Aug 27, 2008

QBS life: Hakata Dontaku Parade

This is another annual event that I haven't failed to participate when I was in Fukuoka. Hakata Dontaku is a festival developed by merchant of Hakata from a traditional celebration of Hakata Matsubayashi. Today it is one of the largest festivals in Japan, mobilizing about 2 million visitors from all parts of the country,held in the long holidays period of "the golden week", particularly on 3~4th May.

One of the unique characteristics of this festival is that it also includes the participation of foreigners living in Fukuoka. So there I was, joining the parade under the proud Malaysia flag. Most foreigners participating in the parade are students of Kyushu University and Japanese volunteers of each country (ie Malaysia Shimin no Kai) so generally we know each other.

Before the parade starts, we gathered at the nearby foreign student hall. We were given a few things to wear like "happi"(err..what do you call it..outer clothes?) and decorations to bring during the parade. Everybody was in celebration mood, so it was fun.

During the 2006 dontaku, we met a high school student volunteer who had been to Malaysia for homestay. Shocked to learn that he is a fan of AF and Mawi! (He is the one in yellow "happi" in the 1st pic above). Although it only took us about 10 minutes to walk the parade, we do get excited especially when people waved at us and called out Malaysia...Malaysia!".

★Watch some of other Hakata Dontaku scenes here.

At the end of the route, there are stalls selling food and souvenirs. But the heat of excitement made us crave for water more...

Aug 26, 2008

QBS life : Coming of the Age Party

In Japan, one is considered adult when he/she reaches 20 years old. The coming of the age day (held second Monday of January) is a public holiday in Japan where major ceremonies are held here and there to celebrate "new" adults.

In Fukuoka, apart from welcome party, Malaysian also celebrate this coming of age day since the students will reach 20 in their first year in Japan. The organizer of this celebration is a local community of Uchihama, Fukuoka. Uchihama community has a close relationship with Malaysians ever since they were appointed as a homestay area for Malaysian athletes participating in Universiade Fukuoka 1995.

Since I was in Fukuoka from 1996-2000 and again from 2006-2008, I have attended the party 6 times without fail. Before the party starts, the newcomers will be dressed in kimonos, and these kimonos are really expensive. Not all Japanese can afford kimonos like we think, and for this special day many people rent kimonos instead of buying it. Another reason is that they also do not wear it as frequent as we Malaysians wear baju kurung. It is also not easy to wear, you might need at least one person to help you wear the multi-layer clothes and tighten the "obi" or belt. In the 2008 celebration, my mother and younger sister (mid and right) who were visiting me had the opportunity of wearing the kimonos. Oh yes, I did not wear it because I am not 20 (of course..I have worned it in 1996) and also I have to look after the children.

The party started with a speech from the head (ketua kampung) of Uchihama and then self-introduction by the students who wear the kimonos. Later we eat and mingle around, play bingo and eat some more..It is easier to mingle with the Uchihama people because they already understand our religion and culture. They also prepared a room specially for us to pray Zohor.

Oh yes, Uchihama residents also invite us to their school sports every autumn. Seronok dapat main lari dalam guni again! Some even take the hassle to attend Malaysian students wedding in Malaysia!

I really hope that the friendly relations, not only between Uchihama and Malaysia but Fukuoka-Malaysia and much more Japan-Malaysia is further fostered in years to come. Special thanks to my close friend, Kaneko-san who is really pushing very hard despite his busy job to make it happen in Fukuoka.

Aug 25, 2008

My student life at QBS

After graduating from Kyushu University, Japan in 2000, I have always had this dream of pursuing my studies to greater heights. But all along the way, it was I who gave too many excuses to myself. Only 6 years later, I finally succeeded on getting myself out of the comfort zone.

So April 2006, marked a new start for me as an MBA(Business & Technology Management) student of Kyushu University Business School. I pledged to myself that I will not waste the precious 2 years although had to juggle my time being a "single mom" and a student. And the hardest thing was being away from the second child (only 5 months at that time). I did everything to ensure myself stayed focused and my spirits on.

I was assigned under Prof. Noriyuki Shutto, who is at the same time an executive advisor of Japanese advertising giant, Dentsu Inc. Prof. Shutto had lived in Indonesia and Malaysia so he can speak Indonesian. Every time I arrived to the his marketing class he would greet me,"Hi Shaz, apa khabar?". At times we shared some secret stories in front of other Japanese. He is very friendly and understanding. Once I could not find a babysitter for my daughter for my Saturday class and had to bring her along. He did not mind at all and later in the final sem, he let her play in his office while we had discussion on my thesis. He also introduced me to a consultancy company,Deloitte-Touche Tohmatsu where I did my internship in summer. I really owed him a lot.
The following diary will be about my activities in QBS and Fukuoka. Till then, I will have to stick to my housechores routine.

Aug 23, 2008

Dealing time with the Japanese

My next plan to write on this blog is about my experiences living in Fukuoka, Kyushu which ended last March. That may take some time.

Today, let's talk about managing time with the Japanese. I am talking from my experience so if you think its incorrect or inaccurate, do let me know.

We all know Japanese really, really puts priority on time. A train may come at , like 12:07 or 15:13, and it is punctual. What amazed me was that buses were also punctual in Japan, at least where I lived, in Fukuoka. The bus is equipped with a GPS system which is linked to the communication network, so you can check on your handphone the location of bus you are waiting for real-time. Maybe it has arrived at 2 earlier bus stops or will take another 4 minutes to arrive. I was a "single mom" when I did my MBA, so this information is extremely valuable. Usually I go out 3 mins before the bus arrive to the nearby bus stop. If there was an accident or traffic jam, the system will tell you the delayed arrival time.

Enough of that. Now, all of us know punctuality is important. So what happened if you missed the bus or woke up late?

With a Japanese, you MUST tell him/her that you are going to be late, and when you are expecting to arrive. Many non-Japanese people that I know failed to do this because they thought that the Japanese person will be angry with them. Of course they will be angry but if you do not tell them they will be angrier! And they will think,"Ooh, Malaysian time..".By informing them when you are arriving, they can do something else meanwhile.

However, there is one case that you should not be punctual or come earlier. Once, I was invited for a home-party by a close Japanese friend and some other guests were expected to come, not only me. In Malaysia, it is preferable if you could come earlier to help especially if the host is someone close to you. NEVER EVER do that in Japan! I came 20 minutes earlier to see if there was anything that I could do to help but I was scolded instead!

I should not come earlier because I was the guest and that the family is not prepared to have guests before the scheduled time. The best is if I came 5 mins later than the time.

Oh by the way, if you are going for an interview or meeting (you are at a lower position.such as supplier etc), be sure that you are there at least 5 minutes earlier.

Depart early, walk faster or run to be punctual, not only when you deal with the Japanese..anyone you deal with and make yourself stand out.

Aug 22, 2008

Is there any service such as this?

A couple of days ago, I made a purchase through Yahoo! auction.
The payment was made through internet bank transfer but at the end of the process something was wrong. It got stuck.

A few hours later, my husband called me telling that the bank called him informing that the transfer was unsuccessful, and that the bank will call me soon. A few minutes later the bank called and the staff apologized for the inconvenience. He said when the system is corrected he will contact me so that I can redo the payment process.

A few hours later the door bell rang. The person introduced himself as a bank staff and informed me that the central bank asked him to come and renew my husband's passbook. I felt suspicious because the bank did not contact me or my husband beforehand. I politely refused.

The next day, the bank (call center) called me again telling that the staff will come very soon to collect the passbook. I asked him to postpone the time to later in the afternoon. Quickly I called the bank on to verify whether they offer such service as this. The phone was passed to the staff I talked yesterday on Yahoo payment transaction. He explained that he was the one who asked Furukawa branch to come and renew the passbook as a service to compensate on the payment failure and he apologized for the miscommunication. They do not do such service usually but this time is special.Only this time that I trusted him.

In the afternoon, the staff came collected the passbook and 2 hours later he returned with a new passbook.

To be honest, I am thankful that the passbook is renewed but such service really, rea~lly made me anxious...

Aug 19, 2008

Obon Yasumi: Kesennuma

In the mid of obon yasumi week, we went to Kesennuma, in northern Miyagi prefecture, about 60km from Furukawa (our house).

Kesennuma is a port city and it is most famous for its shark's fin. I suppose it is the largest sharks fin producer in the country. The road to Kesennuma was like going through a jungle and in between mountains (lucky ada navigator). But the scenery was very interesting and classic because here and there I could see big 2 to 3 storey traditional houses - as if some great samurai had resided there.

Too bad the weather was not so good. It was rainy and a foggy when we stopped at a beach before reaching Kesennuma. The first beach for the kids, Nani had a lot of fun while Shakir was a little bit hesitated. The beach was clean enough to see fish swimming around.
At the other side of the beach I could see people fishing.

Then was the Kesennuma, the first thing we did was to isi our perut yang dah berbunyi. Yes, we had sharkfin for lunch.

After lunch, we visited Rias museum. It was all about sharks. Shakir was so afraid he cried so loud. Papa had to comfort him outside. 

Next was the -20C aqua museum. It was a small museum inside a cold room, exhibiting fish swimming in ice blocks...heheh

The market sold fresh seafood at reasonable prices. We bought some fish and cuttlefish home. Had a cup of Anchor coffee, a local Starbucks-like coffee shop memang best..especially dalam sejuk2 hujan tu.

Heading home, we opted for the road along the coastline this time and it was a good decision. The scenery of the beaches before sunset was beautiful. Finally reached Furukawa at about 8.30pm...

What a long day..

Obon Yasumi: Himawari no Oka

On the third day of the Obon Yasumi,we went to Himawari no Oka (the Sunflower Hills). It is located at Sanbongi, only about 10 minutes drive from our house. There are about 420,000 sunflowers planted at this area, which is opened for public from end of July to end of August. Later the sunflowers are cultivated for the seed to make oil, pastries and other related products.

The sunflowers are taller than a normal person (at least me!). There was also a mini choo-choo train track within the area so you can take a ride through the jungle of sunflowers.

The day was hot so after walking around the area, we had some sunflower ice-cream (yummy!). Then we left for Higashi Naruko for a picnic by the river.
Naruko area is famous for its "onsen" or hotspring but I just prefer Higashi Naruko for its beautiful surrounding and also because I hate the road up to Naruko onsen.

We had rendang ayam, ketupat and mee goreng for picnic before playing at the river. The water is crystal clear you can see small fish swimming around. On the way home, we stopped at a A-ra Michinoku Road side Station. It is like an R&R area located along the prefectural or national road. The vegetables sold by the local farmers were really cheap! Its like 10 big tomatoes for only 120yen! A plate of mini crabs was also very nice.

Anyway, at last it was my son who conquered the day because he has had 3 ice-creams today..

Obon Yasumi: Zao and Yamagata

Last week was a long holiday in Japan, the Obon holidays.

It was the time when Japanese return to their kampungs to pay a visit to their ancestors' graves or take the opportunity to travel overseas.Somewhat like Hari Raya la.

Since my husband got a 10 days off, we went to a few places nearby. A Japanese family friend suggested Zao and Yamagata. Zao is an active volcano and Yamagata is a prefecture west of Miyagi, facing the Japan Sea.

So on the 1st day of the holidays we went there with a Malaysian trainee and the Japanese friend, Sato-san. The road up to Zao was like cacing, as seen on the navigator. On the way, we stopped at a stall for a break. The weather was foggy but getting clearer as we reached the top.Zao was amazing, the color of the "lake" is green, not blue like Mt. Aso.

Then we drove down to Yamagata..again jalannya macam cacing. Pening lalat dibuatnya. At Yamagata we only did 1 thing...we bought "suika" --tembikai. It was a shop run by the local farmer and they served some for tasting...Mak oii...manisnyeeee....and the tembikai was so big and solid (isinya tak lembik). Ada orang tu sampai terbeliak mata bila makan tembikai yang manis tu..hehe

And there I was buying 2 for the family and another 2 for my friends in Fukuoka. And guess how many Sato-san bought? 10 !! Nasib baik muat kereta Wish tu...

Amazing Hokkaido

Summer is the best time to visit Hokkaido...especially for those who are "allergic" to coldness like me. This was our family trip last month, from 18~21 July.First time for me and the kids, as my husband is a Hokkaido Univ. graduate.

After reaching Shin-Chitose Airport, we rent ed a Toyota Vitz car from Toyota rent-a-car and drove about 2 hours up north to Asahikawa.
Extensive meadows and farms, decorated with beautiful flowers along the was a breathtaking view.

The next day we visited Asahiyama Zoo, the most popular zoo located northenmost in Japan. Why is it so popular?

Since 2004 the zoo bears a new concept; it is the animals that watch you, not you watching the animal. As in the pic, the cages/aquarium are designed in a way that the animals can have as different and natural as possible view of the srrounding. You can stand side by side to a leopard or below it and watch penguins fly. This way it allows the animals to relax even in the limited environment.

The zoo has many repeaters, most are adults with a total of 3 million visitors peryear. And it was I yang beriya-iya nak pergi zoo ni, not the children...heheh
Then, we drove down heading for Furano, which is famous for its summer lavenders. We stopped at a few places like Biei on the way, quenching thirst with lavender ice-cream and visit smaller flower farms. The pictures below were taken at Farm Tomita, Naka Furano.

We reached Furano at about 4pm. Farm Tomita, is a must-see if you want to enjoy the beautiful lavenders and the local products like musk melon and sweet corn.

Man.. the corn is super sweet I have never tasted one before.The fresh corn is picked early in the morning and boiled for a short time to maintain its sweetness. Furano is also famous for its white corn. We'll talk about it later.

We then head for Sapporo to meet a Malaysian student. Malam tu kami lepak kat rumah dia..kira sewalah jugak.At least at a much better rate than hotel. Very nice orang Muar.
The next day was a trip to Hokkaido Univ., my husband's alma mater. Cantiknya.. tak macam Kyushu Univ (old campus). Many people come over just to rest by the pond,main2 dengan itik or jog around.

Sapporo city is bigger than I thought. Sapporo ekimae is spacious dan gah. Since we had to return the car later in the evening, kami x ke mana, but to Odori Koen, near Sapporo tower and then pergi Ichiba (wet market) untuk beli & makan ketam. 

Ketamnya memang la besar. So big that my daughter did not dare getting any near to them.We bought 3, two for our Japanese friends and one for us. Mahal betul, about 20000yen and that's nearly RM600! Takpelah sekali sekala.

The trip to Hokkaido though short, was very nice. And if you want to get around in Hokkaido, renting a car would be the correct choice.