Happy new year, 2021

Happy new year, dear reader!

Counting down to the new year

My friends, my girlfriend and I did a virtual countdown event over Skype/Line where we were separated physically in different time zones (Japan, Taiwan, and Malaysia) during the new year’s eve.

We ended up celebrating the new year twice due to the one hour difference between time zones. In between were the usual chit chats with occasional thoughts of travelling again internationally once the COVID-19 pandemic gradually subsides.

Waking up, later than usual

I woke up to a nice treat from my neighbor, a zoni, which is Japanese soup with mochi rice cakes. She reminded me to empty my stomach for breakfast as zoni that she prepared can be quite heavy. It was.

The zoni (right) prepared by my kind neighbor, along with some side dishes (left). Quite heavy for a breakfast!

This year’s new year is significantly different than last year’s – no large scale countdown events were held in central Tokyo. I visited Shinjuku this afternoon, and I saw fewer people in the streets. For a new year’s day, I must say it was quite bizarre to see Tokyo with this few people.

COVID-19 still casted a long shadow across the country. Tokyo today reported over 780 cases, which marked a bitter beginning of the year. It reported over 1300 cases during new year’s eve. The television shows contents were largely new year oriented, unsurprisingly.

Tokyo in the New Year

Avoiding the crowd, I wandered into parts of Tokyo, one was nearby the Diet building, the other one was the Raiden Inari Shrine and Tokyo Metropolitan Shinjuku High School, closely related to Ryuichi Sakamoto (who I personally call Professor, after the affectionate Japanese title fans gave him, which is 教授=kyoju) and his former band Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO).

I read somewhere that the shrine’s name is not related to one of the hit tracks in the album Solid State Survivor, Rydeen (notice a somewhat similar name?). I was inspired to visit these sites after a member of the Facebook group dedicated to Sakamoto (a fans group) visited these places earlier.

“Rydeen” from the album “Solid State Survivor” by Yellow Magic Orchestra, 1979.

I made a detour on my way to Shinjuku while taking the subway to visit the Japanese National Diet building, a place that I had planned to visit quite some time ago. “So this was the place where all the politicians gathered.”, I thought.

The National Diet building from the middle of the street. This area is closely guarded and often patrolled by police.

Upon arriving Shinjuku, I went to visit the sites closely related to Sakamoto, particular his alma mater, Tokyo Metropolitan Shinjuku High School, and the shrine next to the school.

Tokyo Metropolitan Shinjuku High School building. Sakamoto’s alma mater. Closed due to New Year.
Raiden Inari Shrine located next to the school. Entrance is free.

Closing

Although it was just a simple visit, I felt recharged after a pray in the shrine. Time to begin wrapping up for the upcoming working days…

I hope this year will be a better year for you, dear reader!

Looking back, 2020

This year was a hectic year for everyone. The COVID-19 pandemic ravaged almost the entire Earth surface, and caused major inconveniences to wide majority of the human population.

Prologue to a long fight and journey

It all began with a hint of unease when I read about the news of airport and relevant authorities tightening rules of entering Taiwan, especially for those who came from Wuhan, China in the early week of January this year due to the-then unknown pneumonia cases breaking out there while I was in Taipei. I also took note of the proximity between China, Taiwan, and Japan, and had wondered if this could escalate out of hand.

It did. As of this writing, all international travel plans were effectively cancelled, and I had all my flight tickets successfully refunded. The same goes to the various accommodations I booked ahead of time. My friends and families suffered the same fate. With regulations requiring one to be tested COVID-19 negative AND undergoing weeks of quarantine, the thought of casual travel became a thing of the past.

State of emergency and the imposed limitations

When I headed for a haircut in the first half of this year, I had a casual chat with a female barber assigned to me regarding the pandemic. This was when Japan was still under the state of emergency declared by the-then Prime Minister Abe. “So, has the corona (short for “novel coronavirus COVID-19″) impacted (you) in any way?”, the barber asked. After a while of hesitation, I answered, “not really.”.

She retorted, “Are you sure (you are) not impacted? It’s quite a big deal for everyone, though.” She was right. People lose jobs, lost source(s) of income, and had to deal with various degrees of inconvenience. I was lucky enough to still be able to work from home. I could not imagine what she had gone through at that moment.

“Whenever I turned on the television, if it is not about news about the number of new daily confirmed cases of COVID-19, it’s about the other news that were indirectly related to the current situation, it’s kinda depressing.” I said to the barber, continuing our conversation.

During our weekly family WhatsApp call, we often exchanged thoughts of meeting each other again. The hope of another reunion this year quickly diminished as time passed on, along with stricter regulations and requirements implemented by Japan, Malaysia, as well as other governing authorities. I looked at flight tickets for 2021, yet remained undecided despite the availability of empty seats and the ability to reschedule dates free of charge.

All things domestic

Ever since international travels became severely limited (practically banned), I turned my focus on domestic travels. I had the chances to travel to parts of the northern and southern regions of Japan using various transportation modes. I immediately was blown away with the beauty and awesomeness of various areas that I visited. This reminded me the reason why I came to Japan in the first place.

Awesome places do not only confine in Tokyo.

With friends, we managed to climb to the top of certain mountains within the Kanto region. After Mt. Fuji in 2018, this year I began with Mt. Tanzawa. After such a long climb, the muscle pain in the following day was weirdly satisfying. The iconic mountain in Tokyo, Mt. Takao, had also been conquered in a rainy weekend day. My friend (and her friends) are definite experts in this field.

Memories replay

Old memories kept on replaying, as if they were on loop. With each iteration, I took a look on each replay, tried to dug the details and fragments, and attempted to piece each of them together. The attempts were met with little success, but they did not failed to make me smile.

Those are still good memories.

Wishing for a better year

With the COVID-19 pandemic being the main topic this year, and the situation getting worsened day by day, I still remained optimistic that the condition will become better in 2021. But, I still don’t know, under present circumstances, how Tokyo will hold its delayed Olympic 2020 in July next year.

Nevertheless, I wish you have a good year of 2021 ahead, dear reader!

Train station by the seaside with no easy exit

The Umi-Shibaura station sign.

I visited the Umi-Shibaura station, a train station situated near to the Tokyo bay. Mainly a hop on/off station catered to employees of Toshiba’s Keihin Product Operations (hereby “Toshiba”), it is situated within the premises of Toshiba, however, the public is allowed to ride on the train, but not exiting the station compound if they are not a Toshiba employee.

It is famous for the awesome view of the sea, industrial buildings, bridges, basically man made items. Under a good weather, one can even view the sunset from the station platform.

View of the sea from the station platform.

I went there on a sunny yet chilly Saturday afternoon, reaching there a few hours before sunset after a nearly 2 hours of train ride and multiple train transits. As it was a popular spot, many people came here too.

Many passengers exited the train to take a photo.

The station compound really is something – it is small and unmanned. One can “enter” and “exit” the station, but not leaving the station compound.

Entrance to the Toshiba compound. It is accessible to employees of Toshiba only.

Within the station compound, there was not a vending machine around, so people who wanted to have a quick snack or gulp might frown at this fact. There was not a toilet too. However, there is a park, said to be built by Toshiba, just outside the station “exit” and located near the entrance to Toshiba’s compound.

The sign placed at the entrance of Shibaura park. It opens from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m..

The Shibaura park is small, yet satisfying to be at. There are several benches that one can sit to enjoy the sea, smokes coming out from the chimney, boats travelling through the sea, and even looking at the sunset. I can imagine someone bringing their drawing set and drawing away.

Small pathway within the grounds of the park.
Train served within the JR Tsurumi line which stopped at Umi-Shibaura station temporarily for the next departure.
Picturesque view of the bridge and industrial buildings nearby.

Partly due to COVID-19 and the 90th anniversary of the opening of JR Tsurumi line, a gong was offered for the public to interact with it. “Hit the gong, and your bad luck(s) will be driven away.”, it said.

The visit to here is inspired by this site. I plan to visit even more stations to awe at the beautiful sights that they offer!

Merry Christmas

I glanced through my phone’s calendar app, and realized that I had a flight planned tonight. Unfortunately, it had to be cancelled. Plans were disrupted, right from the beginning.

Today was my last day of work at the office. Some time before going back home, we cleaned our offices and our respective seats by fully using disposable wet tissues instead of cleaning cloths used in the previous years due to the risk of spreading of COVID-19. I sighed as I saw the used tissues continued piling up at my desk, waiting to be disposed to the rubbish bin.

At the place where I stayed, the supermarket was still in the full Christmas mood – people lined up at the counters selling Christmas cake, albeit the smaller ones since the larger sizes were likely sold out or were reserved for people who had made reservations beforehand. In the supermarket, sizeable crowds were busy buying dinners – mostly roasted chicken/turkey, along with drinks and snacks, which filled their trolley.

Following the crowd, I grabbed a snack plate after a disappointing KFC meal during Christmas Eve (Japan maintained a tradition of eating cakes and fried chicken during Christmas.), and headed to the counter. There were huge platter of fried foods, but the portions were too large to be consumed in one night.

On my way back, I passed by a gym where their members were still practising boxing. A man was energetically stood at the entrance, facing the members and the instructors, and loudly said, “Merry Christmas!”. Upon hearing that, I cheerfully headed back home with the snack plate on hand.

The television was showing the weather forecast for the next few days, up until year end and the new year. “Please be aware of the heavy snowfall in the northern region, and plan ahead to avoid another scenario like the strand in the Shinetsu area due to heavy snowfall.”, the weather person said as she pointed the areas of high risk located in the northern region of Japan.

Unfazed by the reminder patiently explained by the weather person, I sat down and began feasting on the snack plate. The lid had a “30% discount” sticker, which was a sign that the snack plate was prepared earlier in time. After a bite of the food, it was unsurprising.

The streets fulled with illumination in Tokyo.

Earlier this week, I watched Wonder Woman 1984 with a friend in Tokyo, where the cinema is located at a busy place surrounded with nice restaurants and a great atmosphere to be in. Perhaps it was a Sunday evening — only less than half of the big hall was filled with people, and a few of them actually wore the Wonder Woman’s costume! Huge salute for them to be able to withstand the chilly weather in Tokyo (it was below 10 C).

This year’s Christmas was noticeably different than previous years due to complications of COVID-19 and the somewhat ineffective advices given by the relevant authorities. One of my friend had undergone PCR test recently due to someone being tested positive in the friend’s workplace. I sincerely hope that things will turn out okay.

The energetic “Merry Christmas!” that I heard at the gym entrance earlier today really lighten me up. It was like an authentic ray of light being projected outwards, and it stood out even brighter than the artificial LED lights shone brightly nearby. Perhaps, this is the festive atmosphere that I had looked forward to, other than the delicious Christmas cakes.

How about you, dear reader? How was your Christmas day like? Spending effort well on a favorite project? Spent time with a loved one or with families and friends? I wish you a happy, merry Christmas, where ever you are!

Seeing you, sending thoughts

13 years ago. Recess time. I was standing at the balcony corridor at the 2nd floor, facing the 1st floor, I spotted you outside the room amongst the crowds.

You did not look happy. Something must had been upsetting you. Was it a failed confession? A frustrating experience? I don’t know. I had the thought to meet you and listen to whatever is in your mind.

It had slowly grew in me about your presence earlier, but this scene had significantly amplified it in me. Maybe that was why I ended up mustering up the courage to pen down my thoughts to you.

After receiving the response from you, I must say that I was caught off guard. I heard of your response second handed, so I cannot guarantee the total authenticity (however, the messenger was trustworthy). Even so, I was glad that my thoughts were somewhat sent to you.

Fast forward for a few years. Even if I didn’t received a response from another new penned thoughts years later after my initial pen, I remained hopeful, to this day that the thoughts were not lost in transit. I sincerely hoped so…

Silent October

A coffee shop within the residence area in the evening.
A coffee shop within the residence area in the evening. Did you spot anything off?

Silent, spooky October had ended not long ago, and it had left a hint of sweet aftertaste. After all, compared to last year, there was no typhoon that had seriously impacted the Greater Tokyo region, although it had rained for quite some time.

October also marked the 6th official month of the working from home routine. The company where I worked at had extended the working from home until early next year, which is a welcoming one, considering that the war of combating COVID-19 will be a long one. However, overseas travel for tourism purposes is still not possible, which is a bummer.

2020, a supposed landmark year, is silently wrapping up. While I was watching the television, the MCs hosting a show had gasped that it was almost the end of the year. Afterwards, they continued on introducing the seasonal activities, including places to visit and gourmets to taste.

I have been busy working on projects recently. With most of the time at home, I had been juggling between company work and projects, with the distinctions getting blurred as time went on. Heck, I only swapped laptops (between personal and work laptops), and continue smashing the keyboard away using the same development software.

A while ago, I hiked a mountain neighboring Tokyo and Kanagawa prefecture. It was definitely an awarding experience, having able to hike in a chilly weather, compared to that during the summer, under the warm sun. I definitely look forward to another hike. A friend of mine, who lived in Tokyo, often go hiking in the weekends, which I particularly admired as she can often view a city, the iconic mountains, forests of different colors in various parts of the country.

Happy birthday to my wonderful girl! I promised to fly to Taipei this month, but due to the pandemic and the inability to enter Taiwan’s borders as a tourist, I had to call off this year’s plan, which sucked. However, this might change how we fly again in the future, forever. Gone are the days where we can check in and fly internationally in a short period of time.

Heat with a hint of approaching autumn

Clouds with uncertainty level of storm coming as August quietly ended.

How days have passed – it’s September. In the third week of this month, there is an Autumn Equinox Day public holiday, which somewhat marked the beginning of the autumn season.

Last month was a record-breaking month — the heat spread across the month and across Japan was not easy to cope with. The plum rain season ended at the end of July, and thus transitioned into the sunshine (think blue sky and white clouds) and hot season. Yet, this was hard to cope with due to the risen temperature in a short period of time, along with other factors. High number of deaths caused by heat stroke and continuous and grueling high temperature across Japan were the main highlights of Japan, not to mention the cancellation of fireworks and summer festival events due to the pandemic.

I just found out that a grand fireworks event not far from my city was cancelled due to the pandemic, what a pity! The cancellation of the iconic Nebuta Festival event in Japan’s Aomori prefecture caused me to temporarily halt plans to fly to the northern part of the country.

A hint that marked the beginning of the autumn season — typhoons. News of typhoons began spreading around as one typhoon after another are being reported. The supertyphoon “Haishen” (known in Japanese media as typhoon no. 10) is looming on the horizon as it heads steadily towards southern Japan, which is expected to make a landfall this coming Sunday night to Monday morning.

While walking back home a few days ago, I noticed the sun had set much earlier for every few weeks passed. Temperature in the evenings weren’t that low (below 30 C), but it was tolerable and it felt cool. Despite the surroundings gotten dark earlier, I had not fail to realize the slight hints of autumn in the trees – leaves showing a tint of golden color. The same goes to the trees near the street as I took the bus to work in the morning – the number of fallen leaves clumped together at a spot not far from the tree were noticeable.

I had longing for the autumn foliage, especially looking at them at various sites in Japan, but it is still months away before the breathtaking sights can be formed. I definitely am looking forward to the coming autumn season!

The case of 2013: Sung Siew’s website

I occasionally stumbled upon a Quora entry, with an eye catching title, loosely translated as follows:

A foreigner told me, “Look at Japan’s websites. Especially Abe Hiroshi’s website (link followed). So this is Japanese’s level.”. What does this mean?

Quora

This question had me intrigued because it was ambiguous enough to let the reader interpret which aspect(s) of the website the foreigner had judged.

I recalled my Form 4 and Form 5 years (year 2012-2013) where I formed a team to revamp my secondary’s school (Sung Siew Secondary School) website led by my then ICT teacher. As of current writing, the domain was not in use by the school.

In the beginning of the project, I looked for ideas by taking an unusual step to checking out the websites of Japanese schools (primary, secondary schools included).

A Meguro based secondary school website (example for this article. I did not referred to this website.).

Admittedly, the designs were dated, but the contents were intriguing. They wrote in detail about the events and happenings in their school. Despite the dated designs, I decided to adapt their designs and went ahead to produce the new website and manually update the contents to its FTP server (the contents were produced using a combination of static HTML and dynamic PHP web pages).

After decided that manually update contents by hand was tiring, I chose to use the Joomla! content management system (CMS) to power the website instead. I fondly remember spending days testing and comparing between Joomla! and Drupal in my home PC.

The Sung Siew Secondary School website as of October 5, 2013, captured via Wayback Machine.

Prior to this version, the previous layout managed by a more senior team (who I do not know) than I had a fancier look (it even had music!). I may write about this in the future.

Soba & Coffee

On a trip surrounding Chiba’s Boso peninsula, some friends and I stopped by JR Hama-Kanaya station to take a trip to the area’s Mt. Nokogiri via the famous Nokogiriyama Ropeway. While we are going back to the station to proceed to our next destination, we stumbled upon this cafe just a few minutes away from the station.

Soba & Coffee restaurant
The “Soba & Coffee” cafe shop

What struck me as odd and unique is its title – Soba & Coffee. It featured soba, Japanese buckwheat noodles, as one of its main offering, as well as other Japanese and western foods and beverages (click the photo above to view a larger version). A unique blend, possibly go very well between the two, especially under the hot sun.

A follow up: picking a world to live in

After completing reading parts of a work, I finally understand the “alternate world” the protagonist wandered into.

It is a never ending world, essentially a loop, one can say. The artifacts — remains of the past stayed there. Conversations between the protagonist and the related characters took place in the alternate world, which were centered on things that one couldn’t let go easily. Things that were precious to the protagonist, as if they were a source of reliance when the protagonist escapes to the alternate world.

At a latter part of the said work, the protagonist was presented an ultimatum — either to abandon the alternate world and move forward, or to remain in the alternate world and circle endlessly. He chose to move forward, and as a result, dependencies between the alternate world and the reality began to collapse. Whether the event occurred is a good thing, it was up to the reader, I assumed.

Essentially, it boiled down to this.

Rather than clinging to the past, accepting it and moving forward is the way going forward if one wishes to progress. However, easier is said than done. I caught myself into this dilemma which lasted for a long period of time. Crawling out of it isn’t easy, admittedly, but it did provided me a fresh, new perspective of a certain matter.