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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!

[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!*

[Live Post] 30 June 2010 – 1800 hours (+9GMT)

Woa, the first time I did a live post. Haha.

Well, today went badly for me. It was pouring since the early mornings, from Morioka to Asamushionsen to Aomori to Hirosaki = all the way rained! Gosh! In addition, I found out from many denki-ya (electric stores) that nobody in Japan sells adapter for foreign power adapters to be used in Japan. They only sell adapter for Japanese to use in other foreign countries. This means that I should have bought one from Singapore and brought it to Japan. Shucks! I thought hotels would normally provide – my hotel on the first day in Minami-Senju did.

Well, not being to have an adapter to charge my lappie and my handphone is still a small problem. Not having one to charge my digital camera is a big one. No camera then how to take pictures? So I decided to get a new camera from Japan, anyway since my own camera is very lousy on the graphics, as last time I tried to save money to get a Olympus camera, and after that people say that Canon is better.

The hotel staff is very kind, they helped me called up the denki stores to check if such adapter can be bought in Japan, and then when I said that I wished to go there to buy a new camera, they offered to call up the taxi company to call a taxi for me, so that I wouldnt have to explain to the driver when the taxi comes.

I got there without any problems – Yamada Denkim that is, one of the largest departmental stores that sell only electric products. I found the aisle of the camera products, and when the salesperson approached me, I just said:

Sumimasen, watashi wa nihongo o hanasemasen.

Then the salesperson offered to get me a translater from Softbank, which has a booth nearby. The lady (Taka-san) helped me with the translation throughout and helped me with my questions. I am grateful for such help to be available to foreigners like me in Japan. πŸ™‚

I think it has just stopped raining. But I am still waiting for my new camera battery to finish charging. Later going to walk over to Hirosaki CastleΒ  for a new look before it gets late. Still do not know where to have my ban go-han (dinner) hmm .. shall figure out later on.

Alright, I shall update more tomorrow, if possible. Tomorrow will be a great day, going to the fabulous Oirase, Hakkoda-san and Towada-ko, really looking forward to it.

Till then, ja matta! πŸ™‚

[Necro-post] 30 June 2010 – 1335 hours (+9GMT)

Finally time for my next entry as I wait for the train to start for Hirosaki Station from Aomori.

This morning I went to the Asamushi Aquarium to see dolphin shows and get to have a glimpse of penguins and sea otters amongst other smaller and ess heard of fishes. I also went to the seaside at Asaumshi Onsen Gyoen where the weather is freezing cold at 18 degrees C and have gusts of cold wind from the sea.

Today, I am happy to say that I finally had a chance to ask something toally in Japanese, without the need to use English. It is really not easy but it will definitely help as many people here often mistake me for a Japanese. Perhaps I should get myself a straw hat to wear as well HAHA!

Hopefully when I get to Hirosaki, my hotel would be able to provide me with an adapter for charging my camera, handphone and laptop. If not I would have problems taking more pictures. Let’s hope for the best! *fingers crossed*

[Necro-post] 29 June 2010 – 1626 hours (+9GMT)

Now on my way back from the trip to Ryusendo. Bus is rocky, so wouldnt be able to write much.

Today I spent much time on travelling (3 hours on Shinkansen, 5 hours to and fro Ryusendo from Morioka), hence didnt have much time outside to enjoy nature.

But, the bus ride is amazing! Routes led right into mountain passes, through small (and I mean small) suburban towns in mountain valleys (like Horowako, etc.) complete with houses, farms, shops, schools, etc. How amazing if I were to stay here, I guess the people here need not be bothered by the busy city life, crowded places, pollution and what-not.

The sights of Ryusendo are also amazing. A real limestone cave oh my gosh! with stalacitites, stalagmites (ya I donno how to spell them still) and a freezing trip of 13 degrees C and seeing BATS for the first time without any barrier between them and me, it is really an eye-opening trip.

Oh! I just saw some school children going home from school. Everyone is so respectful here. People nod to bus captains for letting them cross the street etc.

Another interesting thing is the lack of bus stop sign, or rather in some cases, signs are so small and inconspicuous that I wonder how people see them.

Today I am really grateful towards the driver of the bus I took to Ryusendo, both to and fro (same driver for both trips). Upon finding out that I am not local to Japan (using JR Pass – foreigner), he took extra measures to make sure I understood the rules and the place I am going. Even when the bus took a 5 min break at Santouku, a souvenir-selling place in between the journey from Morioka to Ryusendo, he volunteered to help me to take a picture, which I think is one of the rarest pictures I have, that has me in it. Haha. So grateful for him giving me a wonderful experience.

Domou Arigatou Gozaimashita!

[Necro-post] 29 June 2010 – 1005 hours (+9GMT)

I am now on board the Tohoku Shinkansen. The ride is super comfortable and I have sat, slept and sightsaw (if there is such a word) for the past 2 hours. Just 2 more hours to my destination – Morioka.

One thing I have to say that is most astonishing is the Japanese concept of time. When the train timetable says 0802 for the shinkansen ride this morning, I didnt expect that it meant exactly that, even when I heard that trains here are very punctual. The train arrive at 0802 sharp, and left when it became 0803. Also, the orderliness of the station platform is shocking too. Lines are drawn on the ground to show you where to stand to line up for the bus, where to board for which car of the train, and which part of the train is reserved and which is non-reserved.

Along the way to Morioka, there was a fair share of buildings and suburbs, and after Sendai, it became mostly tunnels and overpasses and farms. There are some videos that I took of the beautiful view, which I will upload when I have the time.

Also the train allows eating! Woohoo! There’s a lady pushing a cart, just like in the Harry Potter stories. The train captain also wears a uniform with shiny buttons and a cap. So UK style right?

Gonna reach Morioka soon in less than an hour. Yay! It has stopped raining. But the temperature here is still quite colling, about 25-26 degrees C.

Shall stop blogging to enjoy more views now.

πŸ™‚

28 June 2010 | 0015 hours (+8GMT)

Okay, blogging during the trip in Japan isnt gonna be easy. Since not every place I go to would have an internet access, so I shall do what forumites called “necro-posting”. Basically I record down my thoughts and experiences as and when I feel like it and post them up when internet access is available.

This is my first entry and I am on the flight, going to Narita. On the way to the airport, all the way I was feeling very nervous, more than being excited. The rush hour, the language barrier, the sense of travelling alone, the worry for things back home all started sinking in.

I try to think of it as a test of independence. If I pass this test, I shouldnt have any problem living abroad elsewhere. Well having said that, I can now put my mind to rest.

The service on ANA is superb, I would say much better than SIA. My seat partner was a Singaporean too, what a coincidence. He is a PhD student studying in Cambridge with 1-2 years left to go, background in NUS Engineering. We chatted for quite some time and then he went to sleep but I just couldnt sleep. Hopefully this doesnt affect my sleep pattern later on in the day hahah.

Okay I see food coming this way, they are serving almond and cheese bread, and milk/apple juice. Yumms!

So I shall stop here for now, catch me on my next post yups!

28 June 2010 | 2209 hours (+9GMT)

Yay back to hostel once again – home sweet home. Kinda scary to come back late at night, cos the streets are dark and God knows what will happen when streets are dark and quiet. Better sleep early to prepare for early check out tomorrow.

Well today I would say that it is a most eventful day. Morning I took 3 train rides from the airport to get to this hostel. At first, I was quite nervous to take the trains, because one station can have 22 platforms (others have more!) and I landed in Narita Airport during rush hour, so everybody is all rushing somewhere! But luckily for me, I change my train schedule last minute so that I can re-route the rush hour stations, to take the more ulu ones, which makes the journey longer but less stressful. In these rides, I figured the train system out and now has no problem travelling to any train station in japan πŸ˜€

I spent the entire morning changing trains and trying to get to the hostel. Got lost on the way a couple of times, but staff in supermarkets and convenience stores or even train stations are very helpful, even when their command of the English language is very limited. Most of the time I speak to them in Japanese, mixed with English here and there. πŸ˜€

I reached my hostel at around 11am (+9GMT) took a little rest, facebooked a little, and then went out for walk walk haha. At first, I was quite nervous to go for lunch, because I’m not sure how they serve lunch outside in those ryokan or restaurants, but I found one rather cheap but with nice decor and tried to push my luck and went in. The staff were very polite and served me immediately. I spoke to them in Japanese, the greetings and all, and they thought I was local, so replied in Japanese as well. My identity was revealed when I had problems ordering the food hahaha. The pictures look nice, but I do not know what the ingredient for the dish was hahaha. In the end, I can only say “kore o kudasai” means “can you please give me this” + point to the menu hahaha. and they understood. πŸ˜€

Afternoon I went to Ueno park, but unfortunately today apparently all attractions are closed for some reason, summer holiday or something as the signboard says. So I took a train and went to Akihabara, or the Electric City, where all consumer electronic shops are located, from computers, to internet to cameras. The scene reminded me of Mongkok in Hong Kong. Shall post some pictures when I have the time to upload. After Akihabara, I took another train to Shinjuku, the busiest ward of Japan. It houses about 30+ platforms, so you can sort of imagine how crowded it can be and how big the station is like. I walked from Shinjuku to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, where there is an observatory to see the whole of Japan from 45th storey. The view is simply amazing. Took several videos and ate at a super luxurious cafe at the observatory. Food were sold at quite reasonable price though.

And then it was late. Too bad, I actually wanted to visit their Takashimaya, which was just nearby, and their Kinokuniya too, but I thought I had better get back to charge my batteries for my camera for tomorrow (used up both batteries today for camwhoring haha). And also the fact that Japan’s streets are not very safe when it is dark and late into the night … not where I’m staying at least. Quite a few blocks of abandoned buildings and people getting drunk on the street… yerr not my type of living place. Wouldnt have stayed here if not for the cheap prices haha.

Okay then, so far updates for today. Looking forward to another great day tomorrow. Shall be riding on the shinkasen early tomorrow morning, and going to Ryusendo Cave for the whole day. Shall elaborate more tomorrow!

Oyasuminasai!