Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Konnichiwa! - Land of the rising sun

On 12th Sept, 2013 I got an e-mail from the HR dept of the company I work for, asking for my passport details. Sensing something good I promptly replied with a scan of the document. Only on 2nd November was I informed that I, with 3 other colleagues would be travelling to Japan on the 16th for plant visits and general induction. Overall the schedule was pretty tight with us travelling to a new city/town in Japan every evening which meant we had to checkout of every hotel, 7 in the morning and go to work with our packed luggage, move to the next destination in the evening and repeat the same the next morning. However tiring it might have been, it was double the fun!

After the 12 hour flight from Bangalore, with transit through Bangkok, we arrived at the Tokyo International Airport. I had well spent my time in the flight with "The Great Gatsby" & "The Prestige." After claiming our baggage, we immediately rushed to the metro train for Ginza, the place we stayed at in Tokyo. Its astonishing how well connected Japan is with the airport, train station and the metro, all synchronized and consolidated. It took us 50 mins to reach Ginza. Ginza is a popular area famous for shopping with brands like Vera Moda to Louis Vuitton shining, adding to the bright street. We were lucky as Tokyo was lit up with Christmas lighting.



The next morning we visited the Mitsubishi HQ in Tokyo which was 15 mins from our hotel. The taxi driver in the black suit helped squeeze 4 gigantic Indian suitcases into the trunk of his old Toyota Crown. Taxi drivers there are generally old, in their 50s. On asking why is that so, we got to know that people in Japan marry only after they reach their 30s, and most of the couples do not have kids. Post retirement, they lack any kind of support system, and they become drivers. Unreasonably courteous and amazingly helpful people.

We met a few biggies there at the HQ, had lunch with a team of 4. Gulped down fish roes, Mizo soup, all kinds of fish. The only recognizable thing in the fat buffet was fried chicken! Anyhow, we bid farewell there and caught the train to our next destination at around 2 o clock.

Journey from Tokyo to Ako was amazing! We were travelling half way through Japan in the famous Shinkasen, the world's fastest train (Bullet train) which is designed by Mitsubishi, my very own boss for which he had been awarded citizen of the year award by the Japanese government. The ticket was costlier than that of the flight but we had to experience what Mitsubishi & Japan is so proud of! :)


We reached Ako in the evening at around 5:30 pm. Right at the station we saw a restaurant called "Mera Sapna" and without thinking twice we entered to find 3 Delhites serving indian cosine in Ako. Though the tea costed INR 700, but they seemed to be doing pretty good for themselves. Ako is a small town with tar roads better than Chandigarh. The town is so small that we could cover the whole of it in a 15 min drive. We noticed the car sizes had reduced considerably from Tokyo. In fact whichever company car we saw, they all looked like Wagon Rs. May it be from Honda, Mitsubishi or even Toyota, they were all cousins of Wagon R. We could also spot the original Swift and Wagon R there! The evening was well spent with a team of 7 gentlemen joining us at dinner. Undoubtedly that was the best meal we had in Japan. Authentic, sumptuous and greatly satisfying. We got to taste octopus, eel, salmon, tuna, oysters and a lot of raw fish! YUM!  

Not to forget the famous alcoholic drink 'Sake' made from rice. Transparent, a little like vodka! Had it with every meal hereafter! ;)


Mitsubishi manufactures transformers of various industrial uses at Ako facility. Transformers for Nuclear plants, Substations, trains etc.. After visiting the facility we were off to the airport to reach the Itami factory near Osaka.

Itami factory is the main facility contributing to the train traction systems and hence the most relevant to us. We were scheduled to visit the plant for 2 days but due to technical reasons, we ended up finishing the whole schedule in one single day! Now that we had a day free, we were advised to visit Kyoto which was not very far from Itami, and would have been beautiful in that season (Autumn) with trees going orange to red. So, we took cues from the Itami team, noted down the names of 2 most famous temples there and decided to visit Kyoto!

This was our bonus day for site seeing. We reached the first Buddha temple which was made of Gold in a pond with beautiful trees surrounding the area. Every vision, every angle, every view was so amazingly scenic and beautiful, we clicked endlessly. We bought the first souvenirs from Japan there, a Japanese fan and a few key chains for near and dear ones.

In Japan, every 100 meters you find Kiosks with Juices, Cola and even Beer. The curious person that I am, I ventured to one of them with the weird looking currency notes and excitedly shoved a JPY 100 in the machine only to realize I could not read Japanese and the machine assumed I did! After pushing all possible buttons, I retired and left donating the JPY 100.



Next we went to another temple which was on a hill top. We saw beautiful ladies in traditional Kimonos and a huge market of souvenirs as we approached the temple. The trees were still orange and red, the surroundings still scenic and our cameras still active! While finding our way to the taxi to reach the airport, we found a mens' purse on the road. Mr. Nawata from SONY Corp. We took the same to the airport with us and from the Post Office at the airport, couriered it to the address on the gentleman's visiting card. He safely received the purse and is now a friend! :)

Nagasaki is like Shimla, a city on the hill slide towards the ocean! Yes, unlike Shimla which spreads downhill to a valley, Nagasaki spreads to the open sea. Our host, as punctual as all Japanese, arrived sharp at 7 pm to receive us at the New Nagasaki hotel lobby. He took us for a drive around the hill and thats when we realized how pretty the city looked!


He also told us that Nagasaki was all Mitsubishi. The two of the most famous beer brands, KIRIN and ASAHI both belonging to Mitsubishi. Basically, starting from TVs to full sized Ships, we make everything! The next day we visited the factory, after which we still had time left for the flight, so we ventured out to the Nagasaki Peace park, constructed in the memory of the Nagasaki nuclear bomb tragedy.


We genuinely felt how grave and sad the tragedy was. In 1945, the Plutomium bomb exploded 50 meters from ground aiming at Mitsubishi Arms factory causing a nuclear rain. The impact of the blast was so great that people 1 km away from ground zero, flew to a distance of 14 meters.
Our 6 senses are unable to sense the radiation, we can sense only the burns caused by it. When people started experiencing the burns, they jumped into the sea only to find that the sea water was at 100 degrees. The blast caused 99% destruction. The map of Nagasaki after the blast was a plain canvas. Everything was wiped off.
In 1955, the Nagasaki Peace park was formed. The statue's right hand points to the threat of nuclear weapons while the extended left hand symbolizes eternal peace. The mild face symbolizes divine grace and the gently closed eyes offer a prayer for the repose of the bomb victims' souls. The folded right leg and extended left leg signify both meditation and the initiative to stand up and rescue the people of the world.

After crazy meals, tiring schedule, beautiful sights and a superbly hyper week, we once again found ourselves in Tokyo. It was Friday evening and we had Saturday to ourselves for sight seeing. We had managed to book the HATO (city tour) bus which showed us around the Tokyo tower, Tokyo bay cruise, a monastery, an old castle and a souvenir street. Content with whatever Tokyo had in store for us and extremely tired, we embraced our beds replaying the unbelievable experience we were to take back to India.



I had to specially mention the hi-tech toilets people use in Japan. We all have heard that joke where you sit on the toilet to find 3 buttons, on pressing one, a hand comes out of nowhere and wipes you off. When you come out, you find Dr. Manmohan Singh washing his hands.. Well, the joke wasn't really fiction!


Observe carefully to admire the pictorial representation on the three buttons as options to how the water would wipe ur rear. The knob is to regulate the temperature of the seat. So when its cold, Sikaai hona to banta hai boss! hahahaha....

I guess that would be all for this travel log! I hope I'd be lucky for some more travel in the future!