Sunday, June 01, 2014

The Japan Trip

It is almost always true that a trip to a foreign land evokes tremendous amount of anxiety and excitement - absolutely true in our case as we went to Japan last month.  Owing to cost effectiveness,our journey from Mumbai to Japan had to start with a domestic hop from Mumbai to Bangalore: thanks to Dragon Air having their Indian hub in Bangalore.

Travelling with a 3 year old has its own charms but travelling with a hyper-active 3-year old meant we encountered adventures throughout the trip starting from the domestic hop.  Our flight from Bangalore to Hong Kong was delayed by about 3 hours - the a priori knowledge of this delay was useless considering the inflexibility of having to take a domestic flight. This meant we had to spend a good 6 hours in the airport from 10 PM in the night till 4:00 AM the next morning - this wait illuminated us about our kid, Sachin: that he becomes even more active than usual if he does not sleep at his usual cut-off times. Most passengers who were waiting for the flight were amazed at his energy level with one of them even jokingly questioning about the food Sachin had for dinner. Before I skip, Sachin was extremely attracted with the skirts worn by the Dragon Air female ground-staffs (probably sign of things to come in future) and this made be extra cautious and vigilant in running behind him to avoid any embarrassments.

The actual flight trip from Bangalore to Hong Kong was mostly peaceful as Sachin immediately slept on boarding the flight even before the take-off and woke up only after landing in Hong Kong airport.With about 3 hours to kill in the airport, we roamed around like vagrants inside the airport looking for some food stuffs for the kid as he had skipped the food provided in-flight. With some difficulty in navigating the large airport, we ended up in a Korean food joint and ordered for Fried Rice and Noodles - the only items in the menu that looked familiar. The food, when it arrived, was anything but familiar. Having spent $260 on the food, we did not have the gall to waste it. After food, despite or because of the lack of sleep, Sachin again became super-mischievous and started running after the Golf-cart like carts just like dogs chasing cars, testing the free computer terminals and scaring other kids on the way. His heightened level of activity again resulted in a peaceful flight to Haneda as we mostly slept through the flight.

Following are the locations we visited in Japan - mostly in sequence - Hakone, Odaiba - Miraikan, Aquarium, Fuji Safari, Kamakura, Disney Sea, Tokyo-Shibuya, Akihabara.

The main attractions before we started were the Step Train (Hakone Tozan Railways), Cable Car, Ropeway, Sulphur eggs of Owakudani and Ferry ride at Lake Ashinoko. The Step train was the most interesting aspect as it was the first "Japanese" thing we did: it is a train that alternates the direction of the journey along a vertical zig-zag track system to climb the mountains.  The old fashioned, but effective, signaling systems was definitely a thing to remember. The next mode of transport was a cable car which took us further higher in altitude and enabled us to take rest and lunch we had brought from home. The third leg of the journey was the most expected one - the ropeway ride from Gora to the place of Black eggs - Owakudani - (not sure about the names though) - the mild drizzle outside meant we view the scenery, hot springs via our eyes and not the camera lenses. The trip should have lasted 25 minutes but it was quite a memory with super tall trees, Mount Fuji amidst the clouds and smokes from Hot Springs. On reaching Owakudani, the drizzle meant the younger and the older ones from our entourage rested at a restaurant while the curious, brave ones ventured into a mild trekking of about 200 metres to the place where the Black eggs were getting prepared from natural Sulphur (or some compound of it) from the hot springs. Apparently, eating one of the Sulphur eggs is supposed to increase life span by 7 years. The next target for us was Lake Ashinoko - for which we took the ropeway again to Togendai.  The ferry/boat ride was as usual, the overcast conditions meant some of the long distant attractions were lost. From Togendai, we returned base to Yokohama - Totsuka in the evening in a bus. This was probably the first time I travelled in so many modes of transport in a single day: Normal Train, Step Train, Cable car, Ropeway, Ferry and Bus.

After a day's rest, we headed towards Odaiba which is an island (manmade) built in the 19th century but has grown into a busy sea-port. The first attraction of the day was the monorail ride - which is a couple of bogies going at 45-50 kmph without a driver. The clear skies meant the 25-30 minute ride gave us a wonderful viewing pleasure of the rainbow bridge, roadways and skyline of the city.  After the halt for refreshments and photo clicks at the Statue of Liberty replica, we went to Miraikan - a museum for emerging scientific developments. We spent a good 4-5 hours there - notable memories were the Harinacs, Asimov robot and quite a lot of too technical stuffs. At 1300 yens entry fee, it was not a day well spent both in terms of money and time. In the evening we went to a shopping mall which turned out to be interesting with a Hawaiian event going on - in which my wife and kid even danced.

Fuji Safari Park:
The next attraction we visited was the Fuji Safari park - unlike the previous visits, we arranged for a van and went along with my brother-in-law's colleagues. The journey to the park from Totsuka itself was picturesque as the clear skies let us have a bountiful view of Mount Fuji.  The decision was cost effective as the intra-safari ride itself would have costed 1300 Yens per head.  We saw various wild animals - bears, tigers, lions, rhinos, elephants and some more - but the major difference that hit me there was the sheer number of animals they housed for each category: I would have seen close to 20 lions within a 50 square metre radius and the same can be repeated with the other wild animals.  After the safari drive got over, we got glimpses of the usual other caged animals that any zoo will have. Kangaroos were new though.

The key attraction for this location was the trams which would go through the streets: but it turned out to be a disappointment owing to the vacation crowds - got a feeling of travelling in a Mumbai local.  First we visited the Hasedera temple - it was more of a greenery and sight seeing spot than a temple.  It was quite a pleasant scenery and got multiple photo opportunities.  Next we headed towards the Great Buddha - a large bronze statue of Buddha - probably the worst experience of the day.  Firstly, it was crowded; secondly, the key attraction - of going inside the statue - turned out to be a pain with the 3 year old kid as the stairs were extremely narrow and steep. And nothing great was within the statue other than two boards that explained the specialty of the statue - which can be found on the Internet itself. From there, amidst a painful drizzle, we went to the Aquarium. Apart from the usual attractions, the large underwater pool and Penguin shows were memorable.  There was a dolphin show as well which made the steep entry fee of the Aquarium somewhat worth it.

Disney Sea:
The last tourist spot we visited whilst our stay was Disney Sea: there was a decent bit of planning on the day prior to the visit so that we can optimize the time and visit most of the key attractions there.  After understanding the mechanics of how "Fast Pass" works, it was mostly a game on scheduling especially when going with people aging from 3 to 60. Though the entry fee of 6400Y appeared expensive, when compared to some of the earlier places we visited (Aquarium, Miraikon), Disney Sea was quite a value-for-money deal at 6400Y. Among the various rides and shows, the top 3 would be "Journey to the Center of the Earth", "Toy Story Mania" and "Indiana Jones".  The light show at night was quite a sight as well.

Some of the day to day memories are from Daisa - the 100Y store which housed the "Made in China. Made for Japan" products and a lot of interesting products at cheap prices though at lower-than-Japan quality.  People-wise, I feel in any commercial relationship Japanese are more courteous than Indians while in other situations they just might their own business so much so they are indifferent. 

All-in-all it was a worthy two weeks spent in Japan.

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