I attended an exhibition of a collaboration work (installation) between Ryuichi Sakamoto and Shiro Takatani in Tokyo a while ago. Titled “water state 1”, this work is explained as follows:
In the center of the work, water droplets spread out as ripples on the mirror-like jet-black surface of the water, and the precise and detailed sounds corresponding to it envelopes the venue. Based on weather data from around the world, the amount and location of water droplets changes, and as each drop intersects with the water surface, it forms ripples that overlap and return to “water.”
As I entered the exhibition area (free of charge, booking required), I noticed a table with its surface filled with water that was jet-black in color. Located above the table was a machine with a large board of hardware full of wires and sprinklers which were programmed to produce water droplets at a certain interval. Speakers were also strategically placed within the area to produce a desirable atmosphere.
I couldn’t capture the work beautifully, so here is a video of someone’s recording on YouTube.
While observing the water droplets dropping onto the jet-black surface of the water from the ceiling, the spreading ripples were accompanied with a music that lasted shorter or longer, which depended on the ripples and amount of water droplets observed.
As a person who enjoys the nature and the rain, I am absolutely fascinated with how melodies were created as the rain droplets hit the tree leaves, the asphalt roads, the rooftops, the balcony made of wood, etc. However, I find the rain droplets hitting the water surface to be calming to hear to. This work certainly pushed the pleasure of listening to nature’s melody to a higher and better level, thanks to Sakamoto’s music.
Despite only being there for 40 minutes due to consideration for COVID-19, I enjoyed the experience of observing the water droplets, the accompanied audio, and stones. As noted in the provided brochure, water is the fundamental substance that supports life on earth, and it changes its state depending on conditions freely. This made me thought of Bruce Lee’s quote on water:
A while ago, I went on a trip that covered the majority of the Tohoku region (map below) via the shinkansen bullet train with a friend. The prefectures we managed to visit are:
Aomori (Aomori City)
Akita (Akita City, Semboku City)
Iwate* (Morioka City)
Miyagi (Sendai City)
Fukushima (Aizuwakamatsu City)
Yamagata (Yamagata City)
* Stopped by only for a quick grab of Frappucino (see below).
To accomplish this, I took advantage of the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area), made available for foreign tourists and residents of Japan by purchasing it at JPY 20,000 (MYR 768.57/USD 181.57, rate as of July 28, 2021). With this pass, one can travel unlimited on the JR trains and shinkansen bullet trains for 5 consecutive days in the area above, which is a huge deal, since it is not cheap to travel on the shinkansen bullet trains.
My friend is a huge fan of the currently ongoing “47 Jimoto Frappucino” (47 Local Frappucino) campaign by Starbucks Japan, so we conquered the local Starbucks in the Tohoku region to taste their local regional frappucinos. We drank at least 6 cups of frappucinos over the span of three days in the Tohoku region.
Aomori, the second spot countrywide for its frappucino offerings.
Apple Strawberry Frappucino Blended Cream.
Being on a short trip marathoning across the six prefectures, we spent about a day per prefecture. Visits to most of the prefectures above are a first for us, so we went to various iconic spots and castles, such as Aomori Prefecture’s iconic Hirosaki Castle, which is another more than half an hour of train away from Shin-Aomori station (train station that the shinkansen bullet train stops at).
Since we were nearby the castle, we wandered around the area, exploring places like Fujita Memorial Garden (owned in the past by a person named Fujita), which had a landscape that reminded me of Kyoto’s Ginkaku-ji Temple. The lushing green that painted the site and the hot weather painfully reminded us that we were in mid-summer, and expected less of seeing magnificient sights that can be seen in spring and winter.
On the way to Akita prefecture, we stopped by Tazawako station to visit Lake Tazawa, the deepest lake in Japan. Nearby the lake lied a statue of the legendary princess Tatsuko, who had turned into a dragon to pursue her desire for eternal beauty.
The lake’s sapphire-blue colored water left a deep impression in me as I stared at the lake’s view and water for quite some time.
Apart from visiting castles and lakes, we also tried the local dishes, like Akita’s prefecture kiritanpo nabe (chicken hotpot with pounded rice) and hinai jidori oyako-don (Hinai Jidori chicken and eggs over rice).
While searching for information about the kirintanpo nabe, I stumbled upon a video about how to make one. Ought to be fun to try it out someday!
It was fun to visit in the summer, albeit under the hot sun, to view various spots and taste foods and cooling beverages along the way, but I’d imagine it’d be equally interesting as well to visit them at another season. Speaking of views in another season, I captured a picture while we were on our way to Yamagata City when we stopped by at Risshakuji Temple nearby Yamadera station.
After weeks of trial and error attempting to grab an appointment through Japan’s Ministry of Defense’s Tokyo mass COVID-19 vaccination website, I finally secured an appointment to receive my first dose of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine last Friday. The process to secure an appointment was straightforward – I opened a web browser, stood by at the vaccination appointment website, and waited for the booking webpage to become available.
An overview to get vaccinated at the Tokyo mass vaccination site is as follows:
Request for a COVID-19 vaccination coupon to be sent to your residence from the municipal (city) office
Wait until the vaccination coupon is delivered to your residence
Once the vaccination coupon has been delivered, browse the vaccination appointment website
Check if there are empty slots available for 1st dose vaccination
If there are no empty slots, wait for the next appointment round
If there are empty slots available, enter the relevant info from the vaccination coupon (city code and coupon number), and pick the suitable date/time
Confirm the information entered and appointment date
Go for the 1st vaccination
As easy as it sounds, it is difficult to secure an appointment due to the limited appointment seats available per week (2,100 for Tokyo site), hence, the website always received large amount of traffic moments before the appointment page is available for use. To compensate for this, a static webpage that said “Please wait for your turn. This page will refresh by itself after a while.” is displayed to the end users while they queued and waited for their turn.
In the first few weeks after I received my vaccination coupon, I failed to secure an appointment due to the sheer amount of traffic hampering the page. However, third time’s a charm, and I managed to grab an appointment through the website last Friday within minutes the appointment service is opened to the public.
“Wednesday at 8:30 am”, I quickly chose the date/time and hurriedly clicked the Confirm button. After a while, a page that showed “Your appointment schedule is as follows…” appeared. I felt a huge relief when it showed a confirmed appointment with the exact date/time that I had chosen earlier.
Race against time
“Residents in Japan are guaranteed to receive their vaccines, so there is no need for a rush.”, said a senior Japanese government official as I watched the TV. According to a schedule set by the Japanese government, willing residents will have their vaccinations completed by the end of November this year.
Based on the schedule in my local municipality, I am scheduled to be vaccinated sometime after August with the Pfizer vaccine, however, since there is a choice to get vaccinated earlier, I grabbed any chances there are.
Getting vaccinated, 1st dose
I went for my first shot at this Wednesday cloudy morning in Tokyo after an hour of train ride. The vaccination site was not jam-packed, but it had quite a number of people. However, social distances, etc. were properly practiced.
The vaccination process was roughly as follows:
Questioning – first or second time receiving the dose, health condition check to confirm the eligibility to receive a dose
Moving to another building – segregated into different groups (first dose group, second dose group, etc.)
Questioning – personal information confirmation, health condition check
Receive a vaccination shot – I immediately felt a numb and pain in the injection area at my left arm
Undergo observation period (in my case, 15 minutes) with other people at a hall
Once the observation period time is up, leave the hall and exit the building
After step 5 in the process above, I couldn’t raise my left arm properly, and felt a faint pain and swollen at the part where I received my shot. However, I had not had other symptoms (e.g. fever, headache, etc.) afterwards. At the time of writing, the faint pain and swollen had greatly subsided, and I can raise and properly utilize my left arm again.
Definitely looking forward for the 2nd shot not far from now.
My image and memories of you still retained at a decade ago. Although you have changed a lot since then, rest assured that they still remain pleasant. The image and memories that I see occassionally remained vivid.
Keeping the pace of…
It was cloudy today in Greater Tokyo, and the ongoing rainy season had painted this week’s weather forecast grey (as it will be raining throughout the week). After I ended my work for the day, I turned off my work laptop, changed into a simple exercise outfit, and went out for a quick jog at the park not far from my home.
There were almost no people — only a few elderly people leisurely walk outside the jogging paths, people practicing kendo in a sports facility nearby the park.
I took off my mask, and went for multiple rounds in the park. Despite focusing on the pavement and the distance between park users, my mind had drifted to the multiple layers of grey clouds as it waded through the clouds to search for something.
“Where you are at now, is the sky today beautiful?”
Behind the imposed restrictions and face masks lie a great smile, I thought.
With ongoing times like these, from afar, I wish you all the best. I hope I can be of a help in any ways possible. Stay healthy, stay awesome, and stay great.
The never-ending pandemic and those who set sail back home
It is hard not to touch upon the topic of a global pandemic, especially when it affects one’s daily life, no matter what your status and location is. I sincerely hope that for those who were badly affected due to this situation can recover quickly and resume normal life.
Some of my friends and former classmates who are now staying overseas, carry on with their lives there, as they cheerily shared their status in Instagram and other social media platforms. There are some who retreated back to Malaysia as they stepped into the next chapter of their life, be it pursuing new opportunities or harbor in their hometown after a long time away from home. Either way is fine, in my opinion.
I joked to friends of my same age, saying that we had reached a quarter of our entire journey. Before I can finish the sentence, I stopped at “a quarter” and began reflecting at the entire sentence. The weight of the sentence, which was carried equally by each of us, is heavy.
“Knowing this, why don’t you stop wasting time doing such meaningless stuff?”, a friend jokingly reminded me as I told the story of a distant past, which remained vivid in my mind. “Dwelling on it is the only thing that I can do, so I won’t repeat the same mistake again in the next life.”, I replied to my friend, in my head.
The ones you can’t buy are time
I recently read stories revolving several characters who were terminally ill, and had less time left, decided to accomplish new things together despite only knowing each other briefly. Among all of the things one can have, time is the only thing one cannot buy or exchange, the stories tried to convey.
Perhaps it was due to this extraordinary situation, and the ability for me to observe the changes of the skies outside my balcony almost everyday without going out much had me pulled back to the reality, and not the world filled with ones and zeroes.
Halfway across the a quarter of the road
“… in the third year…before I need to make a choice whether I wanted to continue to stay here”.
Recently, I increasingly mentioned this to my work superiors and family members as they asked about my plans in the future. I looked at my roadmap and couldn’t stop wondering what to plan ahead.
I liked more and more the notion of giving away than to receive, so I had chosen to donate to the needy groups, as a way of giving back to the society. For many, this day is just another Tuesday working day. I think of the same, as I will be hopping onto the 8 something A.M. bus to my workplace, be it rainy or sunny.
A new guy (let’s call him M) has joined the department where I worked at a few weeks ago, who was employed by the company. On the contrary, I worked in this department as a contractor, so I don’t get the “full experience” in joining the company. From the brief introduction by my manager and brief “get to know each other” group meeting held not long ago, M is a recent graduate.
It was a refreshing sight, at least for me, as I knew a few contractors who joined the department, left after about a year working here. The reasons why they left, I do not know. What’s more, the identity of M in joining this department as a company employee may have left a deeper impression among us.
I haven’t got to talk with M a lot, since I worked from home most of the days in a working week. M was expected by the manager, in a charmingly cheering voice, to pick up the various programming languages and tech stacks that we use in our job in that brief group meeting, which was an hour before lunch. “I will try my very best!”, M answered in a cheering voice while we welcomingly clapped our hands.
Minutes after the normal working hours ended today, as I leisurely sat in my place while lazily scrolling Facebook on my phone, M walked passed by me as he flipped his name card on the attendance board – a method to visually conveying to the department that he had “punched out for the day”. I took note of his action, greeted to him, and continued scrolling Facebook.
As he proceeded to walk out of the office, he paused a while and walked to my place. “Khor-san, right? I heard you know some stuff about the language that we use?”, M asked. I was slightly surprised by this, but I quickly responded to his question after a while. More than ten minutes had passed as he asked some technical questions.
“(It’s way passed normal working hours.) Is your time OK?” I asked him before I went further with my explanations. “Nah, it’s OK, don’t worry about it!”, M responded. I quickly opened up a few browser tabs and explained the technical details he asked earlier. Since then, I quickly knew that we came from different technical backgrounds, and were unsure of some details in the programming language we used frequently, C#.
The rounds of simple coding while explaining concepts reminded me of the times when I was in university. M seems to be a good person to work with, like the other employees.
I was jotting down a thought that constantly lingered in my mind about a distant memory when I recalled the quote above (which I indirectly knew from Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “fullmoon” from the album “async”). What surprised me was how the time and event being described the quote matched the background (time and event – a certain afternoon in my childhood that affected me so deeply that it had rooted in me ever since).
The more I read, the stronger the urge for me to take some kind of… action.
I recalled seeing a full moon not long ago in my home at a distant country. I can’t help but to wonder, how many times would I be able to see that full moon here.
What are your thoughts of the quote above? (Listen to the music, and listen the quote being read in various languages.)
Recently, I went to Ashikaga Flower Park, a tourist spot in the Kanto region, which is famous for the wisteria festival with some friends. Situated in Tochigi prefecture, this place is about 2 hours by normal train or about more than 1 hour if gone by express trains, including the shinkansen bullet train. Aiming to view at the splendid view of wisteria, my friends and I departed early in the morning from our respective places to the Ashikaga Flower Park station.
I first grew interest of this station due to its unique jingle sound/music played depending on the train direction (see below). Later on, the distinctive view of wisteria (purple-colored flower) and the peak viewing season became the reason I decided to visit.
During the peak season, entrance fee is priced at JPY1900 (which is a bit pricey, in my opinion). Being a flower park, upon entry, one can see various kinds of flowers, which bloom at different seasons, such as maple leaves in autumn, and rose during spring and summer, etc. The flower park itself is divided into multiple sections.
However, the view of Japanese wisteria (below) truly blew us away. I jokingly said that I wanted to find an empty spot to lie down and stare at the ceiling full of purple-colored wisteria, but couldn’t do so due to coronavirus, and other reasons.
The “Light Pink Bridge” (below) had the wisteria plant decorated as well, which matched well under the bright sun.
While we were strolling around the area, we passed by a small eatery selling coffee and local sandwich. What attracted my eyes was the uniquely designed, flower themed sandwich, which looked delicious!
Along the way, I noticed a woman drawing while sitting on the floor. Equipped with her drawing set, she was drawing a huge tree, along with the wisteria decorating it, which was amazingly drawn. I didn’t talk to her but I couldn’t help but to admire her skills and drawing.
Before leaving the park, we had a quick lunch, which included the locally famous potato yakisoba (Japanese fried noodles) and the fuji (wisteria) ice cream (see both below).
This flower park was chosen by CNN in 2014 as one of the dream destinations in the world. When the pandemic gradually subsides and international travel is permitted, and if you happen to be in Tokyo, why not consider spending half a day here? I’m sure you’ll be amazed by not only the wisteria tree, but also the other plants and flowers on display here.
Location: Ashikaga Flower Park, 607 Hasama-cho, Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture 329-4216. Website: https://www.ashikaga.co.jp/english/. To view the wisteria flowers at its peak, do come during mid-April to mid-May. More information is available at its official website.
This week is the last week (where you can enjoy the spring flowers) before the raining week ahead.
NHK’s “Good Morning Japan” weekday news program in sometime during end of March.
On a Saturday morning in early April, I took advantage of the sunny morning to travel through the Boso Peninsula (房総半島) via two local railways – Kominato Railway (小湊鉄道) on the Kominato Line and Isumi Railway (いすみ鉄道) on the Isumi Line to view the spring scenery and hop onto diesel powered trains, which were quite popular among train fans and tourists in general.
I bought a special one-way “Travelling through Boso Peninsula” ticket (cost 1370 JPY) allowing the passenger to travel through both railways, starting from the western part of Goi (五井) station (JR Uchibo Line) to the eastern part of Ohara (大原) station (JR Sotobo Line) (map shown below).
Equipped with the train ticket (left), I hopped on the diesel powered train on the Kominato Railway line. Perhaps the weather was nice that morning, there were many people on board the train.
The diesel powered train has only a few cars, since it ran on a lesser populated local line. As the train gradually moved across the peninsula, the burnt diesel smell lightly filled the train, even with a proper ventilation in place. I can smell it even with a mask on.
Definitely a unique experience for people living the urban area. (This is also a huge tourist spots for people from Tokyo.)
The diesel train left the station at 9 a.m. with a considerable amount of passengers on board. Along the tracks as the train moved at a steady pace, I was able to see the canola flower field and the remaining blooming sakura flowers, which really suited the spring season that was going to quietly wrap up in the Kanto region.
Along the number of train stations passed by, I hopped off at Yoro Keikoku (Yoro Valley) station, which is one stop away from the terminal station for Kominato railway line, to stroll around. There was only one train for each direction every one or two hours, hence it was a perfect place to enjoy the nature scenery and take a quick rest.
Upon exiting the station, I strolled around to find spring flourishing around. The yellowish and pinkish colours painted the surroundings which made the slightly cloudy noon even better.
This day was “Yoro Keikoku no Hi” (Yoro Valley Day), hence there were events and performances commemorating this day. It lasted for the entire noon as dances and folk songs were performed by the local community. Under the warm sun, this was definitely enjoy to watch.
After resting for a while, I boarded the train on the Kominato railway to transfer for the Isumi railway. Using the same ticket, I was able to board another diesel powered train on the Isumi railway to continue my journey. Despite the same train engine types, the train used by Isumi railways was a bit special.
I strolled briefly around the Kazusa-Nakano station (above), which was the terminal station for both railways. The ageing station stood out amongst the mailbox and vending machines. There were several tourist spots (including castle) around this area, but I decided to visit them next time, as I had only little time. I queued with other passengers eagerly wanted to board the Isumi railway train.
I mentioned earlier that the trains on the Isumi railway was special because… this was a refurbished JR West train! An old local line railway map of the Oito Line (大糸線) and Hokuriku Line (北陸本線) (see below) served in the Itoigawa area in Niigata prefecture, along with the JR West logo was still left intact.
I transferred again at another station, Otaki (大多喜) station, to head to my final destination, Ohara (大原) station on the same Isumi railway line. In this round, the other passengers and I hopped onto another “one-man” train (yellow-green colored).
As we departed to the Ohara station direction, the station staff and railway fans (or tourists) waved their hands, and off we went into the towns as the clouds grew uneasily and it began to rain.
I arrived at Ohara station some time after 3 pm, ended after more than 6 hours of journey (mainly) on train. As I exited (and completed) the Isumi Railways route, I hopped onto the JR (Japan Railways) Sotobo line headed back home. I was lucky to witness the newly introduced, brand new E131 series train (went into use in March 2021) “one-man” train for this train line, which I thought was pretty.
The yellow-blue color scheme represented the main JR lines in the peninsula – Sotobo Line (外房, meaning “outer side”, represented by the yellow color) and Uchibo Line (内房, meaning “inner side”, represented by the blue color).
The Boso Peninsula is truly a wonder, in my opinion, as it has the Pacific ocean, Tokyo Bay, and the wonderful nature that changes color in every season that one can enjoy at once. If you’re nearby Tokyo, do consider spending a day here!