Chuck's travels

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Japan - Post 1

It took a long time for me to know whether I would be going to Japan or not. No one ever said I am not going, to be honest … but to make things a bit confusing, no one ever said I am going either. Actually, even till date, no one has said the words “Sriram, you are going to Japan” but then since I am sitting here in Shinjuku, Japan … I guess it is ok … but I still wish someone would …. Hmm, forget it!

Rush for good laptops, money, visa, travel schedule etc made for a busy last couple of days in India … improved my begging / wheedling / cajoling / groveling skills. And finally the big day was there.

Wifey cried buckets … if she had done it a couple of months earlier when the water situation was bad in Hyderabad …. Anyway, she was sad and I was too, to be truthful. But when u gotta go to Japan, u gotta go to Japan. So I went to Japan.

Route was from Hyderabad to Kuala Lumpur to Tokyo with a 6-7 hour stopover at Kuala Lumpur. So there I was at 7 PM standing outside Begumpet airport with suitcase in one hand and hand baggage in the other hand. Wifey had packed plenty of stuff like Rice, Dals, powders (Rasam / Sambhar) etc and the bags were damn heavy. Met my other collegues AB, SB and NS and we all moved into the airport check in zone. According to plan, three of us – AB, SB and I – were going for Project A which could last anywhere between 2-3 months … and NS was going there for Project B … he would come back in a week’s time.

Maybe that wasn’t a good day for me … first the emigration guy quizzed me a lot whereas my collegues passed through without a murmur. Then the security guy frisked my bag and confiscated some batteries (pen cells) I was carrying … seems I could put them inside any electronic gadget and take it … but not carry them outside the gadget even though they were new and not even out of their cover … again my collegues, who also were carrying the same passed through without problems. Then of course the one hour delay in the flight arriving from Kuala Lumpur which I used to call my wife and assured her “arre darling … main abhi gaya .. abhi aaya”.

The flight from Hyderabad to Kuala Lumpur was on an Airbus-330 operated by Malaysia Airlines … and true to form, my seat belt was all tangled up inside the seat … no, I don’t know how it got “inside” the seat but it did. Finally a male flight attendant removed my seat (was pretty easy to remove, actually... though I am sure it is not a regular feature to actually remove the seat from its mooring) and the seatbelt was now un-entangled. However, since it was my seat, so the headphone slot didn’t work. I didn’t particularly care about listening to music but if I couldn’t have it then I wanted it … u know the feeling? Anyway, a flight stewardess suggested I change my seat if I wanted music … since I didn’t want music and I had completed my task of making an issue out of it, I remained where I was and went off to sleep.

The flight to Kuala Lumpur was around 4.5 hours … pretty rough in places with lots of noise and shaking … it was raining in Hyderabad when we took off and I guess the weather all the way through to KL (Kuala Lumpur … when u r cool, u just say KL) wasn’t that great … Ok, so I don’t know what “bad turbulence” is but for me, any turbulence is bad turbulence. The high point of the flight was the food which was really good.

Woke up about ten minutes before we reached Malaysia … I think we landed at around 1:30 AM after going back in time about 2.5 hours or so … the landing was bumpy as the plane bounced a couple of times before hugging the runway … I was glad to get out of that plane. Since we had done a through check in of our luggage all the way to Tokyo and also taken through boarding passes, we didn’t have anything to do before our flight to Tokyo except sleep. I had slept pretty good on the flight to KL but ever ready to sleep again, I put my laptop on a bench and used it as a pillow for another 3-4 hours’ sound sleep. Woke up at around 7 AM and made a round of the airport … plenty of shops to roam around in and plenty of eateries. There was a Burger King and we had breakfast there … I didn’t have anything there but the others had … one guy had a lunch box packed with foodstuff to be eaten on the way and we (including me) polished it off too. I wasn’t particularly hungry and remembering the food on the Malaysia Airlines flight to Malaysia, I was looking forward to stuffing myself on the flight to Tokyo which was also Malaysia Airlines.

Saw plenty of Indians at the KL airport. Went to one toilet to take a leak before going to sleep and the guy who maintained the cleanliness in that toilet was Indian (or Pakistani or Bangladeshi … I didn’t ask) … after waking up in the morning, I went to another and hey, even that was serviced by an Indian. A couple of sweepers were Indian too … felt just like home … ;-)

No offence meant here … just mentioned it coz it wasn’t a nice feeling to be abroad and see fellow Indians cleaning toilets and sweeping floors. But I guess one gotta live. Life goes on.

The Malaysia Airlines crew on the first flight was pretty good … but from this point on, they seemed the opposite. No smiles and hullos … I approached a lady at the counter for my air miles thingy and she wasn’t eager to be of help though she did note down the Id of my card. Once we got onto the plane, it took a long time to get the flight attendents’ attention for anything and even then, there wasn’t even a false smile there (ok I admit there was no frown either) … maybe it was coz we were Indian … maybe they were just badly trained … anyway, I consoled myself by remembering that meal time was approaching. And it came … choice … fish and rice … or beef and some accompanying stuff. Hmmm … asked the flight stewardess for vegetarian food and was told that u have to “pre-order” it before the flight and now they couldn’t do anything about it. So I took the fish based lunch, gave the fish to SB who eats non-veg and tried to have the rice … which was so tasteless (and stank of fish smell) it didn’t go one inch down my throat. So I had an orange juice and then another and then one more. I think a couple more before the flight ended but not sure … I do know that by the time the flight landed in Narita International (Tokyo Airport), I badly wanted to take a leak. AB, who is also vegetarian ate his fish … he says he didn’t realize it but it stank so much I can’t believe he didn’t know … maybe he was just consoling himself by saying that.

Anyway, this aircraft was a Boeing 777 (I think … It wasn’t a huge aircraft but bigger than the Airbus we had come to KL on) and had a TV monitor per seat … and this time the seat belt worked fine and so did the headphone socket. So assured that I wasn’t being shortchanged, I went off to sleep again and woke some hours later at snack time. They gave salmon cake or something like that as snack and when I returned it back to the flight attendant asking without much hope “something vegetarian???”, she offered a pack of biscuits … don’t be mislead by the word “pack” … it contained 2 biscuits. Anyway, two is better than zero and so I had an orange juice and two biscuits and felt ready to take on the world. However since there was still an hour and a half to go for landing, I couldn’t take on the world and so I slept again, waking about 20 minutes before landing.

Time and again during the flight, I would look down and see blue everywhere … or white if there were plenty of clouds … During the first flight I hadn’t realized it but every since we left Hyderabad, we had been traveling over water. Again once we left KL, we were over water till we reached Tokyo. Call me old fashioned but I don’t like this concept of flying over huge oceans and seas. We touched the Indian ocean as we left Hyderabad, sea of China, Sea of Philippines (I think it was called something else but it was right next to the Phillipines), and the Pacific ocean while nearing Japan … and damn it, I don’t like flying over the Pacific Ocean or Indian ocean or any sea for that fact. If God had meant for man to fly, he would have sent a never-get-repaired helicopter with each human when he / she was born. Every now and then the plane would fly into a bit of rough and it just enforced my belief that trains are the best. At least if something goes wrong, u can stop it anywhere u want. I know being on a plane means flying over land or water doesn’t make a difference since if anything goes wrong, it won’t matter what is underneath … but still I don’t like the idea of flying over water. It is not like I am afraid coz I am not … It is not like I pray throughout the flight coz I don’t except to say once in a while “God, take good care of the pilot of this plane till he lands it”. It is just that if I had to fly on a plane, I would … If I didn’t have to and still get where I wanted to go in the same time, that would be ideal.

It was completely foggy over Tokyo as we made our landing... couldn’t see anything below till we were actually very near to the ground. It was the smoothest landing I have experienced (ok I been on a flight only four times before this) and I was doubtful for some time if we had actually touched ground or were flying parallel to it. At least the pilot seemed to be pretty well trained and I guess in the end that is all what matters.

The immigration guy looked me up pretty good … the photo in my passport is around 1996 or so and I am “very” different from what I am now … then, good boy with neatly combed hair and big glasses and clean shaven … now usually with a stubble, no glasses, less hair (nopes, not bald by any stretch of imagination) and no boyishness in my face at all. Then the immigration official saw my photo in the Japanese visa (yep, Japanese visas have ur photo on them … the Netherlands one didn’t …don’t know about US Visas) and got convinced … it had been taken a week back and I haven’t changed much since then.

Picked up the luggage, crossed the Quarantine check zone (I had a bad cold and was unsure what would happen if they noticed coz they r supposed to be pretty strict on health issues in Japan, specially concerning foreigners … but nothing happened … so it’s ok) and came out of the airport. SP, an Indian guy from my company working in Japan since 5 years had come to pick us up and we went home. Nopes, no Rolls Royce taxis as in NL for us … we took a bus home. Sounds dull? Yeah … but the cost of a ticket on the bus was anything but … it was a 1 hour drive by bus and it cost 2400 yen per head. That is around 23 US Dollars per head … and we get 55 US Dollars per day as allowance. So if I travel by bus two and a half times, I spend more than one day’s allowance … isn’t that cool?

Once we reached our destination and were picking up our bags from the bus’s baggage compartment, SB realized that he had left one bag at the airport … it only contained one item... a 10 KG packet of rice which is probably the most valuable item he was carrying. Totally we had 20 KG since we might be there 3 months with the remaining 10 KG split between AB and myself. In one go, our stock was halved. Anyway all is well that ended well and Malaysian Airlines proved helpful in this affair … they couriered the bag to us the next day though they charged 1700 yen for it. Buying 10 KG in Japan would have cost over 5000 yen so in the end, it was money well spent … though obviously, if the bag hadn’t been forgotten, we would have had to spend anything at all.

SP (the Indian guy in Japan, remember) had earlier informed us that we would be staying in a “mansion” which was one hour plus by train from office. In fact, we are staying in three mansions, one for each one of us. A mansion consists of one room (bedroom, living room … whatever .. ur choice of name) which is small by any standards, one bathroom (consisting of wash basin, western toilet and bathtub) one and a half times the size of an airline toilet and one hall leading from the room to the front door … this hall is about as wide as me and I wear a 42 size shirt … I measured today morning and when I stand in the hall, the walls on either side r about 2 inches away from my shoulders … so u can imagine. In this hall, there is a small kitchen and sink for washing dishes. To re-phrase it for better understanding, when you are in the kitchen, you r actually in the hall. It might be better to say – “in this hall, there is a gas stove and sink for washing dishes” and u can call that part of the hall as a kitchen if u want to … these (kitchen and sink) are built into the wall in the hall (nopes, I didn’t actually mean to be poetic). There r a couple of saucepans and one huge knife provided in each kitchen … that knife is so sharp one has to be constantly careful … it would slice through a person with no trouble at all.

The flooring is wooden and the common walls between mansions (there r about 5 mansions per floor) are some kind of cardboard like material … so u cannot knock on the walls when u feel like it or shout loudly … the neighbours might complain to the police. The whole mansion in terms of square feet area would be equal to one room in a spacious two / three bedroom flat in India. Yes, the complete outer structure of the building is made of some solid material which is not wood or cardboard … ;-)

I read what I wrote above and it sounds like a hellhole … and what I want to clarify here is – it isn’t. It is really very comfortable living quarters for one person. The room has a bed, dining table (it is just a small, short legged table but I call it dining table … sounds better), closet without shelves and plenty of hangers for keeping clothes, small cupboard with towels / one plate, bowl and glass, one microwave and one television. In the hall, next to the kitchen and sink, there is a washing machine. The room has an A/C which easily cools the entire house, including room, hall, bathroom etc. There is facility for hot water at the press of a button. No matches in the house … even the gas stove operates on electricity, I guess … or some other source of power.

It is really an example of how space can be utilized … I don’t know why houses have to be so small but I guess there must be some reason to it, money probably … but one can live there as comfortable as one can in a three bedroom flat … as long as one person stays in the house and not two or three or a family. Yes, one cannot do the hula inside the house and neither can u practice ur kickboxing but apart from these, its not a bad deal at all. As for the wooden flooring and cardboard like walls thingy, it was explained to us that the model was great for houses in earthquake zone areas. Japan is very earthquake prone, it seems and it is not uncommon to wake up in the middle of the night to hear your entire house rattling and shaking away to glory. This kind of model ensures that nothing would come crashing down (don’t ask me how … I don’t know) so if u do wake up with everything rattling and shaking, just roll over and go back to sleep.

One last point about the mansion … for what I have just described, the rent is ….. 110,000 yen per month. One lakh ten thousand yen …. Makes that piddling bus ticket for 2400 yen seem a trifle, doesn’t it?

Anyway Sunday was a holiday and I spent the entire morning sleeping. Had lunch at 3 PM or so and in the evening had a walk around the neighborhood to get familiar with the stores around. Saw a Bangladeshi shop nearly where we bought 4 double-packets of Maggi for 210 yen each … In India each packet costs 16 rupees or so and 210 yen means around 85 rupees or so. Bought some other stuff too …milk, bread, veggies … etc.

Monday – first day to office and it went pretty smooth, except that it was about ten times more tiring than it would be in India. Going to office means leaving the house by 7:30 AM, walking 15 minutes to the station, catching two trains (no, not together … first u catch one, then u get down and catch another) and traveling one hour plus to a place called Shinjuku, where our office is located. This happens during rush hour so we go standing with people packed like sardines in a can … of course the coaches r air conditioned so it is like sardines packed in an air conditioned can. Then get down at Shinjuku station and walk 15 minutes to reach office, take the elevator to the 35th floor (it is a 70 storeyed building and not the tallest even in the same vicinity) and drop exhausted into our chairs in a conference room that would be home for us for the next couple of months. Of course, carrying laptops is not a joke and though today is only the second day (not yet completed) of lugging the laptops around, I have had enough of it … probably the next time the laptop goes home with me is when I am in the mood for punishment or when it’s very urgent … or it is the weekend.

First day full of meetings in office … two ten minute breaks either side of lunch … lunch was a one hour affair and we went to an Indian restaurant on the ground floor of the same building that took 1000 Yen (around 400-450 rupees) per head to serve us Naan, two curries (veg) and two curries (non-veg). I only took veg and that is the last time I go to that restaurant. Yeah, it was playing Hindi songs but even listening to songs from “Teesri Manzil” isn’t enough compensation for eating a couple of Naans and sabzis for 450 rupees. The Chuckster ain’t cheap … but the Chuckster ain’t dumb either.

Going home again meant a one hour plus journey on the subway … here in Japan if one leaves around six, people look at u strangely … one is expected to stay late … based on that I am assuming 7-7:30 is the minimum I can leave office every day. Which in turn means 9 PM is the earliest I can reach home on weekdays. Eat dinner (usually rice, some dal and curd with veggies if AB can be persuaded to cook) and crash out. Day over.

BTW, yesterday we bought a monthly train ticket between home and office. Here it is not like “monthly train ticket” … it is like “monthly train ticket between station A and station B” … so if station C is not between A and B, u gotta buy a ticket to go there though u have a monthly ticket. The monthly ticket cost me 18,120 Yen (around Rupees 7200) and I still gotta buy a ticket for going to places not between home and office … sounds dumb to me. Another dumb part is – since I change trains to reach office, I had to buy two monthly tickets, one between home and middle station … and the other between middle station and office. To clarify, the total cost was 18,120 Yen and not each individual monthly ticket. So at the ticket turnstile at the middle station, I gotta swipe both tickets, one for going out of one platform and the other to get into the other platform where I catch the other train. Usually what happens is – I swipe one ticket … it makes a sound and refuses to let me through coz it is the wrong one. Then I swipe the other one and it lets me through. All the while there is this Japanese guy manning the turnstiles, who has been forewarned by the beeping of the machine, glaring at me to ensure I don’t somehow pass through without swiping the correct ticket.

It has only been three days in Japan for me yet, not counting the day I landed since it was already night by then … and there is so much to tell. Of course most of it is routine … u might be muttering - “I slept, he says … what is there is write about in this … we all sleep”. But then when I describe something, I want to make sure u understand completely what I want to say. So that is just the way it is.

Yesterday was very tough in terms of meetings etc. Today has given free time since we had to read some documents and also interact with the India team for some collaboration … they haven’t replied so nothing to act upon. Even then, I am waiting for the weekend which will be a long one since Monday is a holiday here.

An important note – Mails describing my stay in Japan will not be often … maybe once a week or even once in two weeks. Even so, if any of u rather not get it in ur mailbox, just reply back to me stating so and I will make sure ur mailbox remains junk-free, except for the diet pills / hair loss prevention advertisements you guys subscribe to.

Signing off,


The Chuckster (also known in some countries as “The King” … ok, I was kidding .. I am known in all countries as the Chuckster)


  • Very nice.......u write very well and descriptively...........loved ur explaination s6yle......hope u have a good trip
    a fan of the chuckster

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