Wandering into the alternate

Heavily filtered image of a bridge near Keisei-Narita station.
A heavily filtered image of a bridge near Keisei-Narita station.

An eye shut is what it all takes to wander into the alternate world. No matter the boundaries and conditions one face, when you wake up, you will be brought back to the reality (the real world). And I’m not mentioning about life and death situations.

I read recently of a work depicting a scene about the protagonist wandering into the alternate world. A world where he doesn’t seem able to reach, no matter how far he walks to the horizon, as if it is never ending. A familiar voice, coming out from nowhere, reminded this protagonist that he would not be able to reach this world for some reason. What were the reason(s) behind this, I still don’t know yet.

However, this depiction reminded me multiple occasions of dreams where I wandered into the realms of alternate world, only be rudely pulled back into the reality the next day. On my way to work, I noted of the brief memories in the alternate world into my note taking app. It showed a pattern, as if I’m discovering puzzle pieces. Piecing them together might show up something, I don’t know. I haven’t yet see the dreams these days.

“Year 2000: Japan”

I was randomly searching the internet for some iconic images of Tokyo entering the new millennium after encountering a work that was released years before the year 2000. A quick search on Google Images revealed a Flickr album containing photos of this user visiting Japan in a world tour (envy!).

tkshibuya08 Shibuya Street Fashion Boots, Tokyo, Japan 2000
The “Year 2000: Japan” album by Flickr user CanadaGood G.Melle.

Many of his photos screamed 2000s (because those photos were really taken in that era!), however, I find it surprising that certain aspects of Japan haven’t changed much, like that the area of Akihabara, shinkansen bullet trains, etc.

The photos do provoke some kind of nostalgia that I do not possess as a kindergarten kid. At that time, I was still in preschool, occasionally accompanying my mother watching Japanese dramas in front of the TV during the primetime hours of 7-8pm (remember Power Office Girls?).

Observation: Traveling outside metropolitan areas

The past few days were consecutive holidays in Japan due to the scheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympics (which were ultimately postponed to 2021). As a getaway from the pandemic heavily hampered Greater Tokyo area, I travelled to parts of the Tohoku region of Miyagi, Yamagata, and Fukushima prefectures with main focus on Miyagi prefecture’s Sendai city.

I made some observation notes as a traveler who hailed from the metropolitan area (and maybe will be helpful for you who intend to travel in areas that are less populated), shown below.

  1. The number of trains available per hour greatly varies depending on location and its status (whether it is a tourist hotspot, etc.). Planning ahead is greatly recommended especially if one doesn’t want to waste time and/or at a tight schedule. The usual frequencies range from one per hour to one every 2-3 hours. It is always a good idea to factor in the departing hours if you are in a tight schedule like I was.
  2. Not all JR stations accept the use of IC cards (e.g. Suica). It is always a good idea to check the noticeboard / plaque cards, etc. placed at the departing station for the IC cards usable/covered area. If the destination station is not covered within the IC cards usable area, purchase a paper ticket (Hence, it is not the case where IC cards should always be charged beforehand in terms of using the trains!). Having living in Greater Tokyo area for the past few years, I have been completely got used to using Suica in daily transport until I find it indispensable.
  3. Certain train lines in cities do not accept the major IC cards (e.g. Suica, Pasmo) but only the local IC cards, e.g. Fukushima’s NORUCA. In this case, falling back to paper ticket is one’s safest bet without purchasing the local IC card (except if you are a frequent user).
  4. Travelling via Shinkansen bullet train still allows the use of IC cards to exit a station where Shinkansen bullet train is served, but not local trains (depending on region/area). I observed this at JR Yonezawa station where shinkansen travelers can exit the station by “tapping” to exit. Local trains, however, still rely on paper tickets for manual inspection by the train station staff.
  5. Cash, cash, cash. Cashless transactions may had become mainstream in urban areas, but in rural areas, such as town and small cities, cash is king. Get stuffed with a reasonable amount of cash whenever possible beforehand.
  6. Unplanned stops result in unexpected discoveries. Cliché, but true. I finally visited the area where NHK’s Asadora “Yell” is based at, which is at Fukushima.

I might write an elaborated post for some of the points shown in the future. Travel is always fun, but not in the case of a global pandemic ongoing.

Tokyo by train

Life Where I’m From has a video of which he shot an entire day about travelling in trains in Tokyo (albeit, at times, he wandered to neighboring Kanagawa prefecture). I first watched this years before settling down in Greater Tokyo, but I can’t help but felt amazed about the convenience of the public transport in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

“Tokyo by Train” by Life Where I’m From. Turn on CC for English subtitles.

The train (and subway) networks are powered by JR East and other private railway companies (Toei, Keikyu, Tokyo Monorail, Keisei, etc.), making not only travelling around places in Tokyo and the neighboring prefectures easy, but also making travelling ahead of time almost unnecessary due to the frequency of trains per hour, where you can plan and travel in minutes interval. Try that with KTM Berhad‘s commuter (spoiler: almost impossible).

When I first settled down in a city located half an hour away from Shinjuku, I planned to jump on each station on every train line in Tokyo every weekend. The starting point of the train station hopping plan was Seibu Shinjuku‘s Hana-Koganei station. Although that plan didn’t get realized while I was living in Tokyo (of which I moved out to Chiba prefecture a few months later), it gradually happened in the summer of 2018. Tokyo metropolitan alone has a lot of train lines and train stations, and it’s impossible to visit every station without spending a lot of time (and money)!

Nevertheless, it is a lot of fun when one travels in Tokyo, especially when you live in Tokyo or are a tourist who likes to roam around. Hop on a random train line. Stop at a random train station. “Tap” out and explore the area, get lost. Fill up your stomach with a bowl of ramen or tonkatsu.

Just recently, I explored the Tokyo Sakura Tram (known also as Toden Arakawa Line) with a one-day pass, and spent half a day exploring the smaller areas in parts of Tokyo (the parts you don’t usually see if one travels by the normal trains). I might write about it someday.

Hello, happy birthday.

How are you?

With times like these, where ever you are, I hope you are fine and well. Surrounded by supportive friends, families, and an important partner by your side, I believe you are doing spectacularly well in your studies.

Ever since it happened, I never stopped pointing at myself for the reality and as the role of the root cause. Times passed, yet the scar remained there, with blood sometimes seeping out from it, hinting by the fact that time passed do not heal itself; but rather acts as a stopping gap in order to prevent the blood from gushing out from the scar.

What caused the blood to resurface again from the scar? Was it due to a reminder? An unfulfilled dream? A bad aftertaste? An unconvincing reassurance? A painful reflection? I am not sure.

In a random day when I woke up, I dreamt of an unfulfilled dream set in an isolated world with a one-way exit, with no entrance in sight. It felt so vivid, even looking back at it again today.

Rewind to February 2019 to the day when I was heading back to my home in Japan. Queueing while boarding the plane, I have spotted you amongst the crowds, despite not establishing a direct eye contact. It felt like the times before, when it was simpler. Yet, the border was still there, in plain sight.

You had changed, in a good way.

With times like these, from afar, I wish you all the best.

Happy birthday.

Birthday in 2020

Hectic, sick year

This year is a hectic year for everyone. Not only one has to balance between staying safe and continuing their studies/work, one also needs to put extra effort into ensuring things ongoing remain smooth and sound.

Due to COVID-19, I was unable to travel overseas, however, I could travel domestically, albeit with self restraint being practiced. There is a love-hate affair between people who move across prefectures and those who lived in the target prefectures.

“What is your plan?”

“How do you plan to celebrate / are you celebrating your birthday?”, I was asked. Year after year, despite the cliche, I hold only multitudes of gratitude in my heart towards almost everyone I know, for they directly or indirectly shaped me today.

I read a story many years ago about a child threw a tantrum because his parents did not hold a proper birthday party for him. As I read the story, I remembered that I once hold a grudge too for not having a birthday party (my friends had those parties, and even invited people over! Theirs were a grand one — PlayStation party, eat-all-you-can buffet, playing badminton at a friend’s house’s wide backyard, etc.), yet I quickly dismissed the persistence to hold one after that.

I might not have a grand party, but I do understand the meaning behind this day. Not all days have to be grand.

Reflecting last decade

Last year, I looked back how I was shaped today. Being a character who liked to look back in the past to understand how the current events unfolded, I never failed to be amazed the number of new facts emerged as I continuously looked back. However, with some history remain sealed, I could only speculate.

Although continuous reflection is important, spending too much time in it makes it tiring as a lot of efforts have to be spent on it, especially digging, connecting, and joining the puzzle of facts together through time. I might have spent too much time in it looking back the sealed histories.

Closing

For all the wishes in Facebook, instant messaging apps, and other platforms, I sincerely thank you. I hope all of you, especially you, dear reader, can get through this pandemic period safely and smoothly.

Exploring Mt. Takao

A Keio train prepping for departure from Shinjuku station heading to Takaosanguchi (Mt. Takao)

A thought crossed my mind ever since the last mountain hiking and the monolog while transiting station, and it naturally was the idea of hiking Mt. Takao. Located in Hachioji City in Tokyo, neighboring Kanagawa prefecture, Mt. Takao is a perfect getaway spot from the metropolis’ hustle and bustle.

Woke up early in the morning and equipped with a light backpack, I headed to the train station with a hint of drizzle. Due to the plum rain season officially hitting the Kanto region (spanning Tokyo and Chiba prefecture), a quick check of the weather condition in both my area and Hachioji City showed that drizzle and rain showers were forecasted in the morning.

A paragraph written in a Japanese site dedicated to mountain hiking catering to novice and the alike encouraged hiking in the drizzle,

Even if it’s going to rain lightly, (please do) continue ahead in your hiking journey! It will serve as a learning journey and can allow you to gain experience on how it’s like hiking in the rain.

Armed with the tips given and a proper suit, I began the hiking journey near to 8 am, similar to the previous mountain hiking, from the station entrance.

Takaosanguchi Station entrance

The hiking experience was a pleasant one — visitors can choose from the several routes provided. I opted trail no. 6, which is one of the hiking route in the nature. It was a 3.3km route to the top of Mt. Takao, which is 599m tall.

The entrance of Mt. Takao’s hiking trail no. 6.

Compared to the previous hiking, Mt. Takao was lower and a shorter route, but this was a satisfying experience for a half-day trip. I took a shorter time to reach the top and bottom compared to the published estimated time taken, enabling me to complete the whole hike with time to spare before heading back home.

Part of the hiking path at trail no. 6 of Mount Takao covered in fog.
Due to drizzle and a low temperature (24 C), fogs covered the hiking path.
A selfie with the post indicating the top of Mount Takao.
Reached the top by 9:30 a.m, but due to the fog, views cannot be seen properly.

Before heading back to Takaosanguchi station to head home, I stopped by a shop selling local Japanese desserts (below, both costed a total of 290yen), yummy. The soba dango’s syrup (?) was thick and slightly salty, yet delicious. Best to enjoy with a hot beverage.

Soba dango and sake manju sold at a local Japanese dessert shop.

For the normal tourists who came here without the intention of hiking, trail no. 1 or the cable car would be a suitable route to enjoy the mountain. I shared this information with a friend, who said he can’t wait for the COVID-19 travel restriction be lifted and enjoy this mountain! Mt. Takao is beautiful at various seasons, including autumn. Perhaps the autumn foliage is a sight not to be missed.

I shall visit again someday, seeing you in a different sight.

Priority in place: travel

While travelling, money spending is an important aspect not to be overlooked, lest the money being prematurely spent. Hence, careful planning is always recommended. A worksheet with formulas in place, a text file with your favorite calculator app, or the analog way – writing down on paper, all these methods work.

Most of my friends opted the conservative way of travel in terms of budgeting, as many of them saved as much as possible whenever possible. One method was to travel via a low cost carrier to Japan, the other one was to take the bus to travel to a destination instead of the shinkansen bullet train or a domestic flight whenever possible. A friend of mine told me that she don’t mind eating foods from the convenience store, a view I largely shared with.

While travelling to Taiwan, I went for the same route, with the exception when the local eatery is cheap or unique enough to spend some bucks to try it out.

I heard from another friend of mine that he spent the night in the Tokyo airport before departing to Mount Fuji the next day(!).

A similar case happened to me when I chose to sleep on a bench in Kai Tak Airport (Hong Kong International Airport) midnight while waiting for my flight back to Penang in the early morning in 2018. Sleeping on a bench was not the most pleasant experience: I had to be on alert with potential pickpockets and not falling down from the bench. With the 5am alarm set on my phone, I fell into a short yet deep sleep as the faint sound of cleaning workers cleaning the area echoed throughout the building.

With the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, it is not easy to go around without taking precautionary steps. Yet, this does not hinder one to enjoy the most while travelling domestically. A friend recently shared her plans to travel outside the Tokyo metropolitan area to a few cities which spanned multiple prefectures. Her plans, in my opinion, sounded splendid indeed. The plan alone really made me excited to travel into further areas again.

Wrapping up in the thoughts of travelling, budget and time seem to be manoeuvring the entire plan. Achieving the optimum balance usually brings the most joy, excitement and satisfaction in the entire trip. With plum rain season officially hits Japan, and the summer vacation quietly approaching, I think it’s time to draw up a plan to hit the road.

Where shall I/we go next…

Climbed to the top: Mt. Tanzawa

Last Saturday, my friend and I, on a somewhat spontaneous agreement, decided to climb Mt. Tanzawa to its top (elevation of 1567m), located outside Tokyo metropolitan in Kanagawa prefecture. As it was located far away from my place, I woke up early and took the first train headed to Tokyo.

I transferred at JR Ochanomizu station to head to JR Shinjuku to meet up with my friend, and took the express train on the Odakyu line to Shibusawa station. The jingle for this station is an excerpt of a famous 90s Japanese pop music – Makenaide by ZARD (see below). Just listening to it made me happy, probably because I knew this song. I think anyone who knew this song would be somewhat happy.

I last climbed a proper mountain 2 years ago — Mt. Fuji with another friend in early September. It was the last weekend for 2018 where they opened the public to climb, before closing the tracks until the following year (it was not safe to climb afterwards due to potential snowfall and unsafe tracks).

The mountain that my friend (let’s call her YY) and I climbed is located in somewhat middle of Kanagawa prefecture, neighboring Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures. Hiking to the top would take about 4 to 5 hours, and completing the entire journey would last about 8 to 9 hours. We began climbing at some time after 8 a.m. from the Tanzawa Oyama Quasi National Park entrance.

The friend of mine continuing her journey uphill.
Continuing her journey uphill.

YY is an avid mountain hiker/climber, hence she proceeded more smoothly than I was throughout the journey. We reached the top about a quarter to 1 p.m. (probably around 12:50 p.m.) after a few breaks along the journey.

One of the plain paths full with greens as the sunshine warmly covered the area.

However, we couldn’t see any views below the mountain as it was a cloudy day — in fact, we were briefly covered by fogs that rose to the mountain top as we had our lunch (the weather turned cloudy after noon.). Luckily, it didn’t interfere with our mountain descent.

Mountain path turned foggy with YY ahead of me as we continued to the top.

We reached the entrance a quarter to 5 p.m., which was within our schedule. I think we reached earlier than we planned due to the shorter time it took to descend the mountain via the same route we took to ascend the mountain. However, we were worn out after that climb, yet satisfied.

We wrapped up the day with a (somewhat mediocre) dinner (YY seemed to agree with this) at a seafood izakaya near Shibusawa station, and parted our ways back home after arrived at Shinjuku station.

Glass of cold beer that we had at the izakaya. Cold beer after a long day sure is delicious!

I particularly enjoyed the entire journey — able to meet with various hikers with a casual konnichiwa as we passed by, a “ganbatte! You are almost there!” encouraging message from a random hiker as I rested a while to regain composure before reaching the top, shops in ‘checkpoints’ that were unique in each ways (I should’ve captured more photos of shops in each checkpoint!) — these truly shown the unique aspects of mountain hiking, especially with a companion.

A shop selling snacks and drinks at one of the checkpoints.

Equipped with the excitement I had in casual hiking of the mountains, I look forward to conquer another mountain, someday in the future. Perhaps a future target would be Mt. Takao. Maybe another mountain in the Saitama prefecture. Or perhaps, one that is far away from the metropolitan area…

Monolog: The faraway target

While changing a line from JR Sobu to JR Chuo to head to Shinjuku, I looked up at the platform indicator. To Takao, it indicated. As I was heading to Shinjuku to meet up with a friend before proceeding to head to our destination, I had a feeling that I should head to that place instead.

Going to Takao is on one of my to-do list, among other to-do lists. Famous for one of the hiking spots in Tokyo, its iconic Mt. Takao has a lot of faces according to different seasons. As it is summer currently, the lush greens decorate the visitor center and its surrounding buildings, forming a view direly needed for someone to temporarily escape from the concrete jungle.

Embed from Getty Images

Going to Mt. Takao is as easy as hopping on the upcoming train which heads to Takao and simply hop off there, however, this day was not the schedule for Mt. Takao. Perhaps someday.