Saturday, 26 November 2016

Autumn Leaves at Dazaifu

Are you ready for some picture spam? Because I went to Dazaifu with a friend to see the autumn leaves and obviously I took lots of pictures! (ok, only about 20 plus, but still!)

This was the ticket that we took: It contains the tickets there and back, free umegae mochi (which come to think of it, was probably already included in the price of the ticket) and coupons for a bunch of places. The total cost was 1000 yen, so I think it's pretty worth it.


Our first stop was Kamado Jinja (竈門神社), which is apparently known for relationships (縁結び; enmusubi). And during autumn, there are a bunch of maple trees at the side of the steps, which makes it a great autumn viewing spot!


This is actually a 40min walk away, but if you take the bus (opposite Dazaifu station - ask the information counter if you can't find the stop), it's only 10 minutes and costs only 100 yen. Both IC cards and cash are accepted.


There was also a very modern shop selling a variety of charms and other goods, but I totally forgot to take photos of it :p Was too focused on the leaves haha.






Funnily enough, someone actually recognised the place from this photo (below). Apparently, the red umbrella gave it away.



These shots were taken on the way out, and I really like how the light is shining here. The leaves look like little jewels!




After this, we went to Starbucks for a break and a chat. This turned out to be place we spent the most time, but it was so fun chatting(: The perfect break from all the walking!

I think I took a picture of the outside of the Starbucks the previous time (when I was here for the plum blossoms), so here's a picture of the inside!


I got the berry+chocolate pie and some tea!


The tea is a nectarine peach cream tea and it was very fruity and really delicious!


After our Starbucks break, we headed to Komyozenji(光明善寺), a temple that was built in the Kamakura period and also has fantastic autumn scenary. But this next picture was from the outside:


There's a 200 yen entrance fee, but it is totally worth it! And although there were "No Photography" signs at the entrance, when we went in, almost everyone had their cameras out. And not just handphone cameras, but DSLRs.


Totally love sitting on the tatami and just drinking in the autumn colours! My panorama photos didn't turn out very well though (as you can see from this) ><


Then again, I was looking at the plum blossom photos and I was like "I was that bad?!" (not like I was every very good at photography) so it's possible that I was just recognising how awful the photos were in real time instead of a time lag (that is the norm)





Dazaifu only has two spots with autumn views, but it's totally worth it. We were actually planning to go to this famous bridge in Oita, but then we found out it was 2 hours one way and transport alone would cost 5000 yen so we decided to go for this. Much nearer, cheaper, and we still got to see a lot of gorgeous maple leaves.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Instafreebie Book Giveaway




Happy Thanksgiving everyone! (If you celebrate)

I was going to post about the momiji at Dazaifu (went there with a friend yesterday) but then I remembered that I'm participating in my first ever group giveaway! Please forgive the two three exclamation marks in a row because I'm just so excited!

So I'll post about the momiji tomorrow because today, you should definitely click on the link at the bottom and get your free book! (Mine is The Nutcracker King, if you're interested in reading)

The giveaway is for Horror and Urban Fantasy books. There are 45 books in total, and you get get most of them free from Instafreebie! (And if it's not a free copy, it'll be a free sample)

In particular, I really recommend The Ninth Circle by Lincoln Cole (link leads to my review) and Underneath by M.N. Arzu (again, link leads to review, if you want to read more). I read and enjoyed both of them very much, and if you think they sound good from my review, then definitely go pick them up - The Ninth Circle is free and Underneath is a free sample.

Get your free books here

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

On Being an Asian Foreigner in Japan

This post was requested by someone on Dayre, and I decided to share it here as well! Ok, this is one of those posts where I need to start with a disclaimer:

Disclaimer

I will be using third party accounts (very generalised, non-identifiable kind) when I can, but this post is ultimately an anecdotal post. Where you stay and when you stay and a whole host of different factors will affect your experience in Japan, so please don't assume that my/our experiences will happen for everyone. So if you have a different experience, please chime in in the comments or send me an email if you have a lot to say and want to make it a post.

On being an Asian Foreigner in Japan

So if you rely mainly on internet sources to find out how foreigners are treated in Japan (keywords like "being foreign in Japan" and all that), you may assume that all foreigners stand out like crazy and get treated like pop stars, with people taking photos and what not.

Well, most of the people writing those are caucasian, so all that doesn't really apply to us.

And by us, I mean "Asians who don't stand out". I know Asia is a huge multicultural area, but to make things easier, I'll be referring to people with the same skin colour as Japanese for this post (Singaporeans, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc). Not because I don't think other kinds of Asians aren't Asian, but because I don't have the experience to speak on their behalf. (So chime in if you have something to share)

And from what I've found, there are only two blog posts on this topic (Gaijinpot and Tofugu) and both are by Singaporeans. I even know the author of one! Both are good pieces so take a look! Google "Asian Foreigner in Japan" or something along those lines.

Anyway so far, the differences between Asian and non-Asian foreigners can be summed up in what one of my teachers at TUFS said:
If you don't look Japanese, you'll be forgiven more but it's harder to fit in. If you look Japanese, it's easier to fit in, but you're expected to know 'The Rules'.
Incidentally, towards the end of the first year (when we were starting to understand the unspoken rules of society), we started 'taking turns' to get the best of both worlds.

Want to be a bit more excited and louder in the street? Well, I was normally with a South African friend (we were a group of three) so we got a 'pass' (or so we imagined - at least we didn't really get dirty looks). Want questions to go more smoothly? We sent my friend, who looks Japanese and is fluent to speak with whoever it was.

But generally, I think this rule holds true (at least for the part for Asians).

In terms of 'fitting in', it normally takes an extended conversation/my name for strangers to realise that I'm not Japanese. It's a good and bad thing because it's easier to ask questions without people panicking about you not possibly understanding Japanese, but then the sales agent (for Internet, newspapers, etc) tend to be a bit pushier until they find out I'm foreign.

And for what it's worth, I have noticed a difference in how I'm treated when I'm out with family vs with Japanese friends.

With my family, I'm normally speaking in English to them, so even if I make a reservation in Japanese, the English menus (if there are any) automatically come out. Which my mom is always grateful for. I have not noticed any difference in the level of service, by the way.

When I'm with my friends, I'm speaking Japanese to them and I never get handed an English menu or asked if I can understand Japanese.

And when I'm alone, I normally get handed the Japanese menu too, and it's basically like my friends.

And for the "must follow rules" part... I don't break too many rules nowadays, but I think it's true.

About two or three weeks ago, I was at Daiso when this old man bumped into me (I am very sure that I didn't bump into him). So to my surprise, he started scolding me and told me that I needed to apologise to him. And uh, because I didn't think I had anything to apologise for (because I didn't bump into him!) I pretended that I didn't speak Japanese and he just paused and walked away rather huffily.

The only other incident I recall is when I was scolded on the train for talking in English (in English too, by this Japanese lady), but I was at fault for that so I apologised and shut up.

So yeah, on the surface, it does seem like Asians are excepted to follow the rules (either because they're mistaken as Japanese or otherwise), though there seems to be more latitude if you are obviously foreign in a tourist area. Except on trains.

So is blending in good, or is standing out better?

I think it depends on the person. I have plenty of friends who complain that even after 5 years in Japan, they're still asked questions like "do you speak Japanese" when they meet someone new (I do get asked this too, but at a much lesser frequency. Mostly only if my name is given right away).

On the other hand, some of my friends think we blend in too well. I've heard from people in Tokyo that during the Japanese-Foreign student parties, the Asians tend to be ignored because... not exotic.

And if even if your first language is English, it's pretty hard to get students if your name isn't obviously foreign. I have a senior who had his profile (with picture) up on a teacher-student matching site with no luck for one or two years. But the minute he picked up a new, English, name and put it in the site, he got a call. Oddly enough, girls tend to be exempted from this phenomenon.

Oh yes, and I haven't mentioned this yet, but I haven't been checked before. To back up and explain a little, in Japan, it's legal for the police to ask you to show your gaijin card (or whatever it's called) at any time. In this LinkedIn group I'm in, quite a few people have mentioned that they get checked once a week (or month). On the other hand, I have never gotten checked since I came.

And as for me, I haven't really felt 'ignored' by the Japanese students in favour of the non-Asian looking students. But then again, I tend to not go to such events, so I assume that I don't really meet the "only want gaijin friends" Japanese.

In short, I don't really have an opinion on whether blending in is better or not. I'm pretty happy where I am, and with the friends I have. But, I have heard from others, and according to a mom who's living in Japan, blending in seems to help her kids become accepted in the community, which is something that is important to her. So it really depends on who you are, who you're with and what you want.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Ice-cream that doesn't look like ice-cream

Despite the fact that it's getting colder, I've been eating ice-cream. This is basically inspired by RocketNews24, which reported on the Haagen Daz ice cream that looks a lot like mapo doufu. Being a naturally curious person (and because the ice-cream sounded good), I decided to try it out and...


It really does look like mapo doufu ._.

This, by the way, is the Banana caramel cookie flavour:


While I like bananas, I thought it tasted rather artificial here, like how bananas tend to do in sweets. The caramel and chocolate parts were good, though!

This wasn't the only flavour. They also had:


Cheese berry cookie, which I much preferred. The taste of the cheese is really mild (I couldn't taste it), so it's basically a berry and cookie flavoured ice-cream. Really, really good - I actually bought a second helping of this. And it looks like:


Bacon.

(According to a friend).

The last ice-cream that I ate recently was this Lawson-only ice-cream (or so the sign at Lawson said). It's this sweet potato flavoured ice-cream.


And it's shaped to look like a sweet potato! (The outside is a wafer)


And this was actually much better than I imagined. The ice-cream itself tastes uncannily like yakiimo, and there's a layer of yakiimo paste on the top, to enchance the flavour.

Definitely get this if you see it in stores.


And just to be clear, I didn't eat all these in one day. I ate them over the course of a week. Also, I've been pretty much school and NaNoWriMo and driving classes so I don't have much to report. But I am planning to go somewhere interesting this week so if I do go, I'll blog about it!

Friday, 18 November 2016

Church Autumn Bazaar 2016

Last Sunday was my Church's Autumn Bazaar! Luckily for me,  I managed to be there so I could volunteer. Although I forgot that service started earlier than normal so I ended up coming late :p Luckily for us, though, the weather was really great and it was nice enough that I didn't need a thick jacket. Too bad we didn't have as many people as last year though ):


Got a book corner!


And a coffee and cake corner!


They had homemade apple pie (which someone bought for me and was fantastic)


And homemade chocolate cake (which came with a maple leaf so I got that). It tasted really good too.


Some pictures of the place:



Smart people buy their food ticket early. The curry was fantastic, as usual.


I was supposed to be helping out as a waitress again this year. But for some reason, not that many people came and I ended up helping at the souzai corner instead.


Which is really weird because the curry was really good (like I said). I had a serving for lunch and it was fantastic!

Maybe it's because we didn't have tonjiru (pork soup) and oden this year. But we didn't have as many people either, so we could only prepare curry.


And this is the souzai corner! Like always, it sold out early. But that's because it's 100 yen for one packet and everything is homemade and really really good! And because we're in a really prominent position.


I ended up buying two packets for my dinner.



I'm really going to miss this next year. I like helping out (and the food available) and I do look forward to this even. Hopefully even when I'm in Nagasaki next year, I'll be able to come and visit!

This Sunday, I have another accounting exam. I failed 3kyu (the second easiest) level twice last year, and since my teacher says this is a requirement for me to get my credits, I'm aiming for 4kyu (the easiest level). And I signed up for a related text happening the Sunday after that in order to maximise my chances. Hopefully I make it, but for now, I need to go back to my workbook!

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Saga International Balloon Fiesta Recap: Day 5

Finally, we're at the end of the recap! Unfortunately, the winds grew rather strong from the afternoon onwards, so there was no afternoon flight or the full version of the night balloons. But I'm jumping ahead of myself.

Morning Competition


When you want to sleep but everyone is like
"Get up and fly!"





Balloon Fantastia

The late morning was pretty fun! First, we got a visit from someone from the Panda balloon and LOOK AT HER NAILS!




And I got to chat with two of the teams in the Balloon Fantasia.



The basket of the Saga Balloon Museum team can hold 10 people and the maximum wait is over 1 ton! That's because the balloon is like twice the size of regular balloons!!



We also learnt that transporting balloons is expensive (rich people use planes, everyone else ships them) and so pilots sometimes opt for smaller baskets. It makes the balloon lighter too, which is good. But it does mean that the canisters have to be hung outside the basket which poses risks of its own.

And this is the Snow White balloon. It's 50 meters tall and the cloth alone weighs 350kg!!



The balloon was originally commission by some rich German toy makers (I think they were brothers?) and ended up sleeping for 10 years until the pilot bought her. She's travelled around Europe and America, and this is her first time in Japan!

Fun fact: the balloon is so big that they have to enter it and inflate her head with a tiny burner first. Then they inflate the rest of her the normal way. Which is why she looks like she's waking up whenever she gets inflated. And the pilot (who's from England) really loves the people of Saga! He was very appreciative of them and repeatedly expressed his thanks for being here.

Afternoon

We decided to go out for a little while and passed by the scarecrow festival. And I saw some dancing!


And then pigs flew


There was a public meeting, where it was announced that due to weather conditions, the afternoon competition could not be held.


My farewell photo

Night burners

The last night was a burners-only version, which is kinda cool but not as nice as when the balloons are inflated.




Everyone was having a good time, though, with dancing going on. I joined this skipping in a circle thing (to the amusement of my friends).



And that was it, actually. We headed back straightaway (because we had a bus to catch) and got back before midnight.

And that's a recap of the five days that I was there this year! Hope you enjoyed the photos!