Quote of the day:
“I find that a great part of the information I have was acquired by looking up something and finding something else on the way.”
– Franklin P. Adams

This is gonna be heck of a long post, that’s all the warning I can give this time. Reflecting the quote above, I actually learned many things through that particular method. Take for example my interest to which some may call an obsession, AKB48. It was in fact NMB48 that led me to learning about AKB48 in the first place. From that point on, I picked up Japanese and guess what, I ended up in Japan once again for the second year in a row except this time, I was more prepared and the country didn’t seem so foreign to me anymore. I was heavily criticized for not picking up Chinese, my supposed birth language, and instead picking up Japanese, something else completely unrelated. It didn’t matter much what anyone had to say about it because in the end, I knew I would find some good use in doing so and the effects were clearly positive. Before moving on to the main topic, it’s Christmas Eve at the start of this post so Merry Christmas to all and Happy New Year 2012. Now, I shall get back to what will be an even more detailed post about how my second trip to Japan was my ticket to a few new things.

Day 1: Summary
– Last day of college; two tests and under bad health conditions
– Arrived home around 5 PM for last minute preparation
– Left house around 7 PM for departure to KLIA
– Departure to Kansai International Airport at 11:45 PM

Day 1: Reviews & Details
Okay, there isn’t much to be detailing this day just like last year because it simply counted as an itinerary day and nothing more, but there are details outside of the trip that may be worth noting. The day of our flight happened to be my last day of college for the second semester as it was. I had two somewhat important tests in store that day and I was struck with influenza A H1N1 several days before this day. It was troublesome enough to experience fever, flu, weakness, cough and several other symptoms so there was the suggestion to yet again forfeit the trip for health reasons. After the tests were concluded, we, my brother and I, decided that it’s not that big of a deal and chose to go for this valuable trip anyway and so we did.

We made last minute preparations at home, got scolded, advised and many other things one could expect from parents before a long separation. We left home later that evening for the airport but stopped at an R&R to have a last cup of “teh tarik” before flying off for the next 7 days. After that little dinner, we met up with the same tour guide we had as we did the year before. About that last cup, it wasn’t the last cup exactly. I had another vanilla milkshake before departure. After passing through the immigration gates and splitting from our dad, we basically just stood around until it was time for flight. This time around, we took one of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 airliners and I have to admit, it is definitely something to be reckoned with. The flight commenced close to midnight and we remained in the air for the next 6 hours. Unlike last year, we were not nervous, but instead, horribly ill. It was very cold the next morning. Our next destination was Kansai International Airport, Japan.

Day 2: Summary
– Arrival in Kansai International Airport at 6 AM local time
– Went to Universal Studios Japan, Osaka
– Checked into Cross Hotel, Osaka in the evening
– Dinner and leisurely walk after dark

Day 2: Reviews & Details
Basically, I could hardly sleep through the flight because external temperatures had already dropped below -10 degrees Celsius and I haven’t got my winter clothing prepared at that time. In addition to the cold weather, I had the window seat so it was rather difficult to stay warm. Add that to the illness and things weren’t just going your way. We had landed in the morning when the sun was just rising. Upon arrival in Kansai, we quickly changed into thicker clothing and proceeded to our first and only highlight of the day, Universal Studios Japan. Also to note, Kansai International Airport is actually a sea airport.

Just as we did the previous year, we tasted Japan’s fresh, cold air once more. The coach ride from the airport to Universal Studios itself took about half an hour so I took the time to observe Osaka’s roads. As it seems, Osaka looks like what seems to be an industrial prefecture with many reactors within sight. Aside from that, Osaka looks like a highly populated prefecture to be in. From a far distance, Universal Studios seems to be an ordinary looking theme park with a roller coaster that encompasses about half of the air region of the place. I do regret however, not enjoying everything the place had to offer. This was mostly due to health reasons, lack of time as well as overly long queues.

Universal Studios introduces a number of attractions which exhibit some of the most amazing effects used in entertainment. One of the attractions related to Spiderman has its 4-D feature where the 4th D is given by effects such as heat, actual flames, motion seats, water sprays, and several other things that make the scene look as if it was happening live. Another attraction called Backdraft, introduced a set of flames, literally. The attraction was primarily reenacting a scene from the movie “Backdraft” where a factory fire starts spreading and causes more destruction. While the entire thing was planned, everything seemed to be very real. The flames made the set look as if it was really burning but in the end, it wasn’t burning at all. Another attraction is the Terminator one which involves transformations between actual reality and virtual reality. One moment, they were playing a specific scene through a screen and when you least realize it, the character actually appears on stage. Think about a bike coming at you, playing on the screen. Moments later, there is a bike on the stage with a real person operating it.

Overall, Universal Studios displayed some of the commonly used techniques in filming entertainment. Among other things include the roller coaster and several other attractions which had overly long queues as stated earlier. In short, besides showing these effects, the place is a theme park in general, similar to Tokyo Disneyland, except much smaller in scale. We got in at 9 am and left at 3 pm later that afternoon and it was a direct check-in to our hotel for the day. After about 30-45 minutes, we were in the heart of Osaka. Our hotel that day was not a building on its own, but rather one of the lots on the side of the road. Nevertheless, it was still a 5-star hotel which had an amazing bathroom, at least compared to the other hotels we visited throughout both trips.

About a half hour after our check-in, we walked out for an early dinner and our dinner that evening was shabu-shabu, commonly known as steamboat. Unlike typical steamboat meals however, instead of soup, only plain water was used and instead of a fixed course, it was a buffet. Meats and vegetables of any kind could be added into the boat at no extra charge. Once we were done with that, we walked around the place, looking for anything notable to purchase but in the end it was just a casual walk. We then returned to the hotel around 7-8 pm and basically called the night to an end just like that. Comparatively speaking, this was rather early for us so I took the liberty of watching some TV and use the internet since I’d brought my laptop this time around. Among some of the things I watched, I managed to catch a live performance by AKB48, SKE48 and NMB48 by pure coincidence. It seems that there was an award show going on at the time of the broadcast. After that, I took a long bath and I almost forgot, the hotel had yukatas, commonly known as Japanese robes; the same ones I had described last year. I’d used them throughout the trip and this hotel was no exception. With much time to rest, the night closed in quietly. Our next destination the next day would be Kyoto, former capital of Japan.

Day 3: Summary
– Departure via coach to Kyoto
– Visited Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺, lit. Kiyomizu Temple)
– Visited another temple, but unfortunately, forgot the name of it
– Visited Kinkaku-ji, (金閣寺, lit. Temple of the Golden Pavilion)
– Departure via coach to a bullet train station, passing through the prefecture of Nagoya
– Experience a bullet train ride to the hotel area in Hamamatsu
– Checked into Okura ACT City Hotel, Hamamatsu

Day 3: Reviews & Details
Today was a day dedicated to Kyoto, the former capital of Japan. Kyoto has been quoted, phrased or even named a living museum. This is due to the amount of temples, national sites, world heritage sites that exist in this very city. Because of that, our visits today were mostly temples; not one, not two, but three of them. We woke up in the morning, in Osaka and had our breakfast. Since it was only our first night in Japan for the tour, things got messy once again and I screwed up, causing the both of us to have a really rushed breakfast. Not that I can help waking up late since my sleeping hours were already imbalanced anyway. After a reasonable breakfast, we left Osaka and traveled to Kyoto. Upon a half hour from departure, we made our stop at Kiyomizu-dera, one of the most popular tourist zones in Kyoto and also a world heritage site.

The temple itself has history dating back to 778 and from what information I could find, the present state of the temple was a result of restoration to the structure back in 1633, meaning that the structure has remained this way for a minimum of 375 years. Another thing to note that the structure is made of strictly 100% wood; not a single nail has been used to construct this temple. The naming of the temple comes from the waterfalls within the temple with kiyomizu meaning clear or pure water.

Kiyomizu-dera has multiple interesting things to note including some traditions. One of them was to jump off the stage of the temple. In the past, it was said that if anyone could survive a jump from a 13m height, his or her wish would be granted. This however, was too dangerous and is no longer allowed at the temple. Another popular activity involves a pair of stones called the “Love Stones”. Set apart along a pathway of length 6m or so, if a person can walk from one stone to the other with his or her eyes closed, he or she will find true love. Aside from that, there is as a waterfall in the main hall in which three channels of water fall into a pond below. It is said that the water has wish-granting powers. As a result, it is common for visitors to catch the water and drink it themselves. Last but not least, there is a stunning view of Kyoto from the temple which cannot be described by words. However, it is also the same view that exists all over the internet. The primary difference, the four seasons of the year. The view however, amazing.

A small thing to add about the temple is the road that leads up to the temple. It was a rather constricted road as we went higher which means only pedestrians were able to use that road. Along the sides of the road were many shops of all sorts including one that sells non-official AKB stuff. I took the liberty of grabbing a few simple key chains while I was there. Meanwhile, others would buy snacks, maybe even Japanese souvenirs of sorts. We then had lunch which happened to be a Chinese course. Having said so though, it doesn’t feel like those at home. Either way, we went on to our next location when we were done.

The next destination was unfortunately a temple whose name I couldn’t remember. It was a temple however, decorated in red and has a very large gate. The temple happens to be a former castle, if not mistaken and the road is paved with small rocks, slightly larger than sand. They used these rocks because it would ward off ninja in the past because even if ninja could slip unseen, they would not slip unheard. This was particularly interesting information for me as I was mostly complaining about the small rocks. The temple itself as I remembered was a popular site for a tradition in Japan known as the Shichi-Go-San (七五三, lit. 7-5-3). It is a traditional rite of passage for three- and seven-year-old girls as well as three- and five-year-old boys held annually on 15th November and guess what, we were there on 15th November itself; talk about pure luck. On that day itself, we found many children all dressed up in hakamas and kimonos for the first time in their lives. Aside from that, photography of the children is a rather common thing there. We didn’t stay here for too long however, spending only about a half hour there.

Later that, we departed for Kinkakuji (金閣寺, lit. Temple of the Golden Pavilion). Another one of those world heritage sites, Kinkakuji was a temple one can call a golden temple at first sight. While the details of construction isn’t too clear, I know that it was once before burned down to the ground. The temple as we see today is a close replicate reconstruction of the temple completed in 2003. The temple on its own was a simple villa which was then converted into a Zen temple when it was bought by a different person. The temple consists of three stories in which the top two are covered with pure gold leaf and it serves to house relics of the Buddha. This building also serves to be a model base for the Ginkakuji (銀閣寺, lit. Temple of the Silver Pavilion) as well as the Shoukokuji (相国寺), another temple in Kyoto. There isn’t anything too interesting to do around here except for the view of the temple which sits in the middle of the lake. I guess that trait is already common for sightseeing; just simply stunning views.

That pretty much concluded most of the day. After that temple visit, our next stop was Hamamatsu. However, the trick to that is the fact that we needed a minimum 3-hour ride from Kyoto all the way there, passing through one of Japan’s larger cities known as Nagoya or as known to me, the home of SKE48. As stated however, we were only passing through and we didn’t make any stops in Nagoya whatsoever. It was already a pretty hectic day considering most of today’s activities involve mostly walking. This bus ride gave us a chance to rest and sleep to refresh ourselves. An interesting thing to note was when we stopped on a highway R&R for toilet breaks. It is there that I managed to find an AKB 2012 calendar box set which would eventually become my first purchase of an official item belonging to AKB. To think that if I didn’t need the toilet at the time, I wouldn’t have got it. I came to find out later that the box set was actually limited, so that’s a real lucky time for me. The trip then continued until we reached a train station. I wasn’t too clear about where the station was, however. I only knew we were headed to Hamamatsu.

And for the last part of the day, or rather night, we experienced a bullet train ride for the first time. The bullet train system runs on a Maglev technology, standing for magnetic levitation, and is technically a non-contact system. The huge mass is levitated by a magnetic system and is said to experience near-zero ground friction. This means that the train can potentially accelerate to extreme speeds in just a matter of a few seconds and the highest speed recorded by a Maglev train was an experimental 518 kilometers per hour. That is approximately 4.7 times the speed of a typical highway car. For commercial trains, this can range between 250 km per hour to 400 km per hour. Despite traveling at that speed however, due to it being a non-contact system, the ride was unbelievably smooth and one could sleep in the carriage without feeling a single thing. Standing outside the train while waiting however was another story. Whenever a train was passing through a station, a huge force can be felt as though the train is sucking you towards it. The train was moving so fast that anything very near to it would’ve been sucked in if there was no resistance. Even non-moving trains could experience the same force and this was due to Bernoulli’s principle.

After an approximate 15-20 minutes, we arrived in Hamamatsu and went for our dinner first in the station itself. I couldn’t quite remember what the food type was, but I clearly remember having a lot of fish and green tea to go along with it. Later that night, we walked to our hotel which was just a short distance away from the train station. We checked into Okura ACT City Hotel which happened to be a base for performances. As an addition, we had ramen once again, and a first time for this trip a while after our check-in. I was also then introduced to the ordering system done in some, or many of Japan’s restaurants. One would need to insert bills or coins into a machine and similar to a vending machine, one would need to choose the food of his or her choice. Once that is done, an order is sent to the restaurant and any change would be returned. Later that, the waiters would automatically serve you your food just as you ordered it. After sharing 2 bowls of ramen among 3 people, we went back to the hotel and closed the night in. The next destination the next day, was Mt. Fuji, Shizuoka.

Now due to the present length of the post, I’ll probably split the logs into two just as I did the previous year. Also, as I just noticed, I had divided the past logs into Hokkaido and Tokyo separately. I realize this time that I could break the logs into Kansai and Kanto. Well, that’s about it for this round. The next one shall continue sometime soon.