Saturday, August 7, 2010

My new space

My new blog is here, and it picks up on my life after Japan. After JET, I returned home for two and a half years before moving to Belfast, Northern Ireland, where I've been for more than a year.
It's been some time since I was on the JET Programme, but I'm always happy to answer any questions about JET and its application process.
I'm also most willing to trade stories about living in a foreign country, although I know that my situation is hardly unique. Just drop me a comment with your email address and I promise to get right back to you :)
-- June 2014

Friday, August 6, 2010

sayonara osaka, sayonara japan

i will be leaving japan early monday, and im really sad to be saying goodbye.

i was trying to find work here but plans fell through; the news came only yesterday, and it was interesting to realise how much the hope that i will be staying kept the realities of the potentially imminent departure for good at bay.

knowing that i will be gone for good, with only 2 days left to spare, changed how everything looked. gah. there will be so many things that will miss! iced milk coffee in a can.. fried tofu from the supermarket.. sugar free cold bottled tea.. the orderliness.. the gaijin status that gave me certain advantages.. having my own apartment.. cycling around.. boo.

i'm not sure if i will continue blogging somewhere else when i'm back in singapore - i'm not sure whats in store and if i will have things to say or anything that's of interest to people the way JET is. but there will be still more posts after this, with pictures of some other stuff like those from my trips to sendai and hokkaido. of course, anyone who'd like to get in touch regarding japan or the JET programme are welcome to drop me a line!

all the best to you who's reading this. a wonderful chapter of my life has come to an end.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

sendai, matsushima and shiogama

(check out more photos here on facebook)

i was in sendai about 1 month ago during the lull in school where students have tests and ALTs are not needed.

sendai is really cheap by night bus – i think i paid about 10900yen return with Willer Express. Unfortunately the journey is very long (12 hours) and the bus had no toilet – 4 breaks every 3 hours or so, which were necessary anyway to stretch the legs.

the first stop was Shiogama, a port town famous for its shrine and its port festival i think.

here’s the main entrance to the shrine – the steep steps were really scary walking down!

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shiogama is really quiet – this is its Honmachi, a far cry from Osaka’s:

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i didnt find there much to shiogama; perhaps i should have gone over to the port area but it was hot and i was more interested in getting to Matsushima.

Matsushima is considered one of the top 3 best views in Japan. The tourist office recommended this particular park and its observation platform about 20min walk from the station. I went along that route, and this is the “stunning and spectacular view” of the bay i got:

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trees! and not even a panoramic view of the bay. please do NOT bother to climb all the way up. It’s steepish and hot and completely not worth it at all.

honestly matsushima bay wasnt that fantastic. it was pretty enough, but definitely nothing worthy of Top 3 status. The seafood there is expensive too! there are some famous red bridges linking 3 smaller islands to the shore:

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and the main temple with its mossy undergrowth

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it was tanabata season too, and the lanterns were beautiful:

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i was told that people from miyagi prefecture – where sendai and matsushima are – like to take things easy, and can find osakans brusque and rude or too direct. my sendai friend, LS, confirmed that miyagi people and osaka people are kinda the two extremes of japanese people. it was interesting actually, because i noticed that schoolgirls on the train spoke softly, which is something you dont get at all in Osaka.

sendai was nice. it’s proper urban near the JR station, but its shotengais are wide and the area near the Sendai Castle ruins has some beautiful foliage.

i found this hilarious and somewhat ridiculous:

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the shotengai – its double the width of that in shinsaibashi/namba!


Sendai has the Loople Bus, which is a rather convenient way to visit the main sights if you purchase the 1-day pass:


i didnt have much time for sightseeing as i was there for 2 nights only, so i went to the Tohoku University’s museum of natural history cos i wanted to see this:

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it’s been a long time since i’ve seen dinosaur bones and fossils, and it was a good decision cos i really enjoyed the exhibits in this small but interesting museum:

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sendai has lots of trees, which you dont really get in japan. it also has this really nice building which is a central location for information on the arts:

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and of course, no visit to sendai would be complete without trying gyutan, or cow’s tongue. It’s pretty tasty and has a slightly chewy texture - the Rikyu chain of restaurants (there’s one on the 2nd floor of Sendai station) offers a set meal with gyutan, tasty oxtail soup and rice for 1500yen:


there are more photos on facebook here too!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Why do you like Haruki Murakami?

I tried finding out on facebook, but i suppose i must have asked the question wrongly, because the response was disappointing indeed. so i’ve decided to leave this post up here for the next month, even though i dont think i have good enough a readership to receive much response.

i’ve recently finished “Norwegian Wood”, and it’s my third book of his (kinda), but I’m still puzzled as to why so many people like Murakami – and so many consider him their favourite author too – and hold him in such critical acclaim. i also dont know why Norwegian Wood has received such high praise, mainly because i didnt think much of the book at all.

please share with me your thoughts if you’re a Murakami fan, because i’d really like to know!

i’d previously read “A Wild Sheep’s Chase” and tried to read “Kafka on the Shore”. So so so many people rave about Kafka on the Shore, but i couldnt finish it because i was bored. That’s right, i got so bored reading the same thing over and over again; teenage boy reading and thinking and wanking, and ‘crazy’ middle aged guy (or was he elderly?) talking to cats and hitchhiking across japan.

A Wild Sheep’s Chase was pretty okay, but Kafka.. it’s kinda like, yes I know teenagers have issues and many (most?) teenage boys have masturbation as a hobby, but it doesnt mean I want to – or need to – read about it. And Norwegian Wood I felt was just a book about people having sex. I’m okay with sex in books, but even if sex is, for some, a coping mechanism and is a part of life, I didnt feel that there was anything else to the book. Before I left for JET, a friend recommended I read it while in Japan, but well.. Murakami’s books could well be set anywhere, can’t they? It’s not like there’s much in his books that are location-specific.

I’m even more intrigued by why Murakami is really popular among English-readers. I feel that Japanese doesnt translate well into English to begin with, so Murakami is nothing special in terms of the quality of his writing. There are writers who move you because of their ability to put the right words in the right order but Murakami isnt that.

I would like to know what people who like his writing think, because i wonder if me being completely unimpressed – and this isnt an exaggeration – by his books is solely due to them not being my style. Bizarre and out-of-this-world-like books arent really my thing although I love fantasy and real-world parallels (read: the great Terry Prachett).

please tell me what you like about Murakami! Thank you!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

my favourite restaurant – Pomodoro Fresca

i blogged here about this Italian restaurant having some of the most delicious food around – it’s called Pomodoro Fresca and I finally made my way there for lunch today for the first time in several months.


its interior is simple and homely, and pastas range from 950yen for aglio olio to 1580yen for beef ragu. i love that it’s quiet and never really too busy, and your table gets a tall glass bottle of water to pour out on your own. it’s the perfect place for a simple yet still romantic dinner date, and there’s a proper italian-style pizza oven that overlooks half the seats in the restaurant.

for lunch, your order of pizza comes with soup and salad, while the pasta is preceded by salad and a piece of delicious and slightly chewy bread:

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my favourite pastas there are their beef ragu and anything with tomato cream sauce, but these run out quickly, so be sure to get there in the earlier half of the lunch period (11.30am – 3pm, last order 2.30pm).

i tried their vongole bianca (they also serve the clams in tomato sauce) today – it was just nice, although i personally prefer heavier tasting sauces. for that reason, their carbonara is always an excellent choice as it comes with a thick, creamy, lip-smacking sauce.


lots of clams in white wine sauce; chunks of tasty bacon with sweet, soft onions.


the carbonara sauce is so deliciously thick and creamy that small eaters are advised to go with a friend, order a lighter pasta and a carbonara and share both with each other – the vongole bianca/carbonara combination might actually work well as the former has a smaller serving of pasta. i’m a pretty big eater (i know few girls who eat as much as i do) and the carbonara always leaves me happily stuffed :)

i’m hoping to return for dinner one night before i leave to have their ragu again, so hopefully there’ll be more pictures of this amazing place in heart-warming Momodani!



Take the JR loop line to Momodani Station. Go out the exit facing the road, and head down the street with Lawsons. The Lawsons is visible from inside the gates, so you can’t possibly get lost! See here for a map.


neighbourhood shrine festival

i stumbled on the festival for the Yasaka Shrine in my neighbourhood yesterday.

i saw it last year too, actually, but happened to have my camera with me this time. these danjiri make their way around the neighbourhood (or at least the immediate area around the shrine) and attract lots of attention.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

moving from japan 2 – shipping

i previously made a post here about shipping items using the post office, and i stand corrected:

the post office DOES do pick-ups.

i discovered this entirely by chance when purchasing boxes from the branch near my house; once again this has proven that JPO has some incompetent people in their employ, at the officers at the City Hall branch informed me that there’s no such service and that i’ll have to rely on one of the private takuhaibin companies for this.

anyway, pick-up service is called shuuka in Japanese (集荷), and the website is here. It’s in Japanese and I dont think there's English service available.

You can arrange for a pick-up online, or call 0800-0800-111. The service is available from 8am - 9pm daily. I believe the pick-up schedule is the same as for the redelivery service with 4 different time periods to choose from; basically you can call before noon to have them come pick up your boxes that very afternoon/evening.

Do also inform them while scheduling the pick-up that you will require customs labels (raberu; 1 for each box) or get them in person at a post office near you. I don't think there's an extra charge for this pick-up service, which is awesome.

I’m really happy my Fukushima-ku post office had this great, helpful person present. Although he gave me the wrong number to call, at least he equipped me with labels etc to go with my box – which led to questions from me that resulted in today’s important discovery - which the people at the City Hall branch didnt. I’m not sure why they didnt, since you have to affix labels on to box for both domestic and international deliveries anyway.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The best of~*

the previous post is actually a very lengthy preface to an activity we did with the JHS 3rd years yesterday – my very last class with the loveliest bunch of students. they asked me a variety of questions using superlatives and got me thinking a little about some things i just wanna note down or share:

1. What food did you eat the most in Japan? – It has to be tuna mayo onigiri, perfect for a snack or when you’re in a rush. i prefer the ebi mayo (prawn) version but it’s not as common. Next will have to be kare raisu (Japanese curry rice) and omurice I think.

2. What was the most delicious food in Japan? – The students are actually only referring to Japanese food, which is hard because i like most Japanese food and what i choose to eat depends only on what i’m in the mood for. I’ve really enjoyed the food i had at previous school enkais (at a hotel near USJ and another at the Imperial), the meal that a Japanese teacher’s Kyoto-wife prepared for us, kani cream pasta and this amazing Italian restaurant near Momodani station on the JR loop line.

3. Which place did you visit the most in Japan? – It’s probably the Umeda Sky Building, which is also my favourite place in Osaka. For non-tourist attractions, it’s a fight between the Toho Cinema in Umeda, the izakaya Za-watami at Nodahanshin and another izakaya behind El Panchos. actually, El Panchos (Mexican restaurant) and the Dutch restaurant on Nakanoshima might be in the running too, although i havent been to either in the longest time.

4. Which was the most beautiful place in Japan? – I don’t know the answer to this, but i recall being really fascinated by the mist that formed in the valley below the highway while travelling back from Takayama. i’m only thinking about the places i’ve been to while on JET, otherwise i’m sure Hokkaido will make this list – i will soon find out if my first impressions are correct! *excited* I also think everywhere in autumn is gorgeous when the leaves change colour.

5. Where in Japan do you want to return to the most? – Since i’m going back to Hokkaido it’ll have to be Okinawa. i want to spend more time driving (i.e. being driven) along the coast and to visit Iriomote too. I think Yakushima is considered part of Kyushu, but i’d like to go there too. Okinawa food is amazing!

6. What was the most interesting/surprising thing about Japan? – The most interesting thing I think has to be the host boys along the Dotonbori bridge. As for most surprising, perhaps that people queue to get on the trains, or that women use Otohime** in the toilets. However, many of the female students don’t know what Otohime is (the boys definitely dont know cos male toilets arent equipped with them), which i find even more surprising.


and here are a few which i thought of:

7. What are some of the best places to visit? – I love Nara Park; now that I think of it, it’s most probably the place i’ve been to the most. Asuka in Nara Prefecture is great too, especially nearing autumn. I also especially recommend Taketomi island in Okinawa and Kamakura in spring. other nice places to visit would be Miyajima, Koya-san (wakayama), Arashiyama in Kyoto and Hida-no-Sato in Takayama.

8. What are some of the most overrated places/events in Japan? – oooh. Yoshino for sakura wins hands down; others include Dogo Onsen in Matsuyama (too crowded) and Matsushima Bay near Sendai (pretty but definitely not top 3 most scenic material). I’d include Harajuku too, though perhaps not for the first timer to Japan. As for events, Kyoto’s Daimonji is rubbish, and there’s this other fire festival in Nara (a side of the mountain is set alight) that i heard was a huge letdown too. i’m personally not a fan of festivals at all – too crowded, too hot and generally not all that enjoyable. Go once or twice and that’s enough!

9. What are the best things to do in Japan? – Go around the temples in autumn! it’s the most beautiful season in Japan, and temples often open till late for night illuminations. That said, go to all the illumination events there are: Kobe’s Illuminarie, Kyoto’s Higashimaya Hanatouro, Osaka’s Nakanoshima Christmas Light up, Nara-to-kae, etc. Try also to spend a night in a proper Japanese ryokan with a full kaiseki meal – you won’t regret the cost one bit. Sakura viewing is a must too, of course.

10. What will you miss the most about Japan? – The four seasons with their accompanying hype (eg crabs in winter, mango and pineapples in summer), seasonal Kit Kat, omurice, bukkake udon, delicious fried tofu, cheap and fresh sushi and widely available cocktails. For non-food related aspects (i’m making an effort here!) – buses and trains that’re usually on time, buses telling you what stop is coming up next and the convenience of combinis/vending machines.  Maybe also the presence of strange/interesting people on the street.


What are some of your best ofs~?


*: i dont watch TV, but if I did, the show “The Best House, 1,2,3” would be top on my list of must-watch shows. each week, about 4 tv personalities present the Best (or most amazing, unbelievable, beautiful, etc) 3 things in a theme of their choice. Past themes include mosaics, transvestites, weight loss stories and inventions.

**: Otohime translates to ‘sound princess’. For some reason women in japan are uncomfortable having their toilet sounds overheard by other toilet users, and used to flush in order to cover those sounds. it was declared a waste of water and all toilets (except those in schools, train stations and Osaka City Hall) are now equipped with Otohime – you press a button (sometimes it’s automatic and hence really annoying) and a loud flushing sound will be played for about 25seconds.

thoughts on the nearing of the end

(this was actually triggered by the next post, so go read that one – it’s more interesting anyway!)

it’s only slightly less than 3 weeks left till the end of this JET experience. i feel like i ought to get reflective on the past 2 years that i’ve spent in this country, but for some reason i’m not really thinking about much at all.

for one, i’m not sure whether this will indeed be the end of Japan – i’m still interviewing for a job (note the ‘a’: jobs are hard to find here if you’re not interested in teaching, have no experience beyond JET and are less than highly fluent in Japanese) and if i succeed i’ll be coming back to Osaka really soon.

also, the ‘T’ part of JET had more or less died a long time ago. I think i’ve tuned out the teaching aspect (or lack thereof) in order to maintain my sanity ever since the disillusionment started a little more than a year ago, so there won’t be any reflections on that count either. i’m happy to be done with teaching English in Japan; i don’t think i ever want to do it again (even taking on private students), although if i’m going home for good i do intend to set up some language exchange with one or two of the many Japanese people in Singapore.

plus, i’m more than ready to move on to doing something different – teaching English here was challenging, in a way, but i’m looking forward to something that will push my limits in a good way; something that’ll develop new skills and hone existing ones. i want to do something that will keep me engaged and interested; i want to get that excitement and adrenaline from actually working and moving and thinking.

perhaps i sound rather unhappy being on JET; that’s quite far from being the case though. the JET Programme is what gave me the chance to be here in the nice country that is Japan, in the wonderful city of Osaka – it’s what opened my eyes to so many sights and sounds and tastes.

interestingly, i dont feel like i’ve learnt the most about Japan – of course i have discovered a lot about the country that can only be gleaned from being here, but ultimately Japan isn’t that culturally different from Singapore; the sociocultural quirks of Japan do not irk me half as much as they do some other JETs*. instead, JET has been more like my discovery of the ‘west’ and exposure to the greater world beyond – despite what some friends back home might think of me, i’m still terribly Asian when put beside someone who’d been brought up in the ‘west’.

another huge reason why i’m not reflecting on these past 2 years in Japan is because to do so i will have to compare it to what life will be after this** – and the thought of that so far has mainly resulted in tears, sadness and horror. If i’m going back to Singapore, it’ll be back to living with the family again (*shudder*); either way it’s gonna be being oceans away from The Boy who’s also going home himself. “No problem shall be faced'/ Until the problem is”; i have taken Thom Gunn’s words to heart and am intent on spending the rest of my days here as a JET happily.

perhaps i will do more reflection after i’ve left Japan!


*: often, i also wonder if Singaporeans might be just a little bit more adaptable to cultural differences too (i do know of several Singaporeans do certainly think so), in that we just don’t get so bothered about some things. for example, the Brit finds it rather perplexing that classrooms tend to have the curtains drawn and the artificial lights on, when it’s really nice and bright outside so the curtains should be open and the lights off instead. he can sometimes go mental in a classroom that’s like that. Him and some others also get really bothered by the extra bright lighting inside conbinis; to be honest i never noticed it until i heard them talking about it.

**: of course i can and should also look at what life was before JET. now i have money, life in Japan is great and i love living alone – even if i werent one who doesn’t look back on things, there really isn’t much more to compare here!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

nagahama, shiga

i was in sendai for the past few days, but here’re some pictures from Nagahama in Shiga Prefecture from about a month ago.

nagahama is famous for glass; this says “Nagahama Eki (station)”


i think the kanji for shiga is beautiful:


Nagahama Castle overlooking a park:



i got a little carried away with pictures of this pretty stone lamp and Lake Biwa:



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Lake Biwa is pretty from afar, but really dirty and gross up close:


cool glass design at the station:




the corner of Kurokabe Square and the main shotengai:


Awesome stuff – i’m gonna watch kabuki this saturday, and i’m pretty excited about it:


pretty glass studio:


this was rather cool:



i dont really know what this sculpture was meant to be about – it’s a kitsune in some strange looking sack thingy, which reminds me a little of those body suits some japanese comedians wear on tv:


tranquil sights:



i visited the biggest temple in the main town square area; there were students there on a school excursion, and the most life-like dragon carving i’ve seen so far:





there’s a giant kaleidoscope in Nagahama; Nagahama is meant to be the most popular tourist destination in Shiga too:



there were some strange statues, sculptures and a stalls in the area surrounding the kaleidoscope too:




i really liked the side of this building too:


the verdict is that Nagahama is quite a nice place to head to for a short daytrip, although it’s definitely not on the list of must go places, as there really isn’t that much to see. It apparently can get a little busy on weekends; it certainly wasn’t empty when i was there on a weekday. The glass goods there aren’t that varied (i think there were more in Takayama), and if you’ve been in Japan long enough, most of the ‘japanese souvenirs’ there wouldnt be too different from what you’ve seen elsewhere in Kyoto, for example.

Nagahama’s rather pretty though, and if you find yourself wanting to visit Shiga – like i was – it’s certainly not a bad choice!