I landed at the Haneda airport in Tokyo after a long flight from Seattle. It took a polar route and made a brief stopover at Anchorage, Alaska. A few students from the theoretical physics group of the University of Tokyo came to receive me and were waiting for me with a placard with my name on it. They had no problems in identifying me as I was the only passenger looking like a person from India who arrived on that flight. We took the monorail from the airport and got off at its terminal station where it connected with the ring railway of Tokyo called the Yamate line and the subway network. We took the Yamate line in the direction of the station near the Asia Bunka Kaikan where I had to stay for a month as the apartment for me in the International House for Foreign Visitorsof the University of Tokyo was not vacant at that time. My first impression of Tokyo was a big surprise. It did not look like anything like my imagination of Japan. It was completely different from Akira Kurosawa’s Japan in his black and white films.Tokyo was glittering with neon signs. People were dressed in western clothes and not in Kimonos or the dress worn by Kurosawa’s film characters. I was briefed on how to reach the University of Tokyo the next day. I was to tell the tram conductor that I wanted to get off at the ‘todai no seimon mae’ (Tokyo University’s main gate). It is amazing that I am able to recall a Japanese phrase after 44 years although I had no opportunity of using it ever since I left Japan in 1970.
I boarded a tram from near where I was staying and got off at the main gate of the University of Tokyo. From the main gate I could see the tower of the University and further down was the building of the theoretical physics group. I was received by the secretaries with customary green tea and was taken to meet Professor Miyazawa. He led me to the room next door to his to share office space with two Japanese post-doctoral fellows. Soon after the secretary came and asked me if I would like her to arrange for me an obento. On Thursdays the theoretical physics group including the professors ate lunch together. Professors and students usually brought packed lunch with them. Obento is a traditional packed lunch in a plastic container and comes with a pair of chopsticks. I opened my obento. It contained boiled rice, cod fish and white rubbery pieces of sea food. I asked what those white pieces were and was in for a shock when told, “Octopus has eight legs and white pieces were of a sea animal with ten legs!” I felt disgusted as I had avoided up till now eating fish in general and cod fish in particular. I was least prepared to eat a sea animal with ten legs. I ate my obento without showing uneasiness on my face as Professor Miyazawa was sitting next to me. He translated in English for me what was being said during the lunch. It was the first and the last time this courtesy was shown to me. Nobody spoke in English in the theoretical physics group. Seminars were given in Japanese using notes written in English. I had no reason to complain as it was my decision to spend a year with the theoretical physics group of the University of Tokyo.
In Chicago I had taken lessons on spoken Japanese from a Japanese woman. I had learnt phrases for greeting persons formally, some general phrases for everyday tasks such as using subway and for ordering meals in restaurants, asking tickets for railway/subway journey,and simple Japanese characters for exit, entrance, etcetera. I did not speak pidgin Japanese in the theoretical physics group. Japanese like Hindi has different forms for addressing elders /superiors, equals, and younger persons. In Hindi we address a person with आप, तुम, तू depending on whether the person is our elder or superior, or our equal, or is younger or is an intimate. Also, the sentence structure changes with use of आप, तुम, तू. Similar is the case with Japanese. Professors/teachers are addressed as sensei. It would be impolite in one-on-one conversation with a teacher to address him/her by last name even prefixing or suffixing it with sensei. Safest is to say sensei. The word san is equivalent to जी in Hindi. I was called Amar san. Even a stranger is to be addressed by suffixing san to the name. Children are not called by their names without suffixing chan. I did not want to cause inadvertent offence by speaking inappropriate phrases. However, I used formal phrases with confidence. For example I would accost a person I knew and engage him with polite phrases in Japanese. I translate in English a typical interaction.
I would say, “Good morning. How are you?”
The person would bow done and respond, “I am fine. Thank you.”
I would say next, “I wish you happiness and success.”
The person would bow down deeper and once again respond, “I thank you very much.”
I would continue, “May Japan prosper and bring peace in the world.”
Now the person would bow down deeper almost touching the ground and say, “I am honoured and thank you.”
I could easily engage a person with polite phrases easily for two-three minutes. I noticed as soon as my acquaintances saw me they would shift to the other side of the road if they were walking towards me. Before long a message from Professor Miyazawa was conveyed to me, “Tell Amar, to cut it out. He is overdoing it.”
I told Professor Miyazawa, “ I will like to live in a Japanese room with tatami (straw mat) flooring.” His reaction was, “ Amar, you will not be able to live in it even for 24 hours.” Professor Miyazawa brought his car from home and shifted me to the International House for Foreign Visitors. I was given in it a fully furnished centrally air-conditioned studio apartment. I had neither cooked meals in Chicago nor was inclined to cook in my studio apartment. But breakfast became an issue. Japanese eat rice even in the morning. Therefore the word for breakfast in Japanese is asagohan (morning rice), they eat rice for lunch and the word forlunch is hirugohan (midday rice), they eat rice for dinner and the word for dinner is bangohan (evening rice). Although, I was trying to live like a Japanese yet I could not start my day with boiled rice mixed with raw egg! Loaf of bread was not readily available. I would pick bread, eggs, cornflakes and milk from the American departmental store in Ginza and took my breakfast in the apartment before leaving for the University.
I ate with students my evening meals either in the university cafeteria or in the small eating places near the university watching sumo on TV. I wanted to converse with them in Japanese but they wanted to practise their English with me. They were keen to go to the US and were more interested in learning English than teaching me Japanese. So I could not make much progress in speaking Japanese. Japanese is written using three scripts, Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. I learnt Hiragana and Katana and could read menu cards and names of railway stations. Kanji is adaptation of Chinese characters for writing Japanese. I learnt only a few simple characters.
I was keen to experience an ofuro (traditional Japanese public bath). Against their better judgement my friends yielded to take me to an ofuro. For them it was a necessity to use ofuros because they did not have bathing facilities in the rooms they lived. One side of an ofuro is for women’s use and its other side is for men’s use. In the men’s side I saw persons cleaning themselves with soap sitting on low stools with buckets kept under taps. The preliminary cleaning was followed with soaking of the body in a tank filled with biting hot water. By now I had outgrown my inhibitions of sharing shower undressed with other persons. As the temperature of the heated water in the soaking tank was above 45 degree Celsius I was advised to sit still in it. Days gossip was shared relaxing in the hot water tank. I may not have made more than three ofuro visits before I lost interest in using it. An adverse outcome of using ofuro was I picked fungus infection in my toes. I could get rid off it only with antibiotics.
I had settled down to my academic life in the University of Tokyo. Students decided to take me out for my entertainment. I was offered choice between a striptease show or an outdoor activity I enjoyed the most. I selected a hiking trip. A hiking trip to a hill picnic spot about 50 miles outside Tokyo was decided. The secretaries arranged picnic lunch and accompanied the group. All those professors who were free on that day also joined the picnic. We travelled by train for an hour and trekked up a hill for 45 minutes. It was a bright beautiful day. Students and teachers played games together. I took pictures using my 35 mm Mamiya Sekor camera I had recently purchased. I saw a group of soldiers who were also picnicking. I was told those were not soldiers but belonged to Japan’s self-defence force. After the Second World War Japan amended its constitution and resolved not to have an army. It maintains a self-defence force. The other important constitutional commitment was not to have nuclear weapons and use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
At the end of the picnic, professors took direct routes for returning to their homes. I returned to Tokyo with a group of students. They asked me to join them for saki, the traditional Japanese rice wine. We got down in a suburban village on outskirts of the metropolitan Tokyo. We stopped at a Japanese inn. We sat on mats around a small low table. Saki was served in decanters and was poured in sake cups. After cheers cup was emptied in a single sip. It was sweet in taste and was served warm. For changing flavour small greyish round pieces like chopped radish were served as side dish. These were to be eaten by dipping them in soya sauce. I got suspicious and was reluctant to put those in my mouth. I asked what the side dish was. First I was told, “It is a pickle.” I was not satisfied with this description. When I pressed further they disclosed to me, “It is chopped snake and it goes well with saki.” I had eaten ten-legged sea animal and whale meat steak but I drew my line when asked to eat a snake.
There were many bookstores not too far from the University of Tokyo in Ochanomizu. I used to spend time in them browsing used and new books. I bought from there a portable typewriter, Olivetti Lettra. I found in one of the bookstores a book titled ‘Quantum Mechanics and Path Integrals’ by Richard P. Feynman and A. R. Hibbs. When I started reading it I could not put it down. Feynman as a graduate student pursued a remark made by Paul Dirac in his classic book ‘Quantum Mechanics’ and used it to formulate a third approach to quantum mechanics. The other two were the wave mechanics of Schrodinger and the matrix mechanics of Heisenberg. Feynman’s approach was intellectually stimulating. He argued that classical mechanics singles out trajectory of least action but nature makes no distinction and all continuous paths are equally probable and their contributions are to be added by superposition principle. But the summing over complex contributions each of modulus unity of infinite paths was mathematically ill-defined. My objection to Feynman’s path integration was similar to my objection to the Dirac delta function I had made in my candidacy viva-voce. Feynman gave an algorithm for calculating the path integrals and developed out of it the Feynman diagrams. I have mentioned here in detail my first reaction to Feynman’s approach to quantum mechanics because later it became my principal field of research. I spent major part of my research career in making Feynman path integrals more rigorously defined objects.
The five years in the University of Chicago had made me an American in my work habits. I submitted a research work to the Physical Review D, a physics journal published by the American Physical Society. The paper was accepted for publication and the journal sent me a bill for page charges as per its policy. As I would do in the High Energy Physics group of the University of Chicago I handed the bill received from the Editor of the Physical Review to the secretary of the theoretical physics group of the University of Tokyo. A couple of days later I received a message to meet the Chairman of the Department of Physics of the University of Tokyo. His secretary took me to his chamber. He was holding in his hands the bill I had handed over to the group’s secretary. He had a glum look when he asked me, “Why did I submit my paper for publication to the Physical Review?” I answered, “It was an appropriate journal for publication of my research work.” He continued, “Did you take Professor Miyazawa’s permission?” I replied, “No.” He said reprovingly, “You have put us in a difficult position. Our funds position is tight and we are not in a position to honour the liability you have put on us. Be careful in future and publish your research work in ‘Progress of Theoretical Physics’, a research journal of repute published from Japan.” This incident cooled me down. My Japan interlude was crucial in helping me to make adjustments with my professional life in India.
For the winter break around Christmas I was advised to keep with me groceries for at least ten days' needs. All of Japan comes to a standstill during this period. People either visit their hometowns or go on vacation or entertain guests at home. Markets wear a deserted look. I was invited by Professor Miyazawa and Professor Nishijima to their homes. It took me more than one hour by train to reach their homes. Unlike me they could not avoid rush hour travel because they had teaching work and other official commitments during the normal working hours. I avoided rush hour travel in both to and fro journeys between my apartment and the University. As in all cities downtown living in Tokyo was more expensive than living in its suburbs.
Orchestras in almost all the big cities in Japan performed Handel’s Messiah during this period. ‘Hallelujah’ sung in chorus was the highlight of the Christmas season. With a friend I attended a live performance of Handel’s Messiah in Tokyo. My friend advised me never to fall in love with a girl seen on stage in a chorus nor with a girl under an umbrella seen from a distance. More important than my physics education was the worldly education I received from my friends.
I was invited to spend a month at the Research Institute of Fundamental Physics in Kyoto. The world famous nuclear physicist Hideki Yukawa was its Director. Tea meetings were held in the Institute for bidding farewell to its visitors at the end of their stay and for welcoming its new visitors. As I was a new visitor I was given the honour to a share table with Professor Yukawa. When my turn came to speak I thanked Professor Yukawa, the Director of the Institute, for giving me an opportunity to visit his institute. He corrected me, “I have retired today and now Professor Ziro Maki is the Director.”
I liked Kyoto. I found it closer to my image of Kurosawa’s Japan than any other city I had seen. It was laid out in a rectangular grid. It was easy to locate a place by the pair of numbers from the intersection of the street running North-South with the street running East-West. One side of the town was bordered by a hill running lengthwise along it. I visited the world famous temples Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion), Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilian), the Rock Garden of Ryoan ji, and the Kiyomizu Temple. I liked the Kiyomizu temple. It was a beautiful wooden structure on a hill. A steep path led to it. In shops on both sides of the path leading to the temple rice cookies with cinnamon flavour were freshly baked. I liked inhaling the sweet aroma of cinnamon by walking past those shops. The temple had a huge metal bell. The bell tolled only when 20-30 men struck it with a ramming wooden pole similar in size to those used by invaders to break open main gates of citadels in medieval times.
My life in Tokyo had happy interruptions when I had visitors from India. Radha Jiji and Ramesh Jijaji came to Japan. They spent one week with me. I showed them the Kamakura and Nara Buddhas and made with them visits to the temple towns of Kyoto and Nikko. I also took them to a sea resort for an experience of staying in a Japanese inn. My other visitors were Swami Ranganathananda Ji Maharaj and Professor F. C. Auluck.
Swami Ranganathananda Ji was a friend of Pitaji and had spent a week in Port Blair as his guest. Swamiji was a senior monk of the Ramakrishna order and was known for his powerful oration and spiritual discourses. He used to keep himself updated with developments in modern science and liked to use them in his discourse. In Chicago I met Swamiji soon after completing my Ph.D. Swamiji pointed out to me, “We become aware of the prevailing vacuum surrounding us only after we have scaled the summit.” The postal system was efficient those days. Pitaji had written me the flight details of Swamiji’s arrival in Tokyo. I received him at the airport and brought him to his accommodation. Swamiji asked me to arrange boiled rice and sour curd for him. Boiled rice was easy but I could not get sour curd for him. I disappointed him when he asked me to sing a bhajan.
ProfessorAuluck was my teacher in Delhi University and also the father of my classmate and friend Rajender. I introduced him to the theoretical physics group of the University of Tokyo. I showed him the Kamakura Buddha, which is on the outskirts of Tokyo, and gave him a brief sightseeing tour of Tokyo. I asked him where I should apply for research/teaching positions in India. He advised me to apply to the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) as it had a scheme of Pool Officers for scientists returning to India from abroad and to the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. I received the offer of the CSIR but the offer made by the TIFR did not reach me.
I am happy to recall an incident of efficiency of the Indian and the Japanese postal systems. My sister Shubha was nine years old when she wrote a letter to me on an inland letter and wrote on it for my postal address ‘Dr. A. N. Maheshwari, Tokyo University, Hongo’ and dropped it in a letter box. The Hongo San-Chome was the name of the district in which Tokyo University was situated. Postal authorities of both countries worked hard to deliver a letter sent by a child. A special messenger of the Tokyo postal department handed me this letter personally.
While strolling through the Ginza I came across an Intourist counter making bookings on the Trans Siberian Railway The Trans Siberian Railway was a once a day train from Vladivostok to Moscow. The passengers were allowed to board it from Khabarovsk. Reaching Khabarovsk in time to catch the Trans Siberian Railway involved a boat journey of two and half days from Yokohama to Nakhodka, a small train station without a platform outside Vladivostok, followed by an overnight train journey after disembarking from the boat. I was not interested in travelling up to Moscow on this train. I was exploring a shortest and cheapest way to reach Delhi from Tokyo. I was advised I could travel up to Irkutsk by the Trans Siberian Railway and fly from there to Alma Ata in Kazakhstan and then to Tashkent. From Tashkent I could fly to Kabul and from there to Delhi. For each day of my travel in the USSR I had to purchase meal coupons at the rate of five roubles per day and pay for accommodation in Hotels at the flat rate of 20 roubles per day. I argued that I was a student and could not afford the luxury of staying in hotels costing 20 roubles per night. My bargaining brought hotel charges down to 10 roubles per night. I also insisted that I should get concessional fare on Aeroflot flights and a baggage allowance of at least 30 kg as I was allowed to travel with 40 kg of luggage by the Trans Siberian Railway. Intourist accepted the rates I had suggested. They also offered that at Irkutsk, Alma Ata and Tashkent I would be met by English speaking guides with a transport. The guide would take me to my hotel and on a city sightseeing trip and also take me to the airport for my onward flight. The exchange rate for purchasing roubles given to me was one dollar equal to one rouble. There was a convenient sailing on September 26, 1970, from Yokohama to Nakhodka. The total journey time from Japan to India with my itinerary was twelve days. I had planned to use the cost of my airfare from Tokyo to Delhi in meeting major part of the travel cost.
I was in for a surprise when I was told that as per the terms of the JSPS offer to me, I was required to travel by the Japan’s flag carrier, that is Japan Air Lines. I was disappointed and decided to seek an appointment with the controlling officer in the JSPS before cancelling the bookings I had made with Intourist. An appointment was given to me to meet a senior officer in the Ministry of Education. I told the officer, “Sir, I am young and unmarried and keen to see the world. In a few years time I may have family responsibilities and will neither have the time nor funds to avail a journey of the type which I have planned.” He thought for a while and with a smile said, “Young man, enjoy this phase of life.” He directed his secretary to pay me in cash the airfare from Tokyo to Delhi. I used my savings to cover the additional cost of the journey to be paid to Intourist. I had set aside some money for paying excess baggage fare to the airlines, if required.
I was keen to take from Japan a TV for Pitaji. As I was fond of Western Classical music I also wanted to bring with me a hi-fidelity tape recorder. I had hundreds of books which were to be sent to India. Pitaji arranged through the Shipping Corporation of India to send the major part of my heavy luggage as sea cargo. I bought a big aluminium trunk and packed my books in it and my clothes in my suitcase and sent them by sea to India. I selected some clothes for use during the journey and for meeting my need on arrival in Delhi. I carried them in a laundry bag I had purchased from the University of Chicago bookstore.
I had with me eight pieces of luggage. I was to travel with them on a journey involving sea, rail and air. My luggage consisted of a TV, a tape recorder, an FM radio, a type writer and a laundry bag, a brief case and two cartons containing my notebooks. It did not worry me how I will manage my luggage in a journey involving multiple transfers.