Exploring the Sapporo Beer Museum

The iconic Sapporo Beer logo.
The museum entrance.
In the museum lobby
drowning in beer!
Known for it's annual snow festival, indigenous Ainu culture, and shiroi koibito(白い恋人)or "white sweetheart" cookies, the city of Sapporo is also synonymous with beer as Sapporo is the original home of the Sapporo Brewery. Hence, any visitor to the city must stop by the Sapporo Beer Museum(サッポロビール博物館).

Whether you're a beer aficionado or not (I am the former, ha!), the Sapporo Beer Museum is a great place to visit as it conveys Sapporo history from an interesting perspective. The iconic beer company not only introduced the well-known beverage to Japan, but was also a defining presence in the alcohol industry during both Japan's pre-WWII and economic miracle days. Today, the company has internationalized and is one of the most respected beer brewers in the world. In fact, it is the best-selling Asian beer in the world. 


Album Review: Chara - Sympathy (2017)

Watabiki Miwa aka Chara
Source: chara-web.net
Watabiki Miwa—much better known as Chara—just celebrated over 25 years as an established artist. I have written extensively about her work here and will continue to chronicle and review her discography in future posts. However, I couldn't resist the opportunity to review her latest album Sympathy, released earlier this week. 

Although Chara will be 50 next year, and has spent almost half her life in the music industry, I believe Sympathy is indelible proof that her sound remains fresh and innovative. Sympathy includes some obvious weak links, but the star tracks shine through and demand several repeats, which makes this bittersweet album a whimsical summer gem. 

Sympathy (2017)
Source: musicman-net.com
While her sound has evolved and gone through many phases of experimentation through the years, one thing I love about Chara is that she's always unmistakably herself and never fails to be daring with her work. Sympathy is clearly a sensual album, a rare theme to spot in the work of a Japanese artist of Chara's generation. 

However, love and sensuality has been a running theme in Chara's work from her flirty, borderline exhibitionist early-90s days to her now more refined sultriness. Occasionally paired with her other common theme of innocences, this album serves romance on a wide, delectable gradient. To use an example from Chara's discography, this album is as if Madrigal (2001) had a baby with Chara's 2010s sound. There is a funky playfulness here that is hard to miss. 

Naturally, perfection is unattainable, so let's start with the weaker tracks in the album.


Trippin' Out at the Seoul Trickeye Museum

Although they're getting visibly old, the paintings at Trick Eye Museum Seoul are gorgeous!
When you're an adult, it's refreshing to visit places that make you feel like a kid again. I'd say the best place to do that in Seoul is the Trickeye Museum. 

"I'm a genie in a bottle~"
With locations in major cities like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Phuket, the Trickeye Museum features numerous brilliantly painted sets where you can take fun pictures. As the name suggests, the sets play tricks on the eye. With the use of simple props and the extension of the paintings from the wall to the floor, visitors will have a blast posing for Instagram worthy photos. 

Some of the illusions require a bit of mild contortion to pull off (i.e., crouching and laying on the floor), but mosts guests will find the majority of the exhibitions accessible to them.


WWII's Baby Nurses: Remembering the Himeyuri Students

The haunting portraits of the Himeyuri students displayed at the Himeyuri Peace Museum.
Source: Yahoo! Japan
"Whenever I saw dead bodies on the ground, I thought I wanted to die before the others so they could bury me. My fear was to be the last one on Earth." 
   --Hideko Yoshimura, Himeyuri survivor (Japan Times, 2007)
Although they attended high school in Japan over 70 years ago, the girls of Okinawa Daiichi Women's High School and Okinawa Shihan Women's High School were, in essence, like any other high school girls you'd find in any place at any time. They giggle with their friends, shared secrets, played sports, and studied hard as they worked toward graduation. But unlike many other high school girls, the young women from the two high schools were mad to grow up quickly during the chaos of the last days of World War II. Shooting and basic nursing care lessons progressively took precedence over math and Japanese classes. Eventually, they traded their school uniforms and classrooms for nursing outfits and crude cave clinics. By the end of the Battle of Okinawa, 12,000 American soldiers, 200,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians, and 136 Japanese schoolgirl nurses perished. 

The Iwamakura Monument on which is inscribed
a poem dedicated to the fallen girls written by
Mr. Seizen Nakasone, one of the Himeyuri teachers.
It was erected on April 7, 1946.
Even in the chaos of war, how could those girls have imagined losing their lives in cave bombings? What raced through the minds of those who held grenades to blow themselves up in order to avoid capture? What were the last thoughts of those who leapt off the capes at the southernmost tip of Okinawa island toward an imminent death in the beautiful turquoise ocean? 

And what of the survivors who had no choice but to leave their friends to die and live on with indelible memories of crude surgeries and the smell of death? 

The Himeyuri Peace Museum may not answer these questions for you, but after your visit, you will feel the pain of the Himeyuri or "Lily Corps" girls. You will feel their heartache and the echos of their unfulfilled wishes caused by tragic, untimely deaths. 

Himeyuri was the name given to the military nursing unit formed by 222 students and 18 teachers from the two women's high schools. After training as part of the curriculum in 1944, the girls were sent to the front lines on March 23, 1945 to assist the Imperial Japanese Army. 


Reflection: 21 Solo Days Through East Asia

Overlooking the ocean in Okinawa.
Hiking, biking, laughing, crying...it seems I experienced it all when I took a 21-day trip through East Asia from mid-January to early February of this year.

I've taken a few solo trips before, but none were as long and extensive as this one. As day one of the trip approached, I felt a new kind of anxiety and excitement. 

Would everything pan out?

What would I learn about and see?

How would I hold up on such a long trip?

Have I finally gone too far?

I planned to travel by train, ferry, and airplane to each destination, just me and a suitcase. Expectations? I can't say I had any. Well, I knew I'd have to change currencies and SIM cards several times! But I truly didn't know what to expect. Comments from others on travel websites can only give a Pollock-style preview of what you might see on your travels. What others see and describe online may or may not be an accurate picture of your destinations. So, even in this technological age, traveling still means going off into the unknown.


Exploring Old Guangdong: A Rainy Day in Dapeng Village

The front gate of Dapeng Fortress
I went on a day trip to Dapeng(大鵬), a subdistrict in Shenzhen about an hour and a half away from the city center. Aside from being conveniently close to the coastline, Dapeng is a great place to visit to explore the history of the area before Shenzhen's formation.

Signage is in English
and Chinese
My day trip was slightly interrupted by the rain, but I was able to throughly explore Dapeng Fortress(dapeng suocheng; 大鵬所成)and Dongshan Temple(dongshansi; 東山寺). 

I took bus E11 from Shenzhen North Station(shenzhenbei; 深圳北), and got off at Dapeng Station(dapengzhan; 大鵬站). Then, I walked to Dapeng Station #2(dapengzhan er; 大鵬站二)and took but 928 directly to the fort. Travel time was about two hours, but the scenery was interesting at many points so it didn't bore me. Plus I had a great book in tow. 

Dapeng Fortress was build in 1394 to protect citizens from pirates. Almost 200 years after it was built, the fortress was attacked by the Japanese. Nevertheless, the complex is largely still intact. A beautifully antiquated place, the fortress has clearly been restored, but it still retains it's age regally. 

Old homes







A Rainy Day in Shibuya and Harajuku (Part 2)

Forty years of deliciousness.
Takeshita Street
The modest Harajuku Station.
Map of Harajuku — click to englarge
After visiting Meiji Shrine, I made my way deeper into Harajuku to have lunch and do some shopping. Of course, I spent quite a bit of time on the well-known Takeshita Street, which is right across the way from the small, humble Harajuku Station.
As it was rainy, cold, and not peak tourist season, Takeshita Street wasn't unbearably crowded, though there were quite a few people. There are several shops on the street where you can buy some of the latest Japanese fashions for cheap, or eat a yummy meal. 

Marion Crepes
Part of the yummy sweet and savory selections.
Although there is a wide variety of cute, interesting eateries on Takeshita Street, a stroll down Harajuku's most popular lane would arguably be incomplete without a visit to the well-known Marion Crepe, which has been in business for nearly 40 years—quite impressive!

Unlike Western-style crepes, Japanese crepes (which, in terms of style and fillings, are more or less identical to Taiwanese crepes often seen in night markets) are hand-held, cone shaped treats. Like their Western counterparts, Japanese crepes can be sweet or savory, but the combinations solidly deviate from the original treat (i.e., pizza and cheesecake...yes, a crepe with a piece of cheesecake in it!)

I visited Marion Crepe for lunch a few hours after a small breakfast, so I was hungry by the time I made my way there. At any given time, they offer tens of flavors, some of which are limited or seasonal. Generally, I don't like super sweet food—especially on an empty stomach—so I choose one of their snack crepes, which are savory and perfect for a lunch on the go.