Sunday, June 30, 2019

The elusive Mt. Fuji

Mt. Fuji to me is like the Statue of Liberty of New York or the Eiffel Tower of Paris. It's the quintessential symbol of  Japan in general and Tokyo in particular. Though its 2+ hours of a bus ride away from Tokyo, it's something that I take special effort visiting, cause, well that's the symbol of Japan for me.

Mt. Fuji from Lake Kawaguchiko

As I write this blog post from a Ryokan facing the Mt. Fuji, I can't feel any more sad. This is the 4th time I have made a long trip out here to see the mountain and all I see is the base of the mountain covered by crazy amounts of clouds at the top. I haven't ever yearned to see anything else in my life, as much as I have for this now elusive mountain.

The first time ever I made the trip, it was a very sweet colleague of mine who drove me all the way from Tokyo to a spot where he said I would see Mt. Fuji for sure, when we couldn't see anything from there, he took me around the mountain to a few other places so that I could see "something". Unfortunately, all we saw really were clouds covering a mountain. To his credit, he showed me Odawara castle and Hakone in the process!

The second time, I did a day trip on a bus to see Mt. Fuji. While we made it to the 5th station, we couldn't really see the mountain. After that, the next time I made the effort was on our way to Kyoto. Everyone told me that we should sit on the "E" seats on the Shinkansen (bullet train) headed towards Kyoto and we will see the mountain after Hamamatsu station. Again, all we saw was a mountain base whose top was covered by clouds.

Then someone advised us that if you go to the top of Mt. Mitsutoge, then you can see Mt. Fuji for sure. So we did a 3.5 hour crazy hike up, to see clouds. All in all, I have seen clearer views of Mt. Fuji on the internet than in real life.

Panoramic view of Mt. Fuji from Mt Mitsutoge

Anyway, I do understand that the best time to see Mt. Fuji is in winter, and I have never been to Tokyo in winter. So there, I have a valid reason. Anyway, today I also found out that there is a company that provides you pictures with Mt. Fuji in your background if you are unlucky and you happen to be on a day when it is cloudy at the top.

Souvenir photo of Mt. Fuji in your background

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Trains and Toilets

So I am just back from a business trip to Tokyo. Just like many of you, I am generally mesmerized by the Japanese way of life. From their beautiful shrines, temples, zen gardens all the way to their food, electronics, umbrellas, pens, shoes, advertisements and culture, everything seems to be so extraordinary.

Anyway, after several trips to Tokyo, I have narrowed down on 2 Japanese things that I really adore - their train systems and their toilets (T&T).

Let me start with Trains. Disclaimer - I love public transit. I think it's the best means of transportation in an urban jungle and nothing can be more efficient. Every city that I go to, I always make it a point to "figure out" their public transit and use it extensively. It gives me a false sense of being a local. When I was younger in Singapore, I would always make it a point to be amongst the first ones to go visit a newly opened train station. In all the countries that I have been to, Tokyo by far, is the most complex train system that I have ever experienced. If the train system is not complex enough, their underground exits are even crazier. While I am generally proud of my sense of direction and my ability to understand complex metro systems, I still get easily lost on Japanese train stations just "looking" for the right exit.

Tokyo Subway Map
Tokyo Subway Route Map

But, the more I have used it, I realize there are so many small things that are provided to aid commuters, that it's just amazing (For e.g. do you know that it is possible to walk underground all the way from Tokyo station to Ginza if you take the right exits!). And while most Japanese people are stoic, if you ask them for directions they go out of their way to help a random stranger? We could do a treasure hunt on the Tokyo Train system and never get bored.

Breakfast gazing
Breakfast observing people

One of my favorite thing to do in Tokyo is to sit in a random small coffee shop inside a train station, sip on my coffee in the morning and see the world pass by. Every Japanese "salary man" in a suit making his way to his place of work, in a hurry, hassled by the crowd, but determined to reach his destination on time (yeah also the ladies, but if I say I observe them to - I sound like a creep - so yeah, I hardly notice them). Occasionally a cleaner or a police man making sure everything is in order would also pass by. While everyone will give you their own list of top 10 things to do in Tokyo, I would say that my list starts at "experience and assimilate the railway system".

Now let's talk about the Toilets. I think I have already dedicated a blog post to this one before. Now that I am repeating it, you can already imagine how in love I am with these works of art. I guess no where else in the world am I so fascinated to enter a public toilet just to see how amazing the toilet is. Forget about cleanliness, almost all toilets in Tokyo are amazingly clean. Depending on how old or new the toilet is you will get to experience a toilet that can do everything from bringing the seat down for you, cleaning it for you, making a loud musical tone so that you can do your business in peace without being embarrassed, to sophisticated nozzles, water jets and air driers that make sure that every bit of your backside is first cleaned with water and then dried so that you can confidently wear your pants later without any worry. Attention to detail and personal hygiene is way beyond my imagination. This is probably the only country in the world that "I look forward to" going to the toilet.

This my friends was a short summary of an otherwise tiring and uneventful trip to Tokyo. While I love the trains and toilets, I dread their work culture, the long work hours and the absolute crazy level of hard work.