Hyakunin Isshu No. 9: The vibrant flower’s face has faded

By: Ono no Komachi (825 – 900)                       小野小町

The vibrant flower’s                                                花の色は
Face has faded –                                                      うつりにけりな
While I gaze in vain                                                  いたずらに
As the world grows old                                          我が身世にふる
And the long rain falls                                            ながめせしまに

Ono no Komachi | deep kyoto

Ono no Komachi | deep kyoto

Ono no Komachi was a legendary beauty, famous for both her poetic prowess and her relationships and loves with different men.  She is a member of the Rokkasen (of which Monk Hisen is also a member) and counted within the Thirty-Six Poetry Immortals.  Despite her renown, almost nothing certain is known about her apart from her poetry and within her poetry, the names of the men she was romantically linked with because they are immortalised within the poetry exchanges present in the Kokin Wakashu (or more commonly referred to as Kokinshu).  There are five categories of legends surrounding Komachi, including:

  1. Tales of beauty
  2. Tales of sensuality
  3. Tales of haughtiness
  4. Tales of poetry/poetic virtue
  5. Tales of downfall/aging

Within her works, almost all her waka are melancholic, layered with verbal complexity and imagery, and almost always are about anxiety, solitude or passionate love.  For this particular tanka, according to my translation, all three of these emotions are represented.

Fallen sakura petals | Frantisek Staud

Fallen sakura petals | Frantisek Staud

In the first line, the colour of the flower (usually assumed to be sakura) could be representing love or have romantic overtones.  In the third line, ‘vain’ can be translated also as ‘on the surface’, which could mean that the author has wasted her life, or if it is treated as a modifier for the next two lines, means that she (as the world) has grown old on the surface and lost her appeal, but inside she is still full of passion.  The fifth line means either ‘gazing’ or an abbreviation of ‘long rain’, and if we choose to read it as ‘long rain’, the world ‘old’ in the previous line would change to become ‘falling’, and the last two lines would now mean ‘falling long rain’. The many double meanings in this tanka therefore creates so many different readings.  We can take it at face value, which would mean a lady staring at a fading flower in the rain as autumn and winter ages the world, or a lady staring at herself and lamenting the gradual loss of her beauty as she ages, or a lady, still staring at herself, but recognising that whilst she is fading away outwardly, her passion is still burning strongly inside.

I personally rather like taking the meaning as the third one, because that is the reading that encompasses the three dominant emotions within Komachi’s works.  The anxiety of growing old and becoming lonely, the solitude as she contemplates her feelings and the raining world around her, and the passionate love that she knows she is still capable of, this is what I imagine someone of her status and renown would feel as they become older and their looks fade.  This is also the way I hope I age in the distant future, because you cannot help aging, but if you can own it and look past it and recognise that you are still capable of doing great things regardless of age, then you will always be free of the fetters of old age.

Komachi Rice | Singarea

Komachi Rice | Singarea

Besides, Komachi has been immortalised everywhere in Japan, including Noh plays, a brand of rice, a train line, and a regular play.  If I follow her example, maybe I too could at least have a shot at being remembered through rice. 

#tokyolo: LaQua Spa

We were drained, we were tired, we were spent.  We had given all our energy to TVXQ and the red ocean.  And then… we were greeted with an oasis in the midst of the city for our distraught souls.

The night before, we had decided to go to check out LaQua Spa (next to Tokyo Dome) because supposedly they had so many therapeutic things in their waters, and because you could stay there overnight and we wanted to try staying overnight at an onsen once.

So we went forth into the rain, entering the lift, and when the doors open, a quiet lobby greeted us.  Shoes off, following the other silent people to the counter, we were greeted with friendly concierges who gave us a locker key and directed us to another counter inside the ‘women only’ area.  We had to choose between three designs, and having chosen an orange top-and-pants combo (sadly, they had no yukata option) in a bag with towels, we got changed and had a bit of an exploration.

The Spa complex had three levels; levels dedicated to onsen and bathing, levels dedicated to sleeping and resting and lounging about, levels with food, with massages, with treatments. It was all very modern and high-class hotel feeling, and people were polite and stayed quiet, not wanting to disturb their neighbours.  But since the whole point was soaking our souls away, we went back to the locker areas, stripped, showered, and got into the baths.

The water was gloriously hot.  The water was slightly salty from the minerals.  The steam made everything softer and more welcoming.

I never wanted to get out.

It wasn’t my first time in an onsen, but it never gets old, bathing naked with a whole bunch of other naked women in waters that are supposed to purify your skin and all that, with everyone just minding their own business and not intruding in anyone’s space. LaQua had an indoor and outdoor area so we tried both (the outdoor one had really hot water, so we went back inside pretty quickly), there were sauna with different temperatures from 45, to 70, to 90 (the 70 was the best, the 90 one was actually an oven), and little things like cold baths and mist showers and stuff made everything better.

And when we decided to get out and get dressed, the spa had hairdryers and lotions and moisturisers and heat-protective sprays.  There were even cotton buds and cotton pads to guarantee that you could look after your skin and hair after your bath to make sure you end up looking like perfection.

After we prettified ourselves up to 1000%, we made our way downstairs to the lounges and found ourselves comfortable armchairs in the women’s only room, and slowly, we drifted to sleep…

The next day, when we made our way out of LaQua, still half asleep and trying to figure out our next move, we realised that more people stayed overnight at the place than we thought.  A lot of office workers and middle-aged women were there, making their way out of the onsen with neat suits and cleaned-up hair.

Or maybe they got to LaQua early in the morning, and prepared for their day by soaking in the baths.

But who knows? If you ever feel like spending a night somewhere comfortable and relatively cheap, just go to LaQua.  They actually have everything you need, and it’s worth the experience.

#tokyolo: impressions
#tokyolo: Lockup
#tokyolo: TVXQ

#tokyolo: TVXQ

Featured Song: Believe In You, TVXQ

I love the ocean.  I love the ocean in all its moods and colours.  When the wind tosses the water up high and the waves come crashing down; when ripples of water lap at the sand and over your feet; when the clouds slowly turn turquoise waters into a dark blue grey.

Waiting for the concert!! |diary of a dysaniac

Waiting for the concert!! | diary of a dysaniac

But I love the ocean the best when it is red, filled with screaming fangirls of all ages (and I mean of all ages) with matching light sticks, waving them to the same beat, chanting fanchants that I chant but don’t actually know.

It felt like I was in a cult.  But let’s be real, I’ve been a Cassie the minute Mirotic dropped back in 2008.  And I regret NOTHING.

I mean, the whole point of #tokyolo was TVXQ.  And even though the TVXQ duo aren’t my favourite members, they are still DBSK, and their skills and their strength and their charisma were everything I imagined it to be.  Maybe even more than what I imagined.

Everything, from their dancing, to their singing, to their costumes, to even their awkward Japanese gags, everything made me fall in love with them again.  I never saw the two as the strongest singers in the group, and I never really cared about them as much as I did the members who are now in JYJ.  But apart from their starting song, which was so cringe I couldn’t even, every moment was as strong and as synchronised as if they had always been a duo.  Both my friend and I felt all their energy and amazingness even from where we were seated, a little bit too high to be considered close to the stage, but close enough to still see them in their all their awesome amazing sublimity.

Our lightsticks! |diary of a dysaniac

Our lightsticks! |diary of a dysaniac

This was still not close enough for some of the fans though, because we saw so many people holding little binoculars.  At some point during the concert, when I glanced over to my right, the entire row of people next to me had their binoculars up and staring very very intently at Yunho and Changmin.  I never thought people actually brought binoculars to concerts, but here you go.  Japanese fangirls do.

Something else that Japanese concert-goers do is wave their light sticks in unison in the air, without singing and dancing and all that.  I knew it from all the concerts I’ve watched online, but it was still bizarre to see 50,000 light sticks being waved in unison in real life.  And it still didn’t stop me from singing along and bopping around like a tween at their first music festival.

There were also moments when the concert organisers would tell us to switch off our light sticks so that our light watches could glow in a different colour (usually blue) for the ballad sections.  The effect of the colour change was profoundly beautiful, and by the end of the concert, all the feels and the things were making fans bawl their eyes out.  Including me, but instead of bawling at end of concert feels, I was bawling at my two most favourite DBSK ballads, arranged and sung by two people, but in my heart was being sung by the five in their perfect harmony.

TVXQ With 2015 blue ocean

TVXQ ‘WIth 2015’ | diary of a dysaniac

And once Yunho announced that they were going to take an indefinite break and implying that they were enlisting for their two years of military service towards the end of the concert, the bawling turned into a sobfest that actually threatened to turn the red ocean into a real ocean.  Not that we knew what was happening at the beginning when he was speaking, since my friend can understand only basic Japanese and my brain had switched off when he launched into a lengthy speech.  But we figured it out, once the sobbing from the encore ballads turned into ugly crying all around us.

Whoever did the setlist really knew how to make everyone open their floodgates, putting ballads before and after the announcement.

Whoever did the setlist also knew how to make everyone feel happy again, since they sprung two super upbeat surprise encore songs during the credits onto all of us.

Ultimately, in the end, no matter how they felt, I don’t think people could have left the stadium feeling dissatisfied and angry and depressed about anything

I mean, we will always wait for them to come back.

Because we will Always Keep The Faith.

And once they come back, we will be waiting.  And hopefully by then, both my friend and I will have enough money to actually buy a concert varsity jacket.

TVXQ 'Tone 2012' | tvxq5vnn

Wish I had a clear red ocean photo of my own! TVXQ ‘Tone 2012’ | tvxq5vnn

#tokyolo: impressions
#tokyolo: Lockup
#tokyolo: LaQua Spa

#tokyolo: Lockup

The sign on the street is inconspicuous.  Black and red in the midst of other colourful signs.  ‘Lockup‘, it declares.  It doesn’t look at all scary, and it certainly does not invoke any sort of trepidation or anticipation for what you should expect upstairs.

So up you go.  The elevator dings, she presses ‘5’, it zooms up… and you’re there.

The doors open.

And all you see is a dark dungeon space with blood red floors.  There are two doorways.  The one on the right has a door. Wooden, light-filled, laughter drifting through the doors as people enter and exit.  The other, on the left.  No door blocks your view of a long, dark corridor.

You look at your friend.  She looks at you.  This is more than you anticipated.

“It looks fun! Let’s go!”  Her eyes are gleaming.  She said earlier she has wanted to come here for a long time.  And you swallow a gulp and smile tightly.


And off you go, two girls linked arm in arm, down an unknown passage with empty jail cells along the side.  You know it’s fake, but chills still creep up your spine as you stride past all these half open iron doors.

The corridor seems to be unending.  Your friend clutches your arm a little tighter.

“This is getting creepy.”

BANG!  You both jump, you scream, you clutch at each other, and you start exclaiming as rattling chains start to sound.  You reach a door that looks like a sci-fi electronic door, and you both push it open, hoping that you have finally reached the bar.

But no.  That would not be enough of a thrill now, would it?

Instead of being greeted by the sight of a restaurant, you see nothing.  It is completely pitch-black.  You clutch at your friend, making sure she is still there, and the door swings shut behind you completely.  Sudden lights blink on and off, flashing just enough to show you the way.  Dark empty spaces are all around you.  Mirrors deceive your way.  You cannot see anything except what is revealed by the flashing lights.

Your grip on your friend gets tighter, and she is practically hugging you to her.  The only other way to tell that she is there is because you are both screaming over the groaning, creaking noises of the maze.

You both turn a corner, hoping that it is finally over, and it is! The door is right ahead.  You both start to hurry towards it, squeezing through a one-man passageway together so you are never separated, getting back out into a more open space, when a light flashes beside your friend.

A white, bloody head stares at you, before the light blinks off, and blinks on again.

You both practically burst through the door, exclaiming loudly, laughing in relief, that it is all over.  You have made it to the bar, and upbeat J-Pop music is playing loudly and cheerfully, helping calm your still-beating heart.  But it is quiet, and you cannot really see any waiters around, no customers around.

You both wander around, hoping to find another living soul, and finally, a stray waiter walks past with empty glasses.  She asks if you’re going home, and you try to say that you just got here, but you can’t.  All your Japanese has left you, and you cannot for the life of you remember how to even say anything coherent in English, let alone in Japanese.

Thankfully, another waiter comes, and somehow they figure it out, and lead you back to the exit of the mirror-maze, where another waiter, this time cosplaying a police woman, comes out and handcuffs you before leading the two of you to your table.  Your friend is laughing, she takes a picture, the police-waitress half closes the door to your ‘cell’, and all seems to be well.

You have survived.

And so you both look through the themed menu with drinks that seem like they were created from failed high school Chemistry experiments.  You both choose, you both order, and just as the drinks arrive and you have both taken pictures, the lights go out.  You scream.

And you KNOW this is not a power-outage.

They aren’t stopping with just a terrifyingly terrifying entry.  They are going to scare the shizz out of you whilst you eat your meal.

A siren begins to sound.  Chains rattle, doors grate open, and more cosplaying workers come out, shouting warnings through megaphones.

“Prisoners have escaped!  Be careful and stay in your cells!”

UV lights come on, and you look at your friend in terror across the table.

And the door to your table opens.

You scream, thinking that it is a monster, but no.  It is a waiter, bringing your two other friends to your table because they want the key back to the hostel room.  And they are exclaiming about the bar, and complaining about the whole thing, and they cut through the terror and bring back some normalcy.

They are also sitting between you and the door, and therefore protecting you from anything that may come through the door.

Because things do come through the door.  Workers in long white robes come in, leering at you in masks.  They peer through the door, peer through the window, and every time they do so, one of the newcomers starts exclaiming really loudly.

“You really look good in that mask! You are so handsome!”  And that makes you laugh, and slowly your terror subsides.

Soon, but not soon enough, the lights come back on, and the J-Pop starts again.  Your drinks are mediocre, but you and your friend don’t really care anymore.  Maybe you get scared too easily.  Maybe other people come here and think it’s fun.  But regardless, you down your drinks, you all get up to leave, and you escape from that place, quickly walking through one last red-lit corridor as you follow the pair that came late back to the lifts.

Your arms are linked firmly with your friend’s, and you don’t let go until you step back out of the lift into the well-lit streets of Ikebukuro.

#tokyolo: impressions
#tokyolo: TVXQ
#tokyolo: LaQua Spa

#tokyolo: impressions

So far, in these last two weeks since I came to Japan, I feel like I just keep getting underwhelmed by Japan.  I was underwhelmed by Fukuoka, and then I was underwhelmed by Tokyo.

Yeah.  I was underwhelmed by Tokyo.  Tokyo, the land of colourful craziness and seas and mountains of people.  Tokyo, the city that never sleeps.  Tokyo, the place where all these American celebrities love to go because ka-ka-ka-kawaii.

But I felt none of that when I went to Tokyo… the only times I got super excited was when TVXQ happened and when we stumbled onto this cosplay/lolita shop in Harajuku and I was in cosplay heaven.

I already had kinda expected to not really see much of Tokyo, seeing as I was only there for three days, and the main reason for my trip was for TVXQ and for my friend’s 21st.  But still.  It was so underwhelming.

Maybe you’ll think that I was being harsh because my two friends and I were staying somewhere far away from all the action and stuff.  And we were admittedly staying in a super ‘cozy’ hostel we found on AirBnB, but that hostel was super close to Shinjuku, one of the main stations of Tokyo, so it couldn’t be location.  I don’t know.  I just feel like Tokyo was just like Hong Kong, except they speak Japanese, and people are nicer and more polite and dress more colourful and eclectic.

Also, Tokyo sleeps so early.  For Fukuoka, I expected it to sleep somewhat earlier, since the city is smaller.  But when my friend and I went to walk around at night because we wanted to do something exciting, the last trains were still at midnight, and everyone was going home.  And midnight is so early for a city to wind down when globally, Tokyo is somewhere that supposedly never sleeps.

Anyway.  I still had a lot of fun, and it was still amazing.  It just wasn’t as exciting and as different and OMGSH THIS IS SO GREAT as I thought it would be… I blame animu for bringing my hopes up SO HIGH that real life doesn’t cut it anymore.

STILL!  Everyone! Come to Japan! Go to Tokyo! I promise it’s fun!! :D :D :D :D :D

Just don’t expect too much.  Japan is weird, Japan is amazing, but in the end, it’s just another country.  The people living in it are ultimately still human beings, and so yeah.  Come.  Fall in love with the place.  But don’t fall in love with the idea of Japan.

#tokyolo: Lockup
#tokyolo: TVXQ
#tokyolo: LaQua Spa

Hyakunin Isshu No. 8: My Hermit Hut

By: Monk Kisen (early Heian)                             喜撰

My hermit hut                                                          わが庵は
Above the capital,                                                  都のたつみ
I live with just a deer –                                           しかぞすむ
The world a mountain house                            世をうぢ山と
And the people, abandoned                              人はいふなり

Apart from being a monk, being an accomplished poet, and living near Ujiyama near Kyoto, nothing much is known about Kisen.  He was chosen by Ki no Tsurayuki as one of the six poetic sages, whose work was acknowledged to be superior over other poets.  However, only two known works can be confidently traced back to him, of which this tanka is one.

In the tanka, shika can be read as either deer or ‘but’ or ‘thus’.  And both translations work, given where shika is placed in the tanka.  Because there is no kanji given for it, technically ‘deer’ works too, but really, it makes more legitimate, serious sense if its meaning is ‘but’/’thus’.  Apparently, according to the notes, ‘but’/’thus’ is actually the main reading anyway, but he liked the sound of ‘deer’, and so put ‘deer’ instead.  If that is true, then the tanka now reads:

My hermit hut
Above the capital,
Thus I live –
The world a mountain house
And the people, abandoned

Personally, I like the reading with ‘Thus’ more (choosing ‘thus’ because it sounds more grammatically correct than ‘but’), because it then shows that Monk Kisen is commentating on the simplicity of his life, with only his hut and his own self to replace the world and its people.  And the quiet he captures in those five lines makes me feel peaceful, just by reading it.  It makes my once-serious thought of becoming a hermit sound wonderfully attractive again.


Once in Japan…

Five first day observations in Japan:

  1. People really don’t jay walk across roads. Unless they’re foreign.  The only two instances of jay walking I’ve seen today were both committed by white people
  2. Japan is not crowded unless you’re in Tokyo or Osaka. I was travelling on the subway at peak hour, and I managed to score a seat, despite the obviously roaring crowds pushing and shoving their way onto the train.
  3. Traffic lights in Japan sound a tune or a rhythm of sounds for blind people when they turn green.
  4. For all its advanced technology and such, Japan really has no wifi or Internet anywhere.
  5. All stores and department stores seem to have loyalty cards for points. At every place I’ve been to today, I’ve been asked everywhere if I had a card.  (answer: mottenaidesu 持ってないです [I don’t have one]).

At the moment, I have no wifi at the dorms or Internet of my own to connect to, and so I’m writing this on a Word document… by the time I’ve actually posted this, I would have already been in Japan for a few days at least.

But whatever.  Posts are posts, belatedly or no hahaha

Regardless of my Internet situation, I’m not as excited as I thought I was.  Breathing that first breath of Japanese air, feeling the blast of refreshingly chilly wind from the still-cold weather as I stepped out of the plane, seeing the mountains that look like any other mountains but different… those did make me excited, and I caught myself grinning and getting slightly emotional (no single tear happened, unfortunately.  Would’ve made for a good story. ‘That time, when a single tear was shed as I stepped off the plane into Japan for the first time…’).

But once that was over, and the mundane reality of going through Immigration and Customs and Baggage Claim took over, my excitement kind of got killed off.  Even when I found out that because I’m special part of the International program and not some other thing, I got a personal taxi ride to the dorms, and the taxi driver and I had a successful, albeit slightly broken and stilted, conversation in Japanese, nothing really made me go OMGSH I’M ACTUALLY IN JAPAN I’MA GO PEE MY PANTS IN EXCITEMENT NOW.

I mean, meeting my ‘tutor’, or ‘buddy’ and having her help me navigate restaurants, shopping centres, cafés, the subway system, and the streets surrounding my dorm was pretty amazing (her name is Haruna, she studied in New Jersey, U.S.A during her middle and high school years and so has an American-Japanese accent, she does Education and is super nice), having one of the senior JTW students come down and introduce himself and welcome me and give me ice-cream was heart-warming, but still… at the moment, Japan is feeling just like any other Asian country, just with cleaner roads and super polite people.

Doesn’t help that I still feel a bit nauseous from the plane ride (CURSE YOU, TRAVEL SICKNESS) and unpacking is a massive chore that I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy.

Maybe once I get to know more people and I really get into the swing of studies and exchange life, the excitement will start building and I’ll be like, ‘I’m so amazed I’m actually here and I’m so blessed and thankful and yay’.

But for now, I’ll just quietly go through the days, enjoying the stillness and peace, slowly getting to know everyone, and keep observing, so that I can start writing posts about life in Japan to prepare for all the nugus who want to come hahaha.