Showing posts with label Yokohama. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Yokohama. Show all posts

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Anniversary of first overseas trip

Yesterday was 20 years to the day of the first overseas trip I had. That was back in 1996 when I was given an opportunity to travel to Japan under what was called a Core University Program funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS). I was actually some sort of a last minute fill-in as there was budget remaining and available for a short term Visiting Scientist. Fortunately for me, a former mentor, Prof. Shigeru Morichi, who was himself a Visiting Professor at UP Diliman from 1992-1993 agreed to host me at the Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Kogyo Daigaku, which at the time was also called Tokodai - now it is preferred to be called Tokyo Tech) despite his impending transfer to the University of Tokyo. 

It was a very eventful 35 days from February 26 to March 31 and a stay where I was able to familiarize and acclimatize myself to a new environment. That included going to Yokohama National University to personally submit the final document for my autumn (October 1996) admission to the university to Prof. Tomoya Shibayama, who was the Foreign Student Officer at the time. I was also able to meet with my baptismal godmother (Ninang Mila Takashima who later was also my godmother on my weding) who was residing in Yokosuka-shi in the same Kanagawa Prefecture where Yokohama was located.

Every single day was an exciting one and it seemed to be a different adventure everyday. This was capped by my first sakura or cherry blossoms in late March. Of course, it helped that I already had many close friends in Tokyo at the time, of whom I remain close to this day. I have lost most if not all the photos in my possession from that 35 day trip. Fortunately, there are many photos with my friends and sometime in the future, I hope to get a few copies to scan and preserve electronically. 

More on events in 1996 in succeeding posts...


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Aka renga

I lived in Yokohama from 1996 - 1999. At the time, there was a lot of developments in the Minato Mirai district. These included restoration and rehabilitation work for many structures in what used to be a major part of the Port of Yokohama. These included former warehouses made of red brick - aka renga - in area that was designated as a park dedicated to these red brick buildings. The restoration and preservation of these red brick buildings and others like it that have been declared as national, prefectural or even city treasures because of their historical or heritage value are most admirable and among the things we could learn from. 

And then there is the commercial aspect of this initiative, which includes holding events in the area as well as selling merchandise with the theme of aka renga. Quite fittingly, I got a box of aka renga-themed delights as omiyage (souvenir or pasalubong) from a student of my second adviser when he visited a few months ago to discuss data collection for his research.

The box was wrapped in paper featuring a print of one of the red brick buildings.
Detailed information on the product is at the back including info stating that it was indeed manufactured in Yokohama.
After removing the wrapper, a simpler box is revealed.
The soft caramel nut cakes are individually wrapped.
The content of each pack was what looked like a lemon square.
A closer look shows crushed almonds on top of a few layers of caramel and pastry.
The bar looks like a slice of sans rival but it is more like a caramel bar. The consistency is like that but in my opinion it tastes much better than your regular caramel bar. Is it the best one around? Probably not and there will be others that would likely be better than this bar but this one's good for a souvenir item.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Delightful gyoza!

I have not been to SM Megamall for quite some time now and have been curious about the new restaurants and shops at the new wing of the mall. The new wing looks like it was inspired by the SM Aura by the look and feel of its design. It is more spacious and better lighted than most SM malls. The shops are different and not the usual anchor stores you will find in the typical mall. But what interested me were the restaurants and cafes. I have seen at least three that are definitely worth eating at - Tim Ho Wan, Lucca and Osaka Ohsho. The first is a Chinese restaurant is easily the most popular restaurant in SM Megamall given the long lines forming once the mall (and the restaurant) opens its doors. The second is more like a cafe and has a full menu of baked delights aside from sandwiches and pasta. Lucca reminds me a lot of Wild Flour and is a most welcome option, an alternative to rice meals that are the staple of most restaurants in the Philippines.

We decided to have an early lunch and saw from afar that Tim Ho Wan was already full of people and had a very long queue of customers waiting for their turn to eat there. Our first interest was Lucca but then the wife recently ate at Wild Flour and wanted to have Japanese food. There was already a crowd at Osaka Ohsho but there were no lines yet so we easily got a good table at the restaurant.

Menu and chopsticks
The menu contained a lot of familiar items including katsu, teppanyaki and curry. What distinguishes Osaka Ohsho from other restaurants is that they are supposed to have one of the best if not the best gyoza (fried dumplings). And this shows in their menu where there is a gyoza set and most if not all sets have gyoza. Each set had miso shiru, fruit and unlimited koshi hikari rice.

Fresh lemonade and house tea
Chicken karaage set
Salmon teriyaki set
The chicken karaage was cooked and presented donburi style.
The best gyoza I've tasted so far in the Philippines is plump with the fillings.
The salmon teriyaki was just right if not perfect. I look forward to the saba next time.
Osaka Ohsho is a restaurant we'll definitely go back to especially when we feel a craving for Japanese food (which is quite often). Their menu has a lot of items worth trying aside from the usual offerings you'd find in Japanese restaurants that some of us regard as comfort food. In the case of Osaka Ohsho, they definitely cook up good Japanese comfort food. I for one love gyoza and have always ordered gyoza whenever it was available even at the shokudo at the university when I was still studying in Yokohama.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Chilling at the bookstore

Whenever I am at Bonifacio Global City (BGC) and I had the time, I try to pass by the Fully Booked branch there. I like browsing their shelves for books, comics or CDs. I think I usually picked up a book, magazine or comic book almost everytime I'm there despite doing my best not to be tempted considering the escalating prices these days. Books are not cheap in the Philippines and I think this is partly to blame for our being generally immature for our tastes in literature. I mean, honestly, how many people really do read Murakami, Rushdie or Garcia-Marquez who recently passed away? I'm all for the electronic stuff as an aid for developing reading comprehension but there's nothing like a good book or magazine to enrich the mind. 

Recently, I had been at the bookstore again months after the last time I was at the Bonifacio High Street. This time I had some time for myself as I waited for the wife to arrive from their out-of-town workshop. I was surprised to find second hand CDs at the music section and found that most if not all came from Japan. I was certain with this as I saw the CD labels and ended up browsing the CDs as I did whenever I was in one of my favorite used CD shops in Tokyo and Yokohama (e.g., Yamagiwa and Recofan). I got most of my CD collection from those shops and most of these were high quality CDs that were made in Japan or Europe including my collection of classical music CDs. I ended up purchasing a couple of CDs - one classical and another jazz to add to my collection. I was a bit disappointed though that the used CDs were not as inexpensive as I had expected them to be. I recall that good quality used CDs in Japan usually cost me 1200 JPY or the equivalent of about 300 to 400 PHP at the time I was there. So I had to make sure I really liked the CDs I picked up before finally making the purchase. 

I celebrated my purchases by getting some frozen yoghurt at the White Hat branch in the same building. The froyo and lemonade were refreshing treats before I walked back to the parking lot to wait for the wife.

Frozen yogurt and lemonade while reviewing my CD purchases.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Old boys get-together

An old friend was in Manila the day before I traveled to Tokyo last February. He was in the Philippines to meet with co-researchers for a study on disaster mitigation and planning that's being led by his university in Japan. Ryo Matsumaru had been doing consulting work for most of his professional life so   his being with the academe now was still quite new to me. I mentioned to him that it was good that he was available to meet that day as I was flying to Tokyo the following day. Before parting, he asked me about my schedule in Japan and if it was okay to contact our other former laboratory-mates so we could have a get-together there. I thought it was a great idea considering I had minimal contact with our friends in the last decade. 

And so, on short notice, two of my former lab-mates at Yokohama National University met me at the hotel where I was staying We had a great time exchanging stories about life and perhaps the highlight was the recent experiences of Daisuke Sagawa in leading the clearing operations along a weather sensitive section of a major expressway in Japan. His dedication and hard work made it possible for the expressway to remain operational during the heavy snows in Japan last February. In fact, his attendance in our get-together meant he had to pay for the leave by working the following Sunday! This is a guy who works his ass off everyday but probably gets little credit for it and yet he remains dedicated, which is a most honorable thing anywhere and any way you see it.

Just like old times at the Transportation Engineering Laboratory of YNU
Sashimi just the way we liked it and with draft beer to wash it down

I thought that it was quite fitting for us to meet in Tokyo after so many years and that it was not by chance that I was staying at the Hotel Okura. I have not stayed there before but the Okura (including the kanji) happens to be the name of our sensei. Okura-sensei passed away about a decade ago but we all have fond memories of him who guided us when we were curious students in his laboratory. I think our toast that night wasn't only for among ourselves but also, and especially, to Prof. Izumi Okura.  

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Reminiscing: Yamate Catholic Church

I found a few photos I took of the interior of the Yamate Catholic Church the last time I was there in 2008. I had a few photos taken back in the 1990s while I was still a student in Yokohama, Japan. Many were taken with friends from the Sacred Heart Guild and most of these that were printed (We couldn't afford the digital cameras back then.) perished with the flood of Typhoon Ketsana in 2009. Fortunately, I was able to find a few photos here and there with church mates. They helped a lot in my adjustment to life in Japan and many remain good friends despite the distance and limited opportunities for correspondence.

The pulpit is no longer used in regular Masses but in one Christmas Mass, I remember it being used for readings. The stained glass in the photo was a gift from Europe (I think the former Czechoslovakia.) depicting a saint praying to the Child Jesus (Prague?).
Retablo dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, I usually sat in the pews in front of this retablo, which is located on the left side of the main altar (facing the altar). For one, my seat provides easy access to the lectern when I read in Mass.
The interior of Sacred Heart has always evoked calmness for me. I felt at home inside Yamate Catholic Church where I served as a reader during my 3 years in Yokohama and volunteered during some long stays in Japan afterwards. Behind the main altar is a statue depicting the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The choir loft had a pipe organ though at times, church singing was accompanied only by guitar. We had an excellent choir master at the time who was able to integrate people of various nationalities into the choir.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013


In 2008, the Clairvoyant and I enjoyed going around the old city of Kamakura in Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan. It was late winter and spring was fast approaching when we went around the temples. Walking from Hachimangu Shrine towards Kamakura Station we took the walkway along the median of the main street to appreciate the cherry trees that would be in full bloom about a month from then. We could only imagine together how it would be like walking or picnicking under the cherry blossoms and spending hanami in Japan. 

Crossing over to the nearby shops along the same street, we checked out the same shops I had explored while still a student in Japan 10 years earlier. I had bought a few items in some of the shops to bring home to my parents' home and our ancestral home in Iloilo. This time we looked for items we could bring to our home and perhaps put on display. It was the Clairvoyant who spotted and asked me about some handpainted cloths in one of the specialty shops. I explained these were used to wrap lunch boxes or just about anything that can be carried. Wrapping items in cloth is an art and a functional one in Japan that I can only compare to origami (paper folding) and ikebana (flower arrangement). We picked two and the shopkeeper was all smiles and commended our appreciation of sakura in her halting English. We casually mentioned that we won't be able to catch the blossoms as we would be heading back to our country before the sakura comes out.

The two hand painted items were eventually framed and now grace our living room. They depict sakura in full bloom with one featuring several trees and the other a more detailed painting of the flowers.

Framed hand painted lunch wraps from Kamakura

Looking at the frames remind me of good times in Japan and the cool, comfy weather during springtime. It feels good for me to see the cherry blossoms even on paintings or photos and perhaps this is why we like having depictions of spring around our home. Spring symbolizes renewal, hope and life - things that are sadly, slowly being lost to many today. The sakura reminds us of nature's beauty and the promise of life that is to be lived instead of being suffered.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Yokohama flashback: Christmas Mass

Better late than never so before January ends and before I forget again, I'm posting about Christmas in Yokohama, Japan. Among the experiences I love reminiscing about and retelling to family and friends were the times I served at Sacred Heart Cathedral (Yamate Catholic Church). The church is a brief climb from Ishikawacho Station of the JR Keihin-Tohoku Line through a residential area in the Naka Ward of the city. It is near the Motomachi shopping street, which is a popular commercial and dining area and particularly for expats in the area.

For two Christmases, I volunteered as a reader during the midnight Mass of Christmas Eve and the English Mass on Christmas Day. December 25 is not a holiday in Japan and so most of my friends at Yamate including fellow members of the Sacred Heart Guild had work. As I was a post-graduate student, my schedule was relatively flexible. In fact, my sensei even told me I could take the day off during Christmas Day. I usually did take half the day off and would be back at the laboratory in the afternoon.

As Christmas Day, if it fell on a weekday, is not an official holiday in Japan most would come to the late night Mass including non-Catholics and non-Christians who celebrated with us. These include Japanese who were married to Catholics (mostly foreigners) who also lined up during Holy Communion when the priest-celebrant would also give God's blessings to non-Christians in the congregation in lieu of the Host.

I fondly remember the Midnight Mass of December 24, 1998 (my third and last Christmas in Yokohama) when it was the Bishop of Yokohama who concelebrated the Mass and I was all dressed up to deliver the First Reading (in English) on the special occasion when both Japanese and expats celebrated in a Mass where the choir was from the Protestant Church in the same neighborhood (Yamate's choir in turn sang at the Protestant Service over at Ferris.). Afterwards, there was no noche buena and we had to commute to our homes on the last trains. The following day was easier because the English Mass was from 10:00AM (just like the Sunday schedule) and there were fewer people in church. Fr. Alfred Burke, OSA celebrated the English Mass on Christmas Day.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Renewing friendships over sushi in Bangkok

I take advantage of my trips to Bangkok to get reacquainted with an old friend from my stint in Japan. Terdsak was my junior (kohai) at our laboratory at the university and we were at the time the only foreign students at our laboratory. Of course, there were many others at the other labs but you don't get to see the other regularly except perhaps during lunch time when most of us would congregate at the shokudo (canteen) to exchange stories including life in Japan. 

It is no surprise that we ended up having dinner at a Japanese restaurant considering I already had my fill of Thai food over the past days of my stay and there are many good, authentic Japanese restaurants in Bangkok. We decided to go to a sushi bar, which had sushi plates going around for the selection of diners.

Sushi bar
Sushi just the way we like it
Heiroku Sushi may be found at the top level of the Central Plaza Rama 9 mall
My good friend and I had a good chat over dinner where I learned he is now married to a dentist who works at one of the top hospitals in Bangkok. It's been quite a while since we last talked, only learning about what's going on through Facebook. We eventually parted as he was to fetch his wife from work and I had to take advantage of the break in the rains to get back to my hotel.

I will relate more about our adventures in Yokohama and at YNU later. Of course, such stories won't be complete without reference to our other friends especially Mohsen, Ioan and Some.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Grilling relic

We love grilled food whether eating out or at home. It should come as no surprise that we will surely have a functional grill at home with which we could grill meat or seafood, often during the weekends. The grill we're using now is a relic from my stint in Japan. I bought it in one of the flea markets (called bazaars in Japan) in Yokohama in the summer of 1998. I don't exactly remember for how much but I am sure it wasn't too expensive (likely less than 5,000 yen at the time) even considering it was practically brand new when I bought it. The grill had foldable legs and a cover. It came with tongs, least 2 grills (for seafood and for meat), and skewers.

Firing up the grill
Not quite ready for cooking
Pork steak and hotdogs for dinner
Almost done but not too well done


Friday, September 19, 2008


I've been to Japan several times now and Saitama has been something like a retreat for me. For one, the University and my hosts have always been warm and I've found that cooperative research with the Urban Transportation Group was enjoyable as our interests converge. 

My host, in fact, is a very busy man and yet he finds time to personally take care of his students with very able support from his similarly kind research associate. The result is a laboratory that functions very efficiently and that works toward meaningful, relevant research. Such research includes community-based or participatory processes and it is clear how theory is translated into practice when the group applies what's learned in school to real-world situations. 

I had the chance to join them in one such activity in the World Heritage Site of Shirakawa-go in the central part of Japan about 7 years ago. My experiences there was later manifested in a similar research that focused in a World Heritage Site in Vigan, Ilocos Sur in the northern part of the Philippines.

I've found a second "refuge" in Saitama after finding a very different system in my Yokohama laboratory. It is one where I am very comfortable and where I have found encouragement in the research that I do - and I like to believe that I do very well in. I will always look forward to the next visit.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Reminiscing Japan 1

It's almost 12 years now since I left the Pearl of the Orient Seas to study in the Land of the Rising Sun. I can still remember the warm welcome I got from the laboratory, my laboratory. There was always a sense of belonging to the lab. It's probably due to the system they have over there as well as the culture.

Below is one the first photos I had with the laboratory. I remember this to be taken during one of the parties, "meetings" or kais, as we called it. This was a graduation party we had for the laboratory and toasting our grads taken in March 26, 1997 infront of the Hokkaido Restaurant in the Kannai district of Yokohama. The photo was taken before we broke up to return to our respective homes. I always thought this was the core of the lab at the time since most students were loyal to the Professor. Our Professor, our sensei was Izumi Okura. I'll write about him in another post. He deserves a separate post. He was a kind man and he will be missed.

Seated (L-R): Sagawa (M1), Tozawa (M2), Okura-sensei
Second Row: Kato (B4), Suzuki (B4), Yokoyama (B4)
Standing (L-R): Hijikata (M2), Uchida (B4), Matsumaru (M1), Kawano (M1), Iwakami (B4), Hibino (B4), Me (D1), Oshiro (M1), Horie (M2)