“It was sea of green and grey. Buildings and trees that seemed to be competing with one another to represent the city.”

Farasha Pharis, III Year B. A. Economics

Mum’s prawn biryani filled the air. The smell lingered around the house and invited me downstairs. “Wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world” I thought to myself. Like a twisted trick of fate, the phone buzzed. It was from my father, saying, “International Airport in 2 hours”.

“Where are we going?”
“It’s a surprise.”
“Do I pack for winter or summer?”
“Pack whatever you’d like, no clues for you.”

The line goes dead.
“But the biryani,” I mumbled to myself.

Turns out we were headed to Kota Kinabalu, an island town in Malaysia known for their beautifully preserved flora and fauna with a runway parallel to the water. Wide-eyed with wonder at the colourful flora, I skipped the in-flight entertainment to stare outside the window. Although we thought we were landing on water and at the end of the road, it was one of the most beautiful views of remote islands from the runway. Always one to trade the beach for a city skyline, it was entrancing to say the least. Yet we were running (with a gorgeous view) to “connections” yet again. By this point I was convinced we were taking the long route home visiting airports around the world.

We boarded the flight that was clearly waiting for us and settled into our seats. I finally heard “Narita” again. It was another island my father claimed, and I was already dreaming about the pretty views I’d see. Lost in thought, food and some silly movies to make time fly, the 9 hour flight was ready to land. That’s when I heard it. “Narita” was just the name of the airport. It was like Heathrow or JFK. Only, this was better. We were beginning our descent into Tokyo.

Was it going to be brightly lit? Would cars be moving about like fireflies? Would I get to land close to the Tokyo tower? Of course not! Why, you wonder? The airport was firstly, not in the city and secondly we were landing in the morning. Was the city like in the movies? You bet! The multitude of greenery visible from the flight window was shocking as Tokyo is synonymous with industrialisation, technology and all the other elements of environmental degradation we’ve all learnt in our environment studies classes.

Our bags arrived before we did at the carousal, a first in all my travels and we headed swiftly to the trains, city bound. Tokyo was nothing short of a sci-fi movie set on Earth in the distant future. Trains didn’t stop at all the stations;, specific coaches disconnected itself along the way to their respective stations. No porters or conductors, but tickets we inserted into an automated machine to enter the seating area. A feature monumental to Tokyo’s ability to be relatively environmentally friendly as opposed to its counterparts is the efficient public transport and use of bicycles by high ranking executives and their employees alike.

The more time I spent in the city the more I saw balance. Tokyo had eliminated unnecessary plastic and metal wastes, by replacing the SIM card system. Phones worked with inbuilt cellular networks linked to each citizen’s digital ID and to the passport of travellers. They focused on promoting small changes with big impact.

The Tokyo tower showed the entire city from a different view-. oOne that movies never seem to capture quite this beautifully. It was sea of green and grey. Buildings and trees that seemed to be competing with one another to represent the city.

For every step they took forward to be the most industrially advanced city, they had environmental preservation underway to help keep their balance. For every cluster of towers, there was Meiji JinguGyoen, a 400 year old tea garden with 1500 different species of flora. 70% of the Japanese population comprises of smokers, whether in trains or public places it was a common sight. The Shinkansen– the high-speed metro from earlier – had a smoking compartment included.  To balance the effect of this, there was were strict laws about littering and untreated effluents. It was not a country of restriction but rather a balance between good and bad.

Whether it’s the mouthwatering food (they love Indian food as much as we love Japanese food and a tandoori chicken goes for about ₹12,000), beautiful architecture of the future (who knew glass and steel could create this magic?) or their amusement parks that are ahead of their times (did I mention Disneyland’s scariest ride, the “Hollywood Tower of Terror”, resides in Tokyo?) or that you can take the bullet train to another city just for a meal, nothing compares to the breathtaking lengths that they’ve gone to to preserve their environment and create a future that is sustainable.

[Photograph Source: Internet]

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