Friday, 28 February 2014

TEDxFukuoka 2014 (February 22)

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Last Saturday, I went for my first ever TED talks. And before I continue, I need to say that I really meant to post this sooner, but I suddenly had a bunch of prospective students and ended up conducting lots of trial lessons this week.

So yes, TED. This is a TEDx event, which means that it's an independently organised event. But still, I was really really excited.


Now, details. TEDxFukuoka costs 8000yen (including a sandwich lunch and an after talk 'party'). It was from 11am to 5pm (after party was till 8pm) at Tenjin and was divided into 4 sessions - Persona, Moment, In/Out and Japan. There were 13 speakers.

Most of the talks were held in Japanese, with only 3 talks in English. But even if you don't know Japanese (or English), there's no need to worry - there were translation devices. Sadly, photography was not allowed during the talks itself.

I'm not sure what I was expecting from a TED talk, but it was really fun. The speakers are all very friendly, and there are quite a few intermission sessions, so that you can talk to them (I think. It's possible that these were just really long 30 minute toilet breaks).

While I can probably talk about all the speakers, the one speaker that impressed me/touched me the most was Yumika Uno (incidentally one of the last speakers). She's a first-year high school student and the founder of the Nanohana Genki Project. The Nanohana Genki Project was started when Kyudai vacated a campus (probably for Ito), leaving her town feeling empty. So, she decided to add more colour to the town by planting nanohana (rapeseed/canola). It worked and now she's expending the project into a social business so that she can help the victims of the March 11 disaster.

Time for a moment of respect.

This girl is truly amazing. And although her speech was in Japanese, she translated it into English as well, which speaks volumes about how prepared she was. I managed to talk to her after the event and she was equally friendly there. As you may or may not know, I'm helping Amberbrook, a NPO founded by my AC friends. So I tend to talk about Amberbrook to a lot of people (like the WorldShift guy), including Uno-san. With any luck, we'll be able to figure out how to have youths from Singapore help the March 11 victims by taking part in the Nanhana Genki Project.

Although TEDxFukuoka was a little expensive, I'm really glad I went. Apart from the chance to listen and talk to a bunch of interesting speakers, I also made a few acquaintances. Perhaps next time, I'll participate by volunteering.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Aso Farmland

I LOVE ASO FARMLAND. I should make this much clear at the start. I wasn't browsing about tourist spots in Kyushu and say "hey, this looks good", I always intended to visit. And since they had this strawberry picking promotion/stay, I figured it was now or never. Yeah, this is on my list of "must revisit" spots.

And I had a really eventful trip.

I went to Aso Farmland (located in Kumamoto prefecture) right after my Nagasaki trip. It's not that I have no sense of planning (I don't actually), but it's mostly because I had to book the stay before the promotion period ended and before Yiyin went back to Malaysia. And since Nagasaki was actually not that cold, I didn't think Aso would be that cold either, after all, I think it's further down south.

Guess what? Worst snowfall in dunno how many years! (Someone told me 3, some one told me 10+ years so.... I guess it's been a while).

We were actually stuck at Higo-ootsu station, since the train couldn't continue on. All the buses were stopped too. So we figured that there was nothing to do but take a taxi. Guess what? Almost all taxi companies refused to send us there because they didn't have snow tires (understandable really). It took about half-an-hour of frantic calling to Aso Farmland Resort and the numbers that they gave me before the only taxi company ready for snow happened to have a taxi heading our way.

Yesssssssss.

It explains why the front desk was so empty. 
The snow fall was actually quite bad.

This deer statue is supposed to be standing. That's how bad it was. 
But it did make for a lot of pretty scenary.


After lunch, Yiyin and I decided to skip the petting farm (the animals were all snowed in) to go strawberry picking!


We were actually allowed to pick one box of strawberries per person. And the lady was really nice, we were worrying that we picked too much, but when she looked at our boxes, she told us to pick some more! Apparently, as long as the strawberries don't fall out, you can heap as much as you want.


I haven't picked strawberries since I was three (or around that age), so this was really fun. The strawberries were really sweet too! And no pesticides were used, so they could be eaten without being washed (but being kiasu Singaporean/Malaysian, we still washed them).


What happened after strawberry picking though, wasn't so fun. You see, we got a free ticket to this dry sauna (and low humidity too). So it being really cold and still snowing, we decided to go there instead of the Genki Forest (which was too snowy and cold for the two days we were there). Unfortunately, while we were in the sauna, we both fell asleep. I didn't mean to, really! But I did, and got up way too fast when I was woken up. So I, well, there's no nice way to say it, but I fainted while drinking water.

The second time in my life I fainted. I must say, it's like the first time, which is to say it felt like falling asleep. Although I was very puzzled as to why I woke up next to a disarrayed fire extinguisher. Apparently, I hit my head against it when I fell.

So after that, we went back to our adorable little house to rest till dinner.

Adorable. 
We actually had a few restaurants to choose from for dinner, but I didn't really give Yiyin a choice. I wanted what I ate the last time I was here, and that was the Yakiniku-nabe.


Most of the time, if I'm eating a meal that came as a set plan, I wouldn't expect much. This however, was really delicious. And the amount of food they gave us was huge.

We did our best, but we couldn't finish it. 
After dinner, we walked it off by going to take photos of the illuminations. 

This was it actually. 

But "it" is awfully pretty, especially in the snow. 
Of course, I had to go to the onsen after that. I really wanted to go for rotenburo (the outdoor onsen), since it was still snowing, but unfornately, the snow iced the paths and it was closed off. 

The next day, well, we did two things. We went to the petting zoo, and we made stuff (I made [ok, decorated] a bear, Yiyin made bath salts). I'm sure everyone would rather see cute animal photos, so I'll just add a sentence here to say that the making-stuff experience was about 1000 yen per person, and I think it's quite worthwhile. 

So, cute animals. 

Adorable animals. 

Huh? Oh yeah, pictures.

Am I adorable enough?

How about us? 

Flamingos! 
Not all of it was outside. There are also a few animals inside temperature controlled rooms. 

Like BUNNEHS. 

So fluffy! And he has a mane! Mr Fluffy Bunny and his rat friends. 
And Guinea Pigs

Hullo. 
I took so many photos. 

This was a really fun trip. I'm definitely coming back, since I haven't even gotten the chance to play at the Genki Forest. Oh, and I should definitely go to Mount Aso, where the volcano actually is.

And now, panoramas!


Sunday, 16 February 2014

Nagasaki Trip (A sort-of guide)

I just came back from four days of travelling - two days in Nagasaki and two days in Kumamoto. So, as I always do after every trip, here's a recap.

Basically, I went to Nagasaki for the Lantern Festival. And because part of my reason for living in Kyushu is to re-visit all the places that I went for my ROCS3 (Reality Outside Classroom) trip. And yes, Nagasaki was one of those places.

Hazel and I went there on this really cheap package. A two-way ticket plus one night at a hotel was 8200 yen per person. It's part of the package for the Nagasaki Lantern Festival, so I have no idea if this is available all year round.

First things first, how to get around. We took a one day tram pass for 600 yen. One trip is 120 yen, so if you're going to make 5 or more trips, you should definitely get the pass. The pass is available from the omiyage shop opposite Nagasaki Station. Just take the overhead bridge to the building opposite.

One good thing about the pass is that it comes with a few benefits, like discounts or one free xiao long bao (more on that later).

Cute tram. At least, I think it's cute. 
The first place we visited was the Nagasaki Peace Park.

I'm not sure if they made the rainbow on purpose. 
The biggest feature of this park is the statue, which has a few meanings. Let me see if I get it right. The hand pointing up is pointing to the threat of nuclear weapons, the hand parallel to the group (incidentally pointing at Urakami Church, which was very near the epicentre of the bomb). The leg that is sitting cross-legged signifies meditation, and the leg that looks like it's going to stand up shows that it's ready to take action.

*goes to check*

Yup, more or less right. Here's the statue:


After the peace park, we intended to visit the Atomic Bomb Museum, but got diverted to Urakami Church.


It was rebuilt after the atomic bomb destruction. Good if you're into architecture.

The Atomic Bomb Museum was sobering. That's really the only word for it. Apart from showing the devastating effects of the bomb, there are video and written testimonies from survivors, and they are heartbreaking. If you ever go to Nagasaki, you have to visit this place. Even if you're on a trip for fun and not for education, I think this is an essential location to visit. We need peace, not war.

After spending the morning being reflective, we headed over to Chinatown for lunch, mostly because an advertisement in our tram pass mentioned xiao long bao, and we both miss Chinese food.

This is the restaurant name. It probably stands for
"Chinese Delicatessen" 
The xiao long bao was fried/grilled, but it was so good. There was actual soup inside too, so it passes the test of being "xiao long bao".

The white-ish ones are normal flavoured, and the
pink-ish/orangey ones are seafood, which mean that it tasted
like har gao (a type of prawn dimsum)
The rest of the day was basically exploring Chinatown before heading back to check in at the hotel.

Evening/night was Lantern Festival time! Before that though, we went to Glover Garden (though we didn't go in, because they closed two minutes before sunset) and Oura Church. Panorama photos to come. UPDATE: Panorama photos embedded at the bottom of this post.

Oh and dinner. Dinner was at the restaurant that invented Chanpon. Hazel had the original Chanpon, and I had saraudon, which is crispy noodles covered in delicious vegetables (yes, I said vegetables, be amazed).

Yums. 
Ok, now for the Lantern Festival. It was tiring, because we walked and walked and walked, but really pretty.

Chinatown at night. 
And the best part was finding a Fujian community...hall? I'm not sure, but it's for Fujian people, and since Hokkien is a dialect originating from Fujian, I was really surprised and weirdly happy to see that I had ancestors that immigrated here.


It didn't have that many lanterns, but it was still pretty pretty. Actually, I think it may be a shrine.


And so, although we didn't realise it at that time, we went back to the hotel with tired legs.

The next morning, we had until 3.30ish pm. We did consider going to Gunkanjima, the island where they shot part of Skyfall, but the only boats were at 9am (too early) or 1pm (too late). So instead, we went to the 26 Martyrs Monument and Museum, which was a place to commemorate the 26 Martyrs who died for Christ. I learnt that the youngest was only 12, and was actually offered a reprieve if he would apostatise. He refused to do so. I do wonder if I'll be as brave if something like that happened to me.

If you're like me, and have an interest in the kakure kirishitan and the persecution of the Japanese Church in the Tokugawa era, you'll adore the museum. It's really informative, and they tell you about the history, why Christianity was banned, who were the leading figures, and so on. I only wish that I visited this place earlier, because my EE would definite;y have benefited from it.

Outside the museum, we saw a few adorable cats and I took quite a few pictures. I'll end this post with them, so you can coo over them.

According to Raychely, this looks like an "adorable coffee marshmallow"
Adorable :D 
My next post will be about my trip to Aso-farmland, and since there was a petting zoo there, there will be more cute animals.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Introducing Inas!

Alright all you future (and current) MEXT scholars. If you're a visual/audio person, or you just want more information about MEXT, let me introduce my kouhai Inas, a MEXT vlogger.

Inas got this year's MEXT scholarship (she's coming to Japan this April) so she just started, which means that:

a. There's not a lot of back-load for you to watch (So the "I don't have enough time excuse is not available)
b. You can follow her and say you were "one of the firsts".

She's also a really nice girl (I've been emailing her) so that's another reason to follow her. You can find her channel here.

Here's her introduction video:


She also has a video on the application process (sorry I can't seem to embed it) so go watch!

I've already asked her to make a vlog of TUFS so yay! 

Welcome to Japan Inas! 

Pssst, if you're a scholar and you want to guest post on my blog/want me to talk about your blog, don't hesitate to contact me! 

Friday, 7 February 2014

The End (of my favourite cafe Usagi no Mori)

Today was my last day of exams and the last day I got to eat at one of my favourite cafes here. Obviously, I'm happy about one event and sad about the other.

So instead of dwelling on things like my exams (although I do want to say that I'm super grateful that I managed to finish my Greek paper in time), I want to dwell on the closing of one of my favourite cafes. Wow, I'm feeling down today.

You may remember the cafe as the place where I learnt to make things like eclairs and cream puffs. And yes, you should go look at the link and drool. Well, that shop is moving to a different, far, 40min walk away location. While the baking school is still open, the cafe is going to be closed for good. That means I won't have the chance to eat a delicious set lunch like this again:


Or have cake like this (unless it's what I'm learning to bake):


 If you're wondering about the teapot, well, the meal is supposed to come with coffee, but the lady running the shop knows I don't like coffee, so she changed it to a pot of tea for me.

And since I may not have the chance again, I bought back a piece of the chocolate cake to eat at home.

Plus, I even got this pretty necklace (and it was only half-price)


On the bright side, I have a lesson for strawberry cake at the new location on the 3rd of March!

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Look What I Found!

Today, as I was going home from Church, this sign caught my eye.

It's a small, cramped library called KinKon館

It says 貸本 (kashihon - book for loan) and it's a lending library called KinKon館. It lends manga at 80yen per book for a day. The uncle running the stall is actually really proud of it - that manga that costs 400yen can be borrowed for 80 yen.

To be honest, that's a bit expensive considering that I can get the same book at BookOff for 105 yen (and I won't have to return it). But if you don't want to have too many books in your house, this might be a good option. And anyway, as much as I love BookOff, I want small shops like this to stay in business.

So yes, I ended up borrowing one book - the first volume of One Piece. And I'll probably go back every now and then to borrow manga that I want to read but don't know if I want to own.

今日、教会から帰っている時に、貸本屋を見つけました〜

読書が好きなのに、室見でKinKon館という貸本屋があることが知らなかったです。

一日一冊の漫画を貸すは80円をかかります。ちょっと高いけど、One Pieceの最初の本を貸しました〜

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Book Review: Geisha by Liz Dalby

I first heard of this book through.... well, let's just say it's a long and complicated story involving me trying to find a furisode (for Seijinshiki - link to post with pictures!) and explaining to my mom what it was. And thanks to a non-Japanese Geisha called Sayuki, my mom assumed that second-hand furisodes were very cheap.

Well....

I don't know actually. But I don't think they are.

But Sayuki, who claims to be the first "non-Japanese" geisha, intrigued me. But then again, she got kicked out of her Asakusa hanamachi for not going for lessons and being rude (ETA: or so I hear from a few Japanese websites I read). And then I found out that there was actually a lady who was a geisha before her called Liz Dalby. And guess what? Liz Dalby wrote a book, which I very conveniently found at Rainbow Plaza in Tenjin -insert squeals of joy-

This book is awesome. I think I'm going to have to buy a copy for myself. Geisha is, to describe it simply, an account of how Geishas in Japan function, interspered with Liz Dalby's experience.

It could be said that as an anthropologist, Liz Dalby became too involved in what she was studying, but I think it just proves that she really knows her subject matter. What she does is to describe the various practices of the geisha and what they think about it. What she thinks is part of her experience, and I don't think she makes that many professional judgements in her book.

While Liz Dalby was based in Pontocho in Kyoto, she did travel to various Geisha communities in Tokyo and Atami hot springs. It was actually through a casual mention in the Atami hot springs chapter that I heard that Kyushu does have geisha. Fukuoka has the Hakata Bazoku Geisha. A quick internet search shows that they have a home page. Apparently, they perform at the Hakata Dontaku festival in May, so now I have a huge interest in going (I uh, I left for Huis Ten Bosch during Dontaku last year, since it's during Golden Week). And because I'm distractedly clicking through the geisha website while writing this, here's an interesting page: Geisha words. Did you know that they call the 三味線 (shamisen) 糸 (ito)? If I remember correctly from Liz Dalby's book, the geisha's in Kyoto call theirs おしゃみ (o-shami). Perhaps this is a regional thing, or perhaps it's a time period thing (Geisha was published in 1983).

If you're interested in Geisha, you should really check out this book. It's interesting and very well-written.

P.s. If you'd like to buy it from Amazon.com, I'd be so grateful if you use this affiliate link. It won't add to your cost, and it'll help me earn a bit of money. This link leads to the 25th Anniversary Edition, Updated Edition of Geisha by Liz Dalby