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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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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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Exploring Mt. Takao

A Keio train prepping for departure from Shinjuku station heading to Takaosanguchi (Mt. Takao)

A thought crossed my mind ever since the last mountain hiking and the monolog while transiting station, and it naturally was the idea of hiking Mt. Takao. Located in Hachioji City in Tokyo, neighboring Kanagawa prefecture, Mt. Takao is a perfect getaway spot from the metropolis’ hustle and bustle.

Woke up early in the morning and equipped with a light backpack, I headed to the train station with a hint of drizzle. Due to the plum rain season officially hitting the Kanto region (spanning Tokyo and Chiba prefecture), a quick check of the weather condition in both my area and Hachioji City showed that drizzle and rain showers were forecasted in the morning.

A paragraph written in a Japanese site dedicated to mountain hiking catering to novice and the alike encouraged hiking in the drizzle,

Even if it’s going to rain lightly, (please do) continue ahead in your hiking journey! It will serve as a learning journey and can allow you to gain experience on how it’s like hiking in the rain.

Armed with the tips given and a proper suit, I began the hiking journey near to 8 am, similar to the previous mountain hiking, from the station entrance.

Takaosanguchi Station entrance

The hiking experience was a pleasant one — visitors can choose from the several routes provided. I opted trail no. 6, which is one of the hiking route in the nature. It was a 3.3km route to the top of Mt. Takao, which is 599m tall.

The entrance of Mt. Takao’s hiking trail no. 6.

Compared to the previous hiking, Mt. Takao was lower and a shorter route, but this was a satisfying experience for a half-day trip. I took a shorter time to reach the top and bottom compared to the published estimated time taken, enabling me to complete the whole hike with time to spare before heading back home.

Part of the hiking path at trail no. 6 of Mount Takao covered in fog.
Due to drizzle and a low temperature (24 C), fogs covered the hiking path.
A selfie with the post indicating the top of Mount Takao.
Reached the top by 9:30 a.m, but due to the fog, views cannot be seen properly.

Before heading back to Takaosanguchi station to head home, I stopped by a shop selling local Japanese desserts (below, both costed a total of 290yen), yummy. The soba dango’s syrup (?) was thick and slightly salty, yet delicious. Best to enjoy with a hot beverage.

Soba dango and sake manju sold at a local Japanese dessert shop.

For the normal tourists who came here without the intention of hiking, trail no. 1 or the cable car would be a suitable route to enjoy the mountain. I shared this information with a friend, who said he can’t wait for the COVID-19 travel restriction be lifted and enjoy this mountain! Mt. Takao is beautiful at various seasons, including autumn. Perhaps the autumn foliage is a sight not to be missed.

I shall visit again someday, seeing you in a different sight.

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Priority in place: travel

While travelling, money spending is an important aspect not to be overlooked, lest the money being prematurely spent. Hence, careful planning is always recommended. A worksheet with formulas in place, a text file with your favorite calculator app, or the analog way – writing down on paper, all these methods work.

Most of my friends opted the conservative way of travel in terms of budgeting, as many of them saved as much as possible whenever possible. One method was to travel via a low cost carrier to Japan, the other one was to take the bus to travel to a destination instead of the shinkansen bullet train or a domestic flight whenever possible. A friend of mine told me that she don’t mind eating foods from the convenience store, a view I largely shared with.

While travelling to Taiwan, I went for the same route, with the exception when the local eatery is cheap or unique enough to spend some bucks to try it out.

I heard from another friend of mine that he spent the night in the Tokyo airport before departing to Mount Fuji the next day(!).

A similar case happened to me when I chose to sleep on a bench in Kai Tak Airport (Hong Kong International Airport) midnight while waiting for my flight back to Penang in the early morning in 2018. Sleeping on a bench was not the most pleasant experience: I had to be on alert with potential pickpockets and not falling down from the bench. With the 5am alarm set on my phone, I fell into a short yet deep sleep as the faint sound of cleaning workers cleaning the area echoed throughout the building.

With the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, it is not easy to go around without taking precautionary steps. Yet, this does not hinder one to enjoy the most while travelling domestically. A friend recently shared her plans to travel outside the Tokyo metropolitan area to a few cities which spanned multiple prefectures. Her plans, in my opinion, sounded splendid indeed. The plan alone really made me excited to travel into further areas again.

Wrapping up in the thoughts of travelling, budget and time seem to be manoeuvring the entire plan. Achieving the optimum balance usually brings the most joy, excitement and satisfaction in the entire trip. With plum rain season officially hits Japan, and the summer vacation quietly approaching, I think it’s time to draw up a plan to hit the road.

Where shall I/we go next…

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COVID-19: When it all began

It was December 31, 2019.

I was in Taipei, resting in my room while watching the television. The news was reporting about some unknown pneumonia cases found in patients. These cases occurred at Wuhan, China. The fact that these cases were characterized as “unknown” made me alert and unease as I was outside Japan.

When the new year of 2020 began, I saw news where people who came to Taiwan who had departed from Wuhan must undergo screening if they have high fever. One of the main entry ports of Taiwan, Taoyuan International Airport, had implemented inspection and quarantine measures to ensure the situation do not escalate out of control.

A few days before I went back to Japan as the year-end holiday was about to end, I read news of a Chinese individual who had came back from Wuhan contracted fever and eventually got hospitalized. It made me wonder about the future of travel Japan and Taiwan, especially during long holidays, such as the Golden Week.

The entirety of January was full of news regarding the Wuhan pneumonia (precursor of COVID-19). The number of confirmed infected patients increased sharply, as well as the number of deaths as a result of the disease. Days before I departed back home for Chinese New Year, I saw news about the disease began spreading in Asia.

The day before Chinese New Year’s Eve.

The night when I departed back home from Chiba’s Narita International Airport, I saw news where people (especially Chinese citizens who were heading back home) hoarded face masks, sanitizers, and other items in huge bulks (think boxes) at various places in Japan, including pharmacies. This action caught me off guard as I didn’t fully realized the scale of the disease and its impact. Even the pharmacies in Narita International Airport had its masks all sold out.

Before I hopped the limited express train bound for Narita Airport, I bought a pack of face masks (and paid attention to buying those which had ability to repel bacterias and viruses) and took the initiative to wore it the entire journey.

How I wish I had bought more of those face masks beforehand. They were all sold out shortly.

Days before going back

Before I went back to Japan, I managed to secure several packs of face masks by purchasing each for RM8. Expensive, but desperate times along with extraordinary demands led to this outcome. Not willingly to take the risk, I bought several packs, just to be sure.

When my father and I visited the nearby pharmacies to buy some 3-ply face masks (or possible, N95 masks), we were met with disappointment when they told us the masks were all sold out.

Fast forward: March 2020

Face masks, hand sanitizers and the such are still largely absent in pharmaceutical stores. Waiting them to be restocked seemed to take forever. Lines were formed outside pharmacies hours before they opened, just to buy masks.

In my company, flexible work policy was implemented to permanent staffs (previously for contract workers, temp staff, and others), allowing them to work from home if necessary. Staffs were encouraged to come to work while avoiding the commuting peak hours.

However, I think that the awareness and actions taken were still not sufficient. The Hokkaido prefecture was its first large-scale victim. If the society do not adapt policies similar to its neighboring countries, I think a huge scale, nationwide infection might occur, especially when Tokyo Olympics 2020 being just around the corner.

I can’t help but wonder when will this pandemic ends. But one thing is for sure — if we do not cooperate to counter this disease, then it will surely be hard to mitigate. All things planned are effectively disrupted.

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Japanese immigration

Whenever I go for travel internationally, clearing immigration is one of the most important steps to do. The immigration facilities in Japanese airports are unique for me, due to the modern machines and the sounds they make.

Take the facial recognition based automated gates (below) for passport control, for example. I had been deeply attracted by it when I first saw it while queuing up at another counter that served foreigners who had Japanese residence cards.

Facial recognition based automated gates deployed at Narita International Airport. It takes 10 seconds to complete the entire immigration process!

The facial recognition gates can only be used by Japanese citizens at the moment. Not sure if it can be expanded to be used by foreigners residing in Japan, because if it does, clearing immigration will sure be a breeze, whether one is entering or exiting the country!

When I cleared immigration while coming back to Japan, the device used by the counter that I usually queued at captured my biometrics, including fingerprints and face photo. It, too, made alert and notification sounds along the way (see below).

A biocart (?) machine capturing a foreigner’s biometric info while scanning the passport’s information simultaneously.

Device sounds always kept me fascinated.

As a contrast, Malaysian immigration’s automated gates do not even emit a sound. While I was pleased that the entire process was quick and smooth when I was clearing immigration at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, the lack of sound indicator made me appreciate the effort made and done in Japanese equipments.

The immigration clearing process for Malaysian nationals who use the autogate. Highly recommended to use it to avoid the long queue.

I wonder if there are other countries that share the same characteristics with the Japanese. That is another research topic for another day…