Archive for April, 2012


Catching up

Quote of the day:
“One of the most obvious facts about grownups to a child is that they have forgotten what it is like to be a child.”
– Randall Jarrell

As one would have noticed, this little blog hasn’t been updated in a very long time. Sure the last post might be a day or two ago but the previous one before that dates probably months back. So what is the purpose of this post? As a reminder that I have a blog and I should do my fair share of work to keep it running for whatever purpose it may have, for as long as possible. As per the quote, time moves by so quickly, especially at my age. Most of us probably wished we were older when we were kids but looking back, there’s much more to life than meets the eye. That being said, my school years were over, but I do wish I could travel back in time every now and then. Unfortunately that won’t be possible until a while later so I guess I’ll have to make the most of life now while I still can.

Now, exactly what needed catching up? Long story short, I did so many things that I could put them into a list of sorts.

In no chronological order:
– Got a Lego car set thing. Consists of almost 1,300 pieces and completed it in 3 days.
– Purchased 2 other singles and 1 album of AKB48, and 2 stage recordings of SKE48.
– Recently completed trial exams, and am currently having a two-week break.
– Watched a couple of movies, as well as the first time I’ve been to a karaoke box.
– Played, completed and replayed the Mass Effect trilogy which includes Mass Effect 3.
– Completed UCAS processes and to date, received two offers, each from Warwick and Sheffield.
– Learned the fact that Maeda Atsuko, centerpiece of AKB48 is stepping down soon.
– Performed yet more translations of favorite songs which I’ll probably put up soon.
– Started a mini-collection of unique photos, compiled into a somewhat empty album.

There’s definitely more to add to the list, but I’ll add them next time around since I can’t remember all of them just yet. If it’s anything, life needs to be recorded just because our memory systems are never fully functional. Also, watching a few things gave me an opportunity to learn even more new things. What might these new things be? I don’t know how to put it in words exactly, but whatever it is, I can feel it; and it’s given me a never-give-up kind of spirit. Certain people continue to give me hope, and I will continue to follow these people if that’s what keeps me content.

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Quote of the day:
Anyone who can handle a needle convincingly can make us see a thread which is not there.
– E. H. Gombrich

As much as I mentioned that this post would take yet another great amount of time, I realize that I don’t really have that much time on my hands. I also still want to keep this Japan log as a single piece or two consecutive posts anyways so here I go again. This next part will cover a different side of Japan that is the Kanto region. For many who do not know, the simplest example of the Kanto region is basically the central area of Japan where Tokyo and its surrounding cities are located. And now, the storytelling continues.

Day 4: Summary
– Departure via coach to Shizuoka
– Visited Owakudani (大涌谷, lit. Great Boiling Valley)
– Visited another temple, but unfortunately, forgot the name of it
– Stopped at an upper level of Mt. Fuji
– Checked into Fuji-Mihana Hotel, Mt. Fuji, Shizuoka

Day 4: Reviews & Details
We woke up that morning rather early and had breakfast, though I can’t exactly remember what I ate that morning. Anyway, with that settled, we went on for another one of those long bus rides, maybe about an hour or two, on a journey to Shizuoka where Mt. Fuji was located. Along the way, we stopped at another R&R for another toilet break. While we knew we weren’t in Shizuoka whatsoever, there was an extremely clear view of Mt. Fuji along with its snow cap. It was only normal that the ride got delayed due to photo shoots.

Some background information on Mt. Fuji; it is currently Japan’s tallest mountain at 3776 meters high and it is considered to be a dormant volcano with its last eruption occurring some 300 years ago. Despite being the tallest mountain however, it is rather short compared to others around the world. Mt. Fuji is also another symbol of Japan and is one of the most beautiful and rare mountains thanks to its almost symmetrical cone shape. That being said, I’ve seen Mt Fuji from many different spots and it seems to look the same all the while. Mt. Fuji is also a mountain made from three other mountains over a long time ago. The climbing season of Mt. Fuji usually occurs around July every year and local citizens would climb it to witness the first ray of sun. The reason for this is that Japan is the first country in Asia to receive sunlight, hence the nickname “Land of the Rising Sun”.

Now while Mt. Fuji was within sight, we weren’t anywhere near the mountain exactly. Our next stop was Owakudani (大涌谷, lit. Great Boiling Valley), a volcanic valley with active sulphur vents and hot springs. Similar to Jigokudani in Hokkaido last year, it was a volcanic zone and the area wreaks of the smell of sulphur, commonly known to be the smell of rotten eggs. The lower grounds didn’t pose too much of a problem but the highest point where visitors can reach had that foul smell choking me a little. The valley is also a popular tourist site for its kuro-tamago (黒玉子, lit. black egg), a local specialty of eggs boiled in the hot springs themselves. As a symbol of longevity, eating one is said to extend your life by 7 years. One could eat up to two and a half eggs for a total of 17.5 years but eating three whole eggs isn’t advised for some apparent reason. Later on, we descended and had lunch, a set lunch as usual. There was a stunning view of the lake in front of the area. There happened to be a moving ferry at the time as well. Before leaving, I bought a set of photographs of Mt. Fuji from a souvenir shop below.

Later that afternoon, we visited another temple, but once again, I have failed to take notice of the temple’s name whatsoever. My only indication is that it is a Buddhist temple of sorts and is extremely uphill. At the top, one can find what seems to be a white Buddha statue. Before reaching the statue, one is certain to walk by many other statues which have a country label on them. I wasn’t too sure what the place was for but if I were to guess, it’s still a Buddhist temple. From the end of the temple where the white statue is located, there is an incredible view of Mt. Fuji. Obviously, I had to take pictures of it. Better yet, at the time of the photo, Mt. Fuji had small clouds around it, adding more photographic value to some of the ones I took.

Descending the temple, we moved on to climb Mt. Fuji, although not literally. Due to the cloud formation on Mt. Fuji, it wasn’t possible to reach the higher levels of the mountain. However, we did manage to head up to the third level of the mountain just for the sake of visiting it. While there, I bought a bunch of souvenirs related to the mountain such as a few key chains and some 3D block crystals. The outside temperature at the time was approximately 5 degrees Celsius and snow was clearly visible on the roads, although not as soft as the one in Hokkaido. Coldness really went to a new level considering temperatures elsewhere were only approximately 10 degrees. After that, we descended to visit Mt. Fuji’s visitor center for a video of the history of Mt. Fuji including its formation and present activities. Aside from that, the souvenirs mentioned earlier could also be obtained here.

Once that was done with, it was time to check into our hotel at the foot of Mt. Fuji. Considering it was Mt. Fuji and its surroundings, the temperature was approximately 0 degrees throughout the night. We had buffet dinner in the hotel itself and one thing to note about he hotel was its hot spring availability. A year ago, I had three hot spring opportunities in Hokkaido but I had denied all of them for this rule; not a single strand of string must be on you. I decided to forgo that problem of mine and went for yet another first of experiences and it was just amazing. Waters were at temperatures of 41 to 42 degrees Celsius and the hot spring was divided into an interior and and exterior one. The exterior one feels much hotter for some apparent reason and after having a 10 to 15 minute session in the springs, your body is so warm that you feel nothing even when standing outside at a temperature of -2 degrees Celsius wearing thin clothes.

Later that night we walked to the nearest 7-Eleven to grab refreshments and just have a leisurely walk. I also happened to get a limited edition 7-ElevenⅹAKB48 card that comes with purchase of 2 specific items. Do note however that “nearest” was an approximate 20 to 30 minute walk from the hotel. Given how it was so late and cold, it was painful for me to accept it in the first place. I was originally going to watch a local Japanese drama that night but having that AKB48 card compensates for it all the same. Either way, we slept tatami-style, that is we slept on floor mattresses for the night. Being extremely exhausted, I went to sleep as soon as I returned to the hotel and cleared everything up.

Day 5: Summary
– Departure via coach to Asakusa, Tokyo
– Passed by the Diet Building and Imperial Palace
– Visited Ginza St. a.k.a shopping haven
– Visited Shinjuku St. a.k.a another shopping haven
– Visited Harajuku St. a.k.a yet another shopping haven
– Checked into Keio Plaza Hotel, Shinjuku

Day 5: Reviews & Details
The listings in the summary may prove to be somewhat familiar; this is because the itinerary today was exactly the same as the year before. In other words, today was a second chance to revisit any places that we might not have been to the year before. But this time, there was a bonus that I didn’t get in the previous year. To begin the day, we had breakfast in the hotel before we checked out. Today’s breakfast had a little more variety, but I resolved to having a number of pancakes and hash browns; or more than just a number of them. In any case, we departed for Asakusa via coach immediately after breakfast.

Having mentioned that the day is almost identical, we arrived at the same place, that is the Asakusa Kannon Temple. Referencing my earlier post, the temple itself resembles an ancient looking one and it itself is a Buddhist temple. Away from the temple is the long shopping street hidden from public view which left the impression of Chinatown the last time. We did our common walking and wandering as usual. Similarly, we advanced with the tour guide to a local agency and confirmed our tickets for Disneyland, just as we did last year. Not only that, but we also had advances on our lunch venue. I’ll be skipping the actual details on lunch like I did before too, because the details are really scratchy, and it is again set lunch to begin with. The only new thing this time is the amount of AKB48 exposure I’m noticing; something I couldn’t pay attention to before I knew about them.

As with the itinerary, our next spot, or rather road, is Ginza street. As a general overview, Ginza is a shopping street guaranteed to empty the wallets of heavy spenders. And to make a correction to my entry last year, the street is only closed on weekends and not on holidays in general which meant traveling across roads is comparatively more difficult due to the stretch of the road itself. Referencing previous entries, the length of the road spans a good kilometer or two. Among some of the newer things we did here was actual shopping. While I did no actual spending on clothes, my brother took the liberty of grabbing several lines of clothes which weren’t presently available in our home country. What I did spend on however, is on CDs. While traveling along the long road, I happened to notice a music store selling some of the latest AKB48-and-related singles and I couldn’t help but buy them myself. The result of it: My first three singles, and the latest ones at that, from AKB48 and related groups. The singles I bought included AKB48’s 上からマリコ; AKB48’s subunit, French Kiss’ 最初のメール; AKB48’s subunit, Not yet’s ペラペラペラオ and SKE48’s オキドキ. My brother also got himself an iPhone case and a screen protector from the same gigantic Apple store we visited last year. I too originally wanted to buy a pair of headphones, until I found out it cost half a thousand MYR.

This next part is an additional bonus that first, wasn’t available last year and second, wasn’t part of the itinerary in the first place. Our next destination, instead of Shinjuku, was Harajuku. We left Ginza around 4 pm the afternoon and made our way to Harajuku which, as mentioned, wasn’t originally part of the tour. Honestly, my first impression was that we got to visit a new place and that the day wouldn’t be completely identical. But little did I forget one thing; the moment we stepped down the bus, my brother called me and pointed out a building which had the label “AKB48 Harajuku Official Shop”. The whole time, my illness shrouded me badly enough to make me forget that Harajuku had an official shop of AKB48. But first, an overview of the street itself.

The street that the shop is part of is comparatively much smaller, much shorter and definitely much narrower than the one mentioned about Ginza. It was your typical street, narrower than usual, consisting of many stalls, shops and restaurants. Relatively speaking, the street resembles a modern and more advanced night market, if the description fits. For the most part, we did as much as the usual walking and made a few toilet visits. If it’s anything that we didn’t do, it was purchasing anything in particular. However, the statement proves to be untrue for one part of it.

The AKB48 Harajuku shop is almost a street corner shop with the actual corner shop being a pharmacy or convenience store. The shop itself has two levels; the lower being the general shop and the upper being restricted to only certain people with SMS codes, if not mistaken. The shop, like most official merchandize dealers, has a myriad of items ranging from collectible cards, calendars featuring specific members, foodstuffs, but most importantly, CDs, both singles and albums, as well as DVDs of all sorts ranging from general variety to special events such as the Request Hour. We were allocated two hours, but I spent about the first hour and a half just staring and thinking about what I should get. Skipping the long waiting time, the general conclusion is that I bought
three additional singles: AKB48’s 会いたかった; AKB48’s ヘビーローテーション and Maeda Atsuko’s Flower, as well as two packs of trading cards; these were just for show. In the same amount of time I spent staring at the items available, my brother took the liberty of visiting a sports apparel mega store and got himself a limited edition Barcelona jacket.

When the time was up, we went back to Shinjuku, just as we did last year. We didn’t do our usual traveling however. Instead, we followed another family who knew the location of a ramen restaurant. As a result, we had ramen for early dinner and the aforementioned family treated us. Seeing as we spent most of our time eating, there wasn’t much remainder time by the time we were done. Unfortunately for us, the next location was our actual dinner. In the previous year, we had a tempura set dinner in an office block of sorts. This time, the food was almost similar, but quoting our tour guide, the one we had this time around was better. In terms of location, it seemed to be yet another commercial office block. With dinner done, our next stop was Keio Plaza Hotel, where we checked in, and we were never to be seen for the rest of the night.

Day 6: Summary
– Departure via coach for a second trip to Tokyo Disneyland
– Had dinner at the same place as last year, buffet-style
– Checked into the same place as before, Narita Marroad International Hotel

Day 6: Reviews & Details
Today’s itinerary, as I am completely sure this time, is exactly identical to the one we had last year. This year’s Disneyland was simply a second chance to cover anything we may have missed before. We already had most of our fun last year thanks to the Fastpass tickets we found on the ground before. The roller coasters, as mentioned, were probably the greatest attractions there so it was only normal that we rode them again. Due to the lack of time last year, we didn’t manage to ride Splash Mountain. This time around, we rode it and we even got a commemorative photo to bring back home as well. As far as Space Mountain is concerned, I rode it once, but suffered a terrible headache later. This led me to leaving my brother and a new friend of ours, Tristan to ride Big Thunder Mountain without me.

Almost all the attractions were the same. There was a new Philharmagic 4D theater performance introduced this time but it wasn’t anything that we haven’t experienced in Hong Kong already. As a drawback, the attraction was done in Japanese too. Fortunately for me, I had the grounds to understand a partition of what was being said. The others however, I cannot say the same. This 4th D is similar to the one in Universal Studios. Seeing as we traveled alone this time, with Tristan in the group, we were literally free to roam in any direction we chose. There’s nothing much to be elaborated on the attractions as they were mostly the same. Decorations however, have been changed to suit the winter season. The same was done in the previous year, but newer additions were placed, including a fully decorated Christmas tree close to the main entrance. Our Fastpass tickets weren’t put to a total advantage, but we did what we could. We did however, wait about 40 minutes for a Monsters Inc. Ride n Go Seek attraction we missed before this. The attraction involves pointing a beam of light at the Monsters Inc. insignia to score points. The true score however, is not provided at the end of the game.

Some of the souvenirs we got this time were, in a sense, remarkable and memorable. Among the things I got upon leaving the aforementioned attraction included a T-shirt which I now wear to college occasionally, an almost completely decorated plastic cup, and a flashlight. Note that while it looks like a normal flashlight, it was bright enough to be blinding. Some of the other things included a 3-in-1 magic set, containing tricks involving coins, a seemingly broken pencil and a deck of cards. Another item I got was a magic book, which, if handled properly, can show pictures of blank pages, black and white pages, and fully colored pages. I also happened to pick up a Disney Lego set for fun during our last few shopping moments. I learned a while later that the set is only a small part of a larger collection and that the set can actually be obtained from local stores. A little decorative item among the stuff we got was a Mickey and Mike Wazowski Nano Lego figure. Made of extremely small parts, the item has to be hand-assembled, and the actual item will appear to be a block-shaped character. And as with the previous year, more key chains and other small decorations to go around.

Last year, we had our chances to eat smoked turkey legs. This time around, we had ice cream sandwiches and pizzas of different toppings. I personally made it a special lunch of sorts to have 3 slices of that pizza. The pizza in mind is a typical double meat, probably chicken, pizza topped with a lot of cheese and several slices of onion. This pizza is also served in a special box and is much larger than the typical size. Having 3 easily stuffed me but I swear I could have more if I wasn’t so sick at the time. My brother and Tristan tried some of the other toppings including mushroom, shrimp, some vegetable related topping, and it was our main source of food there. So to sum things up, we went into, got into a few places, ate ice cream, went into the Philharmagic, got into a few more places, had pizza for lunch, rode a bunch of roller coasters, had even more pizza because it was too awesome, went into the Monsters Inc. attraction, bought souvenirs, bought more souvenirs, bought even more souvenirs and when it was dark, we finally took leave. After that, we proceeded to buffet dinner.

This last day wasn’t as vibrant as before. The crew this year was more separated and were more inclined to stick to their bunch of people. So anyway, my brother and I had our own table and I was in charge of most of the frying and grilling. I took a reasonable amount of meat including chicken, beef and pork and basically grilled everything to a pretty good degree. The only problem was how weird the food looked. Well, I’m no expert chef, but at least I could tell if a piece of food was edible. Following the main course was the free soft-cream dispenser. Technically it was included in the main fees, but I’ll treat it to be free anyway. Compared to last year’s count of 3 serves, I had 5 or 6 this time around. Once we were done, the typical habit of stopping at each and every supermarket of sorts continued seeing as there was one downstairs of our dinner venue.

Carrying on, we checked into our final hotel, Narita Marroad International Hotel, where we claimed our “special orders items”. Similar to last year, we bought a bunch of snacks, a bracelet for my mom this time, some dried scallops. Well maybe it’s not as much as I expected, but we did spend some huge amount on that list, that’s as much as I remember. After collecting our stuff, we did a quick delivery of everyone’s orders. Some of the other clusters have ordered huge piles of items; which made deliveries somewhat problematic for a few of the rounds. After all of that was done, we pretty much did nothing except sleep because like every other thing, this holiday has to come to an end. So we made final checks, rearranged all our items, zipped everything up and went to sleep.

Day 7: Summary
– Had breakfast at Narita Marroad International Hotel
– Departure to KLIA, Malaysia @ 11 AM
– Arrival at KLIA, Malaysia @ 5:45 PM
– Hit home safely

Day 7: Reviews & Details
Today, like most other last days, is pretty self-explanatory. Today being the last day, I decided to wear the Monsters Inc. shirt for the rest of the day. So we got up, did yet another check for our items, and out for morning breakfast which included your typical international setup, break, milk and juice. Also to note, we bought two cartons of chocolate milk back from 7-Eleven near the Fuji Mihana Hotel. Ever since that night, those two cartons of milk had traveled with us to every other hotel we checked into. Figuring that is wasn’t allowed to go to waste, I consumed them despite my fullness since airport regulations state that there cannot be outside liquids present inside the airport.

Once the ticketing was complete, we were left with about an hour or so before our flight commenced; this meant more shopping. So what I did was buy two of those “I (heart) so-and-so” T-shirts; a white shirt reading “I (heart) Tokyo” and a black shirt reading “I (heart) Japan”. Among the other things I got were several key chains as well as the Shiroi Koibito biscuits we got from Hokkaido last year. After that, it was only waiting time before we headed home. The flight was another direct one to KLIA, and spanned about six and a half hours. I was watching movies throughout the flight, but I did take short naps somewhere in between. Lunch was also provided, and it was some sort of Japanese fish. It came along with some cheese and some non-sweet and non-spicy sauce. Unknowingly, I ate it and frankly, I thought that was the cheese. Regardless though, I loved it, and the actual cheese. Following the lunch was a small cup of Japanese-brand vanilla ice cream. After the long flight, we finally touched down in KLIA somewhere in the evening.

We last parted with Lee-san when we saw our father through the transparent glass separating the pathways. When we saw him, we had our last words with Lee-san and carried on. We loaded the luggage into my father’s car and rode an hour ride back home, stopping at an R&R for a short drink before heading back. We unloaded everything, I got out of my long johns, did more unloading, totaled our spending and kept the rest of the money while returning the USD denominations. After that, we had a taste of local food once again before we closed the night. I opened up my 7 singles and played them throughout, even watching some of the DVDs included with the singles. Before sleeping, I took the time to set up the Nano Lego Mickey Mouse figure; it sits on the table in my room now. The next day, everything had returned to normal and we had stories to tell everyone.