There is this strange felling, quite indescribable when your boss asks you if you have a valid passport? One that isn’t expired. I still believe they do it on purpose, a kind of tease and please thing, something loosely related to a wink. So when my intercom rang and the boss asked if the green book was still valid, I wanted to jump out of his earpiece and tell him, hell yes, aye, ji, yes sir with a big beaming smile. But off course in such matters it is best to hold one’s composure, and so I said a polite yes. Deep inside a voice asked me to yell, “Man its valid for at least five years!!!” Providence smiled upon me when my boss told me to pack up for a two weeks trip to Tokyo. This was an all expense paid trip and I wasn’t inclined on taking any chances. So with just four weeks to go, I applied for a visa and was deftly granted one, thus opening the doors to Tokyo for me. I flew from Lahore to Tokyo via Bangkok on a Thai Airlines plane. Little did I know what Tokyo would have in store for me? If I were to begin from the summation I would be inclined to say that Japan is a near perfect country, and Tokyo is more beautiful and clean than what we see in the movies. I can guarantee a trip to Tokyo will leave you dumbfounded, here’s why:
Upon arrival the super helpful and equally cheerful staff at the Narita Tokyo airport made immigration and other formalities easier. I found the staff to be courteous and nice. The Japanese have Limousine buses which are used to pick/drop from various parts of the city to the airport. My hotel was situated in the heart of city, a place called as Shinagawa. It is a central point of Tokyo with lots of roads and metro train services intersecting it. My Hotel comprised of three towers with all facilitates. As Japan lies in the major tectonic plates, and earthquakes are common so finding high-rising buildings was a major surprise. That’s when my host told me that Japanese building codes are the toughest in the world.
Japanese are amazing people, very methodical and organized. All events are planned in advance down to the smallest detail. Many days before my travel I got the complete schedule of events from the time of my arrival at the airport, to the main event that I was supposed to attend; till my departure from Japan. All documented in the most helpful way and supplemented with pictures and illustrations. Each and every detail was precisely worked out, which was really impressive. The hosts even asked me my preferred food, as they knew I was coming from a Muslim country so Halal food was obviously on the menu card! Upon arrival we were given a warm welcome party by the hosts. All members of the staff (of our host organization) walked in to the party room with a piece of paper having a photo of the visiting participants with their names written in Japanese phonetics. They would one by one recognize the participants from pictures and read out their names, extending their hands for a warm handshake. In a matter of fifteen minutes the ice had thawed and everyone was gossiping and laughing. Off course with lots of soft and hard drinks around the mood suddenly became festive and everyone was having a good time. This was followed by a photo session. What surprised me was the simplicity with things were done in Japan. A member of the staff acted as official photographer for the event. The room was deftly cleared by removing the chairs and tables in the most efficient manner. All the tables had small wheels and you really didn’t have to lift them, just a slight push was all it took to move the table and make space. Similarly, all the chairs were stacked on a small trolley specially designed for the purpose and whisked away to another room. There are no peons or Naib Qasids in Japan. I wondered how many men and time it would have taken to clear the same room here in Pakistan. Every activity was planned down to the minutes with no chances of time being wasted.
The management appointed an English speaking host with us who gave us bus tickets along with detailed instructions on how to come to their office daily from our hotel. All one had to do was note down the bus number and get at the right time to the desired bus terminal, get on the bus and on reaching the destination dismount. Tokyo has an excellent Metro train system. Different lines running in different directions covering the whole city. Going from one place to another is not an issue at all. Google the place you want to go and it will map out the whole route for you in detail with mounting and dismounting places, time the train is leaving and reaching a particular destination all in relation to the passenger’s current location and time. One just needs to do a little research on Google and that’s it. The staff is very friendly so are the people. I found the ticket vending machines a great help, jut put in a currency note or a coin, a ticket will pop out along with the change in coins. Although, most Japanese use prepaid cards, which one can purchase if planning to stay for a long time in Tokyo.
Tokyo, with a population of over 13 million people is one of the most populated cities in the world, and off course the safest. Surprisingly I did not find the kind of hotel security we have here in our hotels in Tokyo. There was no body frisking, no X Ray machines, no walk through gates or metal detectors, nor did I see any sniffing dogs at the Hotel entrance. I believe the electronic surveillance was covert without the people knowing about it. Tokyo is a metropolitan city with 23 different wards and an area of over 600 square kms. The city is well planned, spotlessly clean, linked with roads and best of all is the Metro train service that will take you anywhere in the city. It’s accurate to minutes. Surprisingly I found that the metro train timings are not even numbers like 9.10 am or maybe 10.20 pm etc rather they are like 9.11 am or 10.13 pm etc. The average delay of any train in a year is less than a minute!
Japanese are technology savvy people. There’s technology in almost everything, and it works to perfection. For example the toilet flush was something of a sci-fi thing for a desi like me. You sit on it and if it’s cold it will warm up by pressing a button. Off course the automatic deodorizer will take care of all smell no matter how foul it is. Then, if you’re making a lot of sound while sitting on the can, just press a button and a strange noise will mask you ugly sounds. Imagine a commode with speakers And off course there’s two buttons to, one for ladies and the other for gents, push that and it will wash your bottom clean. Now how and why did they need separate buttons for men and women on the same toilet set, I failed to understand. Perhaps anatomy could explain this! But believe me never once did I push the button for the fairer sex, even if out of curiosity J Riding a cab was no less incredible experience, the moment a taxi cab stops near you its door opens automatically and when you sit in the cab it closes automatically! The cabs are spotlessly clean, the drivers impeccably dressed and there’s too much gadgetry in the cab.
Tokyo has a lot of interesting places to see, if one has the time, that is. There are old temples, museums, shopping places, parks, shrines, towers, Disneyland etc. Due to limited time and a busy schedule I could go to a few places and they were all worth it. The Tokyo Sky Tree is a behemoth 643 meters standing tall observation tower which is also used for broadcast and telecommunications companies besides having a restaurant. The superfast lifts take you up and one can literally feel his/her ears close. A separate portion has glass floor for the ultimate adrenaline rush, one look can give a man shivers. There are a lot shops selling Sky Tree memorabilia and mementos. Tokyo is best viewed from the top of Sky Tree, 360 degrees.
The Yasukuni shrine is a must visit place. Founded in 1869 to commemorate those who died for Japan it is spread over a vast area. The shrine also has a war museum which itself is a treat to see. It has old weapons, fighter planes and even letters written by soldiers to their families. A representative cherry blossom tree in the shrine is used by the metrological department to officially announce the first blossom or opening of blossoms in the city. The Senso-ji temple is another tourist attraction in Tokyo. Japanese people in general aren’t religious but I found rituals which were quite similar to ours at the shrines, people would come join their hands together and throw money in a pond making wish for their families. Off course there was the strong smell of incense and lots of shops selling anything and everything Japanese! You could see kids and the elderly dressed up in Kimonos wearing wooden sandals. And do plan on going to meet Hachiko the dog!
If you’re looking to shop for electronics there’s no other place to go than Akihabara. It has wide streets, lined up with innumerable shops selling everything electronic in nature. If the latest Casio Protrek is what you fancy then Akihabara it is you should go. Multistoried huge stores sell TVs, watches, washing machines, robot vacuum cleaners, irons, and anything with an electron running in it. Japanese are super crazy about electronic games, there are huge bars, called Pachinko with gaming machines installed in them and I was surprised to see old women playing games on them besides the young. Perhaps it’s an addiction, or maybe because of social isolation. Because of the Halal food issue I was able to eat Japanese food only twice and it was a good experience, mainly comprising of Fish, noodle soup, rice and some curry and off course Sushi. However, I was lucky to find some Indian, Pakistani, Bangali as well as Turkish restaurants, thanks to Google so getting Desi Halal food wasn’t a problem.
One of the things that really impressed me about the Japanese was the space management inside buildings. I was lucky to visit the apartment of an acquaintance and verily the idea of minimalism was on display. A single door leading to the kitchen, with a small washing area, which led to a bedroom with a mattress and all the gadgetry one can imagine in the room, with a small bathroom attached to it. Simple living! Even my Hotel bedroom was optimized for space. The laundry room had washing machines, dryers, spinners, vending machine, a TV, a chair all suitably placed vertically as well as horizontally without giving it a look of being crammed. The Japanese are very courteous people, ever smiling and friendly. In the two odd weeks I stayed there I made a couple of friends with whom I am still connected. Overall it was a wonderful experience visiting Tokyo and seeing so much in so little time.