Friday, September 20, 2013

Ota Ward's Festival Of Fireworks

"Hoshi hitotsu
Nokoshite ochiru
Hanabi kana"

Sakai Hōitsu (1761-1828)
Japanese painter

星ひとつ 残して落ちる 花火かな (酒井 抱一)


Ōta Ward, the biggest of the 23 special wards in Tokyo, made a peace city declaration (平和都市宣言) on August 15, 1984, to wish for the eternal properity of mankind and lasting peace in the world. To commemorate the 25th anniversary of this declaration, the city recently held a summer event called the "Festival of Fireworks" (花火の祭典) along the Tamagawa River.

The fund used for the launching of the fireworks came from the sponsorships and donations from the local residents. This event was cancelled last year due to the Great East Japan Earthquake and this year, 2.5 years after the disaster, the prayers for the speedy recovery and reconstruction of the affected area will still remain in the hearts of everyone. 

As the place I am staying is just a stone's throw away from the venue, I went to see this fireworks festival, after work. This is in fact the first fireworks festival I went to this year. Although it was not as big or famous as the other fireworks festival in Sumida River and Tokyo Bay, it was not a bad one actually.

This fireworks was just a small scale one, and you can see local residents, heading to the venue on foot and bicycle, filling the area along the river just before the event started. There were no scramble for spots, and it was really an enjoyable outing for everyone on a Thursday evening. Below are several shots I got from the fireworks festival.

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Now that almost all the fireworks festival in Japan had ended, it also marks the end of summer and we are now heading into autumn.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Yamanote Line Marathon - The Run

"Love it or loathe it, the Yamanote Line rail loop 
keeps the Japanese capital smoothly on track."

Tokyo's humble 34.5 km
Yamanote Line

山手線

I made it!

I have successfully accomplished one of the things that I have always wanted to attempt to do - to run around the famous Yamanote Line loop. Technically speaking, I did not run throughout the course as I made stops at every stations to take photos, and also pit-stops at convenience stores to refuel myself with liquids. In addition, it was more of an alternation between running and walking along the course, especially during the final third of the course when my body was really worn off. So, here is a short recollection on how the run went.

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The starting point, which will also be the finishing point of my Yamanote Line marathon.

I took the 4:40 a.m. train from Kamata station, heading to Tokyo station, which will be my starting point. and also my finishing point. After arriving in Tokyo station around five in the morning, I did the necessary stretching and warm-ups, also pre-run preparations with my equipments like turning on my iPod, running applications on iPhone, etc.

After everything was set and ready, I set off from Tokyo station at 5:20 a.m. sharp, going counter-clockwise around the Yamanote Line, heading to the next stop, which is Kanda station. In the early stages, things went according to plan. I was running for most of the time, keeping the pace at around 7 minutes per kilometer. Throughout the journey, I relied on my trustworthy Google Map to make sure I was running on the right route.

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You can see how much I was sweating already.

As soon as I saw the first glimpse of Kanda station, I got excited and increased my running pace. It was still very early in the morning when I finally arrived at Kanda station. Looking around, I spotted a lady at the exit and I had her to take a photo of mine in front of the station. I was sweating profusely and this kind lady offered tissue for me. Just the perfect start for this long journey. Before I left, she wished me all the best and I thanked her. First stop down, and 28 more to go.

The stops along the course would be - Tokyo → Kanda → Akihabara → Okachimachi → Ueno → Uguisudani → Nippori → Nishinippori → Tabata → Komagome → Sugamo → Ōtsuka → Ikebukuro → Mejiro → Takadanobaba → Shin-Ōkubo → Shinjuku → Yoyogi → Harajuku → Ebisu → Meguro → Gotanda → Ōsaki → Shinagawa → Tamachi → Hamamatsuchō → Shinbashi → Yūrakuchō → Tokyo.  

In total, there will be 29 stations, covering a distance of approximately 34.5 kilometers.

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Otaku freak lining up at the game stores in Akihabara when it is not even six in the morning!

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Tokyo Sky Tree seen on the way from Uguisudani to Nippori.

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Arrived at Tabata station at 07:20. Almost one-third of the journey and I clearly looked very much energetic still.

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Something I have never knew at all of its existance this while. Tram lines running at Ōtsuka station.

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The famous yet mysterious white windowless tower near Ikebukuro. It is actually Toshima garbage factory, and more precisely, the incinerator's chimney

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A poster to commemorate Tokyo's successful bid for the summer Olympic Games in 2020.

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Finally at the mid-point of the journey. Takadanobaba station marks the 14th stop.

However, after one-third of the run, I began to feel some tight muscle pain on my legs. This is mainly down to my lack of training, so it was something I had expected to happen sometime during the run. Things did not get better as the temperature rises very quickly and the scorching sun did not help either.

As I had consumed my two packets of energy jelly, I started to make trips to the convenience store to grab some drinks I desperately needed. In total, I consumed 3.4 litres of liquids, 3 packets of energy jelly, 1 onigiri (rice ball), 1 ice-cream (this was to keep me motivated to finish off the run lol!).

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My first encounter with Shinjuku station was in the Japanese text book more almost nine years ago.

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One of the features of the west side of Shinjuku station - the high-rise skyscrapers.

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Arrived at the fashion town of Tokyo - Harajuku station.

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Hachiko statue, by far the most famous thing at Shibuya station.

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This amazing scramble crossroad at Shibuya station is also a well-known attraction.

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Ebisu statue at Ebisu station. This marks the two-third point of the journey.

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Toko Hotel at Gotanda station. This hotel was the very first stop I made when I first came to Japan in April 2007.

As I arrived at Gotanda station, it was already 11:45 a.m. There are still more than a quarter of the journey to cover and hence, my six-hour target was not achieved. However, the record on Runkeeper showed that I have already covered more than 36 kilometers at that point. So, in some sense, my 30-km-in-6-hour target was actually achieved, although I have not finished my one loop around the Yamanote Line.

I left Gotanda and head next to Ōsaki station. At this time, the temperature had rose to thirty degree and that was a real killer, especially when there was almost no shades along the route. As the track makes a sharp curve between Ōsaki station and Shinagawa station, I tried to stay as close to the track, because the route in Google Map suggested a much shorter router. 

However, on the final third of the journey, the combination of muscle pain, lack of training, the heat were too much to bear and I literally walked for most part of the journey. As I arrived at Shinagawa station, I had the thought of maybe I should just abandon this thing and take the train home lol! But my effort would come to nothing and I decided to push myself and finish off this journey irregardless how long will it take.

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Arrived at the oldest station in Japan - Shinagawa station. Face is smiling but the leg muscle was actually screaming in pain lol!

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Gigantic "Visit Malaysia 2014" advertisement in front of Shinagawa station.

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Cute little boats spotted on the way from Tamachi station to Hamamatsuchō station.

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Had a tourist to take this photo for me.

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Shinbashi is the original terminus of Japan's first stretch of railway, the Tōkaidō Main Line.

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Oldies seen playing traditional Japanese board game in front of the station.

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Finally! The final traffic light before I head to finish off this long journey!

As I left Yurakuchō station, the 28th stop, I knew my goal was not very far away. The excitement really came in, and somehow, I found that extra energy to make the final surge towards the finishing line. No more walking and it was all about running all the way to Tokyo station. As soon as I caught the first glimpse of the red brick building of Tokyo station, I was screaming in my heart, "Ohh! Finally!"

The song, "I'm Coming Home" just hit me and around 2:30 p.m., I successfully finished this amazing journey.

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Could not believe it myself that I had actually returned to the point where I started earlier in the morning.

The total distance I covered was 50.4 kilometer. That is 20 kilometers longer than the Yamanote Line track. I estimated that my run would take somewhere around 40 kilometers, but for unknown reasons, it ended up more than 50 kilometers haha!

Total time I took was 8 hours 48 minutes 15 seconds, averaging about 10 minute 29 seconds per kilometer. This time is almost 3 hours longer than my target. Nevertheless, after considering the facts that I made stops at every stations for about 5 minutes (5 minutes x 29 stations = about 2.5 hours), the time was not too bad actually.

yamanote line run 

Photos taken in front of all 29 stations of the Yamanote Line.

Here are some quick facts about my run:
  • Total distance: 50.4 km
  • Total time: 8 hours 48 minutes 15 seconds
  • Average pace: 10 minutes 29 seconds per kilometer
  • Calories burned: 4,180 calories
  • Number of stations: 29 stations
  • Number of Wards covered: 9 Wards (Chiyoda, Taitō, Arakawa, Kita, Toshima, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Shinagawa, Minato)
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A total distance of more than 50 kilometers. Can I now call myself CtC (Calvin the Tokyo Conqueror)? Hahaha!
 
The muscle pain, especially around the back thigh and calf was quite bad, although it was not as bad compared to my full marathon run last year. This time at least, I still manage to walk up and down the stairs like a normal person lol! After my run, I took the train from Tokyo station back home. And in a split seconds, the train has passed several stations. Now I have learned how to appreciate the existence of trains haha!

Just like those people who have conquered Mount Fuji and swore that they would not climb it again for the second time, I don't think I am going to do this crazy run for the second time. But who knows, if anyone is interested to give it a try, I might join the fun (and pain lol!) together.

A few things to note after finishing this run:
  • Bring along wet tissue to clear your face and body from the salt that appear after your sweat had dried off.
  • This might sound wrong, but it is recommended to stick plaster to your nipples because the friction between the shirt and nipple will be very painful after some time.
  • Check the route on Google Map from time to time, to make sure you are on the correct route.
  • Never use your instinct too much, because running to a dead-end will make you lose quite some time.
  • Make sure you take sufficient amount of liquid after the run. No matter how much I drank, I still find myself thirsty on the first day lol!
  • Get a warm (cold, for my case) shower and proper rest after the run to get the body recover faster.
Some of my friends actually asked me why I did this; whether or not it has to do with the Chiba Kun Ambassador thing. To put it simple, it was just for my personal satisfaction. I find that through this run, I have realised the importance of setting a goal, and how to work hard towards achieving that goal. 

Now that I have successfully conquered the Yamanote Line, I already have a new plan in my mind. A much bigger plan and more detailed preparations is required for this one. If everything goes smoothly, I will try to accomplish it by the end of this year. Anyone fancy making a guess what would it be?

And by the way, a big Happy 50th Birthday, Malaysia. You have came a long way and this is my little present for you :D

Yamanote Line Marathon - The Preparation

"Tokyo's ring of steel"

Yamanote Line
since 1885


url

This is one of my targets for this year. It has always been inside my wish-list to run around the Yamanote Line. To those who are unfamiliar with this intimidating but exceptionally thorough and efficient train line in Tokyo, the Yamanote Line is a railway loop line, operated by East Japan Railway Company (JR East). It is one of Tokyo's busiest and most important lines, connecting most of Tokyo's major stations and urban centers. Here are some quick facts about the Yamanote Line.
  • There are 29 stations on the Yamanote Line.
  • 27 of the 29 stations connect to other lines
  • An average of 3.68 million passengers ride the Yamanote Line every day, and it can surge up to 5 million passengers during peak seasons.
  • The Yamanote Line's origins go back to 1885. It is one of the oldest urban trains in the world.
  • There are approximately 34.5 km of track on the Yamanote Line.
  • A complete loop takes 59 to 65 minutes.
  • The first trains start at 04:26 a.m. and the last trains stop at 01:18 a.m. the next day.
  • The trains runs at intervals as short as 2.5 minutes during peak periods and four minutes at other times.
  • The busiest stations on the Yamanote Line are Shinjuku station and Ikebukuro station.
  • The maximum fare for a complete loop of the Yamanote Line is 260 yen, though 130 yen will take you one stop short or one stop past your destination on the ticket.
  • Yamanote trains have 11 cars. Some of the cars, nicknamed "cattle cars" features 6 doors and some have 8 doors. So, in total, these trains have 88 doors.
  • On top of each door there are two LCD screens. That means that there are 176 screens per train.
  • The maximum speed a Yamanote train can travel is 90 kilometers per hour.
  • There are video games only about Yamanote Line.
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Ever since I ran my first marathon at the Tokyo Aqua Bay Marathon in October 2012, I have never been running on a constant basis. This year, I did not participate in any official runs or marathon and that prompted me to come out with my own running plan. Running a distance almost equivalent to a full marathon certainly requires some simple preparation, and here is what I have prepared before-hand, based on my previous experience running a marathon.
  • Starting point and finishing point
    It was not a hard decision to pick a station out of the 29 stations to be the starting point. Tokyo station was the obvious choice. And furthermore, there will be an extra reason for celebration after the recent announcement of Tokyo being chosen as the host for the 2020 Olympics. To avoid the weekend crowd, I will start my run as early as possible. The target starting time is 5 a.m. and I hope to finish the run by noon, the latest.
  • Course
    Even though the distance of the Yamanote Line is approximately 34.5 kilometers, this is the distance when the train runs on the track. When we actually run on the road, the final distance will end up close to 40 kilometers or more. Basically, I will be relying mainly on Google Maps on my iPhone while I run from one station to the next one. This will cause some time lost along the way, but I thought this method is much better than relying on the traditional method of printed maps.
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  • Training
    Just three sessions on run for the past three months, totaling only 18.5 kilometers was all I did going into this run. This is not the best preparation but I will give it a try to complete the run.
  • Preparation
    ※ Drinks: There will be plenty of convenience stores along the way. Therefore, I will just bring along my fully charged Suica card to minimize the weight-load I carry while I run.
    ※ Supplements: Weider in Jelly drinks as supplementary meal before the run. Sweets to boast my energy and motivation during the run, especially at the final quarter of the run.
    ※ Wear: A basic running wear should be fine. As it will be a long-distance run, a pair of comfortable shoe is important that will determine whether I will last the whole run until the end. A pair of running sunglasses will come handy, especially when the sun is out.
    ※ Misc: iPhone charger, digital camera, Suica card, some cash, ATM card.
  • Target
    ※ To be on running mode as much as possible, excluding the short breaks taken along the way.
    ※ To run anti-clockwise around the the Yamanote Line, just like how they do it in athletics
    ※ To have photo taken in front of every station.
    ※ To have the running course recorded on several applications (RunKeeper, Nike+ Running, JogNote for iPhone) in the iPhone.
    ※ To complete the run under six hours.
This sums up the preparation I did for the run. I will talk about my experience in the next entry. Did I finish the race? Was the target time achieved? Did I give up halfway? All will be revealed very soon. So, stay tuned!