Tokyo started surprising me right at the airport. It was neither the near ninety degree bow of the airport staff nor the sparkling toilet that attracted my attention first. What amused me most was the unusually low array of wash basins there, and at that moment I knew I was in for more surprises in the coming days.
Strange it was, my baggage was not screened; I was just asked where I was coming from. When I said Riyadh, they simply pasted the entry sticker on my PP and asked me to leave.
To see Dr. Hom as soon as I stepped out of the door was such a great relief. I could instantly recognize him, although I never saw him before. His presence put a big full stop to all my apprehensions of getting lost in Tokyo. Small gestures like taking care of my trolley put me to great ease (byb, the trolley is of a very different design here at Narita).
The Narita Express from Platform 16 brought us to Shingawa in about 90 minutes, giving me a clear windshield view of Tokyo skyline under multi-coloured neon lights, including the Oriental civility and orderliness. Tokyo downtown looked pretty much similar to that of LA. Only difference was the myriad metro lines cris-crossing the urban-scape, in addition.
I was awed at the Airport bus-bay attendants’ bowing religiously to all the buses that passed by, unmindful of anybody noticing. Like ants people queue up everywhere, be it at the railway crossing or in front of the lift or ATM or a cash counter. A GPS enabled taxi got us to the Faculty guest house of the University of Tokyo (Todai) in about 10 mins. It was wonderful to see my host researcher Prof. Ryozo Ooka waiting there to receive us late in the evening.
Before the winter winds could blow me off in the morning, I finished my shower in piping hot water in a small plastic cuboid, ney, bathroom, and layered myself quickly in all the winter gear I had. Dr. Hom arrived at 10:00 and dragged my big suitcase all the way to Komaba International Lodge (KIL) about half a mile away. Needless to say, there is no luxury of a taxi at every drop of a ‘foot!’
I was abashed when he enquired, if the suit case was heavy with books, while it was all stuffed with food and kitchen stuff. So much for my preoccupation with crafts and food, more so as a vegetarian landing in a land of quakes and fish!!!
My 18’x10’ room of precise machine perfect functionalism with a baby toilet typifies Tokyo. The kitchen triangle is a compact 3’x 1 ½’ (just a sink and a cook-top with a tiny fridge tucked under). A tiny tube light, a drain rack and a small spice shelf over the sink spice up the kitchen décor. The cot folds into the wall unit and has a new spring mattress and duvet covers. There is enough room to keep a ton of books and two computers. I have a raised tatomi floor and walking with shoes on this is banned. How Dr. Hom helped me chose the duvets and stuff from the KIL store!
The response to complaints is in six sigma style. I complained of a leaking pipe and lo, there comes the ground staff with a camera to take pictures for reporting. An eye irritation due to A/c is instantly solved with a humidifier and a table light.
A 3km walk to the Shimokitazawa market through the meandering, narrow but clean streets (10’- 20’wide!) gave me an idea of what to expect in the super markets next. There were no giant sized carts or family packs of yoghurt or milk or potato: all small packs, smart and courteous attendants and even shampoo in refill packs (Our Re1 Chic Shampoo Sachet may become a big hit here too!!). While the shops are modest in size, the prices just touch the sky!
I realized, I need to get used to living in a miniature minimalist world of Japanese, shedding the consumerist garb of Saudi Arabia... No wonder, I could not find a single obese person: child, woman, girl, boy or man, all these days. Nobody wears make up, jewels or flashy brands or colors!!!
It is nice to see cycling lanes marked on all the streets, however narrow they are. People walk or cycle. They have special baby carriers like car seats for taking kids in cycles. Traffic in these alleys is slow and drivers wait for cyclists to cross. Nobody honks.
No litter on the streets, not even a single scrap paper. No dust bins either. Now I figure out why my lab has half a dozen bins for all and sundry waste: paper, bio, plastic, metal, and what not. Even my room has two bins, one for bio and another for plastic.
Really, the waste management and disposal have gone in to the psyche of the people very well. Even in the Varsity canteen, people clear their waste, rinse their plates and leave. You can now picture a clean plastic free city without those ubiquitous poly bags. The other day, I saw a van with a public address system moving in the neighbourhood asking people to dispose off, free of cost (!!!) their electronic waste!!! Amazing!
Every Wednesday we have a review meeting in the lab, where all the 18 graduate scholars, five teachers and two professors present their weekly progress, systematically, one after the other. I happened to join the meeting this week half way through. As soon as the meeting ended, all the members including the professors restored the furniture arrangement to the earlier class room setting with such robotic precision, that I was speechless. The boys folded up the screen, collected all the used glasses, fresh glasses, and half empty green tea bottles and set them back into the cartons neatly. In a few minutes all the traces of the meeting in the room were cleared, and we all dispersed quietly.
My lab is a treasure trove of books, kind people, software and computers. I have two giant sized monitors, a large desk and a west window abutting a balcony! The breath taking view captures multicolored tree peaks going up down like a sine curve. I have some personal environmental controls like a radiator fan, panels, table light etc too. :-).
It’s a smart building in steel and smooth un-plastered concrete surfaces. The toilets are ultra smart, with heated seats and auto flush cisterns, doors and lights. I believe this building can stand an earthquake of 9.0! They give helmets to all the staff. The Japanese disaster preparedness is astounding. On my alien registration at the municipal office, they gave me a big guide book on the civic life and disaster management.
While I learn something new every day, I miss my kids and hubby every moment here, even with the super fast internet and skype notwithstanding!