New Blog!

Hey there! I've decided to continue blogging at a different blog. The MEXT archives and some of my travel posts will remain here, but I'll be moving some stuff over. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, 31 January 2015

To Hell and Back (Beppu Part 2)

One week ago, I talked about seeing snow in Beppu even though it's more well-known for its onsens (aka, there's a lot of heat). During the week, I had about 3 tests, and didn't really have time to blog. Now that my excuse is out of the way, on to part two!

In Beppu, one thing that you can do is called 地獄めぐり(jigoku meguri) or "hell tours". Basically, the family and I went around to see really hot pools of water (and mud). To save money, and if you don't have a car, but the one day bus ticket at Beppu station. There are student prices, so if you're studying, make sure you bring your student ID with you. (Oh, and there are English-speaking workers there, so there's nothing to worry about). The bus pass will give you discounts and stuff, so don't lose it!

There are 8 hells, and they are grouped into 6-2. If you only have enough time to go to one area, go to the one with 6 hells. You can buy the all-access ticket and it'll still be worth it.

Tickets, including a stamp-collecting sheet. I got all of them! 
I know my cousin already talked about most of them, but I wanted to share more photos!

First up is Oniishibozu Jigoku, which means shaven monk's head hell. Don't you just love the name? It's called this because the bubbles supposedly look like a monk's head. But uh, we were more interested in the fact that sometimes, these bubbles look like a hidden Mickey (I'm totally showing my age - I remember when these were on TV)

This one, like most of the others, has a foot bath that you can sit in! My siblings and dad, who wore socks, could go in almost immediately. My mom and I were in tights, so we had to go to the toilet to change.

The yellow things are fruit. I think pomelo? Not sure...
I probably should have mentioned this earlier, but we took the bus all the way to the top, getting off at the 海地獄前 (umijigokumae) bus stop, then making our way down to the 鉄輪 (tetsurin) bus stop. It's quite convenient, especially if you want to change bus to get to 血の池地獄前 (chinoike jigokumae) bus stop to see the remaining 2 hells.

Anyway, the second stop was the Umijigoku (aka Sea Hell), which is why the previous paragraph is a directions digression.

They have this little moving Kappa that you try to throw coins at. 

Before you see the actual onsen, there's a giant lake that apparently, has giant lotus leaves that little kids can stand on in the summer. At least, I think the lotus leaves are supposed to be real. They could be fake, and that would make so much more sense.

The actual onsen is a pretty blue, but there's so much steam that it's hard to see the colour.

You can kinda see it here. I guess.

Next to the onsen is a series of torii, so if this sort of thing interests you, you should totally go check it out.

There's also a greenhouse where the plants are nourished with the onsen water. Pretty, but stuffy. I would show pictures, but we're moving on because there are 6 more hells for me to show pictures off.

The third hell we went to was Yamajigoku (mountain hell), which is full of animals. Yup, animals enjoy hot baths too.

Like this hippo, who WOULD NOT TURN AROUND.

Well, we are invading his privacy, so fair enough I guess. 
 And to really hammer in the fact that we're walking around pools of hot water that come from the ground, part of the pavement was closed off because of the steam coming out.

You can even feed the animals. Like the capybaras, rabbits (really, really huge rabbits), and turtles. I think? Wait, was the turtle huge, or was that the rabbit? Or both? Probably both.

The siblings feeding the capybara. 

This flamingo will never suffer from cold feet. 
The fourth hell was Kamado Jigoku, or cooking pot hell. By this time, it was drizzling, so I don't have that many pictures to show you guys.

Since it was raining, we stopped for a bite here. There was the onsen tamago thing that my cousin talked about, and that I wanted to try. So we got that, some buns, and some chicken.

There is salt for the eggs, or yuzu-shoyu.

So not natural. 
And no one liked it. Thankfully, we didn't get one per person, or I'll be eating five eggs at one go. I'm actually ok with it, but I think we established in the first part that I'm weird and willing to sleep in rooms with no attached toilets if it means I stay in a mud onsen (that, spoiler alert, we never got to go to).

Everyone liked the chicken though. It is truly awesome. We ordered a second helping.

the portions are tiny, so the second time, we ordered a few portions. 

The fifth hell was the Oniyama Jigoku, which for some reason had replicas of traditional Malay houses. That was...weird. And not what we wanted to see (I can drive to see the actual ones in Singapore, so....). 

But there was a friendly dude who spoke English, so we ended up buying a lot of snacks. 

Oniyama jigoku is famous for the crocodiles that live there, but the water must be too comfortable, because they were all so sedentary. Then again, I remember having dirty, smelly water being splashed on me by crocodiles at a crocodile farm so... CARRY ON SLEEPING. 

The 6th hell, and the one next to the next bus stop, was Shiraikejigoku, which means white lake hell. It's basically a paler version of Umijigoku. There are some pretty fishes here though.

Not pictured: fish. Those are in tanks near the entrance. 
It's a very serene place though, and a good time for you to catch your breath.

From here to the bus stop, there are bunch of stores selling steamed food (which to be honest, is everywhere). I totally recommend the steamed sweet potato. It is soooooo sweet and really good! I may have finished it before I could take a photo :p 

From the bus stop (where it was raining so boooo), we took a short ride to 血の池地獄前 (chinoike jigokumae) bus stop, where the last two hells are. One tip which I read online was that the 竜巻地獄 (tatsumaki jigoku - spout hell) erupts every half an hour, so when you get off, you should first go check when the next eruption is, then decide which hell to visit first. For us, the timing was such that we went to Chinoike Jigoku, or Bloody Lake of Hell (I love this translation for some reason) first. 

It may have a really cool name, but the water was... orangey. They sell stuff that's supposed to be good for your skin though. 

But, if you're the type that wants bragging rights that come from visiting this, photo editing is your friend. My instagram photo looked so much cooler.

See? So much cooler. 
You'll have to wait for a time where the wind blows the steam away though. I think maybe the reason why there was so much steam was because we went during winter.

The last hell was Tatsumaki Jigoku (aka spout hell), which was underwhelming. It's basically a really regular geyser, but they built walls to contain it, so it looks... weird.

Before anything happens

I honestly thought the wall was a backdrop. Didn't know better until the intercom started giving us information.

The geyser, looking constrained and unimpressive. 
Most of the hells are actually pretty cool. I think, if you don't have enough time, you can probably skip the last two. Here's a pretty sunset photo to end the post.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Baby it's Cold Outside (Beppu Part 1)

After my cousin's guest post and enthusiastic recommendation of Beppu, I recommended to my family that we go there as well. While they were rather hesitant (since there's nothing but onsen there, apparently), well, I was the one making arrangements. Except for hotel bookings. My mom did those because if I booked the hotel (which I almost did), we would stay at a cheap place that was an onsen and had no attached toilet or heater.

Now, my dad and sis and bro really, really, really wanted to see snow, so we went to Mount Tsurumi. Google images showed snow, and despite the fact that there was no snow in Beppu whatsoever, we held out hope. Plus, by the time we got to Beppu, there was no way we could make it to the onsens before it closed, and this was one of those "feasible-to-do" things.

Despite the name, Mount Tsurumi is a volcano (makes sense, since Beppu is famous for its hot springs). Going there was a pain though. There's only one or two buses that leave from Beppu Station to Beppu Ropeway every hour, and we had to run to make it to the bus. I think it's one bus every hour, because I remember thinking something like "if we miss this, we have to wait an hour please no."

The bus ride to Beppu Ropeway is about 20 minutes (22 minutes according to the bus schedule) and from there, we have to buy tickets to take the cable car up.

Going up! So far no snow yet. But my brother saw a deer! 

First impressions were... lacking in snow. It was cold though, and it made me wish I brought my scarf along (I left it in the hotel because I was feeling warm).

But then, snow!

It started with a staircase (that got rather dangerous to walk on because snow turns into slush).

By the time we reached the top, there was enough snow to play with!

We even got to build a snowman. Well, a tiny snowman that my brother took great joy in building then stomping down.

I managed to get a pic before it was destroyed though. 
The top of Mount Tsurumi also has quite a few shrines, as this PDF leaflet will show (it's in English but you can also find Chinese and Korean versions here).

Obviously, my family was more interested in taking in the view than visiting the shrines. And my sister was interested in taking a back-to-the-camera photo. Since I'm not "swag", I have no idea why. But hey, my job is to take photos, not question why.

And if you're wondering what she's looking at, here's the view:

And to end, because I have two exams next week and I'm playing piano for Church tomorrow, here are some random pictures that I took to end this post. 

Why did I take a photo of a tree trunk? I have no idea. 
The way down. 

No idea what this is, but it's pretty! 
And the reason why "Baby It's Cold Outside" is the title of this post *drumroll*

I'm reminded of the song every time I see this picture :p

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Choosing my ゼミ (Part 1)

Since I attended the last ゼミ説明会 (seminar introduction session) that I wanted to, I thought it'd be good to muse about it on the blog. And MEXT scholars, listen up, this is one of the most important decisions you'll have to make in your MEXT life, and in your university, probably the most important decision.

About Tutorials/Seminars

Of course, this is if you have seminars. I think I'm just going to call them tutorials from now on, because that's what I'm used to calling them (I think they're still called "seminars" in America though, but then again, I don't use American English).

Anyway, before I went on that digression. I know that for Kyudai, the Engineering department has "lab" not tutorials. So if you're in the Science stream, you may not have this, but you'll have something similar. I know that Hitotsubashi has tutorials, and most universities should have them too.

In the Japanese university system, you spend your third and fourth years doing tutorials. You pick one teacher, and if he/she lets you into your class, that's where you'll spend a lot of time studying. And going on excursions. And nomikais. And other stuff (I know one tutorial in Kyudai likes to run marathons. Thanksbutnothanks). Basically, it's going to affect half of your university life, so if you don't pick wisely, you'll probably be miserable. Probably. I've not entered tutorials yet, so I can't say for certain.

For the economics department, we have ゼミ説明会 (zemi setsumeikai), which are basically introductory sessions. The teacher talks about the class, then he leaves the room and the students talk about the teacher. And after that, you can normally ask questions and see what it's really like. Some tutorials have have what they call "Open seminars", which is when us second years get to sit in. And on Saturday (10th of January), there was a combined tutorial speech event, where various students reported on their research topics. I went, but if there were any other second year students, I did not see them. Still, it was a good way to see what each tutorial specialises in, and I'd advise everyone to attend as much of all three as possible. Disclosure: I did not go for any "Open Seminars" because it clashed with classes.

Print out from a ゼミ説明会

We were told to download a zip file from the school website, where they have the syllabus, ゼミ説明会 dates and times, and forms in there. You should definitely read the syllabus well, to make sure that you can take the tutorial you want (because there are required subjects for some tutorials - actually, check this as soon as you start taking start your 学部科目). Plus, at least for Kyudai, the teachers will mention if they want a handwritten application, a typed application, or if they don't mind either. This can be make or break, so read it well and don't mix it up.

And now, I'm torn

I thought I had it all figured out. I thought I knew which tutorial I wanted to enter. But, I went for the ゼミ説明会 today, and it threw me a curveball. Now, I have two tutorials that I want to take, equally badly. One of them is about Corporate Finance. The other is about the Economics of the Internet (Google,, and the like). Both teachers are really nice, and I like both subjects. Hence, me splitting into two right now. I'm actually polling family members with a business background for their opinion now.

If it's possible, I'd like to take both tutorials, one as my main, and the other as my sub. I'm not sure if it's possible, because I just looked at the requirements of the sub and it needs me to turn it in while I'm not in Japan. Gulp.

I'm just gonna go and pray real hard about what to do. I'll update everyone when there's more news (which would probably be after the first application period).

Monday, 12 January 2015

Liz Lisa Fukubukuro 2015

Well.... I'm (finally) entering exam mode. Unfortunately, it also coincides with hibernation mode, which means not only do I have no will to do anything, what little will I have is reserved for studying and writing.

But, I will come and distract myself by blogging about fun stuff, one of which is Fukubukuro! Fukubukuro (福袋), also called Happy Bag (in Japan) or Lucky Bag (in Singapore) are once-a-year sale promotions where you get bunch of items at a very great markdown. The only catch is that you can't pick what goes in your fukubukuro.

So December is when I start to look at the different bags. I've learnt that Apple is generally worth it (minimum sum is valued at 50 000 yen, with limited edition T-Shirts), but at 36000 yen way too expensive for me. And for some reason, I read that Coach has really lousy fukubukuro. Not sure though, since I don't buy that either.

If you can remember last year, I missed out on the one I wanted, and ended up getting two other ones. Which were actually quite good, because I'm still wearing most of the stuff. They were the more typical fukubukuro, in terms of the bag that the clothes came in.

Just to refresh your memory
This year, I was very focused and only bought Liz Lisa fukubukuro, because the bags they came in were too cute!

Ok, but before I even get to the shopping, I really really want to complain ahem, talk about January 1st 2015. Very, very unusually for Fukuoka, it snowed. And it snowed heavily.

I look quite happy in the photo right? Well, I was happy, for the first 10 minutes. Then I was just freezing because I left without a scarf or gloves. So yes, very very cold. And the bus was really late as well.

Do you see this? The roof isn't supposed to be white! 
Although my family was here with me, they were thankfully not caught in the start of the snowstorm (I actually called and woke them up. Or at least, I woke my sister up), because I learnt from my mistakes last year and went to Marinoa early this year. 

And to think I came half an hour early!
I still wasn't early enough. These people come early and stake out the most favourable entrance and queue there. Then when the doors finally opened (thankfully the staff there were handing out handwarmers, I stood there for a long time!), they ran to the stores. Understandable, since some stores had like, 30 fukubukuro (I know one sold out in 15 minutes), but some people went to queue at Starbucks. They must have something awesome going on there. Too bad I don't really drink coffee. 

Anyway, I rushed over to the newly opened Liz Lisa store and bought the bag I wanted! (On a sidenote, my wardrobe is going to be very very much girlier this year. Probably.) 

Isn't it adorable? This is my new carry on luggage! 
And in a stroke of luck (or not), the items I got were exactly the items advertised. I'm glad because I don't have a brown coat and I actually wanted one. 

Image take from the Liz Lisa site

Apart from queueing up to freeze and buy stuff (I didn't spend any other money that day, I'm proud of that haha), I also ordered one bag online. It wasn't sold in that Liz Lisa outlet store, and I'm not rushing from Marinoa to Tenjin just for one more bag. Especially since I need to go rush to Kumamoto after that with my family too.

The good thing about ordering online is that you don't have to rush with everyone. And if you order early enough, you don't have to worry about running out of stock. But, not all stores sell this online, so if your favourite store isn't on Rakuten, you're out of luck. And, for Liz Lisa at least, you can't decide on what day your things come. Mine actually came this week at school, and I had to call the delivery guy and re-arrange a time.

But, for 5000 yen, the second bag was also really worth it!

I would probably pay that much for the handbag alone. 
There were only two items inside, a white cardigan and a really sweet dress. I'm totally wearing this back to Singapore!

Did anyone buy fukubukuro? If you bought Apple or you know of something that's really worth it, please do share with me :D

Ok, now back to studying. 

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Bright Lights in Huis Ten Bosch (2014 Illuminations)

... too bad Huis Ten Bosch isn't a big city.

Happy New Year everyone! I hope your new year has been fun. I've been travelling a lot, so I have a lot of things to share with you guys. Unfortunately, I'm really busy now, with lots of reports and meetings and such, so I may not be able to blog as much.

Oh, and before I start, congrats to all of you who got the MEXT scholarship! I'm really happy for you, and I hope we get to meet someday! :D

Ok, now back to the Huis Ten Bosch illuminations 2014. I didn't actually plan to go, but my mom decided to book tickets at the last minute. But it was soooo worth it, because the illuminations are probably even better than last year.

And you'll probably notice, so I'll tell you now, but all the photos are taken with my iPhone. I forgot to bring my camera, and to be honest, I didn't even notice it until I got home.

Like always, before I even get to the illumination, here are some other photos.

playing around with a new app. 
The adventure-land, which we went to because DINOSAUR ESCAPE GAME,  had roasted pork, roasted chips (thin-cut potatoes), ROASTED MARSHMALLOWS, roasted sweet potato.

I found the escape game much harder. Neither my brother, mom or I could even finish the first stage. But the guy in charge was super nice and let us continue to the second stage. He said it was because I was helping translate his instructions, but to be honest, there were English versions of the videos, the only thing I had to translate were the things said in person. But anyway, it made my brother really happy!

Even the dinosaurs are in the Christmas spirit. 
We also caught a street performance. I wish I managed to catch the performer's name, because he was really amusing. I was laughing like crazy, and my family really enjoyed it too. It was really a lesson in how to ask for money, because if you can make people laugh, they will give you money. It wasn't a "man, now I'm obligated and have to give", it was like "this guy is funny, how much should we be giving?" (And he was nice to my little brother, which counts for everything)

Anyone know his name?
By the way, I've downloaded this new app called Brushstroke and it's my app of the moment. For some reason, I really love it!

Here's an example
 Ok, now is the part you've been waiting for. Illumination photos!

Using the brushstroke app haha
By the way, this year, Huis Ten Bosch had a glowing river. A GLOWING RIVER. Are you prepared for the picture spam?

It looks fake right? 
When I first saw the poster, I was like, is this for real? So after our dinner (really good BBQ by the way, the oysters were awesome!), we went to go watch. Every few minutes, a boat passes by and a whole song and light show starts.

But it's real! 
It's sooooooo pretty. I love it! I hope they have this every year.

And of course, I have videos! Here's a time-lapse: 

And a normal video, with music attached. I didn't get to take the whole thing, because I was also snapping photos.

Ok, we can like, finish the blog post. But I still have a few photos, so here's the rest of Huis Ten Bosch, which is pretty, even though it's not a glowing river.

A small village. Do you see the reindeer? 
 The 3D projection mapping was as awesome as ever.

They had a tunnel as well, which reminded me of the one in Space World (I didn't get to go this year though)

I had to wait so long for people to leave. 
The rose garden became a light-up place! Sorry, I just realised I didn't get to edit it ><

I hope that you enjoyed the photos! If you are ever in Kyushu at the end of the year, get over to Huis Ten Bosch! Sure, it doesn't look like Japan, but the illuminations. They are pretty!