to go anymore. We sight a café and get some hot coffee. Outside, near the port, we sit on a table and enjoy the coffee with the delicious cake we have carried from Hirama. There are pigeons and doves around. They do not fly away when they see humans coming. It is we who are making way for them. The doves are healthy and look lovely. This is the first time I am seeing doves. The pigeons remind me of the several pigeons that used to reside on the first floor of my neighbours’ house in Dhanbad. Pigeons remind me of my childhood. That smell and that sound are reminiscent of some happy days.

The hot coffee in the windy, chilly weather makes us feel great and we get up for our next destination. In a few minutes, we reach CosmoWorld. The lady at the ticket counter cannot speak English and she does not have an English guide map for us. We take tickets to Diving Car and Haunted House. I do not want to go to Haunted House for I don’t enjoy it much. Signs of a coward? Well, I can watch a horror movie alone or take a stroll out at midnight, but I don’t like creepy hands touching my shoulder, objects falling on my head, a head rotating itself in mid air and dwarf ghosts chasing me. I try to convince my husband about dropping the idea of going to Haunted House. He checks with the lady at the counter and finds out that he could use it at any other place in CosmoWorld whose ticket costs the same. While we wait in the queue of the Diving Car ride, I notice the car swirling in the air on tracks, then diving into a cave in the water, emerging out of it to give its passengers some more swirls. When our turn comes, I get into the car, excited. I shout at every high and scream at every low. Inspite of closing my eyes at the moment of diving into the cave in the water, I feel the darkness. I come out of the ride, happy.

We look for another ride or show for the same price as the Haunted House ticket and find three: Story of the Labyrinth – Key to the Heart, Fortune Teller, Shooting and Kaleidoscope. We know the fortune teller will not speak English and we are yet to learn Japanese. We are not interested in shooting. Story of the Labyrinth seemed interesting but because of the lack of ‘English-support’, as one our Indian acquaintances puts it, we drop the idea. We walk into the Kaleidoscope tent and think that this is going to be a sheer waste of money. We are handed over two pamphlets with our respective zodiac signs. We are supposed to get these stamped inside. Thankfully, the three girls at this counter provide the much needed ‘English-support’. We walk in and realize we are in a lane with similar looking tiles at our feet and glass walls beside. We keep walking and both of us hit the wall. Yes, it was a glass wall and it was at an angle that did not show our reflection, instead appeared as a door-less entry. In a couple of minutes, we realize we are in a maze and we cannot even figure out where the next exit is. After a round of bhool bhulaiya, we reach a machine. We are supposed to get our pamphlets stamped here. We stamp it and then look for the exit again. While we are enjoying our maze, I wonder why this is called the Kaleidoscope. When we think we have ended our little game and move up the curtain, we realize that we are out at the entry, not at the exit. We come inside once again and make our way across the maze again to reach the exit. And we realize it’s not the exit, but the kaleidoscope. It’s a big room and the entire room is the kaleidoscope. I love the way they have organized it. We come out and are asked to press the buzzer. If the buzzer stops at our zodiac signs, we can win. But, as always, we don’t win. We come out smiling though, marveling at the game of maze we just played.

Phew. This was how I spent one of my non-typical days. However, the typical days are no less exciting. I will post about them soon.

2 comments:

megha said...

felt like was seeing Lonely Planet on TLC!!!! Liked it!! But why arent u smiling :( We want ur smiling pictures in the blog.

Apoorvi said...

i want to come to Japan......send me a tcket I say! I want to see China town and all.........Really nice Anu! Just one thing next time say "Cheeesssssssseeeeeeeeee" when your picture is being taken.

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