Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Book Review: Religion in Contemporary Japan by Ian Reader

So, this is one of the books that I'm reading for my Ghibli class (it's so much cooler [and shorter!] to say 'Ghibli class' than Hayao Miyazaki's World class). It's not one of the assigned readings, but it was very helpful for the first paper: Spirituality in Miyazaki's My Neighbour Totoro.

Now, although this book says "contemporary", it was published in 1991, meaning that it's probably written about the time My Neighbour Totoro was being made (the film came out in 1988). So I guess another title we can give it was "Religion in the time of My Neighbour Totoro".

This book is broken into eight chapters, covering not only the two 'main' religions - Shintoism and Buddhism, but also 'newer' religions like Agonshu, as well as the situations in which the Japanese turn to religious practices, as well as how they view religion.

One thing that I thought was interesting was that the author looked at how the Japanese seem to view religion differently from those in Western societies. He made the point that the word 宗教 (shukyou - religion) is a "derived word that came into prominence in the nineteenth century as a result of Japanese encounters with the West and particularly with Christian missionaries, to denote a concept and view of religion commonplace in the realms of nineteenth-century Christian theology but at that time not found in Japan, of religion as a specific, belief-framed entity."

What I understood from this is that all those people going "Japanese people are irreligious" are, to put it simply, using the wrong interpretation of 'religious'. It seems that Japan (and possibly Asia), sees religion differently. Of course, being Christian, I can't actually cite first-hand experience, but I went around asking my Buddhist friends, and it turns out that Vietnam, Indonesia and Japanese Buddhist seem to do things the same way. They go to the temple before events like exams, during occasions like Chinese New Year, etc.

Another, more relevant to Totoro aspect that caught my eye was the possibility of 宗教遊び (Shukyou Asobi) as a tradition in Japan. My teacher gave us a paper on Shukyou Asobi, which basically means the section where religion and entertainment merge. The book mentions that Japan has taken religious festivals such as O-bon and New Year's hatsumode and turned them into entertainment (or festivals). If so, it's interesting to wonder if the spiritual symbols in My Neighbour Totoro (IF there are any, because this is a film set in Japan, so we can't be sure that Miyazaki put in all these stuff on purpose), is merely a continuation of the shukyou asobi tradition.

So is this book going to prove that My Neighbour Totoro has a religious/spiritual agenda? No. No one's going to be able to prove that, because we are essentially imposing an interpretation on the film (I personally don't see the film as a spiritual experience in any way, let alone a religious one, but my teacher did assign the topic, so I just go with the flow). But, it is an interesting look at how religion was viewed in Japan some 20 odd years ago (this year being 2014, so all those looking at this a few years later, just add the numbers up).

If you want to buy this book from Amazon.com, you should totally use this affiliate link. The price doesn't increase, but I'll get a cut of the money.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Animals, Cute Animals Everywhere!

Other title of this blog post:

My cousin comes to visit! 

But no matter how I thought about it, all I wanted to share were cute photos of the animals. After all, I've already written about Nokonoshima and the owl cafe many times (links lead to search results) and there are only so many times I can review the place within the span of two and a half years.

The only thing that was different about these trips was that I finally got my iPhone with me. Do you know how great it is to not have to bring my DSLR anywhere? I know there are nice Android phone cameras out there, but my last phone was not one of those. So this post will be a first for me. All the photos and videos are going to be from my iPhone.

First up, the owl cafe:

Is this not the cutest thing ever?
Apparently, we were treated to a rare sight. These two owls are good friends (despite being different breeds), and they were grooming one another. Look at the contentment on the smaller owl's face! Soooo cute!

This one isn't impressed though. 
I'm not too sure how many times I've been to the shop, but I'm never going to get tired of these owls (then again, I'm not responsible for their upkeep so...)

One nice thing about using a smartphone to take pictures is that people can actually take the pictures for you. For some reason, a lot of people here don't know how to use my DSLR :/

Ok, so not all the photos will be about animals. This one is the Halloween donuts from Krispy Kreme! For some reason, I waited until the last day to go and get them. But, they were good!

Berry and um, the normal custard-chocolate donut, but with a
spider's web drawn on it. 
The next day, we went to Nokonoshima Island. It was raining when we set out, but thankfully it wasn't raining at Nokonoshima!

Cosmos flower still in bloom.
Luckily for us, the late blooming Cosmos flowers were really beautiful! It's a pity we couldn't see the sunset, but the different flowers were so pretty!

Not sure what this is, but I love how it has so many colours!
 And of course, a panorama photo just because I can.

And as you may have noticed, there were rain clouds over us the whole time. It made for some pretty dramatic pictures. Personally, I don't really care as long as it doesn't rain on us.

Unlike the previous time, the rabbit enclosure has been changed to let you actually pet the rabbits while you feed them! It's so much better than dropping the food down and watching the rabbits get them (or ignore you, if they wish).

And what we realised about the abbits there is that their affection is for hire. As long as we had food, they'd keep coming, and even let us pet them, but once the food is gone, bye bye!

My cousin introduced me to the slow-motion video function on the iPhone, and we found that it made the rabbit videos really amusing. I managed to upload it to Youtube, so here's a playlist of all six videos! (Each video is really short, the longest is 30something seconds, and most are about 10 seconds).

Another thing that we got to do for the first time is to paint a plate! Actually, my cousin painted while I took photos. 

This is why you should travel with a designer. Art anywhere!
This shop is near the sweet shop and the cafe and the udon shop (it's on that lane!) and since all the shops are supposedly connected to each other via a parent company, if there's no one there, all you need to do is pop your head in somewhere and tell the staff you wish to paint.

Unfortunately, you'll need an address in Japan to be able to paint. They'll cast (glaze?) the plate and mail it to you later, so this is definitely not a last-minute activity. My cousin had the plate sent to me, where it will stand in a place of honour (near the ground, because there's no way I'm going to risk having it broken).

Artist at work.
The end result is a really beautiful plate! Love the nature theme! If you like the style, you should totally check out my cousin's site: Ellustrate. She uploads quite a lot of her work there.

Such a fun trip! I'm really glad my cousin took all the trouble (and trust me, a lot of trouble was taken) just to visit. Love you so much!

P.s. I'm doing NaNoWriMo this month, so if you care to follow my posts, you can read them here. I'm no longer posting my updates to this blog because this is really more for Japan-related stuff.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Changing Phone Carriers in Japan

Aaand, I'm not now longer with Softbank. Or have an Android phone. I'm now using an iPhone!

If you remember my old post about my first handphone, I mentioned I chose it because the specs seemed better. *rant ahead, feel free to skip to the next paragraph* But, my phone ended giving me a lot of problems. After a while (probably 6 months?) It started to crash randomly, and its battery life was horrendous. I mean horrendous in the "I put it on airplane mode at 90% at night, and when I wake up at 2am randomly it's completely flat* horrendous. AIRPLANE MODE. And I could never figure out how to update the software. So, I switched over to Apple, which is simple to use (I can forgo to customisation stuff), and I can control app permissions better.

But this post isn't going to be an Apple vs Android post. I want to share how to change phone carriers in Japan. I found it to be really tough, and for some reason, with very little advice for students (unless you're willing to go search through all the forums).

Do I want to change phone carrier?

According to my senpai, the reason why all the foreign students went to Softbank was because the first few students went there, and then it was cheaper for everyone to use the same provider. Because sms was free and calls were cheaper. But now, we have LINE and Whatsapp and all that other stuff, so it's no longer a concern.

I decided to change carriers because it was too difficult to renew my contract with Softbank. They wanted at least 2 years left on my visa. The first time I tried to renew the contract/buy a new phone, they did all the paperwork, then told me that they couldn't sell me anything because I only have 6 months of my visa left. This was despite me telling them that I was staying there till graduation and giving them my university card as proof.

AU, on the other hand, only needs 5 months. So that means I can get a new phone anytime before six months before my visa expires. Wheeee!

Another reason was the transfer discounts. There was absolutely no financial incentive to stay on with Softbank. But, if I changed over to AU, the different discounts would have let me save 1100 yen a month, which adds up to a fair amount over the years (I wonder how the telcos here ensure customer loyalty).

Ok, so what do I do?

This was easy. If you don't need to reserve a phone (like me), I think you can get things done on the same day. Apart from the normal documentation like gaijin card, passport, credit card/bank account, what you need is something called a MNP 要約番号 (youyaku bangou):

Apparently, I'm not supposed to have the MNP number out in the open.
Please enjoy my failed attempt to troll (another) hacker.
Did I mention I can take screenshots now? WHEEEE
All you have to do is go to the shop (that you currently have a contract with) and say "すみません、乗り換えたいので、要約番号が欲しいです"and that should do the trick. If that seems obvious, I'm writing it down because I really had no idea what to do. I was told to get a number (the youyaku bangou), but I wasn't sure what to do. I asked my classmates and we were googling in Japanese, but we just got confused ><

Bear in mind, the number only lasts for two weeks (and if you cancel your contract midway, you may incur charges), so make sure you can get a handphone within two weeks before you get this number.

Everything else from there is a snap. Enjoy your new phone!

I'm like YAY! Panorama on demand! 

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Two Business Seminars!

I'm really really believing that the old adage "it never rains but pours" is true. One week, I'm having a nice, quiet, completely un-blog worthy life, and the next, I get a new phone, go for a few seminars and have family coming to visit.

So, by my count, I want to share about switching phone (and telcos), the business seminars that I've been too, and when my cousin comes, my trip with her.

And since I just came back from the second seminar that I've been to this week, I think this post should be about the seminars.

Basically, Kyudai offered us students a chance to go to this seminar held by Nishi Nippon City Bank in honour of Kyudai's 100 year anniversary. I've had a few teachers tell me about it, and since two of the moderators were teachers that had taught/are teaching me, I thought it would be interesting to go. The topics are: the future of the ASEAN Economic Community, East Asian economics and expansion of Kyushu companies and Innovation and environmental concerns.

The seminar was held at New Otani hotel, and it was way more posh than I  expected.

Or maybe it's just the decorations
And I have no idea if that's normal, but they had glasses of ice-water and print outs at each seat.

My seat says I'm related to Kyushu University :D 
All three sessions were supposed to be a panel discussion, with each professor/invited guest giving a short presentation about the topic first. Weirdly, they were collecting questions for the panel to answer before the presentations. So obviously, I had no questions to raise.

But, since many of the guests were teachers, and they had powerpoint slides, they all went beyond the time limit (even most of them ended up finishing their presentation before its intended ending, or skipping a bunch of slides). Still, it was interesting to get three mini lectures in a row, before the moderator starts to read out questions/gives his own questions because no one had anything to say.

Now, let's skip back to Monday. I was given a ticket to attend a seminar in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the SMEs in Fukuoka (福岡県中小企業経営者協会連合会). I had lessons before that, and then I went to meet Ms. Makino, but I managed to make it for the second talk, and the panel discussion.
The hall wasn't as fancy (it was opposite Hotel New Otani), but I think
there were more people. 
The second talk (first for me) was really interesting. The speaker was talking about 三方良し (sanpouyoshi). Sanpouyoshi is a traditional Japanese concept meaning that a business must benefit all three sides - the seller, buyer and society. According to Mr. Yunus Mohammad, this is why Japan had the original concept of "social business".

Anyway, the focus of the talk was that the focus on pleasing the shareholders leads to unsustainable business practices. Instead, (Japanese) businesses should focus on giving value to the customer (and society), and when they do that, the profits will come.

One example he gave was of a laundry service that is willing to pick up and deliver laundry outside of normal working hours (like say, 11pm). This is very useful to workers living alone, and by helping that niche, the business earns loyal customers. Or (and this made a bigger impact on me), an electrical shop that delivers a 100 yen lightbulb to an elderly customer and helps him/her install it for free. It might not make financial sense now, but as the word spreads and more of the elderly visit the store, some of them will want to buy fridges or televisions, and the store they're going to buy from will be the store that delivered and installed a 100 yen lightbulb for free.

After that was the panel discussion. I showed the list of panelists to Ms. Makino before I left, and apparently, two out of the three are really famous. One is a designer, one is the founder of a very large real-estate company, and the third is the guy that directed Japan's 2020 Olympic campaign video.

Presentation by the designer lady. 
And, those on Google+ already know, but I forgot-then-remembered-in-time that I was supposed to teach after the seminar! My heels were killing me, but I managed to make it there. Then take the train and walk very very slowly home.

I'm tired and there's no way I can hide that.
(By the way, the blue sticker indicates the ticket I was given. It was blue!
There was another, red, ticket)
Both seminars were really interesting, but I think I enjoyed Monday's one more. It wasn't as fancy, but the contents really caught my attention and wormed into my brain.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Beware the Line Scam!

You always think that scams are something that don't happen to you. But in an amazing coincidence, a scammer tried to part my money and I using the exact same scam that I read about yesterday.

If you haven't heard, this is the LINE scam that's making its way around Singapore and Japan recently (click on the links to read a newspaper article and funny ways 'victims' have responded. Ok, here's one more.)

Oh, and he tried to scam a few of my family members at the same time. What he/she (I'm just going to go with "he" from now on) didn't know is that we actually have a Whatsapp group, so we figured out what this guy was up to almost instantaneously.

Actually, I don't think it's a human. The English is too terrible, and the Japanese versions are awkward Japanese. Awkward enough that even I think it's terrible. Or maybe just someone who's native language isn't English or Japanese.

So, I wanted to try and see if I cook make the guy angry, but I failed. I think. The guy left the convo then deleted my cousin's account. And because I can't take screenshots on my phone (I cannot wait to switch to an iPhone. Good thing I will do that soon), I had to take them with my camera.

Scammers - stop following the same pattern. REACT TO ME. 
On hindsight, I should have done the cat-facts stuff from the start.

Most disinterested scammer ever. Seriously. Make an effort. 
Or you know, go "I didn't know you owned any Apple products!" 

He didn't even give me a chance to send a photo! 
On the other hand, my cousin had some awesome responses (shared with permission).
He is obviously following a script. RESPOND. 
Don't you just love cats? CAT FACTS!

But seriously speaking, this has caused a lot of trouble to my cousin. He has been locked out of his account, it's giving him stress, and he really doesn't know what to do.

And for everyone, please stay on the alert. Even if your friends message you for money, make sure it's them. Ask for a photo of them, ask them a question that involves something only the two of you know, contact them on other apps (Whatsapp, Facebook Message, Google+ message, email, etc).

Monday, 20 October 2014

Nokonoshima Cosmos Flower Lightup

Nokonoshima, that beautiful island near my place, had a Cosmos light up recently! Well, the last day was yesterday (and it was only on weekends). One of my classmates, who had actually gone there, told me it was beautiful, so yesterday, I went there in the evening with a new friend from Church.

And woah. It was my first time going to Nokonoshima in the evening, and it is beautiful!

For proof, here are some pictures from the boat ride to the island:

Marinoa City

Everything looks good in the sunset!

As we arrived at the island.
I was really hoping to be able to get a shot of the flowers with the sunset in the background, but sadly, it seems like that wasn't really possible. This is one of the better shots:

And this, was the view that my new friend really liked! It's her first visit to Nokonoshima, so I'm glad that she enjoyed it! (And that there are actually flowers. For my mom and sisters, there weren't many flowers blooming when they came).

Oh, and the island park is already in the halloween spirit. We saw loads of Jack-O-Lanterns, and even a huge pumpkin:

Ok, it wasn't a real pumpkin. But still! 

Trust me, these things were EVERYWHERE. 
The actual light-up wasn't as impressive as the sunset. Sure, there were pretty flowers, but after seeing the Huis Ten Bosch Kingdom of Light (like this post and this other post) and the Fukuoka Castle Sakura Light Up, this was nothing.

Can't remember what these flowers are called, but they're so pretty! Reminds me of Lavender, but red.

Ok, buildings like this look cool in the dark. 
The bus ride to the dock was really nice too! For starters, our bus was wooden! And the driver was really nice, and he stopped (and turned off the lights) at the most scenic spots, so we could see the night view of Fukuoka city.


And of course, because we need a little unexpected problems in our lives, the queue for the boat was so long that we ended going home almost an hour later than planned (it didn't help that we got on the wrong bus too)
And then it continued and curved around. There must have been
close to 300 people in that queue!

But overall, it was a really fun trip! I'm so glad I managed to catch the light up before it ended.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

My experience with house-cleaning services in Japan

I'm going to be upfront with all those of you who've never met me in person - I am terrible at cleaning. I mean terrible. Even after I try my best to clean, my house still looks like a pigsty. It comes with having too many books and not enough space. (Hi Nic! Feel free to chime in here XD). It wasn't much of a problem in Tokyo, because I moved out after a year, but after a year and a half here, the mess really starts to accumulate.

But normally, I can live with it. Normally.

However, this time, I came back from Singapore to layer of dust on my floor, and a feeling of dirt that didn't disappear even after I cleaned the floor 3 times, I was pretty much near breaking point. A cockroach sighting was the straw that broke the camels back and I called a cleaning service I was looking at right away.

Thankfully, they answered even though it was past 10p.m. They're called Soyokaze, and I was first thinking of getting their 2 hour "clean as much as possible" service. But, after considering the state of my house, I decided to just get them to clean and tidy up everything.

The cleaning people came yesterday, and apparently, it took 4 people 6 hours to get my house in order. But, I'm super pleased with the results!


I'm kinda ashamed *covers face*
 After (same area):

Sooo much neater! 
And the floor feels so clean! Despite the cold, I was walking around barefoot yesterday, enjoying the feel of a waxed floor.


Much much neater. Take my word for it. 
They cleaned my windows, my very dirty balcony (where even my mom didn't dare to touch and I don't step out on), the bathrooms and tidied up the whole house up (they bought boxes and stuff). Now, all I have to do is to maintain the cleanliness, which doesn't seem too difficult (yet).

So the big question: Is it worth it?

Well, I paid 40 000 yen before taxes so my pockets are hurting a lot now. Even if you compare that to Singapore, it's very very expensive. But, my house is way cleaner than what I could have possibly done.

So what if you're a student and you really really need to clean your house before your parents/extended family/friends come? Ask yourselves this questions:

How much longer will I be staying in this house? I stayed in my place for a year and a half already, and I plan to stay until I graduate. In that case, I consider the expenses worth it. However, if you're about to move out, don't bother.

And of course, make sure you have the savings for it before you lift up the phone.

The sootballs approve of the house now.