Monday, 5 December 2016

Sasebo Part 1 - Kujukushima (九十九島)

My mom and bro came to Japan last week, and for the weekend, we decided to go to Sasebo. Our main purpose was to go apartment hunting, but we managed to squeeze in an afternoon of touring! And due to the many, many photos, I'll be splitting the post into two parts - Part 1: Kujukushima Tour.

If you take the JR train to Sasebo, you can go to the Green Window (みどりの窓口; Midori no madoguchi) to get this cruise (on either the Pearl Queen or Mirai) + bus pass set. It's quite worth it, but if you're planning to take a different type of cruise (there were a few, some require advance reservation), then I would just get the bus pass.

So we got on the bus and headed to Pearl Sea Resort. It's about 25 minutes from Sasebo station. There, we managed to board the Pearl Queen.

The Pearl Queen is the boat on the right:

The boat on the left is the Mirai, which has a fake pirate captain on board!

And this is the Pearl Queen:

The lower decks are basically filled with tables and chairs, and there's a screen which will play a video of the outside (I didn't really look at the video since I was up on the top deck for most of the time)

We had some time before the boat set sail, so we decided to head to the food stand and get some of the original ice-cream.

This is a biwa sorbet and it's pretty nice! My mom says it tastes a bit like sour plums.

Oh, and there's a lookout point on the top deck!

And this is what the ship looks like:

And a panorama from the lookout point.

Kujukushima is actually the name given to a collection of 208 islands. In this case, the "99" means that there are an uncountable number of islands, not that the ancient Japanese miscounted.

This tour was actually really good. They have Japanese and English narration, so it was easy to follow along.

This island (above) is supposed to resemble a sleeping lion. But when I sent it to my friends, no one could see the island! My family and I saw it, though. Do you see it? (I had someone tell me it looked more like a chihuahua. And another thought a different island looked more like it)

Oh yes, and I'm obviously late but beware the incoming picture spam!

These black circles bobbing in the water are for pearl farming! Apparently this area is great for oysters, and it produces over 2 million pearls per year! (And you can buy pearls at the shops nearby)

And this rectangular thing is for oyster farming. We actually had really great oysters after this - definitely something you have to try if you're ever here!

I have a combined zemi going on tomorrow, so I'll come back with Part 2 (the aquarium and food we had) on Wednesday!

Saturday, 3 December 2016

I Passed my First Driving Test!

I hope December is treating you well! Personally, I can't believe that we're already at the end of the year. Where did the rest of 2016 go, and why does it feel like time speeds up as I'm getting older?

On the last day of November, two very important things occurred. The first is that my mom and bro came for their yearly visit. The second is that I took my first driving test!

I was actually hoping to have been able to take the test a little earlier, but it was not to be. My driving skills weren't really up to par, and the instructors didn't deem me fit until last week (but they are pretty accurate at judging, seeing how I passed on my first go).

And I don't think I've really recapped it here, so this is what happened since I entered driving school: I took 10 hours of theory classes and 18 hours of practical lessons (the curriculum is for 15 hours, but I had to extend it since I couldn't master it in time). It sounds rather little, writing it up like that, but I was doing only two or three hours a week, so it took me about a month and a half to finish. And since this is only stage one, I really have to be more diligent about stage two if I want to pass in time. Anyway, apart from lessons, once I finished my theory lessons, I took a mock theory paper (and passed it on the first go), which is one of the requirements to take this driving exam.

The Practical Exam

I was the third person in my group, so I had to wait 40+ min before it was my turn to drive! Half the time was in the waiting area and half the time was in the backseat of the car. And the thing is... I seriously thought I failed. At the slope, I forgot to pull the handbrake when I stopped and the car ROLLED BACKWARDS. I immediately braked and redid everything but I was so freaked by the whole thing that the rest of the slope portion was quite terrible.

But the instructor said that apart from that, the rest of my driving was good (because I remembered to signal and check for sudden pedestrians and bicycles and whatnot) so I guess the number of points that got deducted at the slop was less than the max number of points that could be deducted.

After that, they did a 適性検査 (suitability test) which is basically eyesight and whether you can use your fingers and stuff like that.

Theory Test

The theory paper was pretty much like the last time, but my "pass" is actually only an assumed pass. My marks still have to be checked by the part of Fukuoka that runs these things.

Although we got the results quite fast (less than 10min), it still felt like forever! Plus, the way they announce the results is that the people who don't pass have their number written on the board, so you really hope you don't see your number.

Out of the 13 people who made it to the theory round, 10 of us passed.

And then we had a briefing on how the second half of the course would go, and then a break (now) before the next lesson. The next lesson was basically a crash course on how to ride a motorised bicycle (a scooter?), since getting a drivings license means that you have a license to ride that too.

To make things clear, I have not yet gotten my driving license. All these tests were for my 仮免許 (kari menkyo - temporary license), which basically allows me on the roads in order to practice driving. Till now, I've only been driving on the school's course.

I have a kimono lesson tomorrow, so I'll sign off now. I do have a picture-filled post (or posts?) coming up, so do check back for that!

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Autumn Leaves at Dazaifu

Are you ready for some picture spam? Because I went to Dazaifu with a friend to see the autumn leaves and obviously I took lots of pictures! (ok, only about 20 plus, but still!)

This was the ticket that we took: It contains the tickets there and back, free umegae mochi (which come to think of it, was probably already included in the price of the ticket) and coupons for a bunch of places. The total cost was 1000 yen, so I think it's pretty worth it.

Our first stop was Kamado Jinja (竈門神社), which is apparently known for relationships (縁結び; enmusubi). And during autumn, there are a bunch of maple trees at the side of the steps, which makes it a great autumn viewing spot!

This is actually a 40min walk away, but if you take the bus (opposite Dazaifu station - ask the information counter if you can't find the stop), it's only 10 minutes and costs only 100 yen. Both IC cards and cash are accepted.

There was also a very modern shop selling a variety of charms and other goods, but I totally forgot to take photos of it :p Was too focused on the leaves haha.

Funnily enough, someone actually recognised the place from this photo (below). Apparently, the red umbrella gave it away.

These shots were taken on the way out, and I really like how the light is shining here. The leaves look like little jewels!

After this, we went to Starbucks for a break and a chat. This turned out to be place we spent the most time, but it was so fun chatting(: The perfect break from all the walking!

I think I took a picture of the outside of the Starbucks the previous time (when I was here for the plum blossoms), so here's a picture of the inside!

I got the berry+chocolate pie and some tea!

The tea is a nectarine peach cream tea and it was very fruity and really delicious!

After our Starbucks break, we headed to Komyozenji(光明善寺), a temple that was built in the Kamakura period and also has fantastic autumn scenary. But this next picture was from the outside:

There's a 200 yen entrance fee, but it is totally worth it! And although there were "No Photography" signs at the entrance, when we went in, almost everyone had their cameras out. And not just handphone cameras, but DSLRs.

Totally love sitting on the tatami and just drinking in the autumn colours! My panorama photos didn't turn out very well though (as you can see from this) ><

Then again, I was looking at the plum blossom photos and I was like "I was that bad?!" (not like I was every very good at photography) so it's possible that I was just recognising how awful the photos were in real time instead of a time lag (that is the norm)

Dazaifu only has two spots with autumn views, but it's totally worth it. We were actually planning to go to this famous bridge in Oita, but then we found out it was 2 hours one way and transport alone would cost 5000 yen so we decided to go for this. Much nearer, cheaper, and we still got to see a lot of gorgeous maple leaves.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Instafreebie Book Giveaway

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! (If you celebrate)

I was going to post about the momiji at Dazaifu (went there with a friend yesterday) but then I remembered that I'm participating in my first ever group giveaway! Please forgive the two three exclamation marks in a row because I'm just so excited!

So I'll post about the momiji tomorrow because today, you should definitely click on the link at the bottom and get your free book! (Mine is The Nutcracker King, if you're interested in reading)

The giveaway is for Horror and Urban Fantasy books. There are 45 books in total, and you get get most of them free from Instafreebie! (And if it's not a free copy, it'll be a free sample)

In particular, I really recommend The Ninth Circle by Lincoln Cole (link leads to my review) and Underneath by M.N. Arzu (again, link leads to review, if you want to read more). I read and enjoyed both of them very much, and if you think they sound good from my review, then definitely go pick them up - The Ninth Circle is free and Underneath is a free sample.

Get your free books here

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

On Being an Asian Foreigner in Japan

This post was requested by someone on Dayre, and I decided to share it here as well! Ok, this is one of those posts where I need to start with a disclaimer:


I will be using third party accounts (very generalised, non-identifiable kind) when I can, but this post is ultimately an anecdotal post. Where you stay and when you stay and a whole host of different factors will affect your experience in Japan, so please don't assume that my/our experiences will happen for everyone. So if you have a different experience, please chime in in the comments or send me an email if you have a lot to say and want to make it a post.

On being an Asian Foreigner in Japan

So if you rely mainly on internet sources to find out how foreigners are treated in Japan (keywords like "being foreign in Japan" and all that), you may assume that all foreigners stand out like crazy and get treated like pop stars, with people taking photos and what not.

Well, most of the people writing those are caucasian, so all that doesn't really apply to us.

And by us, I mean "Asians who don't stand out". I know Asia is a huge multicultural area, but to make things easier, I'll be referring to people with the same skin colour as Japanese for this post (Singaporeans, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc). Not because I don't think other kinds of Asians aren't Asian, but because I don't have the experience to speak on their behalf. (So chime in if you have something to share)

And from what I've found, there are only two blog posts on this topic (Gaijinpot and Tofugu) and both are by Singaporeans. I even know the author of one! Both are good pieces so take a look! Google "Asian Foreigner in Japan" or something along those lines.

Anyway so far, the differences between Asian and non-Asian foreigners can be summed up in what one of my teachers at TUFS said:
If you don't look Japanese, you'll be forgiven more but it's harder to fit in. If you look Japanese, it's easier to fit in, but you're expected to know 'The Rules'.
Incidentally, towards the end of the first year (when we were starting to understand the unspoken rules of society), we started 'taking turns' to get the best of both worlds.

Want to be a bit more excited and louder in the street? Well, I was normally with a South African friend (we were a group of three) so we got a 'pass' (or so we imagined - at least we didn't really get dirty looks). Want questions to go more smoothly? We sent my friend, who looks Japanese and is fluent to speak with whoever it was.

But generally, I think this rule holds true (at least for the part for Asians).

In terms of 'fitting in', it normally takes an extended conversation/my name for strangers to realise that I'm not Japanese. It's a good and bad thing because it's easier to ask questions without people panicking about you not possibly understanding Japanese, but then the sales agent (for Internet, newspapers, etc) tend to be a bit pushier until they find out I'm foreign.

And for what it's worth, I have noticed a difference in how I'm treated when I'm out with family vs with Japanese friends.

With my family, I'm normally speaking in English to them, so even if I make a reservation in Japanese, the English menus (if there are any) automatically come out. Which my mom is always grateful for. I have not noticed any difference in the level of service, by the way.

When I'm with my friends, I'm speaking Japanese to them and I never get handed an English menu or asked if I can understand Japanese.

And when I'm alone, I normally get handed the Japanese menu too, and it's basically like my friends.

And for the "must follow rules" part... I don't break too many rules nowadays, but I think it's true.

About two or three weeks ago, I was at Daiso when this old man bumped into me (I am very sure that I didn't bump into him). So to my surprise, he started scolding me and told me that I needed to apologise to him. And uh, because I didn't think I had anything to apologise for (because I didn't bump into him!) I pretended that I didn't speak Japanese and he just paused and walked away rather huffily.

The only other incident I recall is when I was scolded on the train for talking in English (in English too, by this Japanese lady), but I was at fault for that so I apologised and shut up.

So yeah, on the surface, it does seem like Asians are excepted to follow the rules (either because they're mistaken as Japanese or otherwise), though there seems to be more latitude if you are obviously foreign in a tourist area. Except on trains.

So is blending in good, or is standing out better?

I think it depends on the person. I have plenty of friends who complain that even after 5 years in Japan, they're still asked questions like "do you speak Japanese" when they meet someone new (I do get asked this too, but at a much lesser frequency. Mostly only if my name is given right away).

On the other hand, some of my friends think we blend in too well. I've heard from people in Tokyo that during the Japanese-Foreign student parties, the Asians tend to be ignored because... not exotic.

And if even if your first language is English, it's pretty hard to get students if your name isn't obviously foreign. I have a senior who had his profile (with picture) up on a teacher-student matching site with no luck for one or two years. But the minute he picked up a new, English, name and put it in the site, he got a call. Oddly enough, girls tend to be exempted from this phenomenon.

Oh yes, and I haven't mentioned this yet, but I haven't been checked before. To back up and explain a little, in Japan, it's legal for the police to ask you to show your gaijin card (or whatever it's called) at any time. In this LinkedIn group I'm in, quite a few people have mentioned that they get checked once a week (or month). On the other hand, I have never gotten checked since I came.

And as for me, I haven't really felt 'ignored' by the Japanese students in favour of the non-Asian looking students. But then again, I tend to not go to such events, so I assume that I don't really meet the "only want gaijin friends" Japanese.

In short, I don't really have an opinion on whether blending in is better or not. I'm pretty happy where I am, and with the friends I have. But, I have heard from others, and according to a mom who's living in Japan, blending in seems to help her kids become accepted in the community, which is something that is important to her. So it really depends on who you are, who you're with and what you want.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Ice-cream that doesn't look like ice-cream

Despite the fact that it's getting colder, I've been eating ice-cream. This is basically inspired by RocketNews24, which reported on the Haagen Daz ice cream that looks a lot like mapo doufu. Being a naturally curious person (and because the ice-cream sounded good), I decided to try it out and...

It really does look like mapo doufu ._.

This, by the way, is the Banana caramel cookie flavour:

While I like bananas, I thought it tasted rather artificial here, like how bananas tend to do in sweets. The caramel and chocolate parts were good, though!

This wasn't the only flavour. They also had:

Cheese berry cookie, which I much preferred. The taste of the cheese is really mild (I couldn't taste it), so it's basically a berry and cookie flavoured ice-cream. Really, really good - I actually bought a second helping of this. And it looks like:


(According to a friend).

The last ice-cream that I ate recently was this Lawson-only ice-cream (or so the sign at Lawson said). It's this sweet potato flavoured ice-cream.

And it's shaped to look like a sweet potato! (The outside is a wafer)

And this was actually much better than I imagined. The ice-cream itself tastes uncannily like yakiimo, and there's a layer of yakiimo paste on the top, to enchance the flavour.

Definitely get this if you see it in stores.

And just to be clear, I didn't eat all these in one day. I ate them over the course of a week. Also, I've been pretty much school and NaNoWriMo and driving classes so I don't have much to report. But I am planning to go somewhere interesting this week so if I do go, I'll blog about it!