Memoirs of Japan

japan

I wanted long to leave a chronicle on my days in Japan before I lose the time altogether. They’re shattered enough already.

It’s about 6.5 years (2006) I had been to Japan as a hired employee of SonyEricsson. I was staying at a place named Minamigyotoku, around an hour by train from Tokyo. The office was at Shinagawa and I was supposed to catch a different train in Tokyo. I don’t remember which line I used to take and there were too many of them. The only name I remember now is the JR-Tokyo line.

I woke up too late on the first day because of jet-lag. It was my first foreign trip too. I set my mobile alarm but probably set it wrong because I missed the 3.5 hrs time difference with India. The contact who was supposed to take me along with some other first-timers left long back. I had a few numbers to call so I thought I can reach the office in Shinagawa. However, I took a train in the opposite direction. After a few stations when I asked someone about Tokyo, I realized my mistake and got down to catch a train towards Tokyo. Trains are quite frequent and I reached Tokyo. But I was lost again! It was tremendously difficult to find the right platform for trains to Shinagawa as Tokyo railway station is stretched and multi-layered. I had to walk for long. Finally I managed to reach office around 14:00.

My Japanese manager remarked about his country on our first meet – Welcome to Japan! Strange country, strange people… I found it literally true so many times – the whole family of 5 say Kommendesai (sorry) when they find that they were blocking your way on the pavement, the departmental store lady never gives up till she can actually comprehend what you are looking for, you get your luggage back even if you forget it on the train and so on. Knowing English is not enough in Japan. Even many of the higher level managers in my company were not comfortable in English. There were translators to help out during communication if that becomes a blocker. But that was only in office; outside language did matter, as you might have watched in Lost in Translation. I have a tendency to get oblivious and many a time I left my keys hanging at the door and went to office, sometimes even the door half-closed because punctuality was very important to the Japanese bosses (I had to rush to catch the train often). But I never lost anything in Japan.

I had to register myself in the local Municipal office within a short deadline as per the rules, seemed very important and logical to me. Traffic on the roads would be so slow and disciplined! I adapted to following traffic signals just like every pedestrian around me. After returning to India, I remember being afraid of crossing roads for a while. The traffic seemed to approach much faster in India. The impact of waiting at Japanese signals was the same on my friend who went there. I loved the strategy of garbage collection in three coloured plastic bags – green, red and black. If you are not following the rules of garbage disposal you are bound to be caught. I experienced mild quakes a few times. Buildings in Japan were built earthquake-proof as much as possible. Most of them would be wooden. I heard that if some builder’s construction gave in to the tremors within a safe Richter he would lose his license to work in Japan.

The first month I had to live on potato chips and juice however impossible that may sound. I had few Indian contacts and was literally on my own. As I didn’t know anything about cooking, juice, chips and synthetic bananas were the safest bet. However, eventually I found McDonald’s near office, an Indian restaurant Bombay Palace which I visited during weekends and Indian rice curry combo sold in front of the office. I noticed that the Japanese love Indian food. I was surprised by the crowd at a pakora shop at the Shinagawa station. After a few months a Bengalee roommate stayed with me for sometime and he used to cook while I used to wash the dishes. That was also the reason he left but I was least bothered as he wasn’t a great roommate in other aspects. During the last few months one of my old friends used to visit during the weekends and he was very much interested in cooking. In the meantime, for a while I cooked rice in rice-cooker, boiled potatoes (mashed with sunflower oil, probably) in the microwave oven and eggs using gas. It became my regular dinner – same menu each night. However, cooking all the 3 items in parallel used to save my time and was convenient. Many nights I used to return very late tired and would jump straight to bed after drinking some juice along with cookies or chips. Everything tasted hybrid and synthesized. That was also the time I learnt to turn on the gas. Cigarettes used to be branded by hardness up to 10. As per my office smoking room experience, many ladies used to chain-smoke. I used to smoke Marlboro at that time as the Indian brand of my choice wasn’t available.

Most of the time I had stayed alone and awake which helped me introspect and think a lot. I used to feel like Chuck Noland in Cast Away. I spent sometime on the then famous Orkut chasing girls and made a few friends as well; I met online my first heartache from school once again and tried to clear the wrong notions she had about me. However I figured out that it’s impossible to undo her pre-nurtured notions as those are her only way to judge everything and everyone around her. Anyway, in reality I was alone other than this virtual world. I developed my taste for western music at that time as music meant only Ghazals or Bengali songs to me before that. Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game or Lithium by Evanescence or the lines – If I fall and all is lost,/ No light to lead the way,/ Remember that all alone is where I belong from Cloud Nine still remind me of my cold lonely Japan days. I used to download a lot of movies even before I got a YahooBB connection using unsecured wifi connections I could latch on to. It was legal in Japan at that time. This was also the time I started collecting movies. Once I met a Japanese beauty in a shopping mall eye to eye and I can still vaguely remember her beautiful face. I would sometimes visit local and lesser known places 2 or 3 stations away from Minamigyotoku. I remember Urayasu river which I used to cross every morning while traveling towards Tokyo by train. Once I went to visit the river with a colleague in an afternoon. It was cold and foggy. The banks were vacant and I enjoyed the evening sitting alone, thinking, introspecting, missing home and smoking while my colleague was busy taking pictures. I will always treasure the memories of that evening.

Sometimes I would take long strolls in the evening just watching the Japanese. I had always loved to study people. The Japanese are very hard-working, disciplined but from what I saw I think they lack true feelings and sympathy towards others because they tend to think of themselves as Samurai war heroes. A prominent characteristic of the Japanese seemed to be monumental pride and ego. They sometimes seemed to be veiled under a layer of politeness. Maybe the commoners were less so and these characteristics showed more in the executive class. The youth seemed to adore the Gothic style and often the excessive fashion statements seemed perversion. Most people would use SonyEricsson mobiles. Sony was a highly esteemed company worldwide then. Trains would be so different from the chaotic Indian ones – people standing in a queue to enter, never trying to get in before others in the front and inside everyone reading or playing with their gadgets. Seniors would only sit in their own reserved seats which younger people would seldom occupy. They would never fight in packed compartments even if they were stumbling on each other. War and ensuing destruction taught the Japanese discipline. Japan taught me the bliss of silence and composure.

I visited Tokyo (other than passing through) once – more of a sightseeing. The pomp and splendour of Tokyo amazed me. But most of the things seemed too geometric – even the floral designs… Tokyo’s flooded with skyscrapers and technological marvels… and yet so lifeless! Once I went with some colleagues to Akihabara. I already had a personal laptop and I don’t have much interest in cameras (somehow I have always believed that the mind can draw more beautiful pictures than anything we may ever see with the eyes) either. Finally, I realized that time is the most precious asset we possess and I bought a RADO as a memoir from Japan. It cost me around 22K INR but I love it and still wear it. I guess that was my only souvenir from Japan other than memories, the coins I brought for my youngest sister, a 2GB RAM stick and a black sweater bought out of sheer necessity. I survived an winter in Japan. The cold breeze in the morning while going to office could chill the bones. The temperature would occasionally drop between 0-5°C.

This piece would be meaningless if I don’t write about Japan countryside and Tokyo suburbs which are inexplicably beautiful and rich, unlike Tokyo. The scenery on both sides of the train is remarkable and picturesque. I always felt so complacent while enjoying the beauty and calm outside a running train in Japan. So much that I would love to spend the last years of my life peacefully in the countryside in Japan more than anywhere else in the world.

When I still think of the time after so many years, it seems more like a dream than reality.

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