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!

Wednesday, 27 May 2015


Gak is the sound that a person makes when choking, or at least that's what this onomatopoeia site says. 

And I'm definitely undergoing some mental choking right now. I had a presentation yesterday, and I have two book reports due tomorrow 5 p.m. Book reports, I should add, that I can't write because I haven't finished the books yet (one book arrived in the mail today a week after I ordered it, and my friend passed me the other one yesterday).

So when I opened up the book blog today to post one of the already-written reviews (thankfully there are holidays where I can read a lot), I just... paused. I couldn't even bring myself to write anything there, because I didn't really want to pretend that I'm on track with reading and reviewing when I'm currently off. I'll be fine tomorrow, after I submit everything (although I have another presentation next Tuesday - this is why entering two zemi's may not be the smartest choice), but today...


I don't I've written a negative-ish post for a long time (I think the last time was after my gaidai exams?), but yeah, I felt like I had to write this, or just stare at my computer for a few hours because my brain froze.

I'm definitely not discouraging people from coming, I love it here, most of the time, but I guess this is one of those "it's not all peaches and cream" posts that appear very infrequently.

Although I make sweets when nervous/stressed. I made Oreo marshmallow bars
the day before presentation (so, Monday). 

Oh yeah, and I wanted to apologise too. I know it's MEXT application season for a lot of you guys, and you're understandably nervous, but please, read through the FAQs and the Anti-FAQ (links are all on this page) before you ask me questions. I'd love to help, but my stress levels are very high right now and I can't spend too much time answering your questions, especially if I've answered them before or said that I can't answer them. So yes, I don't mean to be snappish, and if I am, I'm sorry. I know you're nervous too.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

創業特区一周年サミット (Special Zone for Start-Ups Summit)

As part of one of my seminars, I was told to go to this summit, which I can only translate as "Special Zone for Start-Ups Summit (One year anniversary)", which I think is the full name. I went there not knowing what to expect, or where the place really was, but when I got there, found out it was about entrepreneurship, which is definitely my area of interest.

Background knowledge: Fukuoka has been designated a Special Economic Zone (特区 tokku - a word that was said many, many times) for start-ups. If you're interested, Fukuoka city has a English PDF explaining it, and I found this article from TechInAsia which does a pretty good job explaining it.

So apparently, it's been a year since Fukuoka was given this special designation, and Kaizen Platform (which was actually founded in America than came to Fukuoka), and Tsutaya hosted a one-year anniversary summit, which my friends and I were told to go to. The summit took place at 博多百年蔵ホール, which is a really cool building that looks like this:

The summit basically consisted of a few speeches, four presentations by start-ups (and I could see me/my friends using three of them) and two talk-show sessions. I could go into detail about what happened, but I suspect a lot of you would find it boring, and anyway, I'm not writing a report. So I'll just talk about two things that particularly interested me.

One: Government support at the prefectural level for this is really, really strong. Ok, so the mayor of Fukuoka showing up might be normal, but I was quite surprised at the things that they're doing. There is this Hack for Women event (which caught my eye) that aims for get more women to start businesses, Fukuoka is trying to get Tokyo to pass a few new laws/change a few laws to make it easier for startups, especially those focusing on wearable tech, to operate, I'm pretty sure a Hackathon has happened, and there's something called Innovation Studio Fukuoka. And soon, they're going to enter Phase 2.

The mayor talking. I sneaked a photo. 

Two: Start-Up Cafe. This is actually a real thing, and I can't believe I've never heard of it. It's on the third floor of Tsutaya in Tenjin, and they have free consultations for people who want to start businesses. Apparently, you can talk to them about anything - paperwork, emplyoment, etc and in pretty awesome surroundings too. It's like a cafe, but one where you brainstorm about making money. There are also seminars, and that means I should really see how much time I have and whether I can attend one.

Oh, and ok, this technically makes it three, but as an observation, a significant number of the entrepreneurs that spoke at the summit once worked at a company called Recruit. It made me wonder whether something in the company culture encouraged entrepreneurship, or if it's the type of place that will make you desperate enough to take the risk of starting a business just to get out.

Although I was a bit reluctant to go to this, seeing as it was from 6pm to 10ish pm (we ended around 9.30 and then skipped the name card exchange), it turned out to be interesting.

Basically the entire front half of the room stood up to grab a photo of this.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

There Were Supposed To Be American Students

So yesterday, instead of having a nice Saturday at home, I was at school from 10.30 am to about 10pm. Why? Well, one of my zemi's had a special session.

That seems extremely unconnected with the blog post title, so I'll explain it now. You see, we were originally supposed to be having a combined session with some university students from America. My friends prepared their presentations in English and everything (my group was told not to present, because even we don't quite understand what Industrie 4.0 is about yet). I spent most of my Friday helping them correct their slides and script and all that.

But then on Friday night, my friend messaged me telling me to check my phone. Turns out the American students won't be coming because they got in late and won't be able to wake up at 5 am to take the 6.30am train here. I'm actually not sure who was more disappointed, my friends, who were slaving over their presentations and worrying about having to speak in English, or me, who was correcting grammar and worrying how I was going to do simultaneous translations for groups of people. Either way, it was an unpleasant surprise, but my teacher decided that the English presentations would go ahead, without the Americans, so at least their effort wasn't wasted (the worrying about talking in English thing, though, totally wasted).

So yesterday came and went. It turned out to be a really interesting day. I spent the morning listening to my friends present and reassuring them that "it's fine, don't worry, it's all under the time limit". As for the afternoon, after the student presentations, we had two guest speakers, both my teacher's school-juniors (I think). One of them is a civil servant who's currently working in the digitalisation department in Fukuoka, and he talked to us about his experience in the public service. He even spent 3 years in Hong Kong! It's not relevant to me, but I found it interesting, especially the last part, when he talks about Fukuoka's future plans - it sounds a lot like Singapore's Smart Nation plan to me! I wonder if Singapore and Fukuoka will be working together.

The second speaker, who was invited ahead of time (the first speaker was invited on Friday night to fill in the spare time created by the absent American students), gave a presentation on the Internet. He's apparently an expert on flaming (being flamed on the Internet), and does a lot of other cool stuff, one of which is being able to make and sell fireworks (unrelated to the day job though).

This would be the time to mention that I was taking photos for this, but after the presentation, I'm more reluctant than ever to upload them here. You might have noticed, but the photos here are either of me, or of nature. Sometimes, my family and friends appear, but it's rare. The reason is that when I was in TUFS, the principle of never uploading photos of people who have not given consent made quite an impression to me. So, if you see people here, there's a 99% chance that I've already asked and gotten their permission to put their photos up here.

So, I've always done this, but didn't really understand why. This lesson helped me to understand it a bit better - I think on the whole, Japanese people are much more cautious than Singaporeans online. This is a generalisation, but hearing advice to never put your photos on public, only stick to non-controversial stuff, don't write a blog unless it's about what you ate for dinner or something equally non-controversial, and to make sure you never make anything public, I kinda understand why even in videos for dance covers, you can see dancers wearing masks.

Apart from general how to keep safe and some things about stealth marketing, the lecture also touched on how the Internet can turn hatred into something positive. The last part of the lecture looked at certain examples of, well, I can only think of the phrase "positive trolling". One of them, is the 日本鬼子 (Chinese: riben guizi - Japanese devil) phrase that popped up during one of the anti-Japan demonstrations that occurred in China a few years ago (around 2010, if I remember correctly). Even though the Japanese knew they were being scolded, they decided that this was also a girl's name, and thus, Hinomoto Oniko was born:

Image from
That more or less confused the Chinese-internet since it's not a normal reaction, and I guess things simmered down? I'm not too sure, because I was laughing pretty hard.

The second thing I remember is what the teacher caleld the Ikemen Japan Incident that took place in 2005, although I can't find anything about it on the Internet. Basically, Japanese users pretended that the words "Ikemen" (a handsome guy) and "moe" (it basically refers to a cute girl), with the result that someone repeatedly called the Emperor of Japan "Ikemen" and "Moe" in an attempt to insult him. Not exactly something that builds better relationships, but I found it funny.

Oh wait, I finally stopped searching using the words "Ikemen Japan" because it just gave me J-drama, and finally found two results. They're both in Japanese though, but if you want to read about it, you can do so here and here.

After the two lectures, we went for dinner, which was why we ended really late. I took pictures of almost all the dishes, but I don't think anyone wants to hear a blow by blow account of what I ate (do you?). I'll just post one photo of a dish I thought was... interesting.

This may look like an ordinary squid, but what you can't see in this picture is that it's actually moving. Well, not the sliced bits (thankfully), but the head and the tentacles were. I think I just stared at the dish, and waited for someone to try eating it first.

Oh, and the moving parts were later turned into black tempura:

Tasted good. Still don't know why it's black. Squid ink?
The talking to the speakers part was interesting (especially since one of them had an Apple Watch, so I got to look at some of the functions), but my favourite part was talking to my zemi-mates. I didn't really know them before this, so any chance to get to know them better is a good for me(: I'd really like to have a good two years here.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Book Review: Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy by Phyllis Birnbaum

It's time for a very rare book review! Anyway, I requested this book from NetGalley because it's an aspect of World War II that I haven't heard about before, I mean, I don't know about you, but I've never heard of a Kawashima Yoshiko in any of my textbooks.

Kawashima Yoshiko (born Aisin Gioro Xian Yu; 愛新覺羅·顯玗) was the daughter of a Manchu Prince. When she was very young, she was sent to live in the home of one of his Japanese supporters  - Kawashima Naniwa. And then things get very, very murky. Kawashima Yoshiko wasn't averse to embellishing her life story, and it's hard to tell which of her exploits are true, and which are just tall tales. And yes, she had a lot of exploits - at one time, she was called "Commander Jin" and led her own troops. She also had an espionage career, although it's hard to tell what she actually did. And sadly, after World War II, she was tried as a traitor and executed by the Nationalist Government.

This book was a bit vague about timelines. While it does loosely follow chronological order, for the first few chapters, at least, the author looks at the different people who were in Kawashima Yoshiko's life to figure out what she was like, and what she did. So if you're not familiar with events of WWII in the Asia Pacific, you may get very confused by references to certain incidents.

While I would have preferred a more chronological account of her life, and a bit more explanation about that period of time, I can see why the author chose this method. Kawashima Yoshiko may have courted media attention, but her story changed to suit her needs. By talking to various people (or their descendants), the author managed to come somewhat close to to truth.

For me, the interesting part of this story was in the discrepancy between how Kawashima Yoshiko saw herself and how others saw her. She was brought up to think her destiny involved restoring the Qing Dynasty to power, but to others, she was just a pawn for the Japanese (and indeed, she seemed to be very Japanese in certain aspects). She may have thought herself a Joan of Arc, but others saw her as a nuisance that should be eliminated. And in the end, she was done in by sensationalist novels about her. I find that tragic, that your life be ended by what the creative fiction that someone created about you. It just shows how hard it is to discover who the real Kawashima Yoshiko was.

I would definitely recommend this book to people who are interested in WWII in the Asia Pacific. To avoid getting confused, you should have a basic knowledge about how the war broke up, how it went on, and how it ended, that way, you can focus on Kawashima Yoshiko instead of having to constantly look at timelines to see what was going on when and where.

Disclaimer: I got this book from the publisher via NetGalley for free in exchange for a free and honest review.

If you want to get it from Amazon, here's the (affiliated) link: Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Kawachi Fuji Garden (Guest Video)

Hey everyone! Remember my recent (two posts ago recent) post about Kawachi Fuji Gardens? Well, unbeknownst to me, my cousin was taking videos, and she put together a vlog!

I love the way she tells the trip(:

Hopefully, she continues doing this!

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Kyushu University Year 3 Start of Semester 1

I can't believe I'm already a third year student (and it's the last day of Golden Week, where did the time go?). That means this is my fourth year in Japan, and that next year will be my last year... And yet, I still feel as though I just arrived :p

Apparently, this is me. (Drawing done by someone
from my zemi)
Anyway, now that I'm in my third year, I'm officially in ゼミ(full name: ゼミナール (seminar), but I'm just going to alternate between zemi and tutorial). A small digression here, when my cousin was over, I was talking about this to her and it seems like Osaka Uni has a different system, so if any of the Osaka people are reading this, would you like to contribute a piece about how your uni is like? Ok, back onto topic, I'm in zemi now; or to be accurate, I'm in two zemi.

My main zemi is Ootsubo sensei's class (Corporate Finance), and my sub zemi is Jitsuzumi sensei's class (Internet and the Economy). Each teacher specialises in one area, and that's what I'll be studying for the next two years. Oh, and a bunch of other classes, because I still have about 50 more credits to earn before I can graduate. I don't even know how Rena plans to get all her credits by the end of this year.

And in one of those amazing coincidences that make me feel like I'm back to robotics club in AC, both my zemi's have very few girls. In fact, in my main zemi, I'm the only one (oh hello Robotics Club 2.0). We've also had one zemi trip/overnight stay, and ok, having your own room is cool and all, but it's also tough being the only girl.

But on the whole, most people are nice.

Since I'm on the topic of zemi, I guess I might as well rattle off what I've learnt in choosing zemi (your experience will probably be different, but oh well, as a reference):

  • Make sure you're interested in the subject (duh) and that you have something to learn from the teacher.
  • You can't decide who your current batch is, but you can talk to the seniors and get a feel of whether or not you can take two years in the class.

 Actually, I think that's the two most important things. Other things people do consider would be "does this zemi help with my job prospects" and "how tough/rigorous is the zemi". I'm pretty sure I should have considered the second question as well, because last month, I ended up having to write 4 reports in 4 days. When I was talking to my friend, she mentioned that she was surprised I even took that sub zemi because it's very rigorous. And, I missed that memo (ok, the hint was: no one there had another zemi, and no one from another zemi was there).

Lastly, things I have done so far:

Go Hawks! 

  • Homework (lots of it)
  • Make chocolate tarts (that is a result of the homework - I make sweets when stressed)
  • Go to my first baseball game (and I had to make everyone explain everything to me)
  • Go on my first overnight trip with my zemi (ok, it wasn't that bad)

Ok, evidently my brain still isn't working to well because this is really just disjointed ramblings at this point. I also feel the need to mention that unlike this year, I don't have a day without classes this sem (I'm making up for all the credits that I got last term that I found out doesn't count towards graduation).

So yeah, this term year is going to be a tough one. But obviously I still want to blog, so to end my post, here are two questions:

1. Who would like to guest blog? (This question is for MEXT scholars, especially those in other universities)

2. What do you want me blog about? (This is more important, hence the bolding) What part of school life, of life in Japan in general, learning Japanese/surviving a life of studying in Japanese do you want to know about?

Feel free to let me know in the comments, or email me through the widget on the right ^^

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Kawachi Fuji Garden (河内藤園)

Hey everyone! We're in Golden Week now (which means about one month of school has passed - yikes!), and I've got a bit of breathing room. So today, I'm here to share with you guys some photos and info about Kawachi Fuji Garden, which is a place I've been meaning to go for a really, really, long time.

But the garden is only open twice a year - at spring and at winter, so I normally miss the correct season. This year though, my cousin Charmaine came down from Osaka University to spend a few days with me. And go to Kawachi Fuji Garden; that was our main plan.

How to get there:

The cheapest and most direct route (that I could fine), involves taking the JR Kagoshima Main Line, which has its own Wikipedia page, from Hakata (博多) Station to Yahata (八幡) Station. There's also the Super Sonic and the Shinkansens, but those are more expensive and involve a transfer at Kokura. So, my recommendation is to take the Kagoshima Main Line heading towards Kokura. (By the way, Yahata is one stop in front of Space World, which means you could conceivably go to both places in one day). The cost is 1110 yen, and you don't have to buy any special ticket.

From Yahata Station, you have two options (that I know about). One is to take the free shuttle bus to an onsen called Ajisai no Yu (あじさいの湯). The onsen is below the garden, you have to take a short walk up an incline. The other option is to pay for a taxi, which costs about 2600 yen. Which you choose really depends on the time you go and return.

My experience:

Since we went on the first day of Golden Week, it was really crowded. Well, the crowd at the garden was expected, but my cousin and I did not expect the traffic jam that came our way. What was supposed to be a less than 30 min ride took us almost 3 hours. We boarded the shuttle bus at 9:50 and halfway there, encountered a jam.

It's this, stretching for a few kilometres and barely moving. 
Because we were told that there was still a ways to go, we sat in that bus until we hit the Kawachi Reservoir. Since it was already 11:30, and Google Maps told us it was only 2.6km from the reservoir to the gardens, we decided to just get off and walk.

On the way to the garden! 

The good news is that the view was really pretty from the reservoir onwards. The bad news is the distance, which is still pretty far. But, we did get there much, much earlier than the bus, so that's a huge plus.

When we got to the garden, there was a queue. No surprises there. But the queue moved pretty fast, and we got in within five minutes. The entrance fee is 1000 yen, and totally worth it. The place was as pretty as the pictures I saw on the internet!

No filter
Also no filter

The garden is basically a series of tunnels. Most people went into the one right in front of us (leading to the right), but my cousin and I went to the middle one. It turned out to be a good choice, because it was relatively empty and let us take photos like this:

When we went to the "main" tunnel, it was basically full of human traffic.

But despite the crowd, the place smelled pretty sweet. I'm not the type that notices the fragence from flowers, but these were pleasantly strong, and didn't give me a headache.

Oh, but with the scents come the bees. I tried getting a photo, but this is all I could do:

Last two photos: My cousin and I!

My pretty cousin D 

I really recommend this place if you're ever in Fukuoka during Golden Week. Yes, it's crowded and quite inconvenient to go to if you don't have a car, not to mention the short window of time that you have to go, but it's magical!