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I am writing about my last Japan trip in a non-linear/non-chronological way because…just because. I have been busy with other aspects of life i.e. job, hence, the gap. 

So I already told you about my non-eventful six-day stay in Yokohama where I spent four days going back and forth my hotel and the convention center. Then the fifth day I was locked up in my hotel room writing non-stop and then it was only on my last day I was able to go around for a bit. In the morning before going out for a little bit of sight-seeing, I decided to try a fastfood chain: Mos Burger.

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Of course I shouldn’t be surprised but still I was when I took a bite of this burger. It was good, better than the blah version I had in Singapore (because of my Singapore Mos Burger experience, I stayed away from it). And it has to be good since it is a Japanese food chain.

After my walkathon in Minatomirai, I decided to have lunch in the restaurant across my hotel.

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For JPY 850, it was ok, I guess. Did not rock my world, really.

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In the afternoon, I took the train from Kannai to Kanda, which was about 45 mins. Then I used Google Map to locate my hotel from the Kannai station. It said I should come out of the South exit.

It was a bit of a walk but not that bad. The location is perfect because it’s walking distance from our Tokyo office (the receptionist said it was about 4 stoplights away, I just go straight). And considering its location (it’s within or near the financial district), the price was reasonable.

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And the room and the bathroom are bigger than the one I booked in Yokohama (which was more expensive)

After checking in, I went straight to our Tokyo office since I had a teleconference at 4 pm (3 pm Singapore time).

I had to take note of the path I was taking since because it’s me, I may get lost. Even if the receptionist says just go straight.

I don’t know what to call this. Working holiday? I was supposed to be on holiday and yet I worked. I must be nuts. This our Tokyo office.

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After the conference call and bit of a chit-chat with colleagues, I went back to the hotel to ditch my tablet-laptop hybrid (more about that later) to go to Akihabara. Yes, the land of the otakus.

But before that, I had to go to Lawson to try my luck in buying a ticket to Studio Ghibli Museum.

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Nope. Fully booked on my days off. And on the days available either I’m already back in Manila or I will be in Singapore. Lesson learned: book a month ahead.

After leaving my laptop in my room, I decided to walk since the map says my hotel is just near Akihabara.

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Oh, elevator parking slots. They should have these in Makati and BGC where finding parking slots is a nightmare. 

So I walked and walked.

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The little streets that I took were lined with little pubs that were still closed. Probably they open for the dinner crowd of office workers/salary men/women.

I realized I wasn’t getting near to where I’m supposed to be so I went back to Kanda station and took the JR and just jumped off the next station (I can’t remember what that is) and took a gamble. Hehehe. It turns out it was also Akihabara, but I had to walk farther to get to the stores I must go to.

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And I was running out of time. I learned the stores close at 8:30 pm. My girls are asking me to find them Attack on Titan stuff.

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Look at the prices…enough to give me a heart attack.

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My brother would freak out at these Gundam toys.

Sailor Moon FTW!

Pokemon love

And…there it is, Attack on Titan. But they’re sooooo expensive!

I have to find cheap ones or second-hand toys. No way I will buy them toys this expensive.

I was sooo tired that I forgot to have dinner. I just grabbed one of those convenience store dinners to bring to my hotel.

This is my neighborhood in Chiyoda at night.

 

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I didn’t really plan to go to the Gold Mine Museum but oh boy, I’m very glad I did or else I would have missed the mountain views. I grew up at the foot of a mountain, which explains my attachment to mountains. I was tempted to do my own version of That Thing Called Tadhana and have my Angelica Panganiban moment, scream at the mountains and valleys, which I planned to do waaaaay before reaching Taoyuan Airport.

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I paid TWD 80 for this one, which was cheap. I had access to the Japanese dorms, which was meticulously reconstructed after it was hit by fire (or earthquake, I cannot remember anymore). Jinguashi was a former mining town run by the Japanese, hence, the architecture and food…

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This used to be living quarters of the mining company’s mid-level executives and miners.

Charming, no?

I was always greeted (all throughout my trip in Jiufen and Jingaushi) with anyeong haseo. The first to greet me in Korean was the lady tour guide of the Japanese dorms.

I hated peeing in those old-fashioned toilets. I hated them with a passion when I was in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan.

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At least they had the Western-style beds (but I rather fancy sleeping in futons).

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After a short tour of the dorms, I went to explore the Museum, which was really an outdoor museum full of stairs. More stairs. And stairs.

There were too many stairs! There was a Jinguashi/Cyuanji Temple but that meant climbing more stairs. I just proceeded to a cafe and rest. And took in the view.

The view:

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After a quick rest, I walked further to see the miner’s tunnel and I think there is another museum about the mines but I was too tired to enter.

Then I realized I was facing the real-life inspiration for the tunnel in Spirited Away…

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Chihiro’s tunnel

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And I proceeded to walk again to get a better view of the mountains. But I couldn’t do my That Thing Called Tadhana moment lest the police drag me away and lock me up for being a loony.

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I was already too tired to go farther and I had to get back to the main entrance. It was already 3:00 pm. Something in my gut told me I must go back to A Mei Teahouse before sunset.

But before that, I saw this:

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Kamaji’s herb grinders!

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I walked back and lingered at the outdoor cafes

And back to Old Street in Jiufen.

*to be continued

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*Wow, it took me two months before I can write here again about my Taiwan trip. Goes to show how life gets in the way of my blogging. Hahaha!

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This teahouse is basically the reason why I went to Jiufen. It was said to have inspired Yubaba’s bath house in Spirited Away.

Before that…

Before booking my accommodation and my plane tickets to Taiwan, I tried studying how I can get to Jiufen. Thanks to fans and travel blogs, I somehow I had a vague idea how to get there.

After my dinner with my colleague at Taipei 101, my stomach started to tighten as panic rose to my throat. What if I got it all wrong?! I was a lone female traveler who could not speak Mandarin in a country where English is not widely spoken. After arriving at the hotel, I asked the receptionist how to get to Ruifang station the next day. Thank you, Diary of Taipei – Main Station. You are so tourist-friendly. Not only they give you a tourist map and the Taipei rail system map, they can also give you the schedules of buses and trains departing from the Main Station.

I didn’t have any idea where Jiufen was. All I knew was it was east of Taipei (since it is already near the Pacific Ocean).

Was a bit late arriving at the Taipei Main Station so I wasn’t able to catch the 9:45 train. Another train was arriving in less than an hour. So I bought a sandwich and bottled milk tea from one of the kiosks there, ate my pathetic breakfast on a bench at the platform and waited. Since this happened three months ago, I cannot exactly remember how much I paid for the train fare. It was probably TWD 45 for a one-hour trip.

I did not take a photo of the platform nor the Ruifang station. Too bad.

Anyway, I booked an overnight stay at  Jiufen Long Men Ke Zhan Bed and Breakfast, as recommended. Good thing I followed the recommendation and did not try to do an Amazing-Race-type of trip to Jiufen because there are so many things to taste, see and feel in Jiufen and Jinguashi. My inn arranged for me to be picked up by some kind of taxi service so I wouldn’t lose my way (love, love love them for doing this).

The roads are narrow and winding. Much to my surprise, this is a left-hand driving nation. I could drive in Taiwan. *grin*

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I shared the cab with two guys who were chatting with our driver in Mandarin. They were Malaysians who worked in Singapore and they thought I was Thai. Anyway, they acted as my translator in the next two hours because 1) our innkeeper did not speak English  and 2) they saw the lost look on my face.

I love my inn (despite my bed being hard and I had a backache) because it was affordable and the location was perfect. This is what I saw from the balcony:

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So my “housemates” (their room is across from mine) and I searched for somewhere to have late lunch but it took us some time to settle down in some tea house overlooking the village.

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This is the Old Street, where the stairs seemed to be never-ending. Reminded me of Banaue. The entire village reminded me of being in Mountain Province, with handicraft stores and the altitude.

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My housemates and I parted at the tea house and I got to explore the village on my own.

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And the beauty of exploring new places is getting lost and finding your way back. But I hated the part where I got chased by a huge black dog and I screamed my way out of this narrow path.

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Found myself back at the Old Street and somehow wound up at the entrance of A Mei Tea House.

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This is what I appreciate about traveling solo: I can be aimless and I can decide on a spur-of-the-moment trip to the Gold Mine Museum. I abandoned the idea of staying the entire afternoon along Old Street. But first I had to find my way to the bus station, which was down below, at the end of Old Street. Before finding the bus station, I found this cute store selling cat items. They really love cats here, I don’t know why.

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A few steps from this store is the Jiufen Tourist Centre and the Police Station. I inquired about how to get to the Gold Mine Museum from the nice old lady behind the counter who said it was only a 15-minute bus ride from where we were.

I took the bus and since the bus driver and I had communication problems, I mistakenly dropped a TWD 50 coin instead of paying TWD 15 for my fare. Lucky driver.

And the drive was a bit stressful for me because I imagined myself driving a bus in the very narrow and winding road to Jinguashi.

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Actually the drive would have been shorter if not for the traffic jam because the road was impossibly narrow. There were several instances when the bus had to stick dangerously close to the cliff sides to let the other bus on the opposite lane pass.

*To be continued

 

 

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I just discovered that Taiwan is a Studio Ghibli wonderland.

Yes, there are some stuff in Taiwan (Jiufen! Jinguashi!) with deep connections to Hayao Miyazaki’s  Spirited Away but I didn’t know Studio Ghibli is popular there. Probably because of historical and cultural ties with Japan, being a former colony in the 1890s.

Anyway, on my way to our Taipei office, I noticed the yellow rental bikes called Ubikes. I didn’t have the nerve to try because 1) I was again so lost–utterly lost; 2) I was not exactly dressed to ride a bike (hello pearls!).

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I had to call a colleague to give me directions. Ugh, Mondays.

One of his questions to me was, “Can you tell me where you are right now?” Of course I can’t because there was no visible street sign and I can’t read Chinese.

“But I see Taipei 101…Uhh, that does not help, does it?”

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Had lunch with the colleague somewhere near our office. Another beef noodle bowl. HUGE bowl that I couldn’t even finish halfway through.

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After lunch, another colleague asked me why I will be going to Jiufen. So I told her I wanted to see the inspiration for the Spirited Away setting.

“Really?! I don’t see the connection!” Then I proceeded to describe to her the scenes and the buildings (the Bathhouse = A-Mei Teahouse). She finally understood (I hope) .

Then she told me about Studio Ghibli having a Taipei tour (with the Catbus! A Catbus!!!)  last September (awww shucks!) so I just missed it by a couple of weeks. But the good thing is there is a Donguri Republic at ATT4  near Taipei 101. She emailed me the directions.

“So what will you do this afternoon?” She asked me.

“I’m going there now. As in now.” I said as I gathered up my things.

It did not disappoint. I spent at least an hour there.

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I found the giant Totoro!

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The secret entryway to Totoro’s lair

Photos and posters on the way to the toilets

After dawdling at Donguri Republic and loitering around ATT, I met one of the colleagues for dinner at Taipei 101 who felt like eating chicken rice. Right. Chicken rice in Taiwan. But hey, we were both hankering for something Southeast Asian at that time. You can only have so much beef noodle bowls in a week, right?

While waiting for him, I took photos of Taipei at night. So peaceful compared to Manila at this hour (6:30-ish).

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And trains don’t get crowded, as in Manila MRT-mandirigma-training level.

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I didn’t have anything to do later that night so we decided to go home early. Plus I had to pack up again to go to Ruifang the next day.

 

Published in InterAksyon.comAugust 7, 2014 · 3:20 pm

MANILA – “The strong shall live, the weak shall die.”

That might as well be the line that defines this second installment of the “Rurouni Kenshin” franchise, which is based on the manga and anime “Rurouni Kenshin” (shown as “Samurai X” here in the Philippines more than a decade ago).

This was also the guiding principle of Kenshin Himura’s (Takeru Satoh) arch nemesis, Shishio Makoto (Tatsuya Fujiwara), who was the rogue hitokiri that the Royalists/Imperialists engaged after the former laid down his sword 10 years before. Kenshin was the assassin that the Royalists used in broad daylight while Shishio, his kohai, was the hitokiri in the shadows.

Fujiwara plays Shishio with relish–he even has Shishio’s raspy, menacing voice that the character had in the anime series. I could barely recognize Fujiwara (who played Light Yagami in the live-action Death Note movie) behind the bandage, red-rimmed eyes and peeling skin.

The movie opens with Saito Hajime–the chief of police of the Meiji government and formerly the head of the Shinsengumi (the military police protecting the Shogunate)–facing Shishio, who in turn has the Meiji policemen hanged and later dropped into the roaring fires below. Saito (played by Yosuke Eguchi) is still as stoic as ever, barely showing any emotion as his men fall to their fiery end.

This sets the tone that this movie no longer tries to be cute and the body count will surely mount.

In the midst of this inferno, Shishio tells Saito of his grand plan to wrest control of the country from the government and lead Japan in becoming a stronger nation at the expense of all what he considered as weaklings. Obviously he’s a fan of social Darwinism.

Those who have not watched the anime, read the manga or seen the first installment would have a difficult time following the next scene that shows life for Kenshin and his friends at the Kamiya Dojo. The movie dispenses with introductions and references to the first movie to save time (since the “Shishio/Kyoto Arc” is about 30 episodes in the anime).

The Meiji government has asked for Kenshin’s help to neutralize and even kill Shishio, who is now a growing threat to the hard-won peace that the Emperor’s men have managed to put in place. As Home Minister Toshimichi Okubo says, Shishio’s skills as a samurai are equal to that of Kenshin’s.

But then why would Kenshin help the government clean up its mess? It was the government who created the monster that is Shishio, Sanosuke points out during Kenshin’s meeting with government officials.

The movie does not make the government’s failed attempt to kill off Shishio pretty. Instead of just shooting him in the head (which should have explained the metal plate around his head), the Ishin Shishi (government’s group of assassins) stab him repeatedly with their swords at close quarters and douse him with gasoline together with the other corpses that Shishio killed in the name of the Emperor. The only fly in the ointment is Shishio manages to live–thanks to the snow that falls right after the grisly crime.

Shishio, however, is thankful for what the government did to him for this taught him resilience and made him stronger. His ultimate aim is grander than just merely exacting revenge on the government. Getting rid of it is just a means to achieve his goal, he tells Kenshin during their first encounter in a village that Shishio burned to the ground.

To help him realize his dream of taking over Japan, Shishio gathers his Jupongatana (Ten Swords) to fight off Kenshin and kill all those who oppose him.

As a fan of Rurouni Kenshin, I can’t help but notice the movie’s glaring departure from the anime and manga (sorry to non-Samurai X fans):

1. Aoshi Shinomori should have been part of the first movie, as an employee-assassin-bodyguard of the opium pusher Kanryu, and the last members of the Oniwabanshu are supposed to be there with him. Megumi and Aoshi should know each other since they have been employees of Kanryu but in the second installment of Rurouni Kenshin movie, the two are complete strangers to each other.

2. In the anime and manga, Aoshi’s men are supposed to be annihilated by Kanryu’s Gatling gun (in the first movie). He pins the blame on Kenshin. In the movie, however, Aoshi goes looking for Kenshin to avenge his men’s death, who are supposed to be protectors of the Edo castle before the Restoration period. Aoshi’s men were tricked and killed of by the Meiji government after the Royalists took over. Guilty by association, Kenshin is hunted by Aoshi.

3. Cho’s long flexible, whip-like swords (similar to the urumi from India) were replaced by ordinary long swords. It would probably would have been difficult to train with and film fight scenes with this kind of weapon without resorting to CGI.

*Spoiler alert!*

4. Kenshin was supposed to have gone to his sensei, Hiko Seijuro, after his fight with Cho (member of Jupongatana), to complete his training and learn the essence of the Hitten Mitsurugi Ryu (his style of swordfighting). In the movie “Kyoto Inferno”, an unconscious Kenshin is found on the beach by Hiko after he jumped off the battleship Rengoku to rescue Kauro, after she (kidnapped by Sojrio Seta) was pushed off by Shishio into the ocean.

5. Sanosuke is supposed to destroy the Rengoku with the bombs supplied by his friend and Shishio, Yumi and Hoji escape and regroup in Mount Hiei where the final battle should take place. No such thing happens in the movie. Shishio and his Jupongatana successfully leave for Tokyo in the battleship.

*End of spoiler*

CHARACTERS

– We have a more brooding Kenshin here, who now has the tendency to hunch his back, tilt his head to one side and narrow his eyes when he throws his dagger looks to his opponent. There is a scene where he looks like a possessed angry animal with a stiff neck and walks like he’s suffering from cramps.  Attempts at “oro” and to make him comical fail.

– Sanosuke is still baka (stupid) and loud as ever. He is probably the only comic relief in this movie.

– Kaoru has expanded her menu of weapons. Aside from the usual bamboo sword (shinai) for kendo and wooden sword (bokken), she uses a jo (wooden staff) and a naginata (similar to a European glaive) during the Kyoto attack. She rarely smiles now.

– Smaller screen time for Megumi but the chemistry between Megumi and Sanosuke is more palpable compared with that of Kenshin and Kaoru. There is even more love (bromance!) between Sano and Kenshin (compared with the Kenshin-Kaoru pair) when the former hits the latter in the case and says he followed Kenshin to Kyoto to help him.

– I fear for Saito’s health. He always has a cigarette stuck between his lips, even when slashing his enemies. No facial expressions whatsoever still.

– I love Sojiro Seta. He delivers that happy smile when he kills, he speaks with other people, and with dealing with Shishio. He is like a misplaced child among the seasoned killers. But he is the best fighter among the Jupongatana and the fight scene between him and Kenshin is one of the highlights of this movie.

Which brings me now to…

The fight scenes: I will watch the movie over and over just for the fight scenes and wax lyrical about them.

Kenshin fighting with Shishio’s men after burning down a village is so much fun. Great choreography and fast sword play on the part of Takeru Satoh. No, the bad guys are not lining up to be beaten and do nothing while waiting to be beaten up. They attack Kenshin from all sides and Kenshin beating them all up from all directions was a sight to behold.

Kenshin’s fight with Sojiro after Shishio and Yumi took off involves lightning-fast swordplay and great choreography. If I remember it right, there is flying involved. Kenshin and Sojiro’s fighting stances are similar and it is exciting to see what comes after the stances. When you finally see Sojiro’s fighting technique on live action, your heart will stop.

The fight between Kenshin and Cho elicited “whoas” from the audience during the movie premiere at Megamall Wednesday night. In one scene where Kenshin catches the “true sword” thrown at him by Arai (the swordmaker’s son), the audience even clapped their hands in delight. Can’t describe it properly because I have to watch it again to appreciate its beauty.

DOWNSIDE:

Long speeches. They look and sound like orations instead of explanations made by several of the characters in the movie. The exchange between Kaoru and Kenshin before the latter leaves for Kyoto is too long. This same problem made the first movie’s ending look silly, with Kaoru running out of breath but still able to deliver her long monologue.

Too little chemistry between Takeru Satoh and Emi Takei makes the parting before Kenshin’s travel to Kyoto too long and the meaningful gaze between the two contrived. Or maybe it’s just me.

Despite these (because of the nitpicking on my part), this movie is still a must-see for “Rurouni Kenshin” fans out there. For the non-fans, the sword fights are enough reason to watch.