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After two disappointments and many hurdles, I was finally set to make my trip abroad to the "land of the rising sun". It was a short business trip with no sightseeing planned due to packed schedule. So, there was not much packing to do and everything was huddled into a single suitcase which made things easy. So, as I passed immigration at the Mumbai International Airport and entered the departure lounge, I called up my wife and said "Your hubby is now going to be "Foreign Returned" -- and she promptly burst out laughing uncontrollably". In olden days, in the village /town where I grew up, the tag of "Foreign returned" carried with it much respect and awe - not any more. Now this term is used to make FUN! So my journey started! • The departure lounge at Mumbai airport is a world that is entirely different from what is outside. The very first duty free shop in front of the escalator in which you reach the lounge is a large, colorfully lit duty free shop selling imported liquor. Only later, (on my arrival back) did I realize excellent photographic opportunity, the riot of colors from the bottles stored out there provided. Taken sleepily, these two photos depict the observations.
The liquor store was followed by an equally large colourful perfume store. These two must be strange bed-fellas to coexist together! When you consume one, you stink and the other might be useful to suppress the odour. So the combination is about just right. This arrangement of liquor store and perfume store was seen at Changi Airport at Singapore and also at Narita Airport at Japan. At Narita, little ladies even offer samples to sip and taste to arrive at the right purchase decision.
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The travel by Boeing 777-300 to Singapore was in the night and even though, I had the window seat, there was nothing to see in the dark and I fell asleep quietly very soon.
At Singapore airport, there are horizontal escalators (Travelators) to help move from one boarding gate to another or to move from the arrival gate to exit. So huge is the Changi airport that Mumbai pales in comparison. The airport was pleasantly lit and had very clear sign boards. Very helpful attendants at the airport, with tablet PCs in their hands, help and guide passengers for their onward travel to their next boarding gates within in the same terminal or to move from one terminal to other through sky-train - a unique feature of the Changi Airport.
OSIMs leg massaging machines (Free usage) are placed at convenient multiple locations in the arrival lounge to help weary passengers relax their leg muscles. Probably helps avoid varicose veins!
The next section of the journey was in the super jumbo – The Airbus A380 (SG12 that flies from Singapore to Los Angeles via Narita). True to its billing, the flight took in about 800 passengers and appeared to be like an overcrowded Mumbai suburban train’s coach. 10 seats to a row, claustrophobic feeling is truly unavoidable in the economy section of the aircraft especially if it is the middle seat that you occupy – which incidentally was my fate.
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The flight arrived on time at Narita and without much fuss or trouble, passed immigration and customs and was out in a jiffy. At Narita immigration, there are separate counters for Japanese and that takes a lot of crowd out and the time spent waiting for immigration clearance was minimal. Compare that with our own immigration at Mumbai where there is a common overcrowded queue for everyone, it was indeed a pleasant experience at Narita. Even the customs clearance was over in no time.
We were to take the limousine bus from Airport to Shinjuku Washington hotel (where accommodation was booked) and again it was a very easy and pleasant experience. Only, travel by the limousine bus gave me heart stops a couple of times. As the bus speeded on the express way, it never really seemed to slow down at the toll gates en-route. As the bus entered the gate at normal speed, there was a beep sound and when the bus was hardly a foot away, the gate would swiftly lift up and let the bus pass. First time, I had braced myself for what I thought was going to be a sure crash!!
From the time, I arrived at Japan, one thing kept bothering me again and again. The cost of everything! The table below would give a comparison:
Airport bus (~ 1hour 30minutes journey nonstop @ 80Km/hr 120130Km) Cost of ½ liter water bottle
In India It might cost about INR 200-300 at the most.
In Japan Υ 3000
Cost of train travel for ~20Km (suburban train) Cost of a cup of tea (made with hot water and tea bag) Buffet Breakfast
Typically, INR 10/-. At airport lounges, they may charge up to INR 50/~ INR 5-10/~INR 5-10/- in a good hotel. May be in excellent hotels, they charge up to ~ INR 50/~ INR 200-300 (May be – can get a sumptuous breakfast for far less money) Utmost INR 10-20/-
Υ 140 Υ 210 Υ 200 in a street side
hotel ~ Υ 1500 ~ Υ 450
Piece of cake
These are just a few prices, I remember as on date. I also heard that car parking would be of the order of Υ 1000/hour outside and at residence, car parking would be around
Υ20,000/month. Basically, there is no such thing as free lunch!! Even though they
charge exorbitantly, the services are world class. The politeness, greeting, promptness and the efficiency are something they are a world ahead of India. Pay any amount at any place and the correct change is always returned – Even if it is just Υ1/-. No one
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barks at you for not tendering the correct change/fare. You will get your change correctly. Remarkable indeed! But at these prices, what should be the monthly budget of an average person living in Tokyo? Bit difficult to imagine indeed! • The Shinjuku Washington Hotel (Fare: Υ11,000/- per 24 hours) appeared to be the equivalent of a five star hotel in India. The check-in process was very simple. However, there was no room-boy to help with the luggage. You do your work by yourself. The room was a tiny 8’ X 10’ with a bed, small table, a 15” monitor working as TV, an electric kettle and a tiny (really tiny) refrigerator. Put the luggage in the passage, there isn’t enough space to walk around. Only some 15 Japanese free channels were available in the TV and so the TV was quite useless. Shell out
Υ 1000/- for movie channels for one day – just one day! Central heating system was
working and so the room was quite comfortable when the outside temperature was very chill at around 5-8oC
A very efficient public mass transport system is in place at Tokyo – The suburban trains. There are different classes of service – The express, Rapid express, local, Romance car etc. operating on different routes. At the entrance to the car, there is a display system which displays in both Japanese and English the coach number, the station, the route map, general instructions to passengers etc. There is also a public announcement system that announces the next stop – a little careful listening is recommended though for understanding clearly what is being announced. At one point, there was a display “The train sways beyond this station. Hold carefully”. Little had I realized that until then the travel had been entirely smooth without any lateral
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movement of the train!! In India, the train always sways and shakes you quite a lot and seldom does it run smooth and not sway! The people were generally seen engrossed in three things during travel – Their cell phones (either twiddling on the controls or listening to music(?)), Fat book of comic (Surprised that even the elderly were seen eagerly engrossed in comic books) or eyes closed and in a
trance/meditation. Generally, they didn’t seem to enjoy talking to each other during travel! Little school going girls were seen on the train with bags that were very large - much like a weekly travel kit (doesn’t suit them) with one or two teddy bear toys clinging on to their side straps. Invariably, each school girl bag had these soft toys (Teddy bears). Watching at the entrance of the Shinjuku station (very crowded much like the Mumbai station) where you punch in your ticket or swipe your travel card (Similar to what you seen in harry potter movie – Order of the phoenix – when Senior Weasley takes Potter to the ministry of magic for the hearing), I observed that there was not a single person who entered the concourse without either punching a ticket or swiping the card. Such discipline and honesty – Wonderful to see! The tickets are purchased for – not between stations. Say, you buy a Υ130/ticket, punch it at the entrance of your boarding station and get into the train. Where you get off, once again insert the ticket and it vanishes if the fare is correct. Else, you are directed to the excess fare adjusting machine where you insert additional currency and obtain excess fare ticket with which you go out. A very simple and efficient system and was seen working very well. • Most important, the stations are maintained very clean. So impressive is the cleanliness, you wonder if it is a suburban station or if it is an airport that you are standing. In fact, I found Tokyo to be totally litter-free. No paper, no plastic, No dirt, No cigarette stubs on the streets or any public place. It is a different world from what I have seen. • There are conveniently located lockers at different places which can be used when needed - for a charge of course. The lockers are located at Rly. Stations, streets and probably at different locations. The lockers are of different sizes and come for different prices starting from around Υ200/- for a small size locker to Υ700/- for a fairly large sized one. The price is for renting the locker for about 4 hours. There is no one to man the lockers. Just find an open locker, put in your luggage and insert the change as displayed in the menu, close the door and pull out the key. Simple. Once you re-open the locker, it is assumed that you are clearing up and may have to reinsert money should you want to use further. Found this to be very convenient
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especially, if you are out shopping. Might want to leave your baggage at a locker in the station, finish off your shopping and on the way back collect your belongings and board the train. • On the roads or at any public place or on the train or station, no one seemed to be smoking. On the streets, there is a designated place for smoking and all those who want to smoke were found gathered there. There is a bin into which the ash is to be tipped (not on the side walk) and the final stub disposed. Everyone was found to be following the rules! A notice on the bin read that once the stub/ash is put in the bin, the fire is quickly/immediately extinguished. What technology! Another sign board read that Tokyo is one of the least fire hazard cities – Must be true having seen the people behaving so responsibly. If you are a non-smoker, you can simply avoid that area and you can breathe easy – Don’t have to suffer the effects of passive smoking. • The two photos below, taken late in the evening are ample testaments to the cleanliness of roads in Tokyo!
Discipline can be observed in the manner in which drivers drive on the roads. There was respect for signals and road signs. The vehicles would halt when pedestrians are crossing the road. On a red signal, the vehicle would stop before the stop line. Pedestrians would cross the road only at zebra crossings when the signal is green for them. Never seen that in any Indian city till date!
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The place I stayed, had a number of high rise buildings (>25 stories). The restaurant where we took our breakfast was located on the 25th floor and offers one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the city. Sitting by the edge of the window, munching the breakfast, can watch the streets below and the toy sized cars/buses (from that height) on the streets. It is a beautiful sight indeed. Unfortunately, on the two days, I had breakfast there, did not take my camera and hence could not capture the city’s beauty from height. But one high rise building was very impressive. I did manage to capture a picture. It was impressive both during the day as well as in the night! This building is located on the east end of Shinjuku station.
I had the opportunity to explore a little bit of night life in Tokyo. I had read that crime rates are very low in the city and it is absolutely safe and hence we ventured out late in the evening (past 2100 hours) and roamed around till about 2300 hours. Outside the Shinjuku station, we observed that small troupes were getting ready for live performance on the streets. It appeared that they have regular patrons. The troupe was no more than a girl and two boys or utmost 3 boys. They had all their music gear. Noticed a few persons shaking a leg with the song and was quite appreciative of the efforts of the troupe. As the weather was getting colder as
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evening progressed, did not spend too much time listening to the music. However, from the little I heard, the performance was quite good if not impressive. • There was a time in the late eighties when Video game parlours were a rage in India. As internet became freely available these game parlours lost out business and quickly closed down. However, I noticed that these video game parlours were being still patronized by the Japanese. I noticed a parlour in which young and old were thoroughly enjoying the games on their terminal. • The streets of Tokyo were lined with trees that were bare (due to winter weather). On enquiry, we were told that they are cherry blossom trees waiting for spring to arrive. It must be really magical when spring arrives in Tokyo and Cherry blossoms start blooming. Probably, we were about 2-3 weeks early in arriving at Tokyo and hence could not see the magic of spring! • We did have time to visit a temple – Emperor Meiji Jingu shrine at Harajiku and also visit a street which is the equivalent of our own Fashion street in Mumbai. Since it might take a few more pages, leave it for the next article. The return journey was quite comfortable and without any significant event except for the two hour delay in the Air India flight from Mumbai back to Goa. It was indeed quite an experience and I am happy that my first abroad trip was to the wonderful city of Tokyo.
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