Thursday, April 14, 2016

lost in translation and the elephant was in the room

While walking near the Shinjuku Station, I noticed this poster. It attracted my attention because (i) I don't speak Japanese or read Japanese script so I thought that this would be a good way to find out what the message was; (ii) there was an elephant in the picture.

I have a few guesses at what it means. No offense meant to the Japanese...

(1) Elephants are not allowed.
(2) Elephants are not allowed to throw tissue paper rolls.
(3) Elephants are not allowed to use their trunks to blow tissue paper rolls into the air.
(4) Elephants are not allowed to go near lit cigarette butts.

Whatever the poster meant, it made me smile after a day of walking in the countryside, visiting flowers, peach trees, cherry trees...

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Bright lights, big city. I thought Tokyo was one bright metropolis already... Until I saw Osaka's Dōtonbori district. The place was also bright! There were huge billboards everywhere! Even with the rain, it was such a happy place to visit. It somehow reminded me of Hong Kong, only more eclectic. 

Some of the more interesting sights were the eccentric advertisements, like this one, the gigantic Kani Dōraku crab. It's known to be a moving crab robot but I didn't see it. Without understanding the Japanese text, I knew instantly that this is a restaurant that serves crab. No-go for Rochie here.

This one's the Meiji billboard. The guy in the billboard is known as Karl Ojisan. If there's one regret I have during this trip, it is this: I didn't hoard Meiji chocolate bars because I couldn't risk going over the baggage weight limit.

I found this octopus near the giant crab. I'm not sure what to make of it because it seems that the octopus is frying something but is holding a dessert wrapped in chocolate too. Plus, the octopus is right under the Konamon Museum's sign. Why'd an octopus be at a museum?!

Now this one's not difficult to notice among all the animal signs because it is of a hand holding a huge maguro nigirizushi (tuna sushi). I just wonder if the hand and the sushi move, just like the crab.

A pity that the only time I was in this area was late into the night. I would have loved to actually go into the shops and see the fully lit robotic signs. But, in any case, I got my shot of the Glico Man, Asahi, and the other icons of Dōtonbori district. I want to drop by this place once again someday.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Entering the wizarding world of Harry Potter

In JK Rowling's novels, one can only enter into the wizarding world if you (as a wizard or a witch) know where to go. You can go via Floo Network, by catching the train from Platform 9-3/4, by flying (using brooms or the magical Ford Anglia), by Apparition, or by using port keys. If you're a Muggle, forget it; there are too many charms, spells, and secrets around the wizarding world that it can't be seen or accessed through Muggle eyes.

... or so we thought.

Apparently, JK Rowling has hoodwinked everyone because this wizarding world featured mostly in her books is not in Great Britain at all. It's in Japan. Yes, in JAPAN!!

Learning about this, fellow Harry Potter fans, Krishna and I flew all the way from Tokyo to Osaka after we've had our fill of sakura to check the wizarding world out for ourselves. We quickly found ourselves in wintry Hogsmeade and we bought ourselves some butterbeer to warm us up. That was quite remarkable because there were a lot of Muggles with us... and we were able to find some butterbeer in no time!

Winter means short days. In our case, it meant that we needed to reach Hogwarts as soon as we could. It would be too creepy to sit in carriages pulled by thestrals. And it would be quite difficult to cross the Black Lake by rowboat because we haven't seen one yet. So, we walked... I guess only the witches and the wizards were entitled to go to the castle by vehicle. Mere Muggles had to trudge through Hogsmeade over the bridge and then through the gate into Hogwarts.

A few hours (yes, hours) of waiting and then we were finally indoors... we first entered Hogwarts' greenhouses. It was warm enough for me to forget that it was wintry outside. I wonder if First Years ever had to wait that long before the Sorting began...

In the Castle itself, we were welcomed by the stern-looking Sorting Hat. I never heard what it said but I suppose it must be its own song.

And then we were led through halls filled with pictures whose occupants moved... some even traveled from one frame to another!

Our first glimpse of Harry, Ron, and Hermione was at the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. They popped out of nowhere because they were wearing Harry's Invisibility Cloak. We then found ourselves going into the Room of Requirement and taking a ride right smack into an ongoing Quidditch match!

After returning to and exiting the Room of Requirement, Krishna and I went on a second walking tour of the castle to see details that we didn't notice on our first walkthrough. But Hogsmeade's attractions awaited and we had to leave the school behind.

The sun has set when we left for Hogsmeade. The village looked prettier in the dark because of all the warm lights! We couldn't stay there, however. And so with a last glance at the wizarding world, we returned to Muggle-land.

By the way, we were at Universal Studios Japan the whole time.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Hanami: Flower viewing

What's the big deal with flowers blossoming from trees? I always see those in the Philippines. Yes, the caballero's bright orange and yellow flowers are pretty, the kalachuchi is perennially blooming, and there are a lot of flowers wherever I go in Laguna. I surely have taken these flowers for granted until I arrived in Japan...

You see, I arrived as winter closed and as spring began. The skies were eternally gloomy and the weather was biting cold. It wasn't like the sunny winter I had in South Korea at all! The sad atmosphere made me realise that seeing a flower bloom in such conditions is really a happy occasion. No wonder people really take time to eat under the trees, dining under the full glory of cherry and peach blossoms. Ueno Park (Central Tokyo) was jam-packed with people partying under the pink blooms!

Honestly, the nighttime view of Japan's gardens during sakura (cherry blossom) season doesn't give the flowers' beauty justice. I was blown away when I visited Koga Park (in the Ibaraki Prefecture) because the peach (or plum?) were already in full pink bloom!

Photographers were all busy at work, taking photos of the blooms. At this point, I was already missing my DSLR because I only brought my trusty Sony Action Camera and my iPhone with me... Remembering that my bags were risking being overweight as they were, I was happy that I didn't have a DSLR. Otherwise, I would've been lugging about half of the allowable weight for hand-carried bags only because of the DSLR.

And then there's the cherry blossom corridor en route to a temple in the Tochigi Prefecture. Imagine biking through flower-filled trees. It must be beautiful! Fortunately, I didn't need to imagine... I was watching a biker go through the flower corridor.

This trip to Japan has given me a renewed appreciation for all things flowers hanging in trees. I ought to stop and look at the caballeros next time they bloom outside my window back in the Philippines.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

happy birthday, Lola Bats!!

Lola Bats (that's how we, her grandkids call her but her real name is Juana or Juanita... I forget), my paternal (and lone surviving) grandmother, turns 100 on April 13th. Naturally, relatives flew in from different parts of the world to celebrate this milestone with her. But since the 13th is a weekday this year, we opted to throw Lola her birthday bash on April 9th, a Saturday. The party was so much fun. Imagine fitting more than eighty relatives and friends in Lola's house. It was a riot! I am very happy that Lola was strong enough to enjoy her party because other centenarians could barely stand up on their own... but Lola looks younger than her age. She just has a deaf ear and a blind eye, an enlarged heart and high blood pressure, and diabetes... otherwise, she's as healthy as a horse. I personally cannot believe that she's 100 years old. 

Anyway, since I've got an action camera with a monopod attached to it, I took some video shots from the party and the after party (aka opening of the gifts). If you can't find me, it's because I was behind the camera.

So, dear family and friends, without further ado, a rough edit of Lola's bday bash:

Thank you, family and friends, for making this event a memorable one for Lola. Thank you for the gifts that you have given her. Thank you for the quality time. 

Daddy couldn't have said it better: Let us now look forward to 101! Yes, Lola, we're aiming for one more year with you. And at the rate you're going, you just might still be with us in the next decade!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

ordering food, carinderia style in Japan

Krishna and I embarked on a Japanese hanami adventure during this year's sakura season. And we hit a few hilarious road blocks. Here's one of them...


One the morning in Osaka, Krishna and I opted to eat at Matsuya Shinsaibashi, a gyudon restaurant near the famous shopping mall. We didn't know then that the staff only communicated in Japanese... but we were kind of expecting this. What surprised us was the way we had to order food. 

As you enter the restaurant, it is similar to a carinderia with people eating there facing the small kitchen. But unlike the Filipino concept, we couldn't point to the food to order it. We had to go to this touch screen computer, choose what we wanted to eat (by pressing the buttons), and then pay either with cash or with the Suica card. The papers coming out of the machine were then given to the chef so that he could start cooking our meals. It was a fresh concept for me because it was quite efficient albeit cold. I prefer restaurants where I actually talk with the attendants to find out what the restaurant has to offer. Anyway, the food came out a few minutes later, in what looked like a bento box. 

I don't exactly know what I got. All I know is that there's pork there, cut into extremely thin strips and then put on rice; there's vegetables and soup, and a raw egg. Goodness, my brain started firing off alarm bells for Salmonella! And if it couldn't get any weirder, I found out that my meal included a traditional Japanese health food: nattō. It turned out to be fermented soybeans. I didn't know that it's supposed to be mixed with the rice and the viand and the egg... what did I know?! I ate the stuff on its own... and I couldn't think how to describe it in a diplomatic fashion. I mean, it has a very pungent aroma and a bitter taste! And then there's the web; the more the webby material was "fixed", the more tangled it became. I'm sure it's good when eaten the intended way. But since I didn't know what the intended way was, I just ate it on its own. 

Well, thanks to Matsuya, I got a taste of what traditional Japanese food (which I haven't tried in the Philippines) is like. Next time I'm in Japan, I will have to try the sushi. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Les Misérables (the live version)

"Watch 'em run amuck, catch them as they fall, never know your luck when there's a free-for-all..." (Madame and Monsieur Thernardier)

Finally, I had the opportunity to watch, live and in theatre, one of the musicals that added brilliance to Lea Salonga's already bright international star. Nelzo has seen Les Misérables in London; when the Australian production landed in the Philippines, Rizza, Man, Annette, and I grabbed the first chance our schedules aligned to watch Les Misérables at The Theatre in Solaire Resort and Casino. We were able to get tickets for the gala show on a weekday... and just our luck, Rachelle Ann Go, the Filipina actress who played Fantine in the 30th anniversary London staging of the musicale, was Fantine in the Manila show! We were so excited!!

As our fellow audiences were filing into the theatre, we learned quite rapidly that watching the live version means dealing with lots of distractions... also known as celebrities watching the show being seated in the same section as us. Annette mastered this skill: she never saw the celebrities as they passed her! We had to nudge her so she'd know!

The houselights dimmed; the stage lights lit up and we saw Jean Valjean as one of the prisoners rowing the boat while supervised by Javert. And the rest, as they say, is (Les Misérables) history...

Go did a superb job as Fantine although it really was difficult to stop comparing her to Anne Hathaway and to Lea Salonga. For some reason, I found her scene of a dying Fantine to be quite weak; if I were to speculate, maybe this is because she was singing in bed and I could barely see her from where I was sitting. And her voice wasn't as powerful compared to Salonga if she were performing Fantine. Hathaway's Fantine had the camera at her face almost the whole time so there was nothing else to see but her surrounded by white bedsheets in the hospital. Rizza's explanation was that Go was sick for a few days. 

The rest of the cast were superb. My favourite characters were the Thénardiers, because with the exception of Éponine, they somehow provided comic relief. I thought it curious, however, that the other characters would be inspired to continue and to justify their rebellion against France based on the death of the Thénardier boy, Gavroche. Éponine's death was just as tragic but Gavroche's death signaled the death of innocence and of youth (even though he wasn't really innocent, was he? He's a street urchin! He's supposed to be street smart!) I found it strange that their parents were not seen grieving their deaths; well, that's the Mr and the Mrs Thénardier for us.

A scene we found funny: Éponine brought Marius to the gate of Valjean's house because he wanted to see Cosette. They sang near the gate but where there was open space between them and Cosette's balcony. When Marius wanted to see her, he walked around to the gate and climbed over it; he could have easily just walked over through the space! Haha! Yeah, but that's theatre for us.

Anyway, the musical ended strong. I thought that it was a good play to see at this time of the year, barely a month before the national elections. I'm already looking forward to the next play my barkada will watch.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Finding Hachikō

Hachikō is world-renowned for his loyalty to his master, who died while at work. Many years ago, I learned about this special dog and became intrigued by Akitas... to the extent of considering getting one. I also learned back then that Hachikō has his own monument in Japan and that he was there when it was mounted at the Shibuya Station. While in Tokyo, therefore, I wanted to see this very famous statue of the extremely loyal dog.

When I got to Shibuya Station via train before the rush-hour commuters arrived, I was surprised that one of the station's exits was named after him: Hachikō-gushi. Hachikō truly was (still is) a celebrity for the Japanese. However, I was in a big hurry so I wasn't able to stop and take a photo with this famous dog. Instead, I thought that it would be best if I came back in the afternoon and enter the Shibuya Station via the same exit so I can pass by the statue.

Hachikō found a feline friend.

It turned out to be a bad idea and a missed opportunity. Hours later, at around 4pm, I was back at Shibuya Station but it was packed. PACKED!! The statue was already surrounded by people who wanted to have pictures with Hachikō. I suppose that many of them, like me, are tourists who want to experience the craziness of the Shibuya scramble crossing.

The tourists who were having a photo with the infamous dog's statue.

There was someone who found the best spot of all: the cat. It ended up right by Hachikō's legs, safe from being stepped on by humans.

Honestly, I had a very difficult time imagining how this Akita Inu could wait for its master at a train station as it looks now... because these days, the Shibuya crossing is CHAOTIC. But I stumbled upon a photo of Hachikō at the Shibuya Station from the Professor's time. Back then, Hachikō had not received the celebrity status; maybe because his master was still alive then or his story wasn't famous yet. He was still able to relax just outside the turnstiles while people came in and out of the station.

It was good fun to see the statue of this famous dog. It was nice to meet you, finally, Hachikō!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

deciphering Tokyo's railway system

Krishna and I embarked on a Japanese hanami adventure during this year's sakura season. And we hit a few hilarious road blocks. Here's one of them...


On the first night we arrived in Tokyo, we dropped our bags at our hotel in Kisarazu and then went to the train station to catch a two-hour train ride to Shinjuku. We thought that it would be a good idea to see where we were supposed to meet the tour group for the next day's tour. 

At the airport, there were many people who could tell us the direction to the trains (because it was crowded) but in Kisarazu, we didn't find anyone; we were pretty much on our own. And so when we needed to know what trains to take, we had to rely on Google Maps (thank you, Google Maps!!) and on the timetable posted at the station. It looked something like this (although I took the photo at the Mitsukoshimae station, a stop along the Ginza line).

With time pressure on us, it was difficult... this must be what it feels like to be in the Amazing Race in a country where you don't speak the language, but without the race pressure, of course. Anyway, as we were looking at the timetable, deciphering which platform to take and such, trains continued to pass by. Because I tend to wing it when things become challenging and I like to solve puzzles, I approached deciphering this language puzzle as an exercise for my brain... with a time limit. At some point, I blurted: 

Kaya natin yan. May MS ka, may PhD ako. 

At least I didn't have to mime my way to communicate with others; I did that in Hong Kong and my cousins still laugh about that. Language barriers and being new in a city is not an excuse not to explore it on the first night in it. Thank you, Sherry Lou, for teaching me that very valuable lesson 10 years ago in Sydney!

Anyway, at first, we were quite limited to the recommended itineraries generated by Google Maps. A few rides later, I thought we had the hang of the Tokyo train system that it was quite easy to take alternative train routes if we didn't catch the train we intended to take. After all, there would be a next train all the time (within Tokyo itself). The suburbs were a different story though, so we really had to stick with the timetable's schedule.

I think that if I were living there, I'd eventually learn the route enough. Even if I can't read Japanese.

PS: There still are people who push people into the trains to make sure everyone's aboard. I felt two palms at my back actually pushing me into the train! Haha!