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Autumn, cool (weather) Japan

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It is getting colder here as the autumn season fully sets in. Despite the disasters recorded this and last month, people are generally anticipating the red autumn season.

I heard a conversation between colleagues of the same department earlier this week regarding the forecast of autumn foliage (fall leaves) being visible in different parts of Japan. The prefecture I currently stay in is expected to observe the autumn foliage between the end of November and early of December. Due to its vicinity to Tokyo (which don’t have correlation, by the way), people here observe the autumn foliage at a later period of time.

One of the colleague, feeling dissatisfied, said, “Why do we (people in Chiba prefecture) always became the last ones to observe these things?”. Chiba prefecture and Tokyo metropolitan observed the autumn foliage at a later stage, as well as snowfall. However, western parts of Tokyo which are near to the mountains do observe earlier autumn foliage, such as Mount Takao in Tokyo, which is expected to be observable at mid-November.

I am definitely looking forward (and delighted!) to see the colorful red season… and its accompanying chilly weather.

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“Emergency sign”

Found this song from the ending part of the NHK documentary “Human Crossroads” (事件の涙; Jiken no namida), and had it stuck in my head ever since. Its melancholic, as if a thirst never gets quenched, clenches the heart as the tune progresses.

“Human Crossroads” tells the melancholic stories, mostly the sad happenings in the contemporary Japanese society. One episode I remember vividly of, is the mass massacre incident happened in Akihabara, Tokyo. Although many people and its victim will go on remembering that day as a dark one, many people may not attempt to seek what was going on in the perpetrator’s head — his motivations, his background, etc.

This song somewhat fits the narrative of the documentary, and hence, left a deep impression in me. The documentary particularly focused on the human aspect, something we might have inconspicuously neglected over time…

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Hotchkiss and stapler

One morning, I overheard a colleague’s conversation over the phone about someone wanting a “hotchkiss” being delivered to an event’s venue.

“Hotchkiss”, I paused and gave a brief thought about its meaning.

Stapler.

A quick search on the Internet revealed that “Hotchkiss” not only is common to the Japanese, it is also attributed to Benjamin B. Hotchkiss for machine gun, a weapon that was widely used during the First World War. It was also popularized, thanks to the company name “E.H Hotchkiss”.

The word “stapler” might be foreign to the locals, so mentioning its name might draw confusion. I was reminded of the last trip with my friend few years ago when I wanted to buy a medicine to overcome a mild fever at a local drug store in Tokyo station. I asked the salesperson if they sell Panadol. Unsurprisingly, the salesperson didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. I then followed up by asking if they sell paracetamol.

Disappointingly, they said they didn’t sell the product that I mentioned. Armed with Google search, I finally found what I want.

It turned out that the Japanese are more comfortable and familiar with the term ibuprofen. Hence, brands like Bufferin and Tylenol are more prominent in the local drugstores (and they work like Panadol too). However, I am a bit puzzled to Panadol’s unavailability here, while it is widely available in Taiwan (very helpful whenever I visit there!). I also noted that Watsons is not available in Japan, but it has branches everywhere in the neighboring Taiwan. Hmm.

In the end, I learned something new — something that is common back in the home country isn’t always that common in another country.

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He Who Can’t Marry

Recently, I watched “He Who Can’t Marry” (結婚できない男; Kekkon dekinai otoko; translated in Chinese as “结不了婚的男人”) on Netflix, a drama produced in 2006, which tells the story of a rich, lonely architect bachelor who is in his 40s named Shinsuke Kuwano, and the characters surrounding him, including a doctor, a car’s salesperson, the main protagonist’s subordinate, a pug (!), and more.

This is a comedy/romance drama, which is lighthearted to watch. I chuckled and at times, laughed at almost every episode of this show. From moments where Shinsuke enjoyed his private time in his apartment listening to the classics while pretending to be a conductor to the chit chats and happenings between the characters and topics surrounding Shinsuke , as well as events surrounding Kaneda, Shinsuke’s rival architect (including moments where Shinsuke periodically checks Kaneda’s website for updated happenings surrounding him), I enjoyed every moments of the show.

“Oh! Kaneda updated his site.” while browsing through the contents

After a tiring day, or just feeling stressed and needing a hearty laugh, or just searching for a classic Japanese drama, I can wholeheartedly recommend this show. Being a new fan of this show, I also found a site dedicated to showing the places and set in the drama, which are mainly based in Tokyo. Bookmarked to visit the places someday.

Its sequel, “The Man Who Still Can’t Get Married“, which aired in October 2019, doesn’t look too promising. Airing new episode at Tuesday every night at Fuji TV, I watched episode 3 of the show and found it somewhat disappointing (Japanese TV drama nowadays are a bit of lackluster, in my opinion).

With that, I wrap up this post with Shinsuke who’s very particular with his living style — enjoying his steak alone.

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Typhoon Bualoi (No. 21) hits

This morning, Typhoon Bualoi (typhoon no. 21) swept through Chiba Prefecture (located east of Tokyo) and its neighboring areas. It brought strong wind and torrential rains along the area, including where I stay. I commute to work by bus, hence I was partly drenched while waiting for the delayed bus due to the unavoidable traffic congestion at the bus stop.

The plum rain season in autumn is quite chilling, especially when one only wore thin clothing. However, the typhoon was the main cause of today’s weather, with areas recording almost one month’s worth of rainfall in half a day!

Near noon, I received multiple warning alerts from the local municipal government regarding advisories to perform evacuation at affected places. However, I wasn’t alone in this regard. iOS devices (notably iPhones), when received the said warning alerts, sounded an alert tone with the warning messages appearing on screen. The alert tone amplified with the presence of many iOS devices at the same floor.

Many colleagues looked at each other amusingly as they confirmed the message they received — a landslide confirmation information, advisories regarding water level at nearby riverbanks hitting dangerous level (which can overflow), evacuation advisories and listing places to evacuate to in case of danger.

[Level 4 alert] Evacuation advisory

I received an evacuation advisory alert (issued at 2019/10/25 13:00) sent by the local municipal government to residents of high risk areas (where I was at) to evacuate to the designated evacuation area(s)/shelter(s) if necessary, including community centers and schools.

From what I’ve gathered from the news, cases of severe flooding, river water overflowing, and landslides had caused damage to properties, partial paralysis to transportation, and even death. Even though typhoon is not an uncommon phenomenon to the Japanese, the severity and strength of the typhoons these few months had left them in an undesirable state. As temperature gets cooler over the course of the autumn season, some people might find it hard to go through, especially those who needed to rebuild their homes.

Fortunately, in the area where I live, nothing destructive had happened — yet, the effects of the typhoon are still visible. People cramming in trains going home at reduced speed (due to possible flood and winds), cleaning up of garbage flew all over the place, and so on.

I sincerely hope the victims can recover soon from these disasters, and let this typhoon be the last one in this decade.

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Typhoon comes in threes… and more

Continuing from the devastating Typhoon Faxai last month, Typhoon Hagibis (No. 19) struck Japan at Saturday, October 12, that had created a new record in the Japanese history. Rivaled the Typhoon Kanogawa that wrecked the island nation and caused at least 1000 people dead, Typhoon Hagibis left some parts of Japan paralyzed and disruption for short to medium amount of time in various areas, notably transportation and residential areas. Although Japan is well prepared for natural disasters like these, Typhoon Hagibis’ wrath had definitely cause miserable amount of inconveniences in daily life.

At that Saturday, I was in a friend’s house in western Tokyo. My friends and I were caught off guard when we had a look at the typhoon’s projected path — we were extremely close to it! The typhoon landed Tokyo and continue upwards during the midnight, where it continued to cause havoc, including floods in areas near rivers, and landslides at hilly areas. Lucky for us, my friend’s house was left unharmed (so did mine, a property which was built in the 1970s!). We couldn’t go outside — the wind was so strong that it could take you down, or worse, causing an object to fly at high speed and possibly hit us.

The next Sunday morning, it was like a dream — the sun in western Tokyo shone so bright, and the temperature had quickly risen to the normal autumn temperature — chilly yet warm. However, it was nightmare to people who had evacuated and people who had their homes and properties destroyed. It was only less than a month apart from Faxai.

Yet, two more typhoons, No. 20 and No. 21, are headed to Japan this week. Luckily, typhoon No. 20 brought only strong winds and rains with no devastating consequences. Its arrival also coincided with the enthronement of Emperor Naruhito at Tuesday, October 22. Perhaps it was symbolic — when the emperor proclaimed his accession to the throne, it turned sunny that Tuesday afternoon.

As of now, Typhoon No. 21 (Bualoi) is looming on the horizon as weather alerts and warnings were issued for the weekend — strong winds accompanied by huge rainfalls.

Living here for less than 2 years, I can sense how volatile this nation is due to its geographical location — one would never expect what will happen next. Maybe due to this volatility, many things were put into perspective and priorities reshuffled, I think.

I sincerely hope and wish for the best for the victims — time to brace for another unsettling weekend.

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Messing with a public TV

One Friday night, I was waiting at a gate in Narita Airport where a plane was due to fly to Taipei in half an hour. In the waiting area, there was a public TV on display. It was secured to a wall, and its remote control was secured on a table in front of the TV, with only the channel buttons visible. Subtitles were turned on, yet no audio was audible from the TV, presumably set in such a way that no one will be disturbed by the loud audio.

At that time, a presumably live football match was broadcasting at NHK BS1. Feeling curious about what documentary programs were on air at NHK BS Premium, I attempted to change channel by pressing the [BS] + [2] key of the remote channel without any second thoughts.

Suddenly, I heard someone hissed at me. I quickly turned my back to find two men sitting and laid back on the passenger’s bench visibly frustrated at me, and started to cuss words at me.

The following conversation might have occurred between the two.

“What the…”

“C’mon!”

“The match!!!”

Hastily, I apologized, switched the channel back to BS1 and proceeded to a seat near the check in counter. From a distance, I still can hear them grumbling about the interruption they faced while enjoying their football match. (I wonder, how would they enjoy that match with Japanese subtitles constantly covering half the screen and without audio?)

Come to think of it, the TV that they were enjoying was a public property, and was meant to be used by the public. As a kid, if someone changed the channel of the airport TV when I was enjoying my cartoon show, I’d be pissed. But as an adult?

We’ve other things to do and care about.

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Devastating Faxai

The Typhoon Faxai (or widely known as Typhoon No. 15 in Japan) hit Greater Tokyo area in the dawn of Monday, September 9. Living in the inner part of Greater Tokyo, I felt the power unleashed upon the area. I woke up to the strong howling wind and heavy rain at sometime after 4.30 a.m.. Unable to continue sleeping, I turned on the TV to know the latest update (the public broadcaster NHK has news show in its domestic channel from 4.30am onward in weekdays).

Looking through the glass door, I can see the rain fell heavily and winds blew strongly at high speed. It began hitting the Greater Tokyo area at around 5 a.m.. Around the same time, I received multiple alerts from the local government — evacuation advisory alerts, advising people to be prepared for evacuation in the event the disaster worsened, and urged elderly people to immediately evacuate to a safer place.

In the early morning, transportation modes were severely paralyzed, and train services were temporarily halted until midday. Usually go to work by bus, I resorted to walk to my office when even bus and taxis were unavailable.

Many people sorted to take half-day leave (which eventually stretched to whole-day) from the office, opted to stay at home for various reasons. Employees who lived at the vicinity of the typhoon-hit area were forced to stay at home, possibly due to the paralyzed transportation condition, or fixing damages caused by the typhoon.

There were severe blackouts, lack of water and mobile coverage outages near my area. The condition worsened when the temperature quickly rose to 30 C and above (and it was humid too!). I was extremely sad by the condition. A donation page was created on Yahoo! Donation, but I hope more will come soon.

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The case of waxy gift

I had a dream.

I met a person who was precious to me after a long period of time not meeting each other, let alone talking to each other. I vaguely remembered that we had a conversation near a window in a room. It was bright outside, but I don’t recognize what was beyond the window. It was pure brightness with nothing in sight.

As we sat near the window chatting away, a folded white handkerchief was nicely placed on top of the table. This person stood up, seeming to leave the room, placed a part of the used pair of wireless headphone on the handkerchief. That wireless headphone resembled an Apple AirPods.

Intriguingly, that wireless headphone had a tiny layer of earwax, apparently used by this person. This person gracefully walked towards the door, opening it, and leave the room, for good, leaving me and that used pair of wireless headphone behind. Since only one part of the wireless headphone was left behind, I theorized that either the other part went missing, or it was an attempt to maintain communication, albeit only one way (i.e. receiving communication from this person without the ability to respond).

I don’t remember the specifics of the conversation we exchanged, let alone what happened. I cannot recall the instance where I had touched anything related to this person, so the fact that this person randomly appeared in my dream is outlandish at best.

This person still exists today well somewhere, probably preferred undisturbed.

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The end of summer

Summer is quietly wrapping up in Japan as the weather began plotting course for the autumn season. Yet, the remaining heat that hinted summer still remain. Signs of typhoon and extreme heat still present, albeit not that as glaring a few months ago.

I left some signs of summer this year — the sunburn on my hands due to the long exposure under the sun, unfulfilled plans that were forcefully delayed, and places revisited with different impressions.

This marked my second summer in Japan. Although the condition is the same with Malaysia (albeit at some cases, harsher than that of Malaysia), I sometimes struggled to cope with the heat. With heat stroke warnings issued and continued hospitalization of unfortunate people on the rise, I realized I cannot take things lightly.

Speaking of taking things not lightly, I casually registered for the international communication oriented English exams (TOEIC) and had received my results. Suffice to say, the results were within expectations… but how would a typical Japanese think?

Some days ago, I received an internal email extending an invitation to take the Listening and Reading portion of the TOEIC. This exam mainly assesses one’s ability in listening and comprehending the English language in international communication context. A friend of mine questioned its usefulness in really evaluating one’s English skill. I concurred, but I can’t help but to think, what about the JLPT?

A coworker once told me that he feared looking at English words — it was as if he was looking at a bunch of garbled characters, and that they were hard to understand. I can understand his feelings and thoughts; quite precise when I first learned Japanese. Although there are kanji, the Chinese characters, they are quite different from the hanzi that I knew.

Japanese is still a fascinating language to learn (continuously). I picked up a book targeting primary school learners of native Japanese to continue learning. Needless to say, I am still amazed with the amount of things I didn’t know. I learned to appreciate my colleagues who are (probably) struggling to understand what I tried to say, and possibly (silently) absorbed the less polite form way of speaking that I used everyday.

I’m drafting a TODO list for travel, domestically and internationally. I found that taking the bus to travel overnight saves cost if you are not in a rush. I also found that one can go to Yamagata from Narita now at a relatively low cost via LCCs. So much to do yet so little time.