I'm on my way back from a short trip to Tokyo as I write this and I thought I'd tell you all about what I did and what I saw over there. So, here goes...
Firstly, Ginza is the most stylish place on Planet Earth. The sight of the Ginza by night, with the gleaming neon lights against a dark sky in the horizon is awesome. Add to that spotlessly clean roads, wide, no wait! W - I - D - E sidewalks and style oozing out of the shop windows and you have the complete picture!
Next, the Japanese are the most courteous people on Planet Earth. I was attending a workshop, and one of the guys on my team wore a mask through the entire week because he said he had a cold and didn't want others to get infected! And that's just an example. I got into a taxi and showed the guy the name and address of my hotel where I wanted to go. He looked it up on his GPRS computer in the taxi and I think this is what he told me in Japanese..."Most honourable Indian-san from Hong Kong: I think you are a young man and you look quite fit to me. This hotel is only 5 blocks away from here. Besides, I've just looked outside my cab window and it doesn't seem to be raining. Its only 10 PM. Tokyo is a very safe city. It’s a pleasant evening. I think you can easily walk to your hotel instead of spending humongous yen for this 90 second taxi ride."
Then, Tokyo is the most automated city on Planet Earth. There are vending machines for everything. In my office, there was a vending machine that offered about 30 different brands of tea and coffee, together with variants such as the choice of milk (no milk, skim milk, whole milk, goat's milk, giraffe milk, just milk, unjust milk, etc), sugar options, beverage temperature (hot-o, cold-o, iced-o)... you get the idea. There are vending machines for cigarettes, newspapers, noodles, toys, drinks, condoms, tickets, taxis, jobs, cameras, mp3 players... you name it, they vend it!
And next... The Tokyo train network is the most complex on Planet Earth. There are a gazillion different lines, and quantapatillion train stations and there are some trains that are slow, others semi-express and still others that are express. So, you wanna go from station A to station B and you've finally made it to the right platform and get onto the next train that arrives, only to realise that it's not going to stop at station B because it is a semi-express train. But it's good fun to try to figure out how to get from Point A to Point B.
Next, Tokyo Trains are the most colourful non-graffiti trains on Planet Earth. Inside each coach, you will see at least 350 different ads... they hang from handrails, they're stuck to the walls, they jump out at you from windows... and they're all official, ie, the advertisers pay money to the train company to display those ads - so they're all hung in an orderly fashion - but they are SO full of colour! And Hai! it is fun to look at them.
Next... Japanese people have the most advanced reading processing logic in their brains on Planet Earth. The Japanese language uses three different scripts - Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana. The characters in each script look different from each other. But in Japanese newspapers, it is quite the norm to use all three characters in the same article. In fact, to make matters even more challenging, the same sentence may have words framed with all three scripts (and English too, for added measure)! And Japanese people read through it as if its no big deal at all... their brains processing what they read in real-time, assimilating information from 3 or more scripts and understanding it all in their own native language. Isn't that amazing?
And finally, Japanese shop assistants have the toughest jobs on Planet Earth. From the moment a customer walks into the store to the time they are out of the store again, shop assistants have been given instructions to keep talking to them with no more than 4 nanosecond gaps between sentences. And this applies not just to stores, but also to cafes. So, if you thought your life as a Barista in Tokyo was going to be cool, think again! And here's my perception of what they say in the course of my stay in the store:
When I walk in:
(Bow). Welcome to our store, O Gentle and dashing man from India, the land of Buddha. We are deeply honoured by your benign presence in our humble premises and would be immensely grateful if you could give us an opportunity to be of service to you. (Bow again).
Of course, I can understand all this because I'm a multi-linguist. To an untrained ear, it will sound something like this:
Ohaio Gazaimos gentle san mishi mos... konnichiwa, ... dissss! yin du go Buddha zen religion-o motorcycle maintenance deska... from honda kawasaki suzuki yamaha arigato arigato gozaimos disssss!
When I've browsed through a few shelves and not picked up anything yet:
(Bow once). (Bow twice ). (Bow again). O extremely handsome tall dark and handsome person who once sported a moustache... we are deeply apologetic for not stocking our shelves with what you're looking for. We don't really know what you're looking for, but we really try to get you something you need (and all i was doing was window shopping!). But if you will give us one more chance, our in-store computers will try to interface with your neural impulses once more through our ultra-fast wireless broadband network to determine what your mind is looking for and our completely robotised shelf management systems will work in tandem with our floor walk predictive step determination system to decide which way you were likely to walk next and what we should stock on the shelves that you would next behold.
When I pick up the cheapest product on sale in the store and take it to the counter for billing:
O Even More Handsome Person than I thought you were when you first walked into the store, thank you so much for selecting something that you found worthy of your spending in our store. We realise that we are but one of many spending options that you have and it fills our heart with utmost joy to realise that we could offer you a product worth 2 Yen for which you have just now flashed your credit card to pay. We respect your choice of using a credit card to pay for this purchase. We would like to give you this product for free because it costs us 2000 Yen for each credit card transaction but our government insists that we present you with a receipt and so we will need to charge you the 2 Yen that this product is priced at.
And please accept this credit card slip to sign on. We really don't want to bother you with any of these hassles, but the banks issuing these cards insist that we make you sign. Please forgive us.
And when the goods have been packed and the payment receipt is given to me:
We have tried our best to pack your selected product in this extremely attractive woodblock printed handmade paper and we hope you like it. In order to ensure that there were no lapses on our part in packing this, we have asked our colleague who won the World Packaging Championship last year to do the needful.
I guess you get the idea... not only are they courteous, but they talk a lot to express that courteousness.
My flight is about to land now... and at this stage, I have to say that flights from Japan are the best flights on Planet Earth.
Pictures from our visit to Japan in April 2002 may be viewed at:
Pictures from our visit to Japan in April 2002 may be viewed at:
We consider ourselves fortunate that we could be in Tokyo when the cherry blossom trees were in full bloom. To view them, you should go to one of the many parks – Ueno Gyoen and Shinjuku Gyoen are great destinations for flower (and people) watching!
You have to go to the Shinjuku train station to see witness Tokyo’s busiest station for yourself!
Ometosando is a great district for trendy cafes and cool stores! We loved walking up and down the main strip that begins close to the Harajuku station and continues for about 2 km.
Akihabara (and the Laox stores in particular) are great for browsing electronic devices – they come in all size and shapes and they stock appliances that work on 220V.
The Asakusa Temple is fantastic – make sure you go there and check it out.
If cameras are what you dig, you should go to the Official Camera Stores for the brand you fancy – Canon, Pentax, Nikon, Minolta… all of them have flagship stores in Tokyo.
But if you were looking for a general browse of photography-related products (cameras, lenses, batteries, straps, filters, filter cleaners, negative albums, photo albums, eye-pieces, and all manner of other accessories), you could try out the Bic Camera store in Yurakucho. They also have outlets in Shinjuku and Ikebukuro.
Roppongi and Shibuya are very trendy districts where the young of Japan throng in large numbers. Apparently, on a clear day, you can see Mount Fuji from the top of the Roppongi Hills building. And the crossing outside Shibuya train station is one of the busiest we’ve ever seen – both in terms of people and the giant LCD, Plasma, or other television screens that vie for people’s attention from every building around the crossing.
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August 20, 2005