Thursday, 31 March 2016

Sakura 2016: Kumamoto Castle

Hello! I just came back from Kumamoto yesterday! I had a job hunting event there, and since it started at 10am, I decided that instead of rushing, I would go one day early and spend the night. The sakura absolutely did not influence my decision to go early, but I decided that since I was there, I might as well go to the castle.

Luckily for me, the sakura were in full bloom! I was actually a bit worried, because they weren't in Fukuoka yet (soon though. Soon).

So on the 29th, I made my way to Kumamoto, made friend while on the tram, checked in to the hotel, and decided to head to Kumamoto castle. I had heard that entrance was cheaper after 5pm, but I intended to while the time away with this Strawberry Milk that I also heard about on the internet.

When I reached the castle walls, I saw this:


Sakura everywhere! It was really beautiful. I mean, the streets were lined with flowering sakura trees.


And I don't know, something about seeing foodstalls in front of the sakura make me happy. Not that I bought any of the food. I just like to look at them.


So I went to the snack/omiyage place next to Kumamoto castle, and obviously, I had to take a shot of Kumamon!

And ok, now I'll show you the drink and the shop, so that we can get back to what's probably the starts of this post - the sakura.


Strawberry milk, which is really just strawberry and milk. It's a little tart, and overall, not bad. But I sort of didn't enjoy it as much as I wanted to, because after I ordered this, I saw a strawberry ice-cream cone with actual strawberries on it! My fickle fickle stomach :p


And this is why you don't take photos while holding a drink in one hand. Everything ends up slanted. But it's a really small shop, and I actually missed it twice. I'll probably come back next time for the ice-cream. Assuming it's not a seasonal thing.

Ok, now on to more photos!

Fukuoka castle ruins has some really pretty sakura, but I think seeing an actual, reconstructed castle with sakura is definitely more impressive.


Although I do wish the weather was either more interesting or more blue. It was just... dull. Which meant no interesting sunsets either.


And more pictures.


This is what I saw when I looked back after we exited the castle. Oh, I forgot to say - I saw my newfound friends at the entrance to the castle. So we ended up exploring together :D


And since the castle is supposed to be lighted up at night, the only sensible thing to do is to wait for it to get dark (enough)


I also really like how the lanterns look in the sakura trees, but I just can't seem to get a good picture of them!


And it was only until I took the last picture that I remembered that I wanted to take this street of sakura in the daytime too! But, I somehow forgot about it.


The next day was the job-hunting day, and well... I'm glad I stayed over. It ended up being a one hour bus ride from the city to the company, and after the whole thing was done, I was feeling more than a little bus sick.

I've another company setsumeikai tomorrow though - so hopefully that goes well!

MORE sakura photos:
2015:
Fukuoka Castle and Huis Ten Bosch
2014:
Fukuoka Castle (Day)
Fukuoka Castle (Night)
Muromi 
Hakozaki Campus
2012:
Tokyo

Thank you for reading! If you leave a comment, please make sure that you share to "public" (that green oval thing) and not just to circles, because I might not be able to see it otherwise. 

Monday, 28 March 2016

Frequently Asked Questions IV

Another year, another set of questions! I didn't actually think there would be new questions to cover, but here there were! More to learn all the time(:

random plum blossom picture to prettify this post XD
Without further ado:

On the Scholarship

1. If I'm doing NS, can I apply a year in advance and defer the scholarship? (Applicable to Singaporean guys) 

Sorry, guys! I asked, and you can't defer the scholarship. You'll have the apply the year before you are able to leave for Japan. i.e. if you can leave in April 2018, you should apply in 2017. When in doubt, consult the embassy!

2. Do I need to choose which university to go to in advance? 

For the undergraduate scholarship, the answer is no. There is a form, but I didn't know anyone who filled it in. You'll choose your university when you're at TUFS or Osaka University, so there's absolutely no need to worry about that. It might be different for the post-graduate scholarship, but I know nothing about that.

3. What does the embassy mean when they ask for 'original copies'? 

I'm not too sure about that, but I handed in certified true copies and everything was absolutely fine. It's probably a good idea not to hand in the original certificates.

On Kyudai

4. Is Kyudai stressful? (Is it more stressful than Singapore?) 

To be honest, I find it very difficult to compare the two systems, because stress is what you make of it. I know people who claim Japan is much more relaxed, but then you have my sub-zemi, which regularly requires us to stay in school overnight/till it's almost time for the last train, and do tons of projects. It really depends on your choices,  I think.

On TUFS (ok, the order is strange but....)

5. Should I buy a bicycle when at TUFS? 

That really depends on your goals. I'm the type that actually likes walking - my bicycle here is used only to get to the driving range, which is too far to walk to. For me, the grocery stores near TUFS were within walking distance, and if I went further, I took the bus. I do know a lot of people that got bicycles from their seniors/bought one and used it regularly, though. If you're planning to stay within Tokyo, then I think it can't hurt to have a bicycle. Plus, moving it won't be that difficult (probably).

6. What Church did you go to? 

I went to Calvary Chapel Fukuoka, which was a non-denominational Church that has services in both English and Japanese. There is a Japanese-speaking Church nearby as well (my cousin went to that one). I know there's a Catholic Church somewhere, but I'm not too sure where. I think you have to take a train though.

Ok, that's all the questions that I think are applicable to a fairly large number of prospective applicants :D I hope they'll be able to help at least a few people! For more information, check out:
FAQ (the original!)
FAQ (the second)
FAQ (the third)
The anti-FAQ
or the MEXT scholars page. 

Thanks to Jordan, Yuki and everyone else who sent me emails about this! (I'm not sure if you want me to use your name, but if you do, let me know :D )

Oh, and I'll probably update the anti-FAQ with this (if it isn't already written there), but please do not send me questions asking about level of Japanese needed for the scholarship or any details about the scholarship (e.g. how many marks do I need, or can I switch between course ABC and course XYZ), or anything about how MEXT selects their scholars. I do not work for MEXT, and I will not be able to answer your questions. From now on, I will be ignoring all emails that consist solely of these questions. Even if I do reply, it'll just be a link to these posts.

Of course, feel free to ask questions that aren't covered here, or if you want to know if you have a senpai with the MEXT scholarship. If I can help, I definitely will(:

P.s. Totally not related to the FAQs, but lately, I haven't been able to see certain Google+ comments. I am trying to figure out how to get two comment systems installed (anyone able to help?), but in the meantime, if you leave a comment, could you check and make sure it's set to "public" and not just "your circles"? 

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Drama Review: Tensai Tantei Mitarai (天才探偵ミタライ)

Image from Fujitv.co.jp/mitarai
Um... hi :D I know I said FAQ or Shukatsu post next (sorry, Whitney!), but I remembered that I watched this a few days ago and I wanted to talk about it. BECAUSE IT IS REALLY GOOD.

Ahem, I'm calm again.

I basically decided to watch this two hour plus drama special because I saw the poster for the movie while I was at Hakata, and I wanted to see if I was interested in watching the movie. After watching this, my only regret is that this isn't a drama series. But still, a two hour plus special episode isn't too bad.

The drama basically starts when Ishioka, a writer, conveys a story he heard to his friend, Mitarai. It goes like this:

A woman wearing a white dress stands at the side of the road in the pouring rain. She throws her umbrella onto the road, and only when it's broken, does she pick it up and continue on her way.

Mitarai immediately deduces that the woman just committed a murder, and his deduction is proved true when a dead body matching his description is found. The only thing is, the woman in white is found in the next room, dead.

Actually, the way Mitarai behaves reminds me a lot of Sherlock. I mean, his friend is a writer too (hello, Dr. Watson). When Mitarai first met the newly transferred cop (Tategawa), he immediately deduces that she's been pulling all nighters and that her perfume is a cheap one from the conbini. But, I also watched The Abominable Bride recently, and I think this was more interesting.

Apart from Sherlock Holmes, Mitarai also reminds me of Manabu Yukawa from Galileo (also another great series. Although I refuse to watch the second season).

Oh, and for some reason, I had absolutely no sympathy for the victims in this drama. Well, I sort of had sympathy for one, but the backstory was revealed, and I ended up feeling sorry for the killer instead. I thought that was a good twist, actually. Rather than making the twist about how the killer is someone else, having the twist be about the truth of the motive for murder made for a refreshing change.

While I liked most of the main characters (including, clearly, the murderer), I thought that Tategawa, the female detective, was kinda annoying. For some reason, when it's a male-dominated cast, the female characters seem to be not as well characterised. I think she's was supposed to be refreshingly straight honest, but she just came across as unlikable and rude to me. I guess the problem was introducing the two leads first, then having her come in and be all disapproving, which probably made me not warm to her.

I'd actually love for a Hosho Reiko (from Nazotoki wa Dinner no Atode) type of character. Well, actually, I just want to see Kageyama (from Nazotoki) and Mitatarai have a deduction showdown. Oh, and Yukawa too! Three smart people in a battle of wits.

Oh yeah, the best type of female lead would probably be like Utsumi from Galileo. She and Yukawa had great chemistry, and I'd love to see something like that here.

Conclusion: I'm definitely going to watch the movie when it comes out!!

Monday, 21 March 2016

General Updates (aka Shukatsu Updates)

Hey everyone! I haven't had anything exciting happen recently, but I thought I'd just give you a general update, to sort of prove I'm alive.

It's technically my holidays now, and I did plan to go to Kokura for a one day trip, but due to financial constraints and time constraints, I haven't had the chance. And the Krispy Kreme spring doughnuts stop being sold tomorrow (they're now only available in Kokura, since all the Fukuoka shops closed down). Sigh.

Oh well, I finally went to a huge 合同説明会 (joint explanation session) at the Fukuoka Yahoo Dome.


They had special lecture sessions for certain companies, and then it was booths all the way. And it was clear which companies were popular - there were booths with loads of people, and some were just empty. I went for about four before I gave up. Total: about 5 hours, I think? 11am to 4pm, at any rate.

Right now though, I'm sort of shifting from these big events to the individual company sessions. Not to mention starting to hand in my entry sheet (applications) to various companies. And getting ready to take tests. For now, the hope is to make it past the first stage of rejections and get to the interview stage.

Oh yes, I'm thinking of doing a general "introduction to Shukatsu" post - stuff like the common terms and such. Anyone interested?

Afternoon Tea

A food update!! I managed to meet Yiyin again, and we went for a late lunch at the Afternoon Tea Tearoom.

Peach Earl Grey Tea
 I ordered the Teatime set, which was three half-size portions of sweets plus a pot of tea. It was soooo good. I really loved the matcha milk scone - I didn't really need the cream or the jam. It was perfect just the way it was!


Yiyin got the cheese and roast chicken sandwich and I managed to sneak a bite. It was really great too!


We both agreed that this place is much better than the Cinnamoroll popup stall, which looked cute but failed in the taste section. We'd rather the food taste good.

What's Coming Up:
Starting from Wednesday, I have job hunting events all the way till Saturday. And my sub-zemi is having a farewell party for the graduating seniors, so I can kiss more money goodbye.

Blog-wise, I'm planning to write another FAQ post sometime this week, so fingers crossed that I can finish writing it. If anyone has any post requests, let me know :D

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Thoughts on "The Dark Side of Studying Abroad"

Screenshot from 66 News

I saw this blogpost making the rounds on Facebook, and I felt like talking about it, so here's a different blogpost from the usual.

The Summary:

You can find the actual post here, but if you want a summary, here's what I understand it's saying:

Problems faced by people studying abroad include: a lack of a support system, a fear of not fitting in, and general homesickness. It is, however, made worse by the fact that people generally only post positive things on social media, so everyone feels the pressure to be upbeat.

I thought this was a thought provoking post, and basically, I want to talk about why this blog is so positive, and what I think are the dark sides of studying abroad (well, studying in Japan).

Why I'm (mostly) Positive:

If you're a regular reader here, I think you'll have noticed that I'm basically positive about life and study here. I think I can count on one hand the number of non-positive Japan-related posts there (mostly when I do badly in exams). I complain a bit more my Dayre, but I think generally, I'm positive about life here (certain aspects of the culture, not so much but whatever).

For me, I do this more or less intentionally. At first, it was because all I could find about my scholarship was this long three part post that was basically complaints about the scholarship (and probably inaccurate), so I started my blog to give a truthful and more positive picture. For me, I really do have more positive experiences than negative experiences.

After a while, I found that I had one more reason to be positive. I realised that wallowing in self-pity is not the way to go. True, I have moments of homesickness, but ranting on it only makes me feel better momentarily. After a while, it comes back, worse than ever. So for me, I see no positive effects in talking about how homesick I am and all that.

To sum, I do my best to be positive because:

a. I really do have a generally positive experience, and I want to be encouraging, not discouraging
b. Being negative is bad for my mental health.

The Dark Side of Studying Abroad:

Obviously, life overseas is not 100% positive. Some negative aspects that instantly come to mind are culture-specific (like honne and tatemae, which drives me crazy when I think about it - solution: don't think about it, or women in the workforce).

And some of it is about home. Life is Japan is great, but I do miss home all the same. I try not to miss the big events (flying home for my cousin's wedding), but I've had to miss my sister and cousin's 21st birthday. And I'll be missing my bro's PSLE year. Those are big events that I want to be present for. Of course, when I focus on the positive side, this tends to go away (like what I said, I'm not the type that can afford to be negative for too long). For example, if I'm missing home and start contemplating job hunting, I start feeling discouraged and defeated. But, when I'm at events with companies that I'm genuinely interested in, I find that the prospect of staying longer excites me.

So yes, I agree with the article that there is a dark side to studying abroad. Homesickness and fear of not fitting in is no joke.

But, I think that this is where the bright side of studying abroad is too. It's precisely because I'm so out of my comfort zone that I'll even consider doing things that I normally wouldn't. Like finishing school - even if we had something comparable in Singapore, I wouldn't have signed up for it.

And about the rose-tinted social media thing, well, I may be contributing to that, but that's because of the previous negativity leading to more negativity effect I talked about. Making a conscious effort to be upbeat is my way of reminding myself that this is fun. I'm trying to scare away the shadows, so to speak. And the best way of scaring the shadows is to shine a light on them.

And now that I've written about the "dark side" of things, I think it's time to listen to "Dark Side" by Kelly Clarkson.


Sunday, 13 March 2016

Plum Blossoms at Dazaifu

I had a few free days last week, and I decided to use one of them to go see the plum blossoms at Dazaifu. After all, until all this shukatsu stuff is finished, I don't know if I'll get another chance to see them. Plus, it occurred to me that the last time I was at Dazaifu, it was during my ROCs trip, when I was 15.

Dazaifu Station
Also, I remembered a Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro shop, and I wanted to go back there.

Shopping street leading to Dazaifu


Unfortunately, it was raining AND the shop was no longer there. But, since the plum blossoms were already more or less fallen, I'm glad I didn't delay going. In fact, I wish I'd gone earlier. There are apparently 6000 plum trees in Dazaifu, and it's apparently quite a sight. As it is, this is what I saw:



But, there were a few trees that were blooming rather prettily, and when I saw them, I immediately started taking as many pictures as possible. Be warned, picture spam up ahead:


 I was like "LOOK A BIRD"

As though I've never seen a bird before. And it's a good thing the rain wasn't very heavy, because I stood there for quite a while, trying to get a photo. Birds are not very cooperative creatures. I only managed to get two photos. The one above, and this next one:


And I was just walking around when I saw this. I thought it was pretty, the way the flowers hang down, kinda like shooting stars (I also re-watched/binged watched Meteor Garden recently, so lots of things will remind me of shooting stars for a while):


Oh, and the next few photos are all of THE SAME TREE. It's literally "this one is flowering! I have to take 12345 pictures of it from different angles!"


This is the full shot of the tree, by the way:


And another shot:

You know what, I removed a photo. You really don't need to see that many closeups of flowers.

And this is the tree from the other side:


After I finished taking photos of all the photogenic things, I walked around a little and decided to head back. Not before taking in the local speciality, 梅ヶ枝餅 (umegaemochi). I think just about every other shop was selling it, so I used my own method of choosing where to eat at. I chose the shop that seemed like it would have a good view:

It basically says "we have  tea room inside"
The inside was really cosy though:


And there was a huge plum tree in the garden. The view was really awesome:


And of course, my mochi! It's basically filled with anko and has a thin layer of roasted mochi across it. The anko makes it really sweet, so the tea goes really well with it. I got the single mochi, which was 120 yen, but if I remember the price right, you can get a mochi + matcha set for about 600 yen (or perhaps a little more?)


After eating, I was ready to take the train home, and that's where today's post ends. Oh, and I saw the famous Dazaifu Starbucks (it was one of the suggested results when I was googling the place)


It looks really cool, but the queue also looked very long, so I kept a clear berth.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Cinnamoroll Popup Cafe

Yesterday, I met up with Yiyin, after a really really long time. I'm not even sure if we met last year, despite the frequency we met during our first year. Anyway, since we were at Tenjin, we decided to have dinner there. Due to our complete inability to decide, we walked around and ended up here:


A Cinnamoroll Popup store!!! Since it's only open till the 14th of this month, we decided to eat here. I mean, look how cute it is!


The system worked like this. First, you queue. Then, they take your order. Only after that do they let you into the shop, and serve you the food. Once the first dish arrives at your table, they give you an hour to finish. Oh, and they serve the dessert and the main meal at the same time.

When we went in, the shop assistant offered to help us take a photo. Obviously, I had to wear the hat. Almost at the same time, Yiyin refused her hat.


And now, what everyone has been waiting for - FOOD PICTURES!

First, the coffee latte:

Verdict: Cute, but the taste is "too normal"

The next thing to come was the dessert table. Looks adorable, right? The fluffy thing is cotton candy! I managed to resist eating until after my main dish.


The top was macarons - they were sweet, and a little nutty to me, but way too dry. Even the filling was dry. It was more like meringue, really.


And the bottom half: cupcakes, fruit and cotton candy. Nothing out of the ordinary.


 Oh yes, and I took the chance to take pictures of the shop interior.


And another look, with really cute ceiling decorations:



I was taking more photos while chatting with Yiyin (who says I can't multi-task?), but then our food arrived!


This is my cream pasta. For some reason, I couldn't really taste the cream. I'm not sure if there was even cream. But at least my vegetables were cooked because...


This is Yiyin's Beef Stew, and her vegetables weren't cooked. Not even the cauliflower. It looked really adorable, but it was kinda sad that there was only two slices of bread and no rice at all. She ended up leaving most of the vegetables uneaten.

Overall, the food was really, really adorable, but it failed on taste. I think the Moomin Cafe at Canal City is way better. The food may not be as cute (unless you get the Hayashi Rice or the desserts), but the shop decoration is on part, and the food is delicious. Plus that bread buffet. That awesome bread buffet.

But, I have no regrets eating here. I mean, if I didn't, I probably would have regretted it. It did look delicious after all.

I'm cute, EAT ME.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

My Kohai Started a Blog!!

Hey everyone,

Just last week, I got an email from one of my Singaporean kouhai's (also a MEXT scholar), and she told me that she just started a blog! Her language school was Osaka University, so apart from Devangi, you have one more person you can bother with questions about the school. Her blog is still very new, but if you have any questions, she says to feel free to drop her a comment or message. Anyway, I'll shut up now and let her introduce herself.


Hi there! This is Cheryl from Singapore. I'm an undergraduate student under MEXT 2015-2020, majoring in Linguistics. I was inspired by Eustacia's blog to start my own as a personal record of memories in Japan, as well as a log of experiences+tips for future scholars. "Why start now?" you may ask. After a memorable year in Osaka, nearing graduation made me feel nostalgic and *poof* "Let's start writing now!" said my irrational self in the middle of the night. "Now!" and yup, this happened.

The blog has only one post as of now, but I plan to write about the past year in Osaka and random experiences of food, travel and culture, and stuff. Yup, random stuff. (Don't mind me please.)

The URL comes from a quote by Uesugi Youzan 上杉鷹山: "naseba naru naseba naranu nanigoto mo"「為せば成る 為さねば成らぬ 何事も」 which translates to "If you try, something will happen. If you don't, nothing will. All things are as such." This quote (introduced by the History teacher as parting words) resonated with me because I'm a terrible procrastinator and I want to change that. I actually wanted to start writing since last year but yup, you know what happened. And since the first phrase is taken, I decided on the second phrase 「為さねば成らぬ」(nasaneba naranu). (It's a personal reminder as well .___.)
It's not much, but I hope my blog will be an interesting read for you! If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or contact me via the form in my blog! Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu!
 So, future kouhai's, hop on over to Japan, Through Seasons and Time and check out her blog!


Monday, 7 March 2016

First Icing Cookie Lesson!!

Last December, when my mom and bro was here, we chanced upon an icing cookie trial lesson thing in North Tenjin and iced SANTA BEAR AND CHRISTMAS TREE COOKIES. It was pretty fun, and since they have a classroom near my place (near = about 20 minutes walk), I decided to go for a lesson during the spring break.

After putting it off for the remainder of the term, I finally made an appointment and went for a class yesterday! The weather was awesome too (dare I hope that we're finally in that tiny window of perfect weather?) and I had a good walk to the tower.

When I got to the class and saw the cookies, I was... WOAH. The teacher is way talented. I want to be as good as her someday (although this is a pipe dream). Check out her designs:

Adorable kimono!!

The teacher actually made the mold for the ribbon by herself!!

I'm super in love with the flowers on the heart! 
After going gaga over the cookies, the lesson started! I decided to pay extra to learn how to build the cookies from scratch, and it was totally worth it. I didn't know that when you make cookies, you're not supposed to use your hands, to avoid melting the butter. Shows you how much of a baking noob I am.


After the cookies, two more students joined us, and we started the icing part of the lesson. Unlike the trial lesson, we were pretty much given carte blanche to decorate the cookies. If we needed help with a technique, we could ask the teacher (and she basically demonstrated the basics first), but other than that, it was very "here's a blank cookie canvas, do as you will"

AND MY COOKIES!


I'm actually quite happy with all of them, and the balloon looks cute (I think?). But that's because I modelled it after the teachers. Ok, other things I was secretly happy about:


The colour blending of the dress. Even though for some reason, none of the photos I take can get a clear picture. But I was like YAY TWO COLOUR BLENDS.

And the hearts on the heart:


I actually saw it in a video on Facebook, and was after being taught how to create dots, decided to use that and try. My teacher was happy, I think?

And speaking of the teacher, she was the same lady as the trial lesson teacher, and she remembered me! Well, she remembered my brother and my mom, mostly because I had to translate everything. So yeah, she remembered me XD

And since we couldn't finish decorating all the cookies in time, so like the internet lesson plan said, I got to bring the icing and the leftover cookies home!! I sort of ran out of patterns, but these are the better looking ones. I TRIED THE MG BEAR! Unfortunately, I'm not very good at drawing. Or art in general.


Anyway, yeah, so that was my first lesson. I totally want to go and take more and become better, but I have job hunting stuff, and I need to save my money.