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!
Few days ago, I received a notification mentioning that there was a confirmed positive case of COVID-19 next to my department (which was a few meters away from where I sat). Due to this, a sanitization process had been conducted urgently within a few meter radius of the affected department, of which my seat was also sanitized.
As a precautionary measure, a few colleagues and I who were in the “red zone” – area where it was designated as COVID-19 risk zone, were instructed to not go to the office for 2 weeks. Ever since the beginning of the pandemic, I always considered the scenario where my workplace is affected and required a partial or full shutdown of the premises.
The standard operating procedures for positive COVID-19 cases in the early stages of the pandemic reported in the office area included lockdown of the building, complete sanitization, installation of contact tracing app, undergoing PCR test In my case, neither shutdown scenario had occurred, and only the affected employees were required to work from home (unless a PCR test is taken and proven negative).
Company policies dictated that no personally identifiable information will be shared regarding the positive case(s) to prevent discrimination, but it did left me a few questions in mind, such as the number of positive case(s), what variant of the virus was (there were many reported cases of mutated variants of COVID-19, e.g. South Africa and the UK in Japan) , how was the severity of the person(s) who contracted COVID-19, etc.. If the person(s) who contracted COVID-19 were the mutated variants, then people surrounding the area might be at a higher risk to contract the virus (even worse, forming a cluster infection). My colleagues and I weren’t designated as “close contact”, so we weren’t required to undergo the PCR test.
A friend (let’s call her Y) who had stayed in Japan for a few years, had gone back to Malaysia last Wednesday. I managed to meet Y for a last meal last Tuesday before the flight back home next morning.
Previously we planned to have a dinner in the airport, only to find out that the majority of restaurants in the airport terminals were closed for the day (or possibly, for the time being, probably due to the pandemic), so we chose to have dinner at a izakaya (Japanese bar) somewhere that was not far – a train station away from the airport.
Rush, unsettling departure
Y has plans and appointments after going back home, revolving new commitments. Before leaving Japan, Y had busy tying whatever knots there were left here – cancelling phone contracts, etc. Revealing an exhausted expression, Y couldn’t rest well and had shown signs of fatigue after a rushing weekend.
Contemplation whether to start new commitments right away or to have a good rest for an extended period of time seemed to continue lingering in Y‘s mind. If I were in Y‘s shoes, I would have shown the same response. Due to the extraordinary pandemic situation, it must be tiring for Y too.
The past, present, and the future
In the izakaya, we talked about the past, present, and the future. We knew each other through a friend, so I don’t know Y as deep as Y‘s friends, however, I always felt that Y is someone who would always brave to continue exploring new things. The changes in certain perspective in life might have been influenced deeply by Y.
It was the “last order” reminder from the izakaya staff that we ought to end our dinner soon (it was about an hour). We ate quite a few items, and Y seemed to have a filled stomach after a long day before heading back to the airport hotel.
I ordered a small glass of beer to end the satisfying meal, only to realize that I had eaten too much.
And so, you graduated
As we left the izakaya, Y gave me some food as I went to a convenience store to grab some foods and drinks. One of them is a few balls of red bean rice (rice with azuki beans). It was said that the red bean rice was eaten in a celebration-worthy, congratulatory event.
Y said that the red bean rice was for the departure from Japan. I retorted that my friends and I would feel sad without Y around. However, as I thought about it later, I agreed with Y‘s statement, as it was a “graduation ceremony” for Y, and a new beginning, possibly a new chapter back home.
As of this writing, Y is undergoing quarantine in a hotel in the capital of Kuala Lumpur with the ability to oversee the wonderful KL skyline.
I hope that everything goes well for you despite these challenging times.
Just several stations (and minutes) away from JR Kyoto station was the JR Inari station, famously for the torii shot. Perhaps it was due to weekend, there were many people visiting the shrine. I recalled there was a group of students went for presumably a school trip to the area, which was quite fun.
The obligatory shot of the thousand torii (red gates). If one walked through this path, one can climb on a mountain but it will take at least an hour to reach one of the peak so I did not do so. However, depending on the time and day you visited this shrine, snapping some photos will surely be awesome! No wonder people brought their fancy cameras. (And the entrance is free too!)
After spending some time at the shrine, I headed to my final destination in Kyoto, which was another few more stations away from JR Inari station.
As I went off a train station that was not far from the site, I noticed a teenager with a backpack was heading to a direction. My gut told me that he was heading to the former site, so I followed him while referring to my maps app. It turned out that I was right – he was indeed going to the site, as we went through a tight alley that lead to an open ground nearby the residential area.
The compound was tightly walled with a sign written in English and Japanese, urging visitors to follow the rules (e.g. not to cause trouble to neighboring people, not to loiter around the premises, not to take pictures or record video, etc.), presumably to ensure the residents nearby are not bothered by sincere visitors who wanted to pay respects.
I briefly paid my respects, inspecting the surrounding to observe if there were people leaving flowers or other goods (luckily there weren’t anything in the area). I also observed the teenager who I followed took pictures of the compound before leaving the site.
As I left the area and headed to the train station, I managed to capture this stunning sunset sight when I was crossing a bridge. This area must be a wonderful working place, I thought.
One more time… Kiyomizu-dera Temple, after dark
After reaching the Japanese inn where I stayed, I decided to go to Kiyomizu-dera Temple again where I can witness its glory at night. Coincidentally, there was a light-up session for a limited period of time, so I paid the entrance fee tickets, entered the temple grounds (again) and took more photos.
They were all stunning, especially when you can see the cityscape. Probably it was due to the light-up session, there were even more people in the temple, which was not surprising. The somewhat clear sky, bright moon, and strategic location of the lights made the night even lively.
After spending for an hour in the temple, I finally headed back to the Japanese inn where I stayed to get some rest for the next day.
Although it was only one full day that I planned for in the city, I managed to explore several main attractions in the city. I hope to come again soon one day! I hope you, dear reader, can take an opportunity to explore this city and make it an unforgettable experience.
This is part 1 of Day 1 in Kyoto of my autumn 2020 trip.
Day 1 began with a slightly cloudy day due to rain in the previous night. I woke up at around 6 a.m. and went out sometime after 7 a.m. to avoid the tourist crowds. Since I could only afford to spend a day in the city, I wanted to make the most of out this day.
My first stop was Kiyomizu-dera Temple, probably one of the must-visit places while one is in Kyoto. The temple was about 15 minutes walk from the ryokan I stayed.
I was able to capture many scenic views of the Kyoto city from the temple. The temple and its surrounding buildings were equally beautiful and breathtaking, especially when if one sees it upfront. However, I thought that the gem would be the scenery one can see from the temple grounds. Perhaps that was why many people had their DSLRs stood by at various spots and angles. I didn’t have a proper camera other than my iPhone, but the camera that one has (i.e. the pair of human eyes) was probably the best while feasting on the views. I had too many photos taken, but I would like to share some that I’ve taken here.
It is advisable to visit the key tourists areas when it is early in the morning so as to avoid the inevitable tourist crowds especially when one enjoys the calming and quiet morning.
Although it was not sunny this early day, the residue from the rain last night created a perfect condition for us visitors to witness the rainbow. I was walking by a building when a passerby stopped walking and gasped, “what a beautiful rainbow!”, and quickly snapped his shutter away. I, too, stopped walking and enjoyed this scenery. Such an amazing morning, I thought. There was a photo that I thought was so good, that I want to print as a postcard and send to my friends and relatives.
The main building of within the Kiyomizu-dera temple grounds was still under repairs, hence the unique blend of modernness and history in this photo.
I left after stayed for quite a while (probably more than an hour) in the temple, and proceeded to my next destination. While I was on my way, I managed to capture more photos – mainly empty streets due to outside business hours and lesser tourists.
I also managed to find a unique version of the FamilyMart’s convenience store – logo was darkly colored! This was said as unique in Kyoto (see here for more information).
I was crossing a bridge to go to a train station where I stumbled upon this famous river situated in Kyoto. I also read that people come here and either go jogging, go for a walk, painting, cycling, etc. Seeing this beautiful sight, I wished I had more time that I can spend in this city. The river, the stream, the calm morning with a hint of cloudy rain in the distance, it was just perfect.
Well, time to go! But first, breakfast…
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Another must-go tourist spot for those who first came to Kyoto. This is a forest where bamboos were prominently featured, along with other trees. However, bamboos are the main spotlight. Except when the tourists came… (apologies for the lackluster quality of the photos.)
A friend of mine said before that this place was way too overrated (because of its images plastered all over the internet). At first I was skeptical, but when I finally visited the place, I concurred. The bamboo forest should be more fun when no tourists are around.
I originally planned to visit the Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion), but it was temporarily closed due to , so I changed my plan to visit its counterpart, Ginkaku-ji Temple (Silver Pavilion). I was astonished by the aesthetics – building layout, Zen garden, and the beautiful sand carvings. I truly cannot stop appreciating the beauty of the entire scene, but the increasing number of tourists rushing into the compound hindered me from keeping on appreciating this temple.
As I left the temple and wanted to head to the JR Kyoto train station, I walked through the path known as Philosopher’s Path(哲学の道, Tetsugaku no michi), which I really appreciated, especially the stony path and the little stream of river flowing by.
I also found an unattended table (booth) which had seedlings of bonsai trees being sold for 1000JPY each. Although I had no interest in growing one, I can’t help but to imagine how would it look like when it grew larger in the future.
I felt like want to bring a friend, relative, or a loved one along with me to this city as I thought it was too luxurious for me to enjoy the sceneries alone. Once the pandemic situation is under control, I highly recommend to you, dear reader, to visit this wonderful city, and spend some time exploring the area!
I stumbled upon this video, and it brought back memories that I had while using a Windows Phone.
My first and only Windows phone
I owned a Nokia Lumia 820, when I first got it in early 2014. It was running Windows Phone 8. You can refer to the phone specs here. I spent more than RM800 (USD200+) for it, which was not cheap for such specs, compared to other mainstream Android phones at that time, e.g. Samsung and Sony.
However, it ran a mobile version of Windows, which I thought was quite cool.
Problems in the ecosystem of a great system
Life on a Windows Phone was not bad, but the app ecosystem itself? Wasn’t too good. While communicating with others, I used WeChat, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger most of the time. I used WeChat frequently, and quickly realized the features were not up on par with its iOS and Android counterparts.
It lack certain features that caused minor inconvenience to me, such as the inability to view rich media, compared to the Android version (I owned a Samsung smartphone prior to this). Hence, I would be “left behind”, and the person who I was communicating with would felt slightly frustrated due to me unable to capture what he/she wanted to convey via the rich media sent.
Other apps, like YouTube, worked okay on Windows Phone. Although it wasn’t as rich as its counterparts in iOS and Android, it did its job well! Although the inclusion of Mobile Internet Explorer was not a fun one, as it was crash-prone when modern websites were loaded, but it did its job.
Despite the mediocre app ecosystem and apps largely offered on the platform weren’t on par with other mainstream mobile operating systems (e.g. iOS, Android), apps running on it rarely crashed or felt sluggish. The user interface was clean and simple, and I liked it very much.
The Nokia Lumia 820 received Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 10 Mobile updates too. I personally liked the time when it ran the stable builds of Windows 10 Mobile, which looked cool.
Alas, I stopped using it when its display had suffered physical damage beyond repair. I couldn’t get a spare parts readily available within the country without having to purchase a replacement unit overseas, which, in my opinion wasn’t worth the money.
The Nokia Lumia 820 then was survived by an Android smartphone after it was being used more than 2 years. It was then kept safely in a box somewhere.
This trip was done in the autumn of 2020 (November 2020). I had long planned to visit the Kansai region, especially Kyoto and Nara prefectures (due to the temples, deers, etc.) via plane. Furthermore, it was the time period when autumn leaves 🍁 were visible almost everywhere, especially in Kyoto. Without further thinking, I booked a plane ticket from Peach Airlines and flied from Tokyo (Narita) to Osaka.
This was a weekend trip, so the itinerary list was short but jam-packed, especially when I had only 2 days to explore these places.
Day 0 (Friday) – From Tokyo to Osaka
This day, I worked at home, so there was little rush in heading to the airport. As soon as I submitted my daily work report, I grabbed my backpack, left home, and hopped onto the limited express train bound for Narita International Airport.
I chose to fly with Peach Airlines, a first for me. I was surprised to know later that you cannot do online check-in, and you can only perform check-in at its kiosk or counter. I learned later that an online check-in service was not available because they did not have one in the first place! It may be due to cost cutting (why bother spending money on unnecessary stuff, right?) (source, Japanese only).
I arrived at Osaka International Airport sometime after 9 pm after an hour and a half long flight. However, I did not planned to stay in Osaka, but Kyoto, its neighboring prefecture. I hopped onto the local train lines and managed to successfully arrive in Kyoto (specifically JR Kyoto station) after midnight.
Along the way while making the transit (involving changing to different railway companies and track platforms), I managed to grab a quick bite (I hadn’t had proper dinner!) of sandwich. I also noticed how big the Osaka train stations were. Totally comparable to Tokyo’s JR Shinjuku, in my opinion.
I finally arrived at my place of stay sometime after midnight, which is a ryokan (旅館, Japanese inn). It was pretty cheap (about 2000 JPY per night) as it was heavily discounted during the Go to Travel campaign period. I took this opportunity to stay at a comfier place.
As it was quite late (near to 1 a.m.) and I wanted to wake up earlier the next day to explore Kyoto before the tourist peak hours kicked in, I went to bed after a quick shower. After a combination of long flight and train journey, I was quite exhausted, yet satisfied due to the beginning of a new trip.
That was it for day 0, I will write more about day 1 soon!