Interview with Ms Kato

The day before we sat down for an interview with Kato-sensei, we had a stroll in the vicinity of the school. Chancing upon an information board at the edge of a butterfly trail, there was a twinkle in Kato-sensei’s eyes as she asked, “where are the butterflies?” We both looked up and saw one with bright yellow wings fluttering by. “Quick! Take a picture!”

At the sound of her voice, we immediately chased after the butterfly with our camera lens. After we took a satisfactory shot, our heads tilted to the side in amused bewilderment. Weren’t we supposed to take photos of Kato-sensei instead? We turned, and there she was, patiently waiting with a beaming smile.

Why did you choose to work at Bunka?

KA: It’s not that I chose Bunka or Singapore. I was applying for a job abroad and Singapore was the first to reply. (laughs)

 

What do you do on your day off?

KA: I study at home and prepare for my lessons.

 

What do you miss about Japan?

KA: I’m currently doing my best to adapt to the working life here so I do not miss Japan. Adjusting adjusting…

 

Where is your current favourite hangout?

KA: I don’t have a favourite hangout but my favourite place is here at Bunka.

 

What about a cafe or the movies? A place to relax?

KA: I wanted to go to the movies but I have never gone there. But there is a place I want to go to relax: onsen! There’s one in Singapore, do you know where?

 

Could it be the one at Stadium?

KA: Sou sou sou sou! I saw it in a guidebook.

 

It’s expensive, though. (laughs)

KA: It’s probably $30 dollars? But I’d go there to relax. (laughs) It would be a problem if I went there every day. It’s okay if it’s just once.

 

We should think it’s alright to go once every month.

KA: Yes, on pay day!

 

What are “Singlish” words you have learnt so far?

KA: I don’t know any! Singlish? I don’t know Singlish. I only know Japanese.

 

What are your favourite and least favourite local foods?

KA: I am currently finding them. I try everything.

What is your hobby?

KA: I used to cook a lot in Japan but after coming to Singapore, I stopped doing that. A new hobby…

 

What about singing?

KA: Ah! We sang “Doraemon no Uta” in class today! It was a karaoke session. (softly exclaiming) takekoputaa! (laughs)

 

If I remember correctly, the lyrics goes like…

KA: (singing) Konna koto ii na… dekitara ii na… hai! Takekoputaa!

 

Of all the countries you have visited, which is your favourite?

KA: My favourite country? (points her index finger downwards)

 

Here?

KA: Yes.

 

Why is that so?

KA: Although difficult matters might arise at times, the people here are nice. And there’s no winter!

 

Ehhh! Wouldn’t it be nice to have winter in Singapore?

KA: You have to wear a lot of clothes during winter. You’d get tired because it’s heavy.

 

But winter fashion is pretty.

KA: It’s cute, isn’t it? Wearing a cap, a coat and a pair of mufflers. It’s cute, oh, I like boots! Boots are really cute.

 

She pushes her chair back and sticks her leg out to show an imaginary boot. We nod in agreement, feeling a little downcast because wearing boots in this tropical country would mean walking into hellfire. She settles back in her chair, her eyes glowing brightly. We cast away all thoughts of sadness.

Kato-sensei was born in Gifu Prefecture but she spent most of her time in Nagoya. Upon seeing our perturbed faces at the mention of “Gifu”, she explained that it shares borders with seven other prefectures such as Aichi.

 

What will you recommend to people who are planning a visit to Nagoya.

KA: Sightseeing? There’s nothing to see. Industrial. Nagoya is known for cars, so there’s nothing but cars there.

 

You must have experienced some culture shock when you first came to Singapore. Tell us about them!

KA: What is it? People giving up their seats to the elderly in the train. They don’t hesitate. They don’t go, “dōshiyo kana – what should I do?”. “Ojīsan and obāsan have come! Hai!” (stands up). It’s really fast.

 

Is it not like that in Japan?

KA: We would think first. It would take some time before we decide to offer up our seats. But Singaporeans are swift. The moment ojīsan and obāsan come in, (stands up) “hai dōzo!”

What message would you like to leave to students who are currently learning the Japanese language?

KA: (shows a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson from her phone) “That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the task itself has become easier, but that ability to perform it has improved.” Never give up! Ganbatte kudasai! I’m here to help!

 

We wind up the interview and exchanged bows. “It was fun,” she chuckled as we rose from our seats. Yes, indeed.

Green Tea

のどがかわいたので、じどうはんばいきで りょくちゃをかいました。 
りょくちゃが あまくて とてもびっくりしました。 
にほんのりょくちゃは あまくありません。 
びっくりしましたが、ぜんぶのみました。 
おいしかったのでまた のみたいとおもいます。 
 
ほかにもいろいろなのみものをのんでみたいです。 
 
なかむら

Interview with Ms Nakamura

Today, we bring you an interview with Ms Nakamura (NM), one of the newer additions to the Bunka family.  She is sweet and kind, and we hope you like her as much as we do. If you want to know more about her, do check out this interview!

Q: Why did you choose to work at Bunka?

NM: (laughs) Why? I wanted a job in Singapore, so I chose Bunka.

 

Q: What do you do on your day off?

NM: Day off? Oh, I do cooking, and I watch movies. I like Harry Potter, fantasy.

 

Q: What do you miss about Japan?

NM: I miss the food. (laughs) Japanese food here is very expensive. Hmm… I don’t like that it is hot here. Now, in Japan, it is winter. Very cold.

 

Q: What are your favourite places in Singapore?

NM: Hmm… sou desu ne… Jurong East? I like to go shopping.

 

Q: Have you learned any Singlish words?

NM: Singlish? No. I am learning British English. When I finish, next, I will learn Singlish. It is very difficult. “Huh? Sorry, sorry.”

Q: What’s your favourite local food?

NM: I like kueh teow, and chicken rice.

 

Q: How about your least favourite?

NM: Least favourite? Hmm… durian. I don’t like durian.

 

Q: Have you tried it?

NM: Mm, yes. And the smell… (makes a face) Singapore food, I like everything. Only not durian.

 

Q: What are your hobbies?

NM: Hobby? (laughs) Hobby… I read manga, Naruto? I like Naruto. I am watching Rurouni Kenshin now.

 

Q: Where is your hometown?

NM: Yokohama.

 

Q: If anyone were to visit Yokohama, what would you recommend to them?

NM: Hmm… Yokohama, ne… Ah, we have Chinatown in Yokohama. And it is near the sea. Yes, the sea.

 

Q: Do you have any interesting incidents during your stay in Singapore?

NM: I only came to Singapore this month (January), so… nothing.

 

Q: What is different between Singapore and Japan?

NM: Ah, the Japanese shop’s staff are very… kind. Kind… (pauses) shinsetsu? But Singaporean staff, just (makes nodding motion) “Ah, ah, ah.” Ato ha… in Hawker centers, when you finish your food, sono mama… You… leave it there? But in Japan, you have to return it.

 

Q: What message do you have for students learning Japanese?

NM: Hmm… Japanese is difficult, but it is very interesting. If you learn Japanese, you can read manga and watch anime. Ganbatte kudasai.


Ms Nakamura is new to Singapore, so if you have any recommendations for her, please do leave a comment! Also, to all her students, please be kind to her!

Valentine’s Day

The time of chocolates, tacky heart-shaped decorations and countless, cute couple Instagram photos with romantic captions is almost upon us! That’s right, it’s nearly February 14th, Valentine’s Day!

Source: cdn.pcwallart.com

How do you plan to celebrate this Valentine’s Day? Will you be cuddled up with your significant other, giving each other extravagant gifts? Or will you be moping about alone, waiting for the 15th of February so that you can fill your loneliness with cheap, discounted chocolate? Or will you be celebrating the freedom of being single and spending all your money on Valentine’s Heartseeker skins in League of Legends- oh wait, that’s probably just me.

Anyway, the subject of today’s post, if that was not obvious enough, is how the Japanese celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Unlike most other countries, on the Japanese Valentine’s Day, it is the women, not the men, who give the presents. As Japanese women are often too shy, it is seen as a good opportunity for them to confess their feelings, and many girls take this very seriously – so much that there are three kinds of Valentine’s Day chocolates.

Depending on who they are giving chocolates to, they can be classified into one of these three categories:

1. Tomo-choco (友チョコ)

 

Source: objekwisata.com

Tomo-choco, or friend chocolate, refers to the sweets that girls give to their female friends. They are usually store-bought and carry zero implications of romantic affection. Of all the chocolate types, this is the simplest and the most straightforward.

Some girls, usually those in junior high or high school, make their tomo-choco as well, and exchange them with each other. It helps improve their cooking skills!

2. Giri-choco (義理チョコ)

Source: Sablon chocolate lounge

Giri-choco, which means obligation chocolate, are the sweets that women give out to male friends, coworkers and even bosses. As it is not very nice to leave people out (imagine how sad it would be to be that single guy in the office to get nothing at all), women will give these chocolates to all the men in their workplace. Hence, they have no romantic implications whatsoever, instead symbolizing friendship or gratitude. There is another level of them – cho giri-choco, or super obligation chocolate. Those are for the really unpleasant men that women really do not want to give chocolates to, but have no choice but to.

Giri-choco are usually simple, store-bought chocolate, though they can be more expensive when given to superiors.

3. Honmei-choco (本命チョコ)

Source: Pinterest

Honmei-choco is the most serious and extravagant of them all. Meaning favorite chocolate, honmei-choco is given out to the object of the woman’s romantic affections, be it a crush, lover or a partner. Hence, they are on a whole new level – some girls even believe that store-bought chocolate is not sincere enough, and prepare their honmei-choco gifts by hand.

Source: 2.bp.blogspot.com

 

As there needs to be a clear distinction between honmei and giri-choco, the store-bought versions tend to be extremely extravagant and expensive, which is great for the chocolate companies, but hard on the girls’ wallets.

Source: yunomi.us

Of course, the men will eventually have their turn. Exactly one month later, on the 14th of March, Japan celebrates White Day, men return the favor by getting gifts for the women who had given them presents. Returning giri-choco is easy, just buy a simple box of chocolates that are hopefully worth around the same amount of money.

However, returning honmei-choco is difficult, depending on how their relationship has changed in the month since the girl’s confession. If the two are dating, it is simple enough – take the girl out to dinner, buy her a teddy bear, the cheesy stuff. But if the girl was rejected, it would be awkward to give her something, yet rude not to. In that situation, well… good luck.

So, what do you guys think? Do you prefer the Singaporean way of celebrating Valentine’s Day, or the Japanese one?

Source: bed-mild.com

 

Glenis

Why People Throw Beans On Setsubun

Good afternoon, everyone! Just yesterday, it was Setsubun no Hi (節分の日), the traditional last day of winter in Japan!

Source: Wikipedia

So, what is Setsubun no Hi? Simply put, it is much like the Chinese Lunar New Year – it is a day where one cleanses away all the evil of the previous year and drives away bad luck for the year to come. Traditionally, this is done through a special ritual called mamemaki.

The practice of mamemaki, which literally means “bean scattering”, dates back to the early 14th century. Traditionally performed by the male head of the household, roasted soybeans are thrown either out the door or at a member of the family wearing an Oni (demon or ogre) mask. This is sometimes accompanied by the shouting of a special line to cast out the evil spirits and devils, though the words vary in different prefectures.

Children, obviously, enjoy the ritual immensely – and who wouldn’t? If Mom or Dad is dressing up as Oni, it is a free pass to chase them around, screaming and throwing beans at them. In some schools, teachers might play the part of the Oni, and which child would not enjoy pelting a figure of authority with food?

Source: Quirky Japan Blog

The beans are thought to purify the home by driving away the demons and spirits that carry bad luck and misfortune. It is also considered good luck to eat beans on this day, and people usually eat the same number of beans as their age. In some areas, they eat one more, in order to bring good luck and health for the year ahead.

Source: Japan Times
Source: Japan Times

Shrines and temples often throw large Spring festivals, where dozens of people gather for the mamemaki, sometimes jostling to catch the “lucky” beans thrown by priests, dignitaries or celebrities. The festivities in the shrines are much more elaborate, where they bring in famous celebrities and feature people in elaborate Oni costumes.

Additionally, some people eat ehomaki, literally “favorable direction roll”, a special sushi roll, while facing a certain auspicious direction that changes every year. In some areas, it is also traditional to make a wish while eating, and you are supposed to eat it without stopping or speaking. It may seem like an easy task, but the ehomaki is not as small as your usual, local sushi roll!

Source: Hotel Ryumeikan

The whole allure of Setsubun no Hi, however, is the fact that it is socially acceptable – encouraged, even, to pelt people with beans. Can you imagine how much more fun Lunar New Year would be if we were throwing oranges instead of politely handing them over?

Okay, actually, that may not be a very good idea…

Anyway, here are some adorable, creative pictures from Japanese Twitter in celebration of Setsubun no Hi! I hope that everyone will have a great, lucky year ahead!

Even if you throw beans, the Force will protect me…

 

This is an Oni that will always be welcome in my house!

 

Cats can never resist fast-moving objects!

 

Glenis

5 Must-Have Items When Travelling In Japan

Japan. Cloud-brushing mountains. A never-ending swarm of salarymen. Brightly-lit streets. Quiet neighbourhoods. What makes a perfect holiday in the land of the Sun? Even with the ultimate itinerary, things may go downhill if you are not properly equipped.

We came up with a collection of items that you should never go without in Japan. How many of these do you have?

1. Portable Wi-Fi device

Source: Global Advanced Communications
Source: Global Advanced Communications

Believe us, having Internet access is a blessing. If something from one of the flickering billboards caught your attention and you could make no sense of it, the Internet is your best friend. If you are stumped about what to eat for dinner, Tabelog is your friend but you need the Internet in order to use the website.

Because you can't resist cakes
Because you can’t resist cakes

We once tried a service that taps into various Wi-Fi hot spots and ended up having little or no wireless connection at all. This led us to our trusted travel partner: the portable Wi-Fi device, also known as Pocket Wi-Fi. You can book a Pocket Wi-Fi prior to your trip and collect it at a location most convenient for you. In our case, we chose to collect it at the airport since it was on the way. At the end of our trip, we could easily pack the device into an envelope that was provided and drop it into the post box. Smooth and hassle-free.

Which brings us to the next point: what if the device runs out of battery? We would suggest that you use a power bank. Alternatively, there is a number of locations providing free Wi-Fi such as Family Mart, Lawson, McDonald’s and the like. Some train stations do offer free Wi-Fi service so fret not.

There are many other providers but you can consider Pupuru or eConnect Japan for Pocket Wi-Fi rental services.

2. Yahoo Navigation app

Source: Yahoo
Source: Yahoo

We were fans of NAVITIME. NAVITIME works like Google Maps; you can get directions and details of many places. NAVITIME also released an English application called “NAVITIME for Japan Travel” to help us lost tourists find our way back on track. However, the disadvantage of using this app is that the features are limited unless you purchase the Full-Featured Plan.

As quoted from Martin Luther King, Jr., “we must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” Forget about NAVITIME. We chanced upon another app named “Yahoo!乗換案内 無料の時刻表、運行情報、乗り換え検索*” (excuse us for the long name), which is a life saver.

This app makes navigating easier by displaying various routes you can take, along with icons stating which is the fastest, cheapest and easiest option.

Source: Yahoo
Source: Yahoo

It was this app that made us love Japan so much because of the accuracy (not just the app, the trains are always on the dot). The app would state the platform number (it’s very helpful because you only need to look for numbers instead of names) and the transport fee (which is also very helpful because you can purchase your ticket right away without having to find your station name on the exceedingly colourful and elaborate Japanese railway map to know how much you need to pay).

Source: Yahoo
Source: Yahoo

You can also keep track of your current location because it shows you where you are based on GPS (see the orange arrow?). Just note that using this app may require you to have prior knowledge of the Japanese language because you need to be able to recognise Japanese characters. Looks like it’s time to study hard!

We do not recommend using Google Maps to navigate around Japan. We once went off course despite following directions from it. In desperation, we sought help from a kind elderly man who reprimanded us gently, saying, “don’t trust these things so easily! We Japanese don’t even use that.” He then showed us the route to take on his paper map and eventually brought us to our destination. We regretted not asking for his name or a house address to which we can send a thank you card. Thank you, wherever you are!

You can download the Yahoo navigation app via Google Play Store or App Store.

3. Accommodations via Airbnb

Why not go for a more genuine experience with locals by staying at their house for the night? It was quite an eye opener for us since it was our first time being in a local residence. We rather like the modest details of the house, from the narrow staircase to thin walls and a water heater.

It heats water.
It heats water.

We also got invited to the dinner table for a chit-chat and learnt more about our hosts. They then suggested that we tried different types of ramen at a ramen street in Kyoto that goes by the name “Ichijō-ji” (一乗寺). We were raring to go there the next day but time was not on our side.

However, not all experiences with Airbnb will be perfectly pleasant. We had a fair share of dissatisfaction due to some miscommunication with other hosts but it worked out in the end.

The Airbnb website can be found here.

4. Lockers

This is not something you can own personally, but its very existence can come in handy when you have nowhere to put your things. As it was a laborious task to drag our obese luggage around, we parked it in one of the many coin lockers at a train station. These lockers come in various sizes – according to some, the large locker can fit a golf club bag. We were also very impressed that our luggage could actually fit in. You can refer below for more details:

Source: Japan Rail
Source: Japan Rail

If you do not have the right amount of money, you can convert your notes to coins using a nearby change machine. If you dislike lockers (though you shouldn’t), try the luggage storage counters that can be found at airports or the bigger train stations.

5. Nihongo with Bunka Textbook

Nihongo with Bunka
Nihongo with Bunka

We do not mean this in the literal sense. You can work hard to commit the textbook to memory and watch your efforts pay off during the trip. It is always an advantage to be able to speak and understand the native language there. Furthermore, the textbook teaches you how to buy things in Japan and ask for directions. Don’t remember how? Just refer to your textbook!

Night in Osaka
Night in Osaka

There are many more items that didn’t make it to this list, such as JR passes or an extra suitcase for you to pack a bountiful supply of cup noodles. What will you not go without on a trip to Japan? Let us know!

Billie


Learn new Japanese words:

乗換 (のりかえ   norikae) – transfer (trains, buses, etc) / crossing over
案内 (あんない   an’nai) – guide
無料 (むりょう   muryoo) – free of charge
時刻表 (じこくひょう   jikokuhyoo) – timetable / schedule
運行 (うんこう   unkoo) – operation / service (trains, buses, etc)
情報 (じょうほう   joohoo) – information
検索 (けんさく   kensaku) – search / reference

Enter The World Of “Your Name”

Ask any Japanese and they would tell you that the movie, 君の名は。(Your name) was the biggest hit in the theatres all summer. Contrary to what most would expect, there is actually a rather limited audience who would watch an anime film in Japan. Most people who would watch an anime film are long-time fans of anime. The producers of 君の名は。accomplished the feat of convincing people of all ages and backgrounds to check out the film, regardless of whether or not they liked anime. If you have yet to check out the film, Golden Village cinema in Singapore is still screening the film so you could head down to watch it!

君の名は。is known for its realistic animation and portrayal of real-life spots in Tokyo and other various parts in Japan. There has actually been a phenomenon where there has been a rise in tourism to parts of rural Japan that were featured in the movie, such as the mountains in the Gifu prefecture. Spots that can be easily accessed in Tokyo have also been swarming with fans of the movie!

Thus, as I had several days to explore the central parts of Tokyo, I decided to take a look at the spots that were relatively convenient and accessible. Amongst all of them, two spots were relatively close to each other.They were located at Shinanomachi Station and I decided to head there.

1. Shinanomachi Bridge

Google Images

In one of the scenes where Taki (the male lead) was calling Mitsuha (the female lead), he was leaning against a bridge. Fans discovered that this bridge bore a heavy resemblance to the bridge located near Shinanomachi Station. Once you’re at Shinanomachi Station, turn left and you should see the bridge within several steps.

Of course, the real thing would have several differences from that which appeared in the movie scene. However, it was definitely intriguing to check out the bridge and take several photos.

2. Staircase along Suga Shrine

Google Images

A staircase was featured in one of the key images used to promote the movie. It was also featured in the very last scene where Taki and Mitsuha passed by each other. This staircase can actually be found next to Suga Shrine, located in between Yotsuya and Shinanomachi Stations. You can take a slow walk from Shinanomachi Station (it’s about 10-20 minutes, depending on your walking speed) while relishing in the more relaxed vibe that the district holds, in comparison to the busy streets of Shinjuku and Shibuya.

 

When I was there, there was a group of Chinese cameramen and a reporter who was interviewing fans of 君の名は。It truly was a testament to the popularity of 君の名は。which had managed to make its mark even in China, where there would be media outlets which want to report about the spot.

Also, while you’re there, why not have a sip of the mineral water that was being promoted concurrently with the movie? (Watch the commercial here!) The mineral water advertised actually is yogurt-flavoured and you will be surprised by the taste of it! It’s mineral water, but it really does have a yoghurt drink taste to it!

For many, their impression of Tokyo is that it’s a city that is mainly about shopping, eating, visiting tourist sites (and spending money on souvenirs and entrance fees) but there are also things that can be done in Tokyo for free. Perhaps it’s the cool weather in winter, but you can definitely find things that can be interesting and uncommon to be done, at no additional cost!

If it weren’t for the movie, I’m sure that Shinanomachi Station is a station that no tourist would consider visiting. However, with 君の名は。, it has encouraged people to visit the station. Now, tourists don’t just spend their time at Asakusa, Tokyo Skytree, Shinjuku and Shibuya. Instead, they find themselves taking a slow walk around quaint and quiet places. The streets are quiet but peaceful and relaxing. Despite the silence, you feel comforted due to an atmosphere of safety. Taking slow walks around such quaint places can be fun and you will find places that are not commonly found in a typical itinerary that you plan for a trip to Tokyo.

Andrea

Vocaloid: Music of the Future

 

Happy early birthday to IA, who turns 5 years old on the 23rd!

 

Holographic idols that never age, whose singing voices are stored in computer programs all over the world, whose music will never die – does all that sound straight out of a science fiction novel to you?

Well, it’s not.

Meet the Vocaloids, short for vocal android, voice banks you can download into your computer. Currently, there are more than 30 of them, though only a handful of them are well-known, and they account for about 30% of all the videos uploaded to Japan’s video sharing website, niconico.

Vocaloids come in a wide range of colors and voices: from bright blue to silver-gray, from high-pitched male voices to low and raspy female ones, the possibilities are endless. The speed they can sing at, and the highest and lowest notes they can hit also vary, just like humans, so there is probably a Vocaloid out there for everyone.

They are also available in other languages – Mandarin Chinese, Korean, English and Spanish, to name a few. However, they tend to be less well-known than their Japanese counterparts.

The Crypton Vocaloids, Kaito, Meiko, Kagamine Rin, Hatsune Miku, Kagamine Len and Megurine Luka

Vocaloids also cover an extremely wide range of music genres, depending on whatever the producer they are handled by is interested in. Hence, Vocaloids probably hold the record for most amount of songs and genres sung by the same artist – peppy pop, angry rock, sweet love songs, sad breakup songs, horror songs… You name it, they probably have it.

Producers

So, who are these producers of Vocaloid music? Well, they are anyone with a computer and a semblance of musical ability, so if you think you fit the bill, you could try buying a Vocaloid voice bank. The more popular producers often go by stage names, like Wowaka, PowaPowa-P or Hachioji-P. The P stands for Producer, and they often have their own distinct tuning and pitching styles, as well as signature Vocaloids they enjoy using.

Today, I will introduce you to two producers, Neru (Oshiire-P), and Dixie Flatline, who are both known for rather different genres of music – Neru does more rock, while Dixie Flatline is known for pop and love songs.

Neru (Oshiire-P)

Neru’s producer name, Oshiire-P, translates to Closet Producer, because he started out making music in his closet. His most used Vocaloids are the Kagamine twins, Rin and Len, though he has used IA’s rock voice bank as well, and he tends to like to pitch them up, making them sound more inhuman.

He is famous for his series of loosely connected songs that the fans call Neruke, or Neru’s family. The songs take place in the same world, with the characters featured in them all being connected in one way or another, and his subject matter is nearly always a dark reflection of Japanese society.

The Lost One’s Weeping, for example, is about a schoolboy who throws away all his dreams to become a good student, going as far as to lose even himself and his entire personality. It is basically an angry rock song criticizing the Japanese school system, and it is one of the most popular Vocaloid songs, entering the Vocaloid Hall of Fame just days after its release.

Dixie Flatline

Dixie Flatline is known for his human-like tuning and his mastery over pitching, making Vocaloids sound incredibly human. He commonly uses Hatsune Miku and Megurine Luka, and sometimes uses the rare and difficult-to-use Mew.

His songs are usually love songs in some form or another, be they breakup songs or sweet, fluffy ones, and his lifelike tuning makes his music an easy start for people unused to Vocaloid, as the difference is less jarring.

One of his most famous songs is Just Be Friends, by Megurine Luka, a sad breakup song that sounds much too happy for its lyrics. He often writes about that wistful, not-exactly love you feel toward your ex-partners, that strange state where you don’t love them anymore but you still care about them. Uploaded in July, 2009, the song has more than 3 million Niconico views alone.

Another plus point about Vocaloid is that their music videos usually have the lyrics in them, which will help you a lot with recognizing hiragana, katakana and kanji. So, if you’re looking for some music to listen to, why not give the Vocaloids a go? You’re bound to find something that you will like.

Glenis

A Boyband Without Boys

I am positive that most people know at least one thing about Japan’s booming idol industry: it’s unique. From abnormally large groups to underage girls singing heavy metal, it seems like Japanese idols can literally do anything.

Today, I am going to introduce to you my favorite Japanese band, The Hoopers.

Members from left to right: Haruki, Sena, Makoto (leader), Mirai (vocal leader), Yuhi (sub-leader), Mizuki, Cecil and Tsubasa – fourth single, Jyounetsu ha Kareha no You Ni

 

The band’s concept is simple: イケメン女子 (ikemen joshi). Ikemen is a slang term for handsome or cool men, while joshi means girl. Basically, they are a boyband consisting entirely of girls that look and dress like beautiful boys, and to be entirely honest, they look better than most of the boys I know.

However, being handsome, crossdressing girls is not their only selling point. They are also acrobatic, with more than half of the members capable of doing cartwheels, and two of them – Makoto and Sena – capable of doing backflips.

Sena tries, and fails, to do an acrobatic kabedon

In case you aren’t sure what a kabedon is, here are multiple demonstrations from The Hoopers.

Originally, the band had seven members, but between their third and fourth singles, the sub-leader Yuhi fell sick and had to take a break to recover. The company brought in Cecil as her temporary stand-in, but when Yuhi recovered enough to return, they decided to keep Cecil and expand into the eight-girl group that The Hoopers are today.

Their third single, Go! Go! Dance ga Tomaranai, has serious Saturday Night Fever vibes

 

The Hoopers’ music is a little old school, strong and beat-heavy, and focuses on heartbreak and the pain of love. Despite that, their dances are energetic, exciting and acrobatic, with a focus on special, fluid formations using all members. In every single music video thus far, they have had at least one backflip, and in Itoshii Koishi Kimi Koishi, one part had them literally cartwheeling into position, because walking is too mainstream.

My favorite song of theirs is Ame wo Oikakete. You can check out the shortened version here:

Their tomboy, semi-punk style has won them the hearts of thousands of girls – their official Twitter has more than 14,000 followers, and more than 3,000 viewers showed up to a live broadcast of Sena and Yuhi trying out different brands of cup ramen. (I have no right to judge – I was one of them.)

So if you’re looking for some new music to listen to, or a new group to obsess over, why not give The Hoopers a shot? The lack of English translated content on them might motivate you to work harder at Japanese than before :3

 

– Glenis

What’s It Like at Tokyo Disney Resort

Standing in front of Cinderella’s Castle, the icon of Tokyo Disneyland

Standing in front of Cinderella’s Castle, the icon of Tokyo Disneyland

Today, we have arrived at the Disney theme park, which is also fondly known as The Land of the Dreams (夢の国)! In Japan, there are two theme parks that make up the Tokyo Disney Resort: Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disneysea. You can purchase either a one-day pass, two-day pass (for both Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disneysea), an after-6pm pass (whereby you can only enter the theme park after 3pm; but it’s cheaper than the regular pass!) or even an annual season pass.

Getting to Tokyo Disney Resort
The easiest method for any tourist to get to the Tokyo Disney Resort would be, of course, to book a room at the Disney Hotels that are located within the vicinity of the park. However, you’d have to take note of the prices of the hotels, which are relatively more expensive. Also, the hotels can be fully booked months in advance, so you’d have to book early if you want to stay at the Disney Hotels!

Otherwise, you may also consider booking a stay at the Tokyo Disney Resort Good Neighbour Hotels (you can find the list of hotels here), which was what I did. The prices are less expensive compared to the Disney Hotels and generally, these hotels are located more towards central Tokyo. Then what’s the difference between a Tokyo Disney Resort Good Neighbour Hotel and a regular hotel? At a Tokyo Disney Resort Good Neighbour Hotel, they provide shuttle bus services to and from the Tokyo Disney Resort at no additional cost! You will be able to choose the timings that you wish to board the bus at your own convenience and book a seat in advance. This is definitely a more convenient and slightly cheaper option than staying at a Disney Hotel.

On the other hand, with the rising popularity of Airbnb, some of you might not be staying in hotels but at places in central Tokyo. Then, the easiest way for you to get to the Tokyo Disney Resort will be via train. All the instructions on how to get there can easily be found on the Tokyo Disney Resort website! Otherwise, I recommend a website called Hyperdia which is a really good website that gives you the directions on how to get from one place to another in English.

Tokyo Disney Resort
If you worry about the exorbitant prices of food within the park itself, then I suggest that before you head to the park in the morning, you could perhaps get a bento set from a local convenience store. Not only are they tasty, but they are definitely cheaper than the meals that are sold within the park.

Additionally, located near the Tokyo Disney Resort is a shopping mall called Ikispiari. Ikispiari is a shopping mall that houses cheaper restaurant chains such as Saizeriya (It’s so much tastier in Japan than in Singapore!). There are also clothing shops such as Lowry’s Farm, Stussy and WEGO, and some of these shops may include tax-free shopping for tourists.

Depending on the season that you are headed to Tokyo Disney Resort, the crowd levels also differ. There are crowd calendars that can be found online which will help you come to a decision on which day you might want to check out the theme park. Of course, you will have to expect more people to be at the theme park during school holidays, public holidays and special days like Christmas. It is interesting to note that although Christmas is not a public holiday in Japan, it usually falls within the school holidays for students. Additionally, Christmas is known as a lover’s day in Japan and thus, the park will be filled with many lovey-dovey couples!

Tokyo Disneysea
On the first day, I headed to Tokyo Disneysea! Many of you should already know this, but Tokyo Disneysea is exclusive to Japan! There are also very cute Disney characters, Duffy and Shellie May, which are limited to Disneysea.

Compared to Tokyo Disneyland, the rides at Tokyo Disneysea are targeted at an older age group. This means that if you’re the type who prefer thrill rides, Tokyo Disneysea would definitely be more suitable for you.

Standing in front of Cinderella’s Castle, the icon of Tokyo Disneyland
Standing in front of Cinderella’s Castle, the icon of Tokyo Disneyland

Upon arrival at the park, you must definitely rush to your favourite ride in order to get a Fastpass. A Fastpass will enable you to board the ride without having to queue with the other regular riders, but there is a specific timing that you have to be at the ride by. Additionally, you are not allowed to take multiple Fastpass at a single time and you will have to wait until the stipulated timing that can be found towards the bottom of the first Fastpass.

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My favourite ride at Tokyo Disneysea would definitely be the Tower of Terror. The Tower of Terror is a drop ride that takes place in a fictional hotel, Hotel Hightower. I shall not give away too many spoilers about the ride or the story, but there was one very fun part of the ride – that was when the “windows” in front of the seats opened and riders were treated to a bird’s eye view of the park. Very thrilling.

One of the cutest popsicles to ever exist! Plus, it tastes real good too.
Many of such adorable goods can be found all over the Tokyo Disneyland/sea. Why not get one for yourself too?
Many of such adorable goods can be found all over the Tokyo Disneyland/sea. Why not get one for yourself too?

Of course, while you’re at Disneysea, don’t forget to buy several of these special Disney-limited goodies like a Minnie Mouse-shaped popsicle or a Winnie The Pooh balloon. I swear the popsicle tastes even better when it’s cold.

Tokyo Disneyland
On the second day, I headed to Tokyo Disneyland. When I went to Disneyland, it felt more crowded than Disneysea and there were many more tourists around. Here at Disneyland, you may also get the Fastpass so don’t forget to grab them as you walk around the park.

A young boy trying to high-five a Little Green Man!
A young boy trying to high-five a Little Green Man!

The rides at Disneyland are catered to a younger audience and thus, you will find that the rides are definitely less thrilling than the rides at Disneysea. Many of my friends who have been to Disneyland are fans of Pooh’s Hunny Hunt, which is limited to Tokyo Disneyland. This ride always has the longest waiting lines and its Fastpass is always sold out first.

The Easter Parade in Tokyo Disneyland that is held in the month of April
The Easter Parade in Tokyo Disneyland that is held in the month of April

When you’re at Disneyland, don’t forget to check out the parades that are held! Most of these parades are held based on the season or any special holidays that will be taking place during the season. For instance, when I was there, the parade that was held was based on Easter. This also meant that there were fun events that were held at Disneyland, such as hunting for Disney character-themed eggs and the sale of food and goodies that were Easter themed.

The parades are definitely a magical experience. The performers all have such bright expressions and they just make you feel so happy inside, as if you’ve gone back to being a child again. From the parade, I could understand why they also deem Disneyland as The Land of the Dreams (夢の国). It just feels like you’re in a dreamlike place where everything just feels innocent and filled with happiness.

Many also don’t know this but you can mail postcards and letters out from Disneyland/Disneysea. There are post offices located around the park and you can find out where they are here. When you post a postcard/letter out from Disneyland, there will be a Disney-limited stamp that is stamped on the postcard/letter itself. If you’re thinking of souvenirs that you would like to give to the people around you, I think that this is a great idea! Not only can you pen down a personal message that is filled with feelings, the postcard/letter will also contain a special Disney stamp!

The ship that welcomes Tokyo Disneysea’s 15th anniversary is the last highlight before you head back
The ship that welcomes Tokyo Disneysea’s 15th anniversary is the last highlight before you head back

If you have yet to visit the Tokyo Disney Resort, what are you waiting for? Although Disney may come across as childish, something that is associated with children, it’s definitely not the case in Japan. In the Tokyo Disney Resort, you will find people of all ages – from young children to teenagers to adults – decked in Disney gear (such as Minnie Mouse ears, Duffy tote bags, carrying plushies around)! You won’t have to worry about how old you are or anything like that. Just take the time to relax and relish in the innocent, dream-like charm that Disney has. It’s The Land of the Dreams (夢の国) after all!

Andrea