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Heat with a hint of approaching autumn

Clouds with uncertainty level of storm coming as August quietly ended.

How days have passed – it’s September. In the third week of this month, there is an Autumn Equinox Day public holiday, which somewhat marked the beginning of the autumn season.

Last month was a record-breaking month — the heat spread across the month and across Japan was not easy to cope with. The plum rain season ended at the end of July, and thus transitioned into the sunshine (think blue sky and white clouds) and hot season. Yet, this was hard to cope with due to the risen temperature in a short period of time, along with other factors. High number of deaths caused by heat stroke and continuous and grueling high temperature across Japan were the main highlights of Japan, not to mention the cancellation of fireworks and summer festival events due to the pandemic.

I just found out that a grand fireworks event not far from my city was cancelled due to the pandemic, what a pity! The cancellation of the iconic Nebuta Festival event in Japan’s Aomori prefecture caused me to temporarily halt plans to fly to the northern part of the country.

A hint that marked the beginning of the autumn season — typhoons. News of typhoons began spreading around as one typhoon after another are being reported. The supertyphoon “Haishen” (known in Japanese media as typhoon no. 10) is looming on the horizon as it heads steadily towards southern Japan, which is expected to make a landfall this coming Sunday night to Monday morning.

While walking back home a few days ago, I noticed the sun had set much earlier for every few weeks passed. Temperature in the evenings weren’t that low (below 30 C), but it was tolerable and it felt cool. Despite the surroundings gotten dark earlier, I had not fail to realize the slight hints of autumn in the trees – leaves showing a tint of golden color. The same goes to the trees near the street as I took the bus to work in the morning – the number of fallen leaves clumped together at a spot not far from the tree were noticeable.

I had longing for the autumn foliage, especially looking at them at various sites in Japan, but it is still months away before the breathtaking sights can be formed. I definitely am looking forward to the coming autumn season!

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The case of 2013: Sung Siew’s website

I occasionally stumbled upon a Quora entry, with an eye catching title, loosely translated as follows:

A foreigner told me, “Look at Japan’s websites. Especially Abe Hiroshi’s website (link followed). So this is Japanese’s level.”. What does this mean?

Quora

This question had me intrigued because it was ambiguous enough to let the reader interpret which aspect(s) of the website the foreigner had judged.

I recalled my Form 4 and Form 5 years (year 2012-2013) where I formed a team to revamp my secondary’s school (Sung Siew Secondary School) website led by my then ICT teacher. As of current writing, the domain was not in use by the school.

In the beginning of the project, I looked for ideas by taking an unusual step to checking out the websites of Japanese schools (primary, secondary schools included).

A Meguro based secondary school website (example for this article. I did not referred to this website.).

Admittedly, the designs were dated, but the contents were intriguing. They wrote in detail about the events and happenings in their school. Despite the dated designs, I decided to adapt their designs and went ahead to produce the new website and manually update the contents to its FTP server (the contents were produced using a combination of static HTML and dynamic PHP web pages).

After decided that manually update contents by hand was tiring, I chose to use the Joomla! content management system (CMS) to power the website instead. I fondly remember spending days testing and comparing between Joomla! and Drupal in my home PC.

The Sung Siew Secondary School website as of October 5, 2013, captured via Wayback Machine.

Prior to this version, the previous layout managed by a more senior team (who I do not know) than I had a fancier look (it even had music!). I may write about this in the future.

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Soba & Coffee

On a trip surrounding Chiba’s Boso peninsula, some friends and I stopped by JR Hama-Kanaya station to take a trip to the area’s Mt. Nokogiri via the famous Nokogiriyama Ropeway. While we are going back to the station to proceed to our next destination, we stumbled upon this cafe just a few minutes away from the station.

Soba & Coffee restaurant
The “Soba & Coffee” cafe shop

What struck me as odd and unique is its title – Soba & Coffee. It featured soba, Japanese buckwheat noodles, as one of its main offering, as well as other Japanese and western foods and beverages (click the photo above to view a larger version). A unique blend, possibly go very well between the two, especially under the hot sun.

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A follow up: picking a world to live in

After completing reading parts of a work, I finally understand the “alternate world” the protagonist wandered into.

It is a never ending world, essentially a loop, one can say. The artifacts — remains of the past stayed there. Conversations between the protagonist and the related characters took place in the alternate world, which were centered on things that one couldn’t let go easily. Things that were precious to the protagonist, as if they were a source of reliance when the protagonist escapes to the alternate world.

At a latter part of the said work, the protagonist was presented an ultimatum — either to abandon the alternate world and move forward, or to remain in the alternate world and circle endlessly. He chose to move forward, and as a result, dependencies between the alternate world and the reality began to collapse. Whether the event occurred is a good thing, it was up to the reader, I assumed.

Essentially, it boiled down to this.

Rather than clinging to the past, accepting it and moving forward is the way going forward if one wishes to progress. However, easier is said than done. I caught myself into this dilemma which lasted for a long period of time. Crawling out of it isn’t easy, admittedly, but it did provided me a fresh, new perspective of a certain matter.

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Wandering into the alternate

Heavily filtered image of a bridge near Keisei-Narita station.
A heavily filtered image of a bridge near Keisei-Narita station.

An eye shut is what it all takes to wander into the alternate world. No matter the boundaries and conditions one face, when you wake up, you will be brought back to the reality (the real world). And I’m not mentioning about life and death situations.

I read recently of a work depicting a scene about the protagonist wandering into the alternate world. A world where he doesn’t seem able to reach, no matter how far he walks to the horizon, as if it is never ending. A familiar voice, coming out from nowhere, reminded this protagonist that he would not be able to reach this world for some reason. What were the reason(s) behind this, I still don’t know yet.

However, this depiction reminded me multiple occasions of dreams where I wandered into the realms of alternate world, only be rudely pulled back into the reality the next day. On my way to work, I noted of the brief memories in the alternate world into my note taking app. It showed a pattern, as if I’m discovering puzzle pieces. Piecing them together might show up something, I don’t know. I haven’t yet see the dreams these days.

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“Year 2000: Japan”

I was randomly searching the internet for some iconic images of Tokyo entering the new millennium after encountering a work that was released years before the year 2000. A quick search on Google Images revealed a Flickr album containing photos of this user visiting Japan in a world tour (envy!).

tkshibuya08 Shibuya Street Fashion Boots, Tokyo, Japan 2000
The “Year 2000: Japan” album by Flickr user CanadaGood G.Melle.

Many of his photos screamed 2000s (because those photos were really taken in that era!), however, I find it surprising that certain aspects of Japan haven’t changed much, like that the area of Akihabara, shinkansen bullet trains, etc.

The photos do provoke some kind of nostalgia that I do not possess as a kindergarten kid. At that time, I was still in preschool, occasionally accompanying my mother watching Japanese dramas in front of the TV during the primetime hours of 7-8pm (remember Power Office Girls?).

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Observation: Traveling outside metropolitan areas

The past few days were consecutive holidays in Japan due to the scheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympics (which were ultimately postponed to 2021). As a getaway from the pandemic heavily hampered Greater Tokyo area, I travelled to parts of the Tohoku region of Miyagi, Yamagata, and Fukushima prefectures with main focus on Miyagi prefecture’s Sendai city.

I made some observation notes as a traveler who hailed from the metropolitan area (and maybe will be helpful for you who intend to travel in areas that are less populated), shown below.

  1. The number of trains available per hour greatly varies depending on location and its status (whether it is a tourist hotspot, etc.). Planning ahead is greatly recommended especially if one doesn’t want to waste time and/or at a tight schedule. The usual frequencies range from one per hour to one every 2-3 hours. It is always a good idea to factor in the departing hours if you are in a tight schedule like I was.
  2. Not all JR stations accept the use of IC cards (e.g. Suica). It is always a good idea to check the noticeboard / plaque cards, etc. placed at the departing station for the IC cards usable/covered area. If the destination station is not covered within the IC cards usable area, purchase a paper ticket (Hence, it is not the case where IC cards should always be charged beforehand in terms of using the trains!). Having living in Greater Tokyo area for the past few years, I have been completely got used to using Suica in daily transport until I find it indispensable.
  3. Certain train lines in cities do not accept the major IC cards (e.g. Suica, Pasmo) but only the local IC cards, e.g. Fukushima’s NORUCA. In this case, falling back to paper ticket is one’s safest bet without purchasing the local IC card (except if you are a frequent user).
  4. Travelling via Shinkansen bullet train still allows the use of IC cards to exit a station where Shinkansen bullet train is served, but not local trains (depending on region/area). I observed this at JR Yonezawa station where shinkansen travelers can exit the station by “tapping” to exit. Local trains, however, still rely on paper tickets for manual inspection by the train station staff.
  5. Cash, cash, cash. Cashless transactions may had become mainstream in urban areas, but in rural areas, such as town and small cities, cash is king. Get stuffed with a reasonable amount of cash whenever possible beforehand.
  6. Unplanned stops result in unexpected discoveries. Cliché, but true. I finally visited the area where NHK’s Asadora “Yell” is based at, which is at Fukushima.

I might write an elaborated post for some of the points shown in the future. Travel is always fun, but not in the case of a global pandemic ongoing.

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Tokyo by train

Life Where I’m From has a video of which he shot an entire day about travelling in trains in Tokyo (albeit, at times, he wandered to neighboring Kanagawa prefecture). I first watched this years before settling down in Greater Tokyo, but I can’t help but felt amazed about the convenience of the public transport in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

“Tokyo by Train” by Life Where I’m From. Turn on CC for English subtitles.

The train (and subway) networks are powered by JR East and other private railway companies (Toei, Keikyu, Tokyo Monorail, Keisei, etc.), making not only travelling around places in Tokyo and the neighboring prefectures easy, but also making travelling ahead of time almost unnecessary due to the frequency of trains per hour, where you can plan and travel in minutes interval. Try that with KTM Berhad‘s commuter (spoiler: almost impossible).

When I first settled down in a city located half an hour away from Shinjuku, I planned to jump on each station on every train line in Tokyo every weekend. The starting point of the train station hopping plan was Seibu Shinjuku‘s Hana-Koganei station. Although that plan didn’t get realized while I was living in Tokyo (of which I moved out to Chiba prefecture a few months later), it gradually happened in the summer of 2018. Tokyo metropolitan alone has a lot of train lines and train stations, and it’s impossible to visit every station without spending a lot of time (and money)!

Nevertheless, it is a lot of fun when one travels in Tokyo, especially when you live in Tokyo or are a tourist who likes to roam around. Hop on a random train line. Stop at a random train station. “Tap” out and explore the area, get lost. Fill up your stomach with a bowl of ramen or tonkatsu.

Just recently, I explored the Tokyo Sakura Tram (known also as Toden Arakawa Line) with a one-day pass, and spent half a day exploring the smaller areas in parts of Tokyo (the parts you don’t usually see if one travels by the normal trains). I might write about it someday.

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Hello, happy birthday.

How are you?

With times like these, where ever you are, I hope you are fine and well. Surrounded by supportive friends, families, and an important partner by your side, I believe you are doing spectacularly well in your studies.

Ever since it happened, I never stopped pointing at myself for the reality and as the role of the root cause. Times passed, yet the scar remained there, with blood sometimes seeping out from it, hinting by the fact that time passed do not heal itself; but rather acts as a stopping gap in order to prevent the blood from gushing out from the scar.

What caused the blood to resurface again from the scar? Was it due to a reminder? An unfulfilled dream? A bad aftertaste? An unconvincing reassurance? A painful reflection? I am not sure.

In a random day when I woke up, I dreamt of an unfulfilled dream set in an isolated world with a one-way exit, with no entrance in sight. It felt so vivid, even looking back at it again today.

Rewind to February 2019 to the day when I was heading back to my home in Japan. Queueing while boarding the plane, I have spotted you amongst the crowds, despite not establishing a direct eye contact. It felt like the times before, when it was simpler. Yet, the border was still there, in plain sight.

You had changed, in a good way.

With times like these, from afar, I wish you all the best.

Happy birthday.

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Birthday in 2020

Hectic, sick year

This year is a hectic year for everyone. Not only one has to balance between staying safe and continuing their studies/work, one also needs to put extra effort into ensuring things ongoing remain smooth and sound.

Due to COVID-19, I was unable to travel overseas, however, I could travel domestically, albeit with self restraint being practiced. There is a love-hate affair between people who move across prefectures and those who lived in the target prefectures.

“What is your plan?”

“How do you plan to celebrate / are you celebrating your birthday?”, I was asked. Year after year, despite the cliche, I hold only multitudes of gratitude in my heart towards almost everyone I know, for they directly or indirectly shaped me today.

I read a story many years ago about a child threw a tantrum because his parents did not hold a proper birthday party for him. As I read the story, I remembered that I once hold a grudge too for not having a birthday party (my friends had those parties, and even invited people over! Theirs were a grand one — PlayStation party, eat-all-you-can buffet, playing badminton at a friend’s house’s wide backyard, etc.), yet I quickly dismissed the persistence to hold one after that.

I might not have a grand party, but I do understand the meaning behind this day. Not all days have to be grand.

Reflecting last decade

Last year, I looked back how I was shaped today. Being a character who liked to look back in the past to understand how the current events unfolded, I never failed to be amazed the number of new facts emerged as I continuously looked back. However, with some history remain sealed, I could only speculate.

Although continuous reflection is important, spending too much time in it makes it tiring as a lot of efforts have to be spent on it, especially digging, connecting, and joining the puzzle of facts together through time. I might have spent too much time in it looking back the sealed histories.

Closing

For all the wishes in Facebook, instant messaging apps, and other platforms, I sincerely thank you. I hope all of you, especially you, dear reader, can get through this pandemic period safely and smoothly.