Tuesday, 31 May 2016

How to Live on a Student's Budget

Screenshot from Straits Times
I saw this article on Sunday, and my first thought was "this is wayyyy too simple. What's the use?" But then, I consulted my cousins, who are the voices of reason, and they reminded me that everyone goes through this.

Which is true, because I've made plenty of budgeting mistakes. So I thought I'd share the lessons learnt these past four years and a few tips (which will probably Japan-specific).

Oh, and this is not a "how to live cheap" thing because the extreme is really bad for your health (and the other extreme is bad for your wallet). It's how to live "sane" and for me, sane = being able to afford the nice stuff occasionally without feeling guilty about spending money.

Background/Current Financial Situation

I receive about 117,000 yen a month from the government. This doesn't include my school fees, which are paid separately. My parents pay for my phone bill, because when I went to sign up, I forgot my health insurance card and couldn't use the bank deduction account. Apart from that, I pay everything out of my allowance.

I do some part time work teaching English, although that has dwindled to one lesson a week (sometimes not even that) and the occasional lesson.

And this is the part that I'm proud of: until this year, when I started shukatsu, I didn't have to ask my parents for money for trips within Japan, purchases, rent etc.

What they paid were: phone bill, plane ticket home, and hotels/travel expenses IF they were here with me. (So trips with friends are self-paid)

Lessons Learnt/Tips

I have no idea how valid these tips are, but they're what work for me. Some may not even be useful outside of Japan, but... I'll start from the big stuff and work my way down.

1. Golden Rule: Money Coming In > Money Going Out (most of the time)

This is super super basic but... Just to set the stage. Because I haven't been as aware of this as I have been lately.

And by the way, I think it's fine if the arrow points the other way now and then, if you have savings. Just not all the time, because it's unsustainable.

2. Remember to save up for the big expenses.

For me, big expenses aren't trips. They're things like: Moving, Starting Uni and Shukatsu, which takes a lot of money. (Especially things like key money for apartments and flights to see the apartment and stuff)

And while I did save up for moving and the start of uni (including getting a new computer and iPad), I totally forgot about shukatsu, which is why my financial situation isn't the best right now. I still have some savings, just not a lot.

Speaking of savings...

3. Have a 'buffer level' of savings

I don't know about everyone, but I have this minimum level of savings that I need to have in order to be at ease. The magic number for me is 300,000 yen, or about three month's savings.

So whenever my bank balance goes near that number, I start getting antsy. And because of all the trips and suits and buying take out due to shukatsu, it's now permanently below my comfort zone, which is why I've been obsessing over my lack of savings recently.

This is why I will probably change some money when I go back, so I can top up my bank account here.

And it does sound quite unreasonable, now that I write it down, but I really do think that having this buffer is the main reason why I didn't go broke during March and April.

4. Splurges should not cost more than 30% of my savings.

I believe in spending on nice stuff, which is quite obvious from my Dayre (snacks, tea with friends, etc).

But for major purchases, I follow the advice from my dad, which is to make sure that I don't spend more than 30% of my savings. So if I'm wondering whether to go to Tokyo for an optional conference, I check my bank balance first and then decide. Up till recently, it was almost always a yes. Now it's a 'barely yes' XD

5. The most lucrative part time job is probably teaching, but getting jobs and keeping them can be quite hard.

The 'most lucrative' aspect may be only for Japan, but even in Fukuoka, what I make per hour of teaching is about twice of what most other students make. (And ok, can't say about 'most ' either, but it's the most out of all I've seen). So if I have about three students, I more or less earn enough money to buy groceries for the week.

But (and there's always a but), I find it hard to keep students. Probably due to my teaching method, since other people don't have this problem?

But out of my three students, two moved away. And I rejected two after a few lessons because they made me uncomfortable, and I'm not willing to take that in exchange for money 🙅🏻

So... Yeah, if you have students that you get along with, try your best not to disappoint them.

6. Learn to cook, even if you have to take a cooking class.

Cooking at home really is cheaper than buying from the conbini, and a lot healthier. And yes, you can get the pre-marinated meats from the supermarket at comparable cost, but do you really want to be dependent on what the supermarket decides to prepare?

Spend a little and learn the skill of cooking. If someone as lousy as me can do it, anyone can.

7. Learn how to use Point Cards, and only get the ones that you'll use

Ok, I clearly fail at the latter half of the point, but it's still valid! In Japan, point cards are very big, and for a good reason! These are the point cards(out of the many I have)/point systems that I find most useful:

- Supermarket cards (2)
- Yodobashi
- Gindako
- Amazon points
- Rakuten points

Aaaand, I think that's it. I have like 20 cards though, because I'm bad at saying no. But luckily I don't tend to spend because I have a point card (unless it's Magnolia bakery).

But basically, the above points can be used as cash, which is way useful. And while you're using them, find the best ways to get as many points as possible.

For example, Gindako has a double stamp system for days ended with 8 (and rainy days, I think? I went on a rainy + 8 day once and got like 4 stamps). So obviously, if you're craving Gindako, you should go on the nearest day that ends with 8 (which comes three times a month, and anyway you shouldn't be eating more than that because it's ex).

Or take the supermarket, which has 10x points for above 2000 yen purchases on Wednesday. So guess when I choose to buy rice? Or when I get the 500 yen discount, I get an extra 50yen off if I choose to use it on Tuesday - so I do.

Stuff like that may seem small, but it does add up. For example, my IH stove was 'free' from Yodobashi because I paid for it with points. Or in times of need, I use the Amazon/Rakuten points and give myself a 'discount'.

Oh, but the one card I don't understand is the f-joy card. I haven't found out how to use the points yet ._. And I actually have quite a few points on that card.

8. Unless you live with people, Costco is not going to save you money

I had a Costco membership for one year, and while I loved the pomegranate vinegar, chips and brownies there (not to mention the cheap hotdogs), it just wasn't worth my while. It costs about 800 yen for a one way trip, and because I'm buying for one, I couldn't get any perishables. So I was penny-wise pound-foolish and ended up eating unhealthily.

And what I've realised is... If you don't buy many snacks, groceries from the supermarket aren't that expensive. One of my friends keeps it under 10000 yen a month. I'm not there yet, but if I'm not buying omiyage home, then I average 12000 yen a month (or about 3000 yen a week) for expenses - not including the point discounts. That tends to bring it down.

Considering that Hotto Motto (bento place) costs at least 400 yen per meal, one week would be between 2000-4000 yen (depending on how many times I have lunch at home). And I'd still have to buy my oatmeal and milk and bread and all that ('all that' is actually at least half of my 3000yen/week haha), so eating in is much cheaper.

... Ok, the main point was "you don't need Costco if you live alone", but the latter half emphasises point 6 hahaha.

9. The 100 yen store is your friend

Yes, I totally get the quality argument, and perhaps it's valid, but for things like bathroom cups, drainage netting, rubbish bags, dustbins, etc I think the 100 yen stores are perfectly fine.

Although I would caution against getting cooking utensils there - I have heard that those melt when exposed to high temperatures. I guess for stuff like that, it's probably safer to spend a bit more to be safe.

10. Take Note of the Shopping Seasons

Luckily for me, I live close to an outlet mall (although I very sadly will have to move next year). But this does mean that for better or for worse, I'm aware of the biggest discount seasons. As far as I can recall, it's Golden Week, Obon (the Japanese version of our 7th month, only that it only lasts a week) and Christmas. Plus the first day of New Year. These are when the discounts are the biggest, though it's still ex compared to the online shops.

Oh, and if you don't mind not picking the colour, it's probably cheaper to get a coat from the fukubukuro (lucky bag) on Jan 1st. I find it much cheaper than even the sale price.

Fukubukuro's are also a good way to get things for cheaper (not cheap, because shopping in Japan is normally quite ex). Just make sure you like that brand and it should be safe to buy. Or to put it another way: there's a shop where the pieces are hit and miss. I don't buy fukubukuro from there.

Second Biggest Lesson: Your Financial Situation Will Change and You Better Be Aware When It Does

Looking back, it's clear that my third year in Japan was my best year financially. I had three students a week, so I had almost no need to withdraw any money for groceries. That meant I could splurge a bit more on things like kimono and finishing school.

But, when it came to my fourth year (last year), the number of students I had was reduced to one. And due to the black Zemi and its frequent nomikai's, my expenditure went up.

If I had been more aware of that, and if I had realised how expensive shukatsu would be, I probably would have been much more careful with my money. And looked harder for more students.

Luckily for me, I didn't make any big purchases like I had the year before, but I did spend a bit too much on snacks and ate out a bit too often (that was when my Gindako craze occurred.)

Result: savings were quite depleted, and I'm trying to rebuild them now, because I'll have to move next year.

Biggest Lesson: Health > Wealth

This should really be health > money, since wealth has a slight different definition but for the purposes of rhyme... Wealth (and why am I such a nerd?)

Anyway, this sounds incredibly obvious, but it took me over a year to realise. Because when I first came to Japan, I was surrounded by people on both extremes on the saving/spending scale (stories on that coming up next) I didn't realise that my own spending habits were really skewed too.

What happened was that there was a talk on how common it was for people to run out of money when they moved at the end of the year, and I was determined not to let that happen to me. Combine that with the fact that I was doing groceries for the first time and... I became incredibly reluctant to spend money.

Mind, this was before I moved to Fukuoka and learnt how to eat vegetables. So my diet consisted mainly of rice, eggs and tofu (and milk). I only got proper food if I ate out, and that wasn't very often.

So yeah, my nutrition was really terrible. I even skipped meals if I ran out of food. Once, I had a boiled egg for lunch because I hadn't replenished the rice and didn't want to spend money at the canteen.

Till now, my friends use "You ate more than an egg, right?" Or something like that as shorthand for "you really should eat a proper meal, and at least tell us if you need food".

Because of that, my gastric got really bad. My aunt visited me once, and after the first buffet lunch in a long time, I had terrible gastric. It was bad enough that I could barely walk and had to stay over at her hotel room.

And in the second semester, I developed gastric flu and ended up having to fly home for medical treatment after the exams. I did see the doctor, but all that did was to give me diarrhoea.

Oh, but I still got a certificate for perfect attendance, because I am a nerd and because I decided it was better be near people in case something bad happened :p

Moral of the story: don't be too stingy. My bank balance was fabulous after that year, but my stomach wasn't.

The Savers and Spenders of TUFS

We're finally at the last part of this long, long post. I don't think I've written something this long since the "I'm going to Japan" post (which might actually be shorter). Anyway, I thought I'd end with some interesting stories of when I was at TUFS.

TUFS is the Japanese language school in Tokyo that I spent a year at. Everyone in my course were fellow scholars (same scholarships), so we each got the same amount of money each month. We also stayed in dorm, where we were responsible for our own electricity bills.

Most people tried to save on electricity because it was the biggest expense. I don't just mean refusing to use the aircon/heater. We had:

A class who brought their phones AND laptops to school to charge every single day. While the school doesn't mind the occasional use, this proved too much and they were asked to stop.

That was pretty mild, though, because I heard of:

A senior bringing his RICE COOKER to class every day to save energy (and I guess save time when it was time for lunch?)

Plus, you know how precious our phones are, right? I had a friend leave hers in the corridor/common area to charge because she didn't want to increase her bill.

I also had one extreme senior who opted NOT to use hot water during winter. According to him, whoever intends to imitate him should be careful not to pass out when the first blast of cold water hits.

Oh, and once, I wondered out loud why the toilets didn't have any refills of toilet paper. Turns out that previous students would just take them to use in their own toilets!

These were the savers of TUFS.

On the other hand, we had people who:

Could spend the entire's month's allowance in three days.

Another once spent most of the month's allowance playing the UFO catcher (at least he managed to win quite a bit).

Hmm... I don't recall any more extreme stories for spenders. I had friends who would regularly be broke and I'd have to lend them money, but it's not as interesting as the savers.

Maybe it's because student life in a dorm is already pretty cheap, so you have to get really creative to save?

Don't worry, I don't intend to be extreme as either side. I believe money is a good servant, but a bad master (although I have to remind myself pretty often).

So while I'm trying to save a bit more, it's not at the expense of my groceries. It's more of cutting down on the snacks and eating out, which has the added benefit of being healthier for me too. So, win-win.

And by the way, if anyone has anymore tips, let me know, ok?

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Detective Conan Popup Store + Stamp Rally

Guess what I did today? Well, you all probably read the title so.... DETECTIVE CONAN! I remembered that the pop up store/stamp rally was until tomorrow, so I figured that I better go there ASAP.

Yay for stores!! And they had a huge poster of the movie (unsurprisingly)

So my main purpose of the day was to take part in the stamp rally. There were basically two versions: an easier one which was literally a stamp rally, and a harder one that involves solving riddles. Since participation is free, I decided to just do both.

So the harder one (in red) went like this:

First, we had to go to the lowest floor to solve five riddles and find five locations where the next clue was being held:

The first two were easy, the third took me a little longer and the fourth and fifth.... completely stumped me. But there was a sort of clue for the fourth, so I wasn't worried about it. It just required legwork. The fifth though... It didn't make any sense to me AT ALL. Give it a go:

In the end, I called in the big guns and got my friends to help. So... everything was "solved" in its own fashion. So once I solved the puzzles and found out the locations, I had to hunt for a board like this:

Yes, this is half a letter. Four out of five of the clues were half letters, so after we found the half, we had to create the whole letter with a mirror (or...not). And those letters were a code, which we had to crack to get the final keyword.

The other rally was way easier. It's basically going around and finding cute little stations like this:

Once I found it, I had to stamp it. Pretty easy. The hardest one to find was Genta-kun, because... I sort of didn't understand the map. But I eventually found it, which would make this the rally that I finished first.

And since I finished both, I managed to get two prizes - one file, and some stickers. They're going to my little bro, the other Detective Conan fan in the family. 

And since I had to claim the prizes at the shop, I decided to look around and ended up getting more tea!!

Apparently, the colour trick tea consists of tea that will change colour when you put lemon juice in it! Kinda like "The Tense Tea Party" episode of Detective Conan!

More pictures of the shop:

Even Kaito Kid made an appearance :D

On the way home, I passed by Tenjin, because I heard that a famous wagashi shop from Kitakyushu had a pop up shop! It's called Nagoshi, and their matcha daifuku is apparently really famous.

Found it! 
 I ended up getting three flavours: Matcha, Banana chocolate, and Chocolate pudding.

I'm not very good at taking photos on my phone haha. The photo quality today isn't so good. Sorry >< I'll do better next time!

A closeup of the banana - apparently it's a new flavour. I was super torn between the two (this and chocolate pudding), so I got both hahaha. The banana filling wasn't the best though. Tasted kind of artificial. But the chocolate surrounding it and the mochi was super good!

The chocolate pudding was really just cream and custard. But I liked it best because the flavours were really balanced!!

And this is the matcha picture. The matcha taste is super strong, because of all the matcha powder. And the adzuki filling balances out the bitter tea, so it's also just right. I see why the matcha daifuku is so famous now! I'm actually really tempted to go back and buy more (it's until the 30th, if I remember correctly), but I shall resist!)

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Now in Japan: Hatching Chickens without the Eggshell

This isn't what I normally blog about, but this is too cool NOT to share. First, take a look at a screenshot of a paper:

In plain English: they found a way to incubate baby chicks without the need of an eggshell. But what I thought was extremely cool was the fact that one of the teachers is from Oihama High School, not a university or research lab. (By the way, you can read the paper at this link)

And since it's from a high school, students have got to be involved... right?


This video shows the biology club fertilising and incubating the eggs, plus a video of a baby chick that made it all the way. The show (ガッテン; Gatten) was featuring an episode about eggs, but the relevant section is from the 26th minute. Hopefully I managed to share it properly:

Remember, the clip starts from the 26th minute!

And sadly, there are no English subtitles. But luckily, you don't really need them (I think). I mean, I watched it once without any audio :p

I find it really cool that high school students are doing this sort of stuff. Even if their teacher took the lead in the research, them participating is really cool. I hope it leads to some of them going into science XD

And that's all. I just wanted to share about eggs haha.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Chiffon Cake + Notes from Secret Witches Exhibition

Happy (or not so happy) Monday! I hope you had a good start to the week! Anyway, I went for my first baking class yesterday, and we made a grapefruit chiffon cake.

And with this lesson, I've confirmed (not that I needed to), that I have no arm strength. I got so tired whipping the cream by hand :p Oh, and did anyone know that for chiffon cake cream, you put some sour cream in as well? I totally didn't know that, but it tastes SO GOOD

And a closeup. 
And +Whitney Yee  here are my notes! They're really disjointed, but I hope there's an interesting fact or two in them :D

Secret Witches Exhibition Notes
- Mummy’s were used as medicine during the middle ages and were mixed into medicines/used as ointments (for more information: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-gruesome-history-of-eating-corpses-as-medicine-82360284/?no-ist)

- The Pentagram came from ancient Greece and could often be found in cradles and other household furniture because it was considered a protective charm against witches and demons

- Schergräber (amulet of forefoot of mole), believed to help eyesight. The mole’s teeth was supposed to be good for toothache.

(I hope I spelled the name right. Also, when I googled, it seems like the forefoot helped with Toothache too? So I may have mistranslated)

- The persecution of withes started in the 16th Century, when perception of witches changed drastically.

- Between the 14th to 19th Century, there was a “little ice age” where the even the summers weren’t very warm, and was devastating to the farming community.

- The Zacharias blessing was used against あらゆる災厄、ペストや魔術、悪天候 (all manner of misfortune, pestilence, magic, bad weather.)

- Exhibit included a double headed calf and cat

- Image/Characteristics of witches:
1. Contract with the devil
2. Serve the devil
3. Flies
4. Participates in Sabat
5. Uses black magic to do evil

- Witches were seen as an inversion of Christianity.

- Rebecca Lamp (1590), accused of being a witch. Letter to husband still remains. (Her account was translated as an exhibit)

- The use of torture charts with stings is disputed among historians

- Friedrich Spree opposed the witch trials

- Executioners wore iron masks to stay clean

- Countries which killed the most witches: Germany (by far)>France>Poland, Switzerland> Belgium/Luxembourg, Italy>England>Denmark>Hungary>Czech>Austria

- 平維茂戸隠山鬼女伊治之図(たいらのこれもちとがくしやまときじょいじのず)- this is some Edo period Ukiyo-e that was shown. Caught my attention because the exhibit is 99% focused on Europe, except for the last section.

(Last part)

- In Japan, witches don’t have such a negative background because they don’t have the Christian legacy.

- Fairy Tale’s mangaka drew a picture and gave a comment for this exhibition. There were other manga stills too

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Secret Witches Exhibition @ Fukuoka Museum

I went to the Secret Witches Exhibition, and it was really fascinating. I've been wanting to go since I heard about it because:

- lots of exhibits on loan from overseas
- more knowledge is never bad
- you never know when your next inspiration is coming from

So I coughed up the 900 yen fee for university students, declined the audio guide (which in retrospect probably wasn't the best idea, but I didn't want to spend an extra 500 yen) and went in.

My ticket's on the left!
And this was one of the strictest exhibition's that I've been too! Basically, not were we not allowed to take photos, we weren't even allowed to use our phone! I got stopped from messaging my cousin...

On the bright side, they did give me paper so I could take notes. And a pencil, because mechanical pencils are also banned.

The exhibition itself was very well-done. The room itself was decorated to fit the theme, and the exhibits seemed at home.

And all the staff were wearing witches' hats. I thought that was a cute touch.

But because it's Saturday, there was a ton of people there, so in the end, it felt like I was slowly shuffling in a queue. (Although I spent so much time taking notes I'm probably guilty of holding up the queue quite a few times as well)

At the last area, where we could finally take photos! But I went alone so I just took photos of the sets.


And the second. 

Oh, and this was at the ground floor:

You could wear a cape and pretend to ride a broom. They also had a Popup store to sell things, like books, merchandise, actual occult items, and oddly... Apple butter.

I'm not sure how the last one fits into the whole thing. Maybe because it's from overseas?

Not to mention cookies and... curry? How is curry related to any of this?
And on the way back, I saw tons of people digging for clams!!

This had absolutely nothing to do with the exhibition. I just wanted to put it up.

By the way, is anyone interested in reading my scribbled notes? I mean, I wrote stuff down cause it's interesting, but I just typed it out, and it's not coherent. Just a bunch of weird facts. But you know me, I aim to please, so...

(Anyway, just to assure you that I'm trying my best to post more regularly: I have a baking class tomorrow, so I'll post about that, and I may or may not post about my laziness. I haven't decided if it should go here or the other blog. Feel free to ignore my thinking out loud)

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Avispa Fukuoka vs Shonan Bellmare

Hey everyone! So on Saturday, I watched my first local football match ('soccer' for all of you who speak American English). And, I watched it from possibly the best seats that I will ever get: the VIP room!

By the way, before I post the photos, I just want to ask: has anyone gotten the "your Photos library is not yet available" message when you try to synch your iProduct? I've not been able to import any new photos because of it, and I have no idea what to do ><

Angle One
 There was even a free drink bar XD So I got lots of tea!

Angle Two
 We (me and my new friends) had to wait at the tables for a while, but that's ok, because they had snacks too! At least, I think it's alright to eat them...

Finally, we got to get to our seats and watch the game!

I wanted to take lots of cool pictures to show you all, but... a 200mm lens is not enough. This was the best I could do:

 On the other hand, we did have a really good bird's eye view of the place.

This was my first J1 match (J1 is the top league in Japan) and... WE WON! Although to be honest, it would have been pretty embarassing if we didn't win. I mean, we did have the home team advantage, and we were facing the second-weakest team in the J1 league (we're possibly the weakest, since we only qualified for J1 last year).

But after a LOT of close calls, we finally scored a goal in the 81st minute! That was really leaving things to the last minute :p

And this picture reminded me, the stadium is called Level 5 Stadium, and judging from the font used, I'm guessing that the game company sponsored it? Like how the Fukuoka dome is the Fukuoka Yahoo Dome.

And the post game interview:

My first "live" football match in Japan, and it was a great experience. I really enjoyed watching the game (more than the baseball match about two weeks ago, because I don't really understand the rules of baseball). And it was really all thanks to my finishing school principal, who über generously invited me to come watch the game with her, then invited me to dinner.

Does anyone have any ideas on what I could give her as a thank you present?

Friday, 13 May 2016

Singapore Sarong Kebaya and Style @ Fukuoka Art Museum

I was thinking of doing a random food post (which I probably will do... sometime next week), but as I was looking through my photos, I realised that I haven't blogged about this! The Singapore Sarong Kebaya and Style exhibit at the Fukuoka Art Museum! I actually saw the poster for it when I was walking around Ohori park with Hamham, so during Golden Week, I decided that I had to go see it. Luckily, Yuka was free, so I dragged her along XD

Oh, and for all the Malaysians wondering why it's "Singapore Sarong Kebaya", the exhibit is sponsored in part by the Singapore Tourism Board and the Asian Civilisations Museum. Or at least, I'm guessing that's why the special exhibit is titled this way.

The exhibit was only 200 yen (150 yen for students), which was really cheap. And the first thing we saw was:

SQ Girl! 
 Yay! And because this is what I wore to the entrance ceremony, Yuka was like "you have this, right?"

Another shot of Singapore Airlines, because it's my favourite carrier
Anyway, the exhibit itself wasn't very large - about two rooms. But I liked that it had comprehensive explanations in both English and Japanese, so the two of us could understand everything. And because we also took Bahasa Indonesia together, we were super hyper and kept going "OH I KNOW THAT WORD" as we reminisced about class.

I didn't take photos of everything, just my favourite few things. Like this kimono:

I was actually quite confused as to why there was a kimono in a sarong kebaya exhibit, but apparently, it's made of the same cloth as the sarong kebaya! That made me wonder if this still happens today - Kimonos made with the Sarong Kebaya material (can you imagine a kimono in the SQ sarong kebaya style?) and vice-versa. I think it might work as a yukata, right? But I'm not very familiar with kimono, so it's just me being random.

And, I saw two fairy-tale sarong kebaya skirts!! This one is Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (although for some reason, there are only five dwarves on this skirt, according to the card by the side):

And this one was Cinderella:

I did wish the Cinderella skirt was positioned a bit differently, because it was quite hard to see any of the characters. We were practically pressing ourselves against the glass to see around the skirt.

And this is the last picture that I took: a food-themed sarong kebaya.

I'm not sure if you can see it from the picture, but the top is of prawns, and the bottom has fishes and crabs on it. I don't know about you, but I would totally wear this, and express my love of seafood. I would also wear the fairytale skirts.

If you're in Fukuoka, I'd really encourage you to go visit this exhibit. True, it's a little small, but it doesn't cost much to get in, and the sarong kebaya's are really gorgeous. Makes me wish I owned a few.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Detective Conan: The Darkest Nightmare (Movie Review + the Singapore Connection)

After missing one movie, I finally went to see the latest Detective Conan movie. To be honest, I only went to see it because the Black Organisation was on the poster. Kinda like why I watched Dimensional Sniper two years ago.

Anyway, I LOVED this movie. It was what the poster (I didn't watch the trailer beforehand) and more.

The movie basically opens with a car chase of a Black Organisation member, Amuro and Akai. So... two of the three are characters that I like. That's definitely a good start. Anyway, the car chase ends with a bang, and the Black Organisation lady escapes. The only thing is... when Conan and friends go to Touto Aquarium the next day, they run across the woman. The thing is, she's lost all her memories.

Of course, Conan and Haibara don't know who she is, so they spent the first half of the movie trying to help her. The later half is what happens when the Black Organisation, the Japanese Police, the FBI and all the other characters that I love get involved.

Don't worry, I'll stop my summary here so that I won't give anymore spoilers. But let's just say that I absolutely adored the ending, even though it broke my heart at the same time. I was really hoping for a certain character to become a permanent part of the cast, but it wasn't to be.

Oh, and the last time I wrote about Conan, I mentioned that he has basically become a death-defying superhero. In this movie, everyone is a superhero. Short of being shot by a gun, people don't actually die (Ok, there was one non-gun death in the movie). The opening scene had a random car being thrown in the air, come crashing down onto a truck, yet the drivers and passengers managed to somehow leave the car in one piece. So if you're ever caught in the world of Detective Conan, you don't have to worry. Short of somehow being involved with the Black Organisation (or becoming part of the plot), the odds of you dying as a result of Conan and friends are very, very low.

Oh, and when I went into the theatre, I was handed this:

Since this is the 20th movie, they're giving out "thank you" cards that come with a code for one free movie (available for 48 hours). The code's valid until sometime in July.

All in all, this is a must watch for Conan fans. It's seriously fantastic.

Oh, and TJE SINGAPORE CONNECTION. Can you imagine my surprise when the end credits arrive and I see multiple shots of Gardens by the Bay, the Sky Trees, Marina Bay Sands and the Singapore Flyer? I immediately when to google this, and it seems like Touto aquarium is based on Odaiba and the Marina Bay Sands area of Singapore.

Looks like the Singapore Tourism Board got some more free advertising.

But seriously, good job, Little Red Dot. It was a pleasant surprise to see the pictures of home.

The trailer:

Sunday, 8 May 2016

御船山楽園 (Mifuneyama Rakuen)

Exactly one week ago, I headed to 御船山楽園 (Mifuneyama Rakuen) because it was Golden Week and I wanted to be able to say I went somewhere. And ok, because I saw this:

Image from the Official Site
So I figured, if I go a week before it's supposed to end, I should be fine, right?


But let me start from the beginning. The day started well, with me and my tickets:

One train ride, one bus ride, and one phone call from Huis ten Bosch later, I was finally at the entrance. Well, walking up to it, anyway.

This is the actual entrance to the park.

I guess my first clue that I missed the pretty flowers would be the fact that the entrance fee went down from 700 yen to 500 yen.

I love the painting on the ticket though! 
But despite the fact that everything was green, the place was still breathtaking:

Oh yeah, remember the first picture? The screenshot? This is what it looked like:

I can almost imagine it in the different colours. I bet it'd look beautiful. But sadly, the flowers bloomed early this year, so they fell early as well. Which means.... everything was green.  I did try to walk among the bushes, but I gave up because I couldn't really see a path. Instead, I decided to go and climb some steps, because I saw a sign pointing towards a flower-viewing platform.

And me being me, any time trees bend like this, I think of Enid Blyton and her characters living in nature. Not that I would like to do that, because I actually do like having toilets and running hot water, but I do get the urge to re-read her books.

Anyway, this is the view from the platform:

I actually really like the view of the valley, so I decided to try and zoom in and take another picture:

While I was leaving, I noticed a net all around the platform. I guess enough people have been dropping their things that this became necessary.

I also went to see some really old tree that was about 200 years old, but...

... it wasn't very impressive.

Unless I'm looking at the wrong tree? But this does have a sign in front of it and all that, so I'm inclined to think that it's the right tree. Hmm...

Oh, and apart from the already-green plants, the garden had some wisteria as well!

And the awesome thing was, one of the wisteria gardens was next to the rest station, so I got to eat a snack while admiring the flowers (and hoping the bees don't come closer)

My karaage mochi, which was SO GOOD. I wish I bought two. 

And the wisteria. 
Once I finished walking around, I decided to follow this path that looks a lot like a long long hopscotch:

Which led to a tea house, which was next to the exit. I did consider taking a second break here, but the view was just of the lake. I think it would be a lot more stunning in autumn, so I guess I shall have to wait until it's autumn and then come back again.

Getting here was a bit tricky, but it was well worth it. If you like parks and big green spaces (and you don't mind climbing up and down), this is a nice place to spend the day. But, there's only one restaurant, which is fairly pricy, and with a fairly limited menu, so unless you're willing to fill up on mochi and snacks from the different omiyage shops, you may want to buy some onigiri or bento in advance and bring them with you.