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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Japan tour - Day 3

The first thing I did this morning was to call up the front desk of the hotel for an update on the typhoon that was to hit Tokyo today. There was good news: hurricane had changed direction. But there was still threat of heavy rain in the evening.

I was moving from Tokyo city centre to Ikebukuro today. So the threat of rain meant, I had to move early afternoon. I was planning to move only in the evening. Now I had to do any sightseeing in the forenoon itself.

Since Google event was in Roppongi, there was nothing more to see of this international business and entertainment centre. It has some of the tallest buildings in Japan. Roppongi Hills is 48-storey tall (need to check that figure) and houses offices of some of the best known brands in the world.

Akihabara

Since the weather in the morning was clear, I decided to head to Akihabara. I took a subway from Roppongi on the Hibiya line. That’s the Electronics capital of Japan. I am told post-World War II this place was the hub of blacketmarkteering in electronics goods. Gradually the place developed into a well-organised commercial centre. The products leave you more confused and bewildered because of their sheer technological superiority.

There was one 5-floor book shop. My search for English books took me to the 4th floor, and all that was there were books like Obama's The Audacity of Hope, Harry Potter series, Advanced Javascript and Indian Face Massage!

Ikebukuro

Around 2 pm, I moved to Ikebukoro for an overnight stay there. I took a subway again on the Hibiya line but now in the opposite direction. Changed line at Ebisu and shifted to Japan Rail's Yamanote line.

At Ebisu station while I was looking at the map, I heard someone asking me in accented Hindi: "Mushkil hey kya?" I looked back surprised and saw a western looking late middle-aged man in black pant, white shirt and black shoes, waiting to move on while waiting for my response. I quickly said: "Looking for JR line to go to Ikebukoro." He said, "I will show you. I am also heading in the same direction."

A bit skeptical of this sudden development, I nevertheless followed him. We got talking while he helped me get my ticket. As we travelled, he said he had been to India many times, to Goa, Shimla, Delhi and Mumbai. He said he was an engineer and works in England. He checks oil pipelines, and said he was looking at the prospects of joining ONGC. He also said, "My wife is an Indian, so I must take care of her fellow citizens."

He was mighty impressed when I said I was a journalist and more so when I said I work with The Times of India. He spoke excellent British English and said he was in Japan for some business work.

He got down at Shinjuku and asked me to visit the town. He suggested that he could give his phone number. But I wasn't sure if I would visit the place. He exuded all the courtesies and benevolent nature one associates with a Japanese.

Shinjuku, the guide says, has the busiest railway station in the world. There are over-ground and underground railway lines, over 100 exits and handles over one million passengers a day, I am told. I wanted to see the station, if not the city, but there was no time.

Lively night life

In 20 minutes, I was in the commercial hub of Ikebukuro. The city seems to have two sides: one quiet traditional area and the other busier commercial hub. In the quieter area is a Shirdi Saibaba temple.

There are lots and lots of shops, plenty of eateries and entertainment hubs. It's lively in the night with lights, sound and lots of people. There are plenty of Family Mart department stores. There are so many that you can’t use it as a landmark! Co-existing with these family stores are KFC, McDonalds, cloth marts, pubs, men's store, massage parlours and other sleazy entertainment houses. Some of these spots announce their services so explicitly.

I am told these are perfectly okay, as long as no law and order problems are created. Police are at the spot within seconds of being alerted. That happens very rarely. Whatever they are doing, the Japanese are a disciplined and law-abiding set of people.

I saw an unusual sight: a fluttering Indian Tricolour. That was in front of an Indian restaurant. Later I realised that most of these Indian restaurants display the Tricolour outside, so it’s difficult to miss. Waiter Prasad Adhikari told me that Japanese love Indian cuisine; especially nan and chicken curry. I found one of these places full with no place to sit.

In the evening, I walked around the place. Saw a huge building resembling a mall. I decided to go in. It was indeed a mall. I took an escalator down, and ended up in the Ikebukuro railway station! I was puzzled. It was another exit of the railway station. Later I realised that most of the railway stations have huge stopping complexes and lots of eateries: the railway station and mall merge into one another.

Planning to go to Yoyogi Park and nearby Shinto shrine tomorrow.

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