Thursday, April 30, 2009

idyllic iwate p3

Remember how much I've talked about the Japanese hot springs? And how much I've missed the open air onsen?

My wish was granted while at idyllic Iwate, not just once but twice! There were many hot spring resorts within 15 minutes' drive from the Komiyas' home. Having a dip in the onsen after a long train ride from Tokyo was the highlight of my first day.

For obvious reasons, cameras and videocams are not allowed within the premises of the onsen. However, for promotional purposes, photographs and documentaries have been recorded at those very places. And it is for this very purpose that I decided to sneak my nifty digicam to get some shots of the rotenburo. Such is my love affair with the Japanese hot springs.

You can imagine how difficult it must have been for me to capture shots without anyone noticing, whatmore the stress I had to go through to conceal my tool of trade. But, I may not have this opportunity again, and there's just no decent hot springs or rotenburo in Tokyo.

Just as I was soaking in the hot waters in the open air watching the snow fall, I realised it was such a perfect opportunity, if not to immortalise that moment somehow. Being up in the highlands, with an unobstructed view of the rugged trees on the slopes and flakes of snow blowing to your face is just too rare an occurrence to let go.

I remember coming out of the pool to sit at the edge and immersing myself with all of nature's goodness. The late winter wind was whispering all around us, carrying with it millions of bits of snow that blanketed the hillside, and some into the steaming rotenburo. Those that fell onto the ground nearby melted immediately and the rest added white sparkle that gleamed under the afternoon sun.

I even tiptoed out onto the pebbled ground and wrote my name in the soft snow. Was almost, just almost, tempted to roll myself in the snow and have fresh snow fall all over my body. And yet, it wasn't cold at all.

The wonders of the rotenburo.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

idyllic iwate p2

I still get responses from the post I put up on Craigslist. But I'm glad I made that decision to trust in God instead. On hindsight, it would have not been worth the trouble and effort.

On top of that, I decided on the spur of the moment to take up my professor's invitation to visit him and his wife in Iwate prefecture. They have kindly hosted me when I first visited Tokyo, and now that they have built their retirement home in Iwate, they wanted me to enjoy the countryside too.

It's been some time since I took the bullet train. Getting to Iwate was twice the distance from Tokyo to Niigata. Strangely, taking normal trains would not have cost significantly lesser, but that would have meant 10 switches! But at least, I got some student discount through my friend in Waseda Uni, so that was not too bad.

As soon as I reached Shizukuishi station, I could feel the difference in the air. It was so fresh, I thought I had become healthier suddenly. To my delight, Prof Komiya was already at the station waiting for me. He drove us back to his home.

Along the way, everything we passed by reminded me of li'l Urasa. The acres of rice fields, snowy mountains, meandering rivers, idyllic shops, all the rustic characteristics of the Japanese countryside.

For some time, it felt very natsukashii*. As if I was back home.

All the worries of what had happened began to disappear as I took in the beauty of the ruralness around me. It did not matter that I had to spend so much to get there, because being there was what I needed.

I had missed the winter snow so much and had not taken any trips out of Tokyo like what I had previously done, so this was a much-awaited treat. Being there brought back memories of a slower and stressless lifestyle.

The best part was it snowed the whole time I was there. Just the week before, the snow was beginning to melt and everyone was preparing to welcome in spring. Surprisingly, it snowed so much that everything was blanketed in white.

It was God's way of telling me to trust in Him, because He is my Sustainer and Provider. It was as if God had blessed me with this, knowing how much I had craved for real snow and that I needed to get away from the madness of the metropolitan. Soul therapy indeed.

*懐かしい 【なつかしい】 (adj-i) dear; desired; missed;

Continued from : idyllic iwate

Saturday, April 25, 2009

the hawts for shin

If recommendations are anything to go by, I think mine are pretty good. Considering that Eewei is on her 6th consecutive episode of Gokusen 1 just on day 1, the story itself is really addictive!

It's those kinda dramas which make you stay glued to your seat, wanting to know what happens the next episode. The story is so engaging that you empathise with the characters and when it ends, you feel rather bittersweet because it had a happy ending, but it had to end eventually.

Anyways, she'd better hurry up, because I'm starting Gokusen Season 2 already.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

konan and gokusen

I've been addicted to Konan the Detective and Gokusen recently. First it was the manga that I borrowed from the Goto's, then when my brother introduced me to the online version, I started reading them every night. Since I was already a fan of Sherlock Holmes, Konan quickly became my favourite.

The initial motivation for reading the Japanese manga was to improve my Japanese, but because it contained a lot of colloquial words and the kanji was too tiny to read on the train, I decided the online translated version was way easier. So, ya, that defeats the purpose of wanting to read it in the first place. But then, rather than struggle to get past the first 10 pages of chapter 1 of the paperback, in a week, I've read past the 100th chapter online.

Just when I was riding on that momentum to finish all 600+ chapters within these few months, Au recommended a J-dorama. I've never really watched Japanese dramas unless it's recommended. Gokusen started like a boring predictable new-high-school-teacher-assigned-worst-delinquent-class series, and I was tempted to return to Konan. However, because of its funny storyline and touching scenes, I've been glued to the laptop for hours on end now.

Suddenly I have had a newfound interest in Japanese manga and dramas, so much so that I even googled the stories and read all about the characters, actors and reviews available online. This is rather strange, considering I should have either done this way back before I came to Japan, or when I first arrived here.

I never quite understood why my brother was wasting his time so fascinated with all these. He must have read tonnes of manga comic books and watched DVDs of anime all these years. But now that I find myself in his seat, stuck to the screen and following episodes after episodes of J-dorama, I can already relate to the lure and appeal of this new hobby!

Now, excuse me while I get back to Gokusen. Shin is hawt! (I can't believe I sound like a high school grrl now...) (*^-')/

Saturday, April 18, 2009

hanami at koganei park

The past 3 weeks have been officially sakura season. The best time to visit parks, enjoy the sun and frolic in the grass.

I'm amazed that even though Tokyo is so densely populated, there are so many public parks available for recreation. Most of these parks are walking distance or at most 30 minutes away by train from most residential areas. Best of all, they are well-maintained, offer working public conveniences and offer a respite from the madness of the metropolitan.

Compare that to Kuala Lumpur, what do we have? I guess our tropical weather and itchy grass are not too conducive for walks in the park, much less to roll around in.

I can't believe it myself that I have been out so much during the last week, but the weather's just too beautiful to stay indoors. With that, we went off for what was to be our last hanami together.

Date : 9 April 2009
Time : 12 noon~
Daytime temperature : 20-30 degrees Celcius
Location : Koganei Park

Being the 2nd largest park in Tokyo after the Kasai Rinkai Park, Koganei boasts of spacious parkland, quite alike that of a secondary forest especially since it is located further out from the metropolitan.

It seems to be a favourite with young families from the surrounding suburban residential area due to facilities such as parking space, barbeque field, gymnasium and even the educational Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum.

Even though we've "seen it all", it was still lovely walking under canopies of sakura trees. It's not everyday that you look up to see blotches of pale pinkish flowers instead of the usual green leaves. Some of these trees are so full of cherry blossoms that at any moment they could just fall off when blown by the wind.

This time, I got to play with my friends' D60 and D90, and as everyone was in the mood to romp around, we came up with the following shots.

We did so much jumping, stretching, and bending that at the end of the day, we were all so exhausted. Needless to say, most of us woke up with aching muscles the next day.

Even though that marked the end of my hanami escapades, it was all worth it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009





詩篇 23

Monday, April 13, 2009

food make

Learners of the Japanese language will know that just as Japan is a high-context culture, the language itself is highly implicit and contextualised.

To read a sentence on its own may lead to misunderstanding. Therefore, to properly interpret the meaning, the scenario in which is it based on needs to be understood first.

In a typical sentence, the subject is often not explicitly mentioned. The main words may consist of just the verb and the object. For example, this afternoon while I was having lunch, Watanabe-san happened to be in the kitchen when he said "料理作る".

Ryouri tsukuru literally translates to food make.

There is no mention who will make the food. But it is safe to say the subject is the speaker himself.

There is no mention when it will be made, though it is usually assumed make in this case means will make.

There is no mention if he is making food for himself, for someone else, or for the hearer.

The last time when he said something like that, I had to ask who he was cooking for. Some people can be perasan or blur and simply ask if he's cooking for them.

This time, since I happened to be in the kitchen when he was chopping vegetables, I found out that his good friend Sasaki-san would be dropping by to practice English with him, and they would have a meal together after that. He even told me what time their lessons would begin, and when the dinner would commence.

Then he proceeded to show me the sauce in which he would use to cook his dish, and asked if I would be around in the evening.

Then only did I know whom he was cooking for.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

in the grip of His grace

I've just finished reading Max Lucado's In the Grip of Grace. I like his style of writing, very easy to read and not difficult to finish in a day. However, I wanted to allow the message to sink in, so I read the book a chapter at a time. For some reason, this took me months even though there are only 17 chapters altogether.

As many readers have testified, Max is like a modern-day story teller, using parables to illustrate his points. The subject of grace has been written by many, as it's one of the most important stakes of the Christian faith. A seemingly simple concept, some people have had a hard time comprehending and accepting it. Grace - God's Redemption At Christ's Expense.

The first page of the last chapter read as below.

"Good, I'm glad you're sitting by me. Sometimes I throw up."

Not exactly what you like to hear from the airline passenger in the next seat. Before I had time to store my bag in the overhead compartment, I knew his name, age, and itinerary. "I'm Billy Jack. I'm fourteen, and I'm going home to see my daddy." I started to tell him my name, but he spoke first.

"I need someone to look after me. I get confused a lot."

He told me about the special school he attended and the medication he took. "Can you remind me to take my pill in a few minutes?" Before we buckled up he stopped the airline attendant. "Don't forget about me," he told her. "I get confused."

The chapter continues on with Max's brief experience with Jack as his neighbour on the plane.

Jack shared with Max sound tracks from The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and The Lion King.

Jack bragged about how he could make noises with his mouth to sound like the ocean.

Jack asked Max if cloud could hit the ground.

And everytime a flight attendant passed by, he would tell them "Don't forget to look after me."

And everytime a flight attendant brought drinks or food, he would tell them "Don't forget to look after me."

As Max sat next to Jack who apologised for spilling some of his soda, he compared Jack to the rest of the passengers. None of them asked for help like Jack did. They were grownups. Sophisticated. Self-reliant. Seasoned travelers. Most did not even listen to the emergency landing instructions given out by the flight attendants.

While Max was halfway writing In the Grip of Grace, he remembered Billy Jack. He would have understood the idea of grace. He knew what it was like to place himself totally in the care of someone else. He was not ashamed to admit his weakness and ask for help. He knew he needed assistance, and he knew where to get it.

Are you firmly in the grip of His grace?

Friday, April 10, 2009

花吹雪 dance of the cherry blossom petals

These past few days have been nothing but hanami hanami hanami ^.^ Kinda strange that this year I've been out at gardens and parks so much and I'm not quite sick of the cherry blossoms yet.

I guess it's a blessing in disguise that I am on "extended leave" now, so I can be out on weekdays enjoying the beautiful spring weather, though there were times I felt rather guilty for being out when everyone else had to work/study!

My 4th hanami was at Shinjuku Gyoen, which was once an imperial garden meant for the royalty. Well-maintained and surprisingly spacious considering it is located in the middle of Tokyo, the garden is a blend of 3 distinct styles - French Formal, English Landscape and traditional Japanese.

With approximately 20,000 trees, out of which 1,500 are those of the cherry variety, this park is one of the top favourites at hanami season. Considering its proximity to Shinjuku-ni-chome (Tokyo's best known gay village!), it's not surprising that mass hanami parties are organised by local gay bars. Too bad we didn't see any groups like that.

Knowing that the park would be packed at weekends, we decided to drop by in the middle of the week. And yet, there were still so many people. The good thing about Shinjuku Gyoen is that alcohol and pets are not allowed, so I give it a thumbs up over Yoyogi. The 200yen admission fee was well worth it.

This year's hanami was a little special because it was longer than expected; we're now entering into the 3rd weekend (and I still have 3 more invitations in the coming days!) and yet, the sakura fever has not died down yet.

And also, I discovered something really breathtaking - the 花吹雪, hanafubuki. This occurs towards the end of the lifespan of the cherry blossom, when the flowers are at its peak and in full bloom.

When the wind blows, the petals are torn away from the receptacles and seemingly dance in the air until they fall to the ground below.

The most magical moment is during strong gushes of wind when countless petals fall to the ground, slow and delicate.

From afar, it looks like snow falling. It's like winter in springtime.

From below, it's like magic being sprinkled. It's something you wish could last forever.

花吹雪 【はなふぶき】 (n) falling cherry blossoms

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

hanami at edogawa park

I've been to Yoyogi Park so many times I think I know it like the back of my hand. It's a great place to bring guests especially on Sundays when the Cosplay community come out and dress in their favourite anime characters.

However, for a change, I wanted something different and a bit nearer to where I stay. Since I needed to get groceries, I decided to stop by Edogawa Park on the way to the supermarket. It was mid-afternoon and the sun was still shining brightly.

Cherry blossoms were already in full bloom and most of the trees at the park were drooping over to the river below. From the bridge, it looked as if the branches were too heavy laden with the flowers to hold them any longer.

With the soft breeze blowing by, it made for some good walk after lunch. Every time the wind blew, the petals would drop from their receptacles and slowly float onto the river. Too bad there's no gondola down there, if not it would be raining pink petals.

In fact, as the river slowly winded itself through the city, millions of tiny petals could be seen floating on the surface of the water. With the sun shining from above, sometimes the petals would even gleam from below, as if some had specks of magic.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

hanami at yoyogi, again

It seems that everyone wanted to go to Yoyogi Park for hanami this year. The previous weekend, the Malaysian group met on Saturday and the IUJ group on Sunday. Last weekend it was the GAP group.

I would not have gone to Yoyogi Park at this time of the year alone if not for the hanami invitations. It was KRAZY packed, even more than the previous weekend. The main reason being that the cherry blossoms were at their peak blooming period.

Weather's been krazy lately too. Usually cherry blossoms last for a week before wilting away. This year, they seem to last over 2 weeks. In fact, I was surprised to see the flowers still beautiful and blooming in Edogawa Park this afternoon.

Spring is when everyone comes out to play. We brought racquets to play badminton at the park. As usual, every inch of Yoyogi Park is taken up either by families, musicians, dancers, students, couples with dogs, or young people wanting to exercise and enjoy the sun.

Yes, even Spidey swung by and showed us a trick or two.

With a crowd like this, it's no wonder that the lines at the public toilets snake around trees and park benches. Hyun and Tomoko walked a little further out and found a toilet where they waited for about an hour. Yuri, who had lined up at the toilet in the park earlier took more than 1.5 hour for her turn!

I've mentioned that the hanami is just an excuse for the Japanese to drink sake and get drunk. Out of the hundreds of thousands of people gathered at parks all over the country for hanami, how many percentage of that actually stand below the cherry blossom trees to have their pictures taken and actually admire the flowers?

Case in point : the group near us fed their dog sake and beer. By the time they were half done with the poor pup, its eyes had turned red and it was yelping at everyone who passed by. Clearly they were having fun abusing the dog and I almost wanted to go over and give them a piece of my mind. Unfortunately I have yet to learn how to scold in Japanese!