(Live experiences were narrated by SCIT interns Nikhil Nambiar, Priyanka Raut, Sugandha Das, V. Vivekananda, Oindrila Maity, Hemant Hari, Kapil Malik, Praveen Kavaladandi.This blog is a co-creation of SCIT interns at Japan and Prof. Saravan)
‘Japan never considers time together as time wasted. Rather, it is time invested’
― Donald Richie
Here are a few exciting impressions of our students from the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’. “The first impressions were a bit scary. Kansai International airport is an artificially-created-island-airport, so it felt like we were about to land in the sea!” The next impression resulted in screaming – yup, a chilly 10 degree Celsius had them scrambling for Jackets, a big difference from India’s hot summer. Then there’s the astonishment at the neatness of the city – “Wide and CLEAN roads, the driver actually applied brakes ONLY TWICE in the entire journey of two hours”. Everybody on the roads followed traffic rules in their highly coordinated traffic system.
The hospitality offered by Ritsumeikan University gets several special mentions. Right from the vans waiting at airport to the accommodation arranged at BKC house – “the fully furnished individual rooms and facilities are superb, like a hotel”. As a SCITian says, gazing at the breathtaking view from her window – “Life can’t be better than this”. More than this, the friendly and caring nature of the Japanese people was admired very much. In the hostel “When anyone sees us, they greet us and talk to us as if we were friends from a long time”. Here’s another: A SCIT student walked into a Lab to start work and saw a jacket with a note on it. The note said “Dear <<student name>>, I’m afraid you may not have noticed the climate of this area will sometimes be very cold, even in this season. So if you don’t mind, please take this coat. If you don’t need it, please leave it and with your message that says so. Warm regards, <<professor name>>.” A professor’s care for a visiting student was much appreciated – our respects. They mingled well with the students, preparing food for their welcome party at Lake Biwa. SCIT students prepared Kheer as their contribution to the party. At the International Sushi Party, students learned about different sushi types, how to roll a sushi and how to use chopsticks.
The sheer politeness of the Japanese people could win you over. A student was taking a photograph of a building. “The passing cyclists on road stopped so that I can take the photograph”. When he went into a supermarket, noticing everything was marked in Japanese, he asked the cash counter person about some products. “Even though he was already busy, he got up from his place and walked with me to show the right shelf”. Later, when he asked a stranger for directions in a street “He walked with me till my destination address. Then he turned and walked in the opposite direction, to his office! … Would I detour half kilometer for showing an address? Amazing!!”
Returning from Kyoto, students missed the last bus and ended up bargaining with taxi drivers. One taxi driver called some people, and understanding the visiting students’ limited budgets, provided a free taxi ride. SCITians observed “We didn’t see any security personnel outside shops to check your goods and bill. They believe you will pay for it. There are no conductors in the buses. Just the driver and cash deposit machine. When you reach your destination you have to keep your money in the cash deposit near the driver. He doesn’t ask where you got in the bus and how much is the fare. If you lost something, and you came back to the spot after many days, you will find it there. No need to worry about thieves.” The humanity, trust and faith of the Japanese people have made strong positive impressions. Religion is not a means of identification in Japan, but a belief. In fact, people become a little confused when asked about their religion, because they do not have conventional ideas about religion.
At Ritsumeikan labs, SCIT students were given their own laptops, tools and treated with professional courtesy. In general, the Japanese professionalism was observed as deep respect for work. A key observation “no one is forcing anyone to do anything but people are so dedicated here”. Low power distance, high standards of living, good compensation for professionals as well as workers were noticed. Japan is fully developed in technology but still keeps its culture intact. It’s a place which will give a once in a life time experience, but one has to visit in order to experience it. Speaking of technology … “You won’t find a single place where there is only physics and mechanics and no technology. Every single place (yes, every single place!) has technology in it”. This was a revelation by itself, showing Japan is 20 years ahead of us. Touchless Automated bathroom fixtures to wash hands vend out soap, water and drying air. Automated doors and motion sensing parking lights were impressive, but people were rendered speechless by the automatic toilet (read ‘hands-free’).
Students had prepared at SCIT, learning Japanese language, from Lectures, videos, movies and their teacher sharing her own experiences of Japan. But the real impressions of this innovative, trendy and colorful country had to be experienced in person. “Our Japanese friend Kumpei was our guide. We visited the beautiful Fushimi Inari shrine, Kyoto tower and Kiyomizu Dera temple. Transport costs were high, but the breathtaking views of Sakura (cherry blossoms) were enough to cheer me up. Nara is the ‘city of flowers’. The roaming deer in the park, feeding from my own hand was an awesome experience! We saw the Todai-ji Shrine – the largest Lord Buddha idol. Later, the Sushi lunch was a new experience … order food from electronic menu at your table, food comes to you in a conveyor belt! At Kyoto, we tasted the best of Japanese food – Okonomiyaki, which is like a non-veg stuffed hot dosa. It was really Oyishi ..!! (Delicious in Japanese)”.
The Ritsumeikan university campus has around 10,000 students and the food choices are endless. “But a vegetarian feels like there is nothing to eat in Japan 🙁 Because almost all the Japanese food items have a touch of meat! But, shopkeepers understand the principle of vegan food. The best choice is to buy vegetables and cook easy-to-make dishes by oneself. If you can’t live without the spices of India, its best to bring some of it with you. You’ll never go hungry, ‘cos you can’t find a street without vending machines, where you can find a wide variety of cold drinks, fruits, lunch packets etc.”
So why the title ‘as the crow flies’ you ask?? I heard from students that Japanese trains have been very punctual for many years, with an average delay of no more than 18 seconds. Reflecting on this, I asked an experienced metro rail engineer in India “what do you see as a major challenge for metro in India”. He said “Crows in India used to pick up plastic trash and small wires, to build nests. Over the years, I notice that they have become stronger and more adapted to urban life. Now they pick up thicker electrical wire pieces. If they nest in nearby electric poles, and if a thick wire falls in the wrong place, a short circuit will halt metro and result in many delays. How are we going to prevent this?” … A real challenge !
In Japanese mythology, the appearance of Yatagarasu (a raven or Jungle Crow) is construed as evidence of the will of heaven or divine intervention in human affairs. We have a long way to go and the distance, as the crow flies, is not just linear.