Archive for July, 2010

Yes, from now onwards, all posts will be live post, since I’m standing on Singapore ground now.

Hmm, overall I would say that this trip to Japan has broaden my horizons (yes! now that I have proven that Japan existed! Because I used to think that other countries are just myths spun by media since I never been there before haha), and of course put me to the test of independent living. And I am happy to say that I pulled through the test without much problems.

All these wont be possible, of course, if I had not learnt the basics of the Japanese language, which I owed much to my sensee, Suhama Ayari-san. Although all I took was a level 1 Japanese module in university, which is not even the entire JLPT4 course, it has proven to be sufficient for me to navigate around Japan without much problems. Of course, there are times where I realized my vocabulary in Japanese is limited, and was forced to used English, thus revealing the fact that I am indeed a foreigner.

Yes, coming to that, it is surprising that many of the people in Japan thought I was Japanese. The last time I went to Hong Kong, people thought I was Taiwanese. I guess all these boils down to the basic stereotypes of what a Japanese or Taiwanese acts or sounds like maybe … I don’t know … hmm … weird … but anyway, some of them go away still thinking I’m Japanese, that is I did not use English in my conversations.

For example, there was this time when I am not sure which side of the platforms to take, when heading for Hirosaki-shi. So I approached a platform staff and said the following:

Me: Chodo sumimasen. Eto kono densha hirosaki made desu ka? (I’m sorry, is this train going to Hirosaki?)

Staff: Hai! Hirosaki made desu. (Yes, it is to Hirosaki)

Me (pointing to the other side): Demo sono densha mo hirosaki made desu ka? (But the other train is also going to Hirosaki right?)

Staff: Hai! Sore mo Hirosaki made desu. Demo kono densha hayai desu. (pointing to the door) Hai! douzo. (Yes, that is also going to Hirosaki, but, this train is faster. Here, please.)

And then, I boarded the train with his help.

Yes, these examples are aplenty on this trip. Most commonly people asked where am I from (o kuni wa dochira desu ka?) or commented that my Japanese is good (nihongo wa sugoii desu ne!). Surprisingly, I got very used to the bowing practice in Japan as well. The most common words I used in Japan were sumimasen (sorry/excuse me) and arigatou gozaimasu (thank you very much). It makes me all the more eager to continue learning Japanese, as the next time I visit Japan, I would have more things to chat with the people over there.

Language aside, I must say that the scenery and sights in Japan are just awesome. In just 6 days, I managed to tour the northern half of Japan, commonly known as Tohoku (東北), and visited most of the most popular attractions. Some of these places are:

Ueno Kouen (上野公園), a place where the Japanese will gather and sit under the cherry blossom trees during spring.

Ryusendo Cave (龍泉洞), one the major limestone caves in the world, featuring stalactites, stalagmites and bats in a underground cave of temperature around 13 degrees C.

The beaches of Asamushionsen (浅虫温泉), the outskirts of Aomori Prefecture.

Hirosaki Castle (弘前城), a national cultural property of Japan.

Oirase River (奥入瀬川), with its lush greenery in the summer, and red foilage in the autumn is a popular attraction in Aomori, Japan. One can hike in the nature trail beside the river, and admire the flow of water and gushing sounds of the river.

Yasumiya (休屋), a small village located at the edge of Towadako (十和田湖), provides you with whole day supply of sea breeze, quiet and tranquility, and plentiful food for the eyes, as it is surrounded by water and mountains. A nice place to calm the soul and to destress.

Mount Hakkoda (八甲田山) is not just one mountain, but a full mountain range. Taking a ropeway (a.k.a. cable car) up to the 2459.7 metres tall mountain summit is itself an amazing ride. The summit provides a 30 minutes to 2 hours hike, based on your preference, and you get to enjoy the cool weather, see the wetlands and marshes, and just simply indulge in it. Clouds often flew past you and you can hold out your hand and grab them and feel the moisture and coolness of it. Simply awesome.

Kabushima Shinto Shrine (蕪島神社), located on the outskirts of a small village town Same (pronounced as “sa-meh”) in Hachinohe, Japan, is particularly famous for its population of black-tailed gulls, called uminekos. These gulls are not afraid of human passing through, and produce so much poop that umbrellas are provided at the entrance for sheltering against poop.

Kyu Shiba Rikyu Onshi Teien (旧芝離宮恩賜庭園), or Former Shiba Villa Gardens, used to be an imperial garden used to welcome visitors from abroad. The remains of this villa garden is now a park for everyone to enjoy and reminisce how it used to be in the past.

The Zojoji Temple (増上寺), a popular temple in Tokyo, is another attraction that I visited in Japan. Founded in 1393, the Zojoji Temple is the chief temple of the Jodo-Buddist sect.

The magnificence of the Tokyo Tower 東京タワー(top) and the views from the Main Observatory (bottom left, 150m) and Special Observatory (bottom right, 250m) are just equally breathtaking.

Well, that’s all for the highlights of this trip. Hopefully soon I get to go Japan again. This time, I want to visit Hokkaido, or even some of the southern prefectures like Osaka, Kyoto or Nara. 🙂


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Home sweet home …

Here’s posting my last and final necro-post …

[Necro-post] 04 July 2010 | 1500 hours (+8GMT)

今飛行機に 新嘉坡へ行きます. 日本の旅行は 楽しいですねえ!

Looking forward to my next overseas trip.

Having mixed feelings: some regret that there are certain things I couldn’t do like stamping my medal bought at the Tokyo Tower, seeing DL7 or buying some Jap DVDs; but also happy to have a fun week of touring half of Japan’s greatest attractions in Tohoku, and meeting many good people; and sad because the trip is getting a little lonely at times and I definitely miss the people back home.

I took a total of about 1500 photos during this trip and shot about 100 videos, in order to collect my memories and share it with my family and friends. It’s like me being the eyes of those who have yet to visit Japan.

Thinking of Japan now makes me all the more eager to continue learning the language and apply for jobs that are based in Japan, like the JET programme.

Hopefully one day soon, I will get to go to Japan once more.

On the flight back, I watched a Japanese anime entitled 時をかける少女, or pronounced as “ji-o-ka-ke-ru-shou-jo”. Literally, it means ‘The Girl Who Can Leapt Through Time’. You guys who are interested in anime should check this out on the net, hopefully there is a copy somewhere around as I would want to watch it again.

It is a touching story with a moral ‘Time waits for no one’. Indeed, we are not that young as we are used to. Apart from our basic needs of life, one has to constantly do things one loved so as to prevent regrets. As DPS would say, carpe dieum! seize the day!

On top of my head, there are so many things I would love to do.

– learn guitar and hopefully be able to become a musician;

– get vocal training, and if possible, be a singer some day;

– travel around the world;

– be a tour guide;

– work at Hollywood behind the scenes;

– open my own company and business;

– meet my idols and actors;

If only some of these will come true …. Haiz …

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[Necro-post] 02 July 2010 | 1420 hours (+9GMT)

The weather here is so cool. About 17 to 18 degrees only. Just went hiking at Mount Hakkoda and took a ropeway (pronounced as ro-pu-wei in Japanese; a term meaning ‘cable car’) up the 2459 metres of Mount Hakkoda. Hiking in the clouds is a refreshing experience. You can see white clouds float past you as you walk. Bugs flew around your face when hiking in the marshes and wetlands. Jumping & squashing and getting your shoes dirty in the muddy trails. Where strangers become friends, even when I cannot speak their language well. It is an experience that I would not have traded it with anything else. Fortunately for me, I was able to squeeze this in today. It is worth the planning.

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[Necro-post] 01 July 2010 | 1152 hours (+9GMT)

Here is so peaceful and calm, and life is at a slow pace. Countryside enjoyment, over a long time, will make one lose their senses and sanity in a sense, I figured. Loneliness is something you need to face, as it is too far from busy civilization, which us city people are used to. Sometimes you get the feeling that you do not know what to do with your life.

I would still prefer places that has people and noise, though perhaps not all the time. Cities like Hirosaki or Morioka would be better. Still enjoy life there more.

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Change in plans …

[Necro-post] 01 July 2010 | 1113 hours (+9GMT)

Phew! I just scared myself as my watch said 31/06. Thought for a while to see if June has a 31st. For once I thought I am on the wrong itinerary. Luckily this morning, it has stopped raining. Changed by itinerary and decided to forego hiking at Hakkoda-san cos my shoulder has not yet recovered and it might rain too. Used the morning to go Hirosaki-shiro instead.

Hirosaki-shiro – a castle! A real one with walls, moat and all. It was simply awesome.

Thereafter walked 45 minutes to the train station and ate lunch at a cheap noodle stall.

No problems so far. It is getting back to becoming quite a nice trip again.

The new camera is working out quite well – better than my old one!

Now on the train back to Aomori, where I will change a bus to Towada-ko – the first place that I had wanted to visit ever since I thought of coming to Japan. Hope this nice weather will hold out the whole day!

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[Necro-post] 30 June 2010 | 2118 hours (+9GMT)

Just now when I was walking down the quiet and dark streets of Hirosaki, many thoughts occurred to me – of how Japan is different from Singapore.

Sunrise & Sunset | Japan experiences a longer day than night. A day usually lasts for 14 hours plus with light and the remaining in the dark. Hence, it is no surprise that Japan’s sunrise is at around 4am. Sun sets in Japan at around 6-7pm, depending on the parts of Japan, the higher you go north of Japan, the earlier the sunrise. At first I was astonished about how early it came to light. As usually I would wake up at around 630am or 7am, and the streets will be totally bright and sunny, like 8+am in Singapore.

Working Hours | Due to the early sunrise, Japan functions on a different system of working hours as compared to Singapore. Stores usually open at 7 to 8am, and 730 to 930 am would be their morning rush hour. Hence the streets start to be filled up with cars and people rushing off to work as early as 6 or 630am. Tourist-related offices and attractions however, usually start work at 9am. By 5pm, all the stores and attractions will close for the day, except for a few restaurants that will open up till 7 or 9 pm in the night. Hence it is difficult for tourists like me to roam the night, especially when there are no shops or restaurants open that late. Also the streets will be very quiet as everyone would have gone home.

Mode of Transport | Though Japan has a huge system of railroad and buses, the most common mode of transport used by Japanese remains that of bicycle. It is common to find bicycle parks everywhere you go in Japan, and it is easy to spot Japanese cycling to work or school on the road. Even hotels provide bicycle for rental goes to show how essential it is to cycle in Japan.

Huge Train Network | Before coming to Japan, I always hear about how complicated Japan’s network of trains can be and how difficult it is to navigate through Japan on the huge network of trains and railroad lines. However, from personal experience, it is not true at all. Yes, Japan’s network of trains is huge. A single station can go up to having 22 lines, or even more for the Tokyo area stations. Also, almost every station is an interchange station, meaning it is uncommon to find stations that only serve 1 line. However, as long as you know: (i) where you are heading to, in English and in Kanji (no need to know how to pronounce, just need to have the name on paper); (ii) have a train timetable prepared to know what time the train will arrive, there will be no problem at all.

Trains are basically divided into a few types:

1. Shinkansen – bullet trains that traverse across Japan at top speed, reaching faraway places in a couple of hours.

2. Limited Express – trains that traverse across nearby cities, often skipping certain less-used stations so as to reach more popular destinations faster.

3. Express – trains that are like limited express trains, traversing across nearby cities, but do not skip any stations. These trains are hence slower than limited express trains.

4. Local Rapid Line – trains that traverse across suburbs of a city, either skipping less popular stations, or offering a short service route, so that commuters can reach destinations in a shorter time.

5. Local Line – trains that traverse across suburbs of a city, stopping at all available stations. These trains are hence slower than the Local Rapids.

Apart from knowing the types of trains, it is also important to know the type of cars on each train. There are three types: (i) Reserved Green, (ii) Reserved Ordinary and (iii) Non-Reserved. Reserved cars require a prior reservation of seat, Green being paying an additional fee, like being in “first class” seats, Ordinary being normal seats, only requiring reservation fees. Non-Reserved cars are for people who board with no reservation. Seats are hence dependent on how many people there are, and on first-come-first-serve basis.

Japan’s network of trains is not just this. Everything in the station is organized. In what way you may ask? The place to board each car is labelled on the ground. As different types of trains have different number of cars, e.g., Local Lines usually 2 cars, Limited Express I think is 6 cars and Shinkansen is 16 cars, so the place the train will stop is different. All these are labelled on the ground. Furthermore, due to the difference in train length, the type of car (reserved green, ordinary or non-reserved) is also different from train to train. All these are also labelled on the floor and on cards suspended above. For Shinkansen, two lines are available for queueing – 1 for the incoming train, 1 for the next train.

As mentioned in a previous post, trains reach exactly on time, and leave exactly on time. It is uncommon for a train to be delayed by 2 minutes or more. The train will pull into the platform, and doors open. Japanese have no rush to enter the train unlike Singaporeans. Everyone will wait until everyone alighted and then proceed to board one by one, making haste but not rushing. Once everyone has boarded, the platform captain will blow the whistle to signal the train captain to start the train.

It is also important to note the rules on board any kind of trains in Japan. Firstly, unlike Singapore, they place great emphasis on the use of mobile phones on trains. No one is allowed to use their mobile phone when in the passenger car of the train. To use a mobile phone (or keitai denwa, in Japanese), you need to go the the ends of the car, separated by a sliding automatic door. Also, Japanese place great emphasis on the giving up of priority seats. Anyone who is found not deserving of the priority seat may be scolded by others in public for not giving up their seats. Hence, no matter how crowded trains are, these seats are usually left empty. Furthermore, putting bags on seats are prohibited if the trains are full. Bags have to be placed on racks above the seats. Toilets are available on all trains, except local lines, on particular cars only. These information will be disseminated via PA system at the start of each ride. Cars are also labelled smoking and non-smoking. Japan’s public transport is increasingly becoming non-smoking. Standing is only allowed at the ends of the train. Oh! and the lady with the push-cart will walk along the aisle, just let her know if you wish to buy anything, from food to drinks to souvenirs.

Hailing a Taxi | Hailing a taxi is completely the opposite from Singapore. Available taxis (pronounced as takk-shi) are indicated with a red light, while occupied taxis are having a green light. Also, taxis usually are available at train or bus stations (or ekimae, which literally means in front of station), tourist attractions, otherwise, you would be required to call one. There are 3 main types of taxis – small-sized, large-sized and limousines.

Crossing the Road | From personal experiences this week, jaywalking is not tolerated in Japan. Everyone waits for the green man before crossing, regardless of whether the road has cars or not. Even when both sides of the road are empty, Japanese still stand and wait for the green man. Also, every place that allows pedestrain to cross, will be marked on the road with white stripes. Hence it is really easy to see where you can cross and where you cant. One thing different from Singapore is that in some places of Japan, such as Hirosaki, cross-road junction traffic lights are 3-way, meaning pedestrians can cross length-wise, breadth-wise and diagonal-wise (where all cars will be stopped by red light). Interesting eh?

Buildings Planned | Buildings are planned and built in an orderly manner. There will always be a large pavement for pedestrians to walk on either or both sides of the road. Hence walking along the street is always easy. Also, buildings often have carparks every now and then, hence one needs to be really alert when walking down the street, as you will need to look out for cars turning in and out of carparks. Carparks are traditionally an open-spaced single-floored carpark, but in some places multi-storey carparks do exist. Also some parts of Japan offer carpark service where commuters park their car in a lift, and the car will travel up the elevator to be stored in a certain part of the building – sounds like capsule hotel isnt it?

What’s on TV? | Surprisingly, Japanese talk shows and variety shows can be a match for Taiwanese variety shows. Japanese shows can be really funny at times, and often put forward original ideas. It is always an exciting part of the day to look forward to watching these shows at night in the hotel. What a waste that we cannot watch them back in Singapore!

Hairstyles & Faces | Somehow, the hairstyles of Japanese men and women are all the same. Hence it is really easy to spot who is a Japanese and who isnt. However, this does not apply to the youths. Students of Japanese High Schools or Universities tend to be a little more fashionable with clothing, bags and hairstyles. It is so unfair that these students usually look better than average, while in Singapore, few are! *Jealous!*

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