Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Eid ul-Fitr 2011

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The main entrance to the Embassy of Malaysia in Tokyo.

For Malaysians, it is a double celebration on the last two days of August this year, as we celebrate the Eid ul-Fitri or more commonly known as Hari Raya Aidilfitri in Malaysia, and also our nation's 54th Independence Day on 31 August 2011. Just like previous days, the Embassy of Malaysia in Tokyo held their annual Hari Raya Aildilfitri celebration in Shibuya, Tokyo.

This is my third time attending this double-celebration at the embassy, but I gotta say the celebration this year was much a smaller scale compared to the previous years.

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Something "extraordinary" happened that caught their attention haha!

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A huge colourful bouquet of flowers by Rasa Malaysia Restaurant in Ginza, to welcome the guests to the open house.

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There was already a long queue for food when we arrived.

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Catered Indian food was served on Hari Raya Aidilfitri. But that is what makes Malaysia unique, isn't it?

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Delicious home-made kuih raya and deserts were served as well.

In terms of the number of guests who went to the embassy, the attendance was relatively lower. I guess the fact that Hari Raya Aidilfitri this year fell on the middle of the summer holiday in Japan, most of the students had gone back to their hometowns to celebrate it with their family and loved ones.

The guests at the embassy were mainly the newly arrived juniors, new faces whom the orang lama (old people) like us have not seen before.

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The beautiful garden which is only opened to public during special occasions.

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A group photo with the staffs from the Embassy.

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Another group photo, this time with the Malaysian students.

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Third group photo, with Amy's gang.

The open house started at nine-thirty and was supposed to end at noon. Mr Takeo Kishida, the CEO from "Feel Japan with K", a travel agency however, arrived there at eleven-thirty. He was there to cover the event but unfortunately, most of the guests had left the place and the food has also finished by the time he was there lol! He scrambled around the place, in an attempt to look for people to have their photos taken. We were asked to pick up random cookies and smile to the camera, to recreate the Hari Raya atmosphere earlier in the morning haha!

After the open house at the Embassy, we headed to the Embassy's staff apartment in Kamimeguro as they organised open houses for Malaysian students too.

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Abang Dzul giving the directions to the staff apartment.

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To have Malaysians in their bright and colourful traditional costumes, walking on the streets while carrying white plastic bags of the food 
tapao-ed from the open house in Tokyo was indeed a rare sight.

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Having some light moments while waiting at the bus stop.

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Finally, after a ten-minute bus ride, we arrived at the staff apartment.

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This staff apartment of the Embassy of Malaysia in Tokyo was officiated by the wife of our former Prime Minister, Dr. Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali exactly twenty years ago.

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Took a group photo at the main entrance, before we got in.

The first open house we went was Puan Siti Zaharah, the Counselor for the Public Service Department's (PSD) Education and Training office in the Embassy of Malaysia in Tokyo unit. We were there quite early, but there were already a big group who went there much earlier than us. The main menu of the day was the famous Kelantanese nasi kerabu, as Puan Siti herself hails from Kelantan.

The rendang and ketupat was great as well.

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Besides nasi kerabu (blue-coloured rice on the left), nasi dagang (brown one on the right) from Terengganu was served as well.

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The ketupat and nasi himpit, which was superb when taken together with the kuah kacang (peanut sauce).

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Cakes, cookies and kuih, which are all home-made ones.

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Everyone was in their traditional costumes, while I went there wearing a t-shirt bearing the word "JAPAN". I guess I should get a pair of 
baju Melayu soon (provided I can find the right size that fits me haha!)

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Group photo with Puan Siti and some of the students there.

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Mr Morinaka (in blue batik) was there with her family and two other staffs (one is a driver and the other a body-guard) from the Embassy of Malaysia.

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We managed to catch up with the always smiling Miss Chiba as well. She has been working in the Embassy since 1994!

Although we were away from Malaysia, the festive atmosphere was still very much alive, many thanks to the effort made by the organisers of the open house, to celebrate the happy occasions with the Malaysians who did not have the chance to return to Malaysia.

Our open house adventure continued to the third stop. The next open house was Mr Muhamad Annizam Mokhtar, the Second Secretary of the HR Department unit, just two floors below.

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Spaghetti and tomato sauce with home-made meat balls.

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Nasi himpit and cookies.

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The rendang was specially delicious!

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With Ido, his partner and Amy.

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Group photo with Mr Annizam (in green baju Melayu) and his wife, with the rest of the gang.

I would like to extend my personal thank you message to both Puan Siti and Encik Annizam for their warm hospitality at the open house. And to all my friends out there, wishing you all a Happy Eid ul-Fitr!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival 2011

Mention summer and the Japanese will often relate it with the breathtaking fireworks festival. Dubbed as biggest fireworks display in Tokyo, the annual Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival has a long history that can be traced back to the Edo period more than three centuries ago. This year, several well-known fireworks festivals throughout Japan has been cancelled, due to the earthquake and tsunami disaster in March.

Knowing that this one in Sumidagawa is gonna be one of the last major fireworks festivals this summer, a bunch of us who participated in the Japan Tent 2011 (will blog on that later) recently, made a reunion gathering, while watching the amazing display of fireworks.

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Paper fans called uchiwa (団扇), distributed for free to the spectators who went to see the fireworks display.

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Mention Sumida River and Asakusa and the synonymous symbol would be the Asahi Beer Hall. Now, there is a new landmark decorating the skyline - Tokyo Sky Tree.

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Floating platforms for the fireworks launch are placed next to the Sakurabashi bridge at Venue No. 1. 

Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival is held over the Sumidagawa River near Asakusa. There are two venues - Venue No. 1 from downstream of Sakurabashi Bridge to upstream of Kototoibashi Bridge, while Venue No.2 from downstream of Komagatabashi Bridge to upstream of Umayabashi Bridge.

Of the two venues, the former generally attracts more people as rival pyrotechnic groups try to out-do each other in an intense competition, resulting in an incredible variety of fireworks, not only in various colours and patterns, but also forming shapes as complicated as Hello Kitty and Doraemon.

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The 634-meter tall Tokyo Sky Tree, popping out majestically in between the buildings in Sumida Ward in Tokyo.

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Two hours to go before the fireworks display begin, but you can hardly find any empty spaces along the river bank.

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Japanese chicks in yukata, the casual summer kimono, is a very common sight at any fireworks festival in Japan.

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This group of people was seating just behind us, and this is the first time I saw something like this; they brought a plastic swimming pool there haha! 
They then threw a few packets of ice-cubes in it and keep their cans of beers cold in the man-made pool lol!
 
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This is another interesting sight - people trying their best to get seating spots on the road. The busy road will only be closed at six sharp, and once the policemen give the signal, they would rush to get a spot on the road and place their sheets to watch the fireworks festival (video here).

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A little girl stopped near our spot and she was attracted by the flower. This cute baby was only fifteen-months-old.

It was quite a last-minute plan to organise this reunion gathering, as I only posted up this event at Facebook three days prior to the fireworks festival. Nevertheless, we managed to get eight of us, plus two more who was stuck at somewhere else and couldn't join us during the fireworks display lol! So, there was ten of us in total, from six different countries who gathered that evening.

Damn international right? Sounds almost like a United Nations gathering already haha!

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From right: Verana (Thailand), Ji-sue (South Korea), Yuh-Ling (Taiwan), Christine (her sister) and the sister's friend (whose name I forgot already haha!)

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Two more of us joined later - Eddy and Bosi Qi, both from China.

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Once the fireworks display started, it is almost impossible to make a call or even send out text messages.

After seven-zero-five in the evening, the first fireworks was launched, very much to the loud cheer of the spectators. It was the beginning of the more than an hour amazing display of the colourful fireworks. The evening sky of old town Tokyo was then brightly coloured and turned into a spectacle of dazzling colours from several tens of thousands of fireworks.
Here are several shots from the fireworks display. It was a near-impossible task to have decent shots of fireworks on free-hands.

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#1 Rabbit-shaped fireworks, as it's the Year of Rabbit this year.

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#2 Red.

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#3 Blue.

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#4 Campur-campur.

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#5 Campur-campur part two.

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#6 Untitled.

To get a good spot, people usually go early to reserve their spots. However, we were kinda late that day. All the strategic spots have been snapped up, leaving us with sad places such as underneath the bridge, behind the huge sakura trees and public toilets, etc. haha!

However, I saw some Japanese, who acted like non-Japanese as they pushed some flowery plants to the ground, and placed their sheet on the plants. Sounds very much like Malaysian, eh? At first, I felt damn pitiful for the poor flowers. However, even the usually rule-abide Japanese were doing it, and since it was still kinda early, there were not many people there yet. So, you can roughly guess what we did, right? I should not be mentioning it in public. Hopefully, those people who are not supposed to read my confession do not read my blog haha!

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Some of us who came later, didn't know they were sitting on the plants until they were told at the end of the fireworks display haha!

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The unbelievable sight of tens of thousands of people crowding the road in Asakusa.

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The two who watched the fireworks elsewhere joined us later at Kaminarimon.

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The initial group of us who watched the fireworks by the river bank.

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Wong Kaye and Shin Chou (the two lost sheep haha!) later joined us.

We planned to have an after-party (二次会) at elsewhere. In the end however, we ended up walking a few kilometers, all the way to Minowa station, while talking about our experiences and gossips during the Japan Tent homestay, joking and laughing at each others silly stories, and drinking along the way. I know my description made it sounds as if we were drunk, but we were not. After all, nobody who is drunk will admit that he is drunk, right? Haha!

Though it was a completely unplanned thing, it was something really cool to do among us, who barely knew each other for less than a fortnight but we are getting along as if we have been friends for years. The fun did not end there when we reached Minowa station as we went for sanjikai (三次会) or after-after-party (not sure if such word exists lol!). Eddy recommend a ramen restaurant nearby the station - Yokohama ramen at Daikokuya (大黒家).

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While waiting to be seated, we did crazy stuff outside the restaurant.

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Playing with Kaye's camera.

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濃厚塩らーめん (Noukou-shio ramen) which literally means concentrated salt-flavour ramen.

The last remaining of three of us then took the last train of the day back home. It was indeed a great outing and I believe this is just one of the many more outings we gonna have with the new friends made at the Japan Tent in the coming weeks and months!

And by the way, I would like to take this opportunity to wish my Muslim friends out there - "Happy Eid ul-Fitr!"