Saturday, September 29, 2007

From An A To Another A

SEPTEMBER 8 & 9
This will be the first entry of my Hokkaido trip a fortnight ago. But before I start off straight away with the trip, I will do an entry on our journey from my place, Nagaoka until Hakodate, the first city we will be steeping our feet on Hokkaido.
Well, it was impossible to take a normal train and reach Aomori (the city where we will be taking the ferry to Hakodate) within one day. That made us stopped at Akita first for the first night, and continued our journey the next morning. So the journey started from Nagoaka in the early hours of Sept. 8 and as usual, there were a few train exchanges along the way. At one of the station, we had to wait for almost 3 hours before the train we were supposed to take arrived.
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The station was Sakata Station. Guess what creature animal is that. I said it was a dog. Jonathan said it was a dragon. In the end, we both agreed that it was a cross-breed between a dog and a dragon. It was already noon by that time, and we decided to have our lunch there. But here is the problem. We walked for almost the whole town, looking for some place to have our lunch.
Okay, not really the whole town, but we did cover quite a big area.
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Unfortunately, we could not find a single restaurant. The town was deserted, worse than my so-called kampung in Nagaoka. All shops were closed and there were hardly any cars or bikes around. There even came to a time, when I imagined that those drivers were not real humans, but some spirits that escaped themselves since it was still the 7th month of the lunar calendar. For your info, Hungry Ghost festival falls on this month.
Heck, I have been dreaming and imagining way too far already. Back to reality. After walking for almost half an hour, we decided to ask for someone from a shop about the places we can find some food. Yes, I know we sound like starving. But we were really starving already by that time.
Finally, a man guided us to a restaurant. It looked more like a store selling dairy products, like fresh beef and frozen food. But they still serve some menus in their restaurant. I had ramen.
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Seafood ramen.
After we finished our lunch, there was still plenty of time for us. So we took a stroll around the dead town. Again, I spotted another dog-cum-dragon creature. Well, after reading the pamphlets I got, it was actually a lion. The lion head for the Japanese lion dance.
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But it looked so impaired distorted compared to the ones in Malaysia. And I realized now that the nose looks like a pig, while the grin looks like a goat. These Japanese people must had hired a group of think-tank which comprised the whole battalion of animals in the zoo when they were making the prototype of the so-called lion head.
There is a place where you can lend bicycles to be used by tourists when you go around the town.
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Again, the picture of that lion is visible in front of the basket of the bicycles. They love their lions very much, huh? After almost 9 hours of train rides with a few more stops along the way, we finally arrived at Akita.
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The moment I reached the Akita Station, I was impressed by its design. It looked so new and modern that it even beats Shinjuku Station. When I am in Japan, I know they are far more open in terms of dressing. Wearing tudungs should be the last thing you would expect to spot in this super-duper extra-short mini microskirts land.
But there it was, a statue which greeted me at the entrance to the station.
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Maybe that is not a tudung, but just a scarf.
It was late and we were quiet tired from the traveling in the day that we just went to Mister Doughnut and settled for this as our dinner.
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I know the name suggests that we should be eating doughnuts. But I had one apple muffin, one pumpkin muffin and one apple pie instead.
The next morning, it was another half-day train traveling from Akita to Aomori. I spotted a statue wearing a tudung the night before, but this morning I came across a giant paper mask with a set of drum beside it.
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It was just a pose but I tried hitting the drum a few times.
Along the way to Aomori, there were a lot of apple and grapes trees. I did not manage to take any nice and clear photos of them. If you still want to see a picture of apple, I guess this will do.
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When it comes to kiasu-ness, Japan is not to far compared to Singapore, no? We stopped at Hirosaki - the apple town for more than an hour. We wanted to go to the apple farm but it was quite far away and we would not be able to catch our train if we go there.
So we just settled with buying some souvenirs there. When I said souvenirs, I didn't mean stuff like key chains and aircrafts. I bought two boxes of apple pie cookies and also this.
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They call it apple snack, where they sliced the apples into thin pieces and deep-fry them. It was not bad as the sweetness of the apple is still there.
Finally, we reached Aomori. We were there much earlier and had a few hours to spend there before the ferry departs for Hakodate. So we took the chance to walk around the area nearby the station. We did not want to wander too far away as we need to take the bus from the station to the ferry terminal later on. First was by the port.
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Well, it looked like a port but it actually it wasn't a port. And of course, some camwhoring there.
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As you can see, there were 3 of us going to Hokkaido together. Initially, it was just Jonathan and me. But we got an extra ferry ticket after another friend pulled out at the last minute. So, Ekhwan from Akita kosen said he would like to join us, and made it 3 people in the end.
I have read a lot of articles from various sources that no one beats Malaysia when it comes to taking people ideas and making it look as if it is their own creation. They call it modification. But I call it copycat-ation. I thought these things only happen to my beloved Bolehland, and to see it happening in a country like Japan is like waiting for a goat to grow a pair of wings. Well, my goat did not grow any wings, but it is really happening right here in fornt of my eyes.
They try to make it having a different look from the Giza Pyramids by applying a different coat of paint.
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It didn't just happen to Egypt. Even Malaysia wasn't sparred. I also spotted a twin brother of the longest bridge in Southeast Asia.
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It was hot and what else is better other than having some cold stuff. Ice cream being one of them.
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But to get a cone of that Snoopy ice cream, we had to queue up. It was long.
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Much longer than I expected. But in the end, the wait was worth it.
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It so happened that on that day we were there, there was same carnival-like thing, and many stalls selling used items at reduced price. Food stall were everywhere as well. Even a stage for performance were set up. People were all around the places.
Just look at the number of people there.
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I found out that it weren't just sea of people there.
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A bird in the pink of health didn't want to miss out the fun as well. I was playing with that bird walking around until it was our time to have lunch.
I got this bowl of scallop ramen
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The scallop was to small. So, I went for a bigger one instead.
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Talking about Aomori, the first thing that should come to your mind is not scallop. It should be this.
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True enough, we got ourselves a box of apples containing 6 apples (3 red and 3 yellow) for 1,500yen (RM50) and shared among three of us. While waiting for the bus to the ferry terminal, what else is better to do other than eating apples at Aomori.
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The bus ride to the ferry terminal was around 15 minutes and we supposed to take this ship with a sexy name - Virgo.
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The wind outside of the ship after it set off was so strong that I had to go to a section of the ship that has no wind to have a shot. This is the only decent photo I got outside the ship as the others turned out to be disaster, especially to my hair.

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It took us about 4 hours to reached Hakodate and I am traveling with my laptop along.

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No, I wasn't blogging from the ferry. No internet in the ferry for me. And I wasn't gaming either. A person who knows me well enough should know how often I play games. Anyway, after turtle-ing for some time, we finally reached our destination.

We saw Hakodate.

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It marked the beginning of our trip in Hokkaido.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Japan Atomic Energy Agency & Ueno

AUGUST 24, 2007
The third day for this cultural exchange programme was a visit to the Japan Atomic Energy Agency. I would say it was the most boring one during the whole 3 day trip in Mito. But I hope that will not stop you from continue reading this entry. There are interesting stuffs ahead.
We were given a lecture about atomic energy, which I guess I almost didn't get or understand any bit from it. All were conducted in Japanese and you wouldn't expect me to understand those terms in Japanese, would you? Later we were taken around the center and shown how nuclear reactor looks like, the history of the centre and some other stuff.
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Overall, I guess I will not be posting any pictures on that as all the pictures were of buildings, buildings and buildings. Except for this one.
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After the visit to the center, which was the last activity in the schedule, we bid each other farewell at Mito Eki as all will be returning to their kosens. Instead of going back straight to Nagaoka, I stopped at Ueno Station as the exchange for shikansen (bullet train) was that station.
On my way there, I saw these two little girls was playing chak. Really cute!
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But before I walked around Ueno, I went to 新大久保 (Shinokubo) first.
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This place is known for the huge number of gaijins. Even when I was walking along the streets there, I hardly heard any Japanese spoken. All I heard was Mandarin, Korean, and some Bangla.
I was told by my senpai some time ago that there is a restaurant called Mahathir here. Out of my curiosity, I tried to locate that restaurant. On my way there, I saw this three women walking down the streets while playing some traditional musical instruments.
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Finally, I found what I was looking for.
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If you thought that this restaurant is owned by our former Prime Minister, then you are wrong. The chef of that restaurant is Malaysian.
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They offers mostly familiar dishes. Laksa Penang, mee rebus, mee kari, etc. However, when I looked at the price, it made me foodsick walked away instantly. Penang Laksa for 1,000yen (RM33). I imagine how many bowls of laksa I can get back home.
Since it was still haven't got dark, I decided to walk around Ueno. This is not my first my coming to Ueno, as I have been here once during the 1-week Golden Week holiday in May this year.
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This place can be considered the Japan Petaling Street. Just about everything can be found here. Seafood.
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Seaweed.
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Fruits.
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Attire.
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Paradise.
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To be frank, I am not very sure what that Paradise is, but since some people #1 have been asking me to post in pictures on daerah lampu merah in Japan (which I don't have), this is the least I could do.
I was heading back to the station, when I spotted a long line. My initial thought was people lining up for toilet. But it was way off my guess. Those people were actually offering cash to "number tail" company. Yes, I do mean 4D numbers.
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Ueno Station can be considered quite a big station, with people crowding that area all the time.
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I took the shinkansen (bullet train) from Ueno to get back to Nagaoka.
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I know that some people #2 had mentioned somewhere that even if we want to stand on the platform at the shinkansen tracks, we got to buy some special tickets. I understand how they are longing to have a closer look at shinkansen and their tracks.
So, here was the shinkansen I took to get back to my place, after a 2-week trip which was fun, exciting, and full of adventures, especially the journey back.
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There goes the first part of my summer trip. The next one will be Hokkaido. More updates on that soon.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Mount Tsukuba & Science Square

This is actually a long over-due entry, which supposed to be posted much earlier. But, as I was away for almost 2 weeks for my Hokkaido trip, I can only blog on this now. So, lets get going.
AUGUST 23, 2007
As a sequel from the previous day, today we were taken around to a few places. But to start off the morning, we had a buffet breakfast at the hotel we were staying.

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We later took a bus to 筑波山 (Mount Tsukuba). It is said to be among the top 100 mountains in Japan. After taking a bus for an hour plus, we reached there and all were busy camwhoring with the shrine there.
Since it was raining early that morning, it wasn't a surprise to see some familiar droplets of water.
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It was actually a pathway, heading to a jinja (shrine).
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I have been to lots of shrines throughout my journey so far that I found all of them having almost the same look.
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Here is how the front of the Tsukubasan Jinja looks.
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Later was kind of performance (but I guess I will say it is more to like an auction a.k.a. lelong thing promoting his traditional medicine) by one old guy. But he claim he is still very much younger than he look.
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Fine, enough said.
Apparently, this guy was promoting ガマの油 (frog ointment). He was telling a tale about a frog in Mount Tsukuba but it was not a Japanese version of the Frog Prince tale. But, I did not really got the clear idea about the frog in Mount Tsukuba. Anyway, I got to know that the cream made from the frog can be use as a remedy for quite a number of sickness and diseases.
However, of course there are some sickness that could not be cured with this cream. Love sick being on of them. But before he started the main show, he took out his sword and used it to cut a piece of paper.
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He claimed that the sword can cut a piece of normal sized paper into 128 small pieces; and also will never leave any marks on his arm if that cream is spreaded on the blade of the sword and use it to cut his arm.
First, he applied the cream onto his sword.
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And he started to cut his arm;
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Using as much energy he got in himself.
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He even tried on his palm.
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The only thing left on his arm after the attempt were just some marks. He later wiped the cream away from the blade and this time, he tried cutting his arm again.
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Instantly, blood flowed out from his arm.
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He made himself almost like collapsing. But after applying that cream on the cut, the blood stopped.
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Talking about that blood, it was pinkish red. Looked kinda fake to me. At least, when you want to make a performances in front of a group of future engineers, he should have use a better version of blood. Chicken blood for instance. By the way, the sword he used was a fake one. That is what I heard.
Before we left, I took a picture with the frog master.
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Nevertheless, it was an interesting show to get us ready to conquere Mount Tsukuba. When I said conquere, I did not mean that we climb the mountain. Instaed, we took this to the top.
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It looked like a rope-way to me, but they called it a cable car.
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The moment we reach the top, it was so foggy that we could not see anything except white clouds. That was just at the 男体山. Translating it would be Male Body Mountain.
Male Body Mountain is 871 meters high.
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We later went to another higher peak - 女体山 (877m) which was about 15 minutes walk along the track from Male Body Mountain. I was wondering, why they named the longer taller peak as female, but not male.
Along the way, we came across this large stone that resembled a frog. They call it ガマ (Gamaishi).
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It wasn't that tough trekking along the path as it is made up of stones.
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At the second peak, the was a tiny shrine there.
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But that wasn't what we are looking for. Instead, we were looking for this.

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They said on a clear day, we can even see Mount Fuji from there. I wonder, if the white spot thing on the right of the photo above is Mount Fuji. Actually, I did not realised about that white spot, and only noticed about it when I came back and was editing the photo. Did I actually see Mount Fuji for the first time in my life?
The mood the were just perfect which made me posing;
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And hoping.

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I spotted a small dragonfly on a stone there;
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But having no idea what is it doing so high up the mountain. We spent almost an hour there camwhoring around until it was about time to get down. This time, we hopped onto the real cable car.
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The weather was not too bad, but the fog kept the visibility range under minimal distance.
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It looks like it is already almost dusk, but actually the photos looked like that because I was taking the photos from inside the cable car which had tinted glass window.
We were later taken to have our dinner and what else is much better than having a gorilla to greet us at the entrance of the restaurant.
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The lunch was a typical Japanese set of lunch.
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There was only one thing that I saw for the first time. The white soup-like thing in the middle, which was rather sticky. They told us it is made of wheat. Some of them did not even dare to try it. But I finished mine and it wasn't as bad as it look.
And there was also a bowl of soba for us.
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After we were done with our lunch, we went to the next stop - Science Square Tsukuba.
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Here, we were taken around by a chun guide. She explained most of the stuff inside the center. There were machines that will detect whether you are in a normal or abnormal state, a tester on your level of English pronounciation and some other interactive stuffs.
When you are in a science center in Japan, robots should not be something alien to you.
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It is controlled through a computer and it will do almost everything you can think of. Sit, stand, exercise and many more. Just take a look at this video.
As for this one, it can arrange plates and bowls on the table.
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It will arrange them according to their sizes and suitability - for example, wide and big plates on the bottom, and the smaller ones stacked on top.
Really advanced. We were later taken to watch a short 3D movie. But of all the things there, this must be my favourite.
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A seal-like robot called Paro which was developed especially for therapy. Paro have been applied as substitution of real animals to therapy at pediatric wards, day service centers and nursing homes. Moods of children and elderly were improved by interaction with Paro. Paro has tactile, vision, audition and posture sensors, and 7 actuators beneath its soft white artificial anti-biotic fur. It also has behavior generation system that generates behaviors like a real animal.
Thinking about owning a Paro yourself? Not until you are ready to fork out RM 300,000 first. The part I like most is that it will purr whenever I pat it softly. Damn cute, I tell you. Just take a look at this video.
After we were done at the science center, we went to 大洗 (Ooarai) to have our dinner. There was a beach and a port there, and we thought we might get the chance to watch the sunset there. But it did not turned out like that. I did not went to the port nor the beach as it was getting dark already by the time we finished our dinner. I just did some window shopping around in the factory outlets nearby with a few of friends.
Talking about my dinner, here is among the stuff we had. Get yourself ready to drool.
Firstly, ebi tempura.
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Sashimi. I know you love it a lot ^.-
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Ebi and hotate (scallop).
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Some mixed vegetables.
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Of to top it off, kanishiru (crab miso soup).
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And let me point it out here that this trip was fully paid by Ibaraki Kosen. What else better can you ask for when you got to eat all those stuff?
And still, there were people who chose not to join this trip.