Amazing Japan

A view of Mount Fuji from the Shinkansen (Photo: Jerome D. Lye)

TRAVEL is one of the best forms of education, better than school. You get to see new things, eat new things, encounter new people, experience a whole new culture, an unfamiliar season, or an entirely different language. That was exactly how I felt about Japan in December last year. It was my first time there, and after 17 days, I decided, without a doubt, that Japan is the top travel destination. That sounds like a line you would find in any travel guide, but it’s truly how feel. None of the places I’ve been to—London, Australia, New Zealand, Maldives—beats Japan.

The beauty of Japan lies in so many things, too many that I struggle with where to even start. Do you start with the wonderful shopping or the great food, the Zen-inspired gardens or awesome beauty of Mount Fuji, the clock-work precision of the high-speed bullet trains, the hot-springs, magical Disneyland, or the centuries-old temples in ancient Kyoto?

Oh, there’s also that amazing aquarium in Tokyo, the largest in the world, where I must have come face-to-face with close to a hundred species of marine life! I would also be including Studio Ghibli here, except we didn’t get to go because my father, our chief travel planner, hadn’t known that we had to reserve spots a month in advance.

But missing Hayao Miyazaki’s creations couldn’t quite count as a disappointment given everything else that this beautiful country offered us. As a teen, I wasn’t necessarily thrilled at the prospect of visiting temples, but when I actually got there—Sanjusangendō and Kinkakuji in particular—I was mesmerized.

At Sanjusangendō, the longest hall in the world, I saw rows and rows of Buddha statues, each of them seemingly identical, but their faces were all different if you walked up close to look them in the eye. The bigger, solo statues that guard these endless rows of statues are probably more fun to gaze at. With their pupils studded with crystals, you aren’t quite sure if they would suddenly come alive and whisper to you.

At Kinkakuji, the famous golden temple, this feeling of light is equally profound. That day when we visited, we were approaching dusk. It wasn’t exactly sunset yet, but the light had an intensity about it, and it played a game of ebb and flow, brighter some moments, dimmer others. Who would have thought that a 14-year-old teen would have been transfixed by all this? But he was, much to my surprise.

Kinkakuji kissed by a not-quite-dusk-yet light (Photo: Jerome D. Lye)

My other transfixed moment was when we were on a schooner cruise across Lake Ashi where I beheld Mount Fuji for the first time. Such a majestic mountain, so beautiful, so symmetrical. But my favorite view of Fuji-san, as the Japanese call it, is when we were on the Shinkansen from Hakone to Osaka. It seemed to lord over us in the train, such that all we seemed to see through our window was Mount Fuji and just a little sky and smatterings of village houses.

A view of Mount Fuji from a schooner drifting leisurely across Lake Ashi (Photo: Jerome D. Lye)

It’s hard to believe that at the start of our 17-day trip, we felt as if we had so much time to take in all the beauty of Japan and stuff our faces silly with sushi and soba. But as each day passed, the culture, the cuisine, and the natural beauty of this country greeted us with the same old konnichiwa, but always colored with something new. The same dip in the same onsen the second, third, and then the fourth time, was still as rejuvenating as always, but each time, I would sense something different. One time, the sulphur stung the nose more aggressively, another time, it was more muted. But each time I went, it felt like a place I would love to return to again and again. I suppose Japan is like that. I want to return soon. 

(652 words)

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Jerome Lye, Secondary Three
March 2018

For more essays by Jerome, visit Jerome Writes

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No Place Like Home

Image: Charles M. Schulz

HOME sweet home may sound like a cliché, but it speaks volumes about where our hearts belong. And where mine belongs is not school, not Universal Studios, not La Pizzaiola, my all-time favorite pizza restaurant, but home.

When I’m at home, I don’t have to worry about how I look. Even if I’m having a bad hair day, home is a forgiving place. There wouldn’t be Dylan, that mean guy, who has poked fun at my hair, not once, but twice.  

Home is where I can play around in the kitchen, whip up something nice, something new, something different. As an avid baker who bakes once every three months—blame it on school, no time!—I love spending time tinkering with recipes from my Masterchef Cookbook.

Rest, chill, relax, take it easy, these are all the wonderful things I can do at home. And that’s not all. Home is where all who are closest and dearest to me are—Mom, Dad, Cheh Cheh and Mei Mei. And let’s not forget Auntie Lilik, our housekeeper for six years, our one and only Kaka—that’s Bahasa for sister. Without her, we wouldn’t have such a home, so spick and span, and such wonderful meals—the nasi lemak, the beef rendang, the chicken noodles, the million other things.

I’m so lucky to have such a wonderful home. Home is not just the shell, the shelter, and the roof. Home is, as Kit Chan has sung so beautifully, where I must be. It is where family resides, where all my cares tend to go away, and where I know I would be loved no matter what, even on my bad hair days. 

(279 words)

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Jerome Lye, Secondary Three
March 2018

For more essays by Jerome, visit Jerome Writes.


This essay was written in response to the theme, “Your Favorite Place,” to be accompanied by a handful of selfie shots at the very place itself. Jerome decided to write about home—it’s convenient!—but we didn’t include those selfies here. Some of us are shy, and so we chose Snoopy to be the perfect proxy.