If you ask me where is the best tourist spot in Japan I'll probably wouldn't recommend Nagano city, it's not as popular as other famous tourist destinations like Kyoto, Osaka, Hokkaido, etc. Nagano city or Monzen is just a modest little town with a lot of temples around. Some people might find it less interesting or even boring. The things that make it so different for me is all the good people I've met, and it makes it my favorite place in Japan.

The very first person I must thank is Orie san, the owner of the backpacker's hostel, all these wouldn't happen without you and the wonderful 1166. I was told that the hostel is just opened less than a month when I first arrived, I'm not a superstitious person but I think there might be some sort of fate that connected all this together. Orie san told me that she was just moved in to Nagano city not long ago, but she felt that Nagano is her hometown already. Yes, Orie san I feel the same too. I believe 1166 will getting better and inspired more people from all over the world, I'll miss you too.

And of course, arigatou gozaimasu Ota san. You must be very tired, having to work for long hours everyday and taking care of a lazy foreigner in the meanwhile, thanks for everything. We getting to know each other better during the 3 weeks without speaking same language, from a complete stranger, to friend, to good friend and hopefully business partner in the future. I believe we'll still work closely together and have more chance to see each other, so I'll not miss you, haha. 男は黙ってサッポロビール!(I guess it's simply means: real man don't complain, and drink Sapporo Beer on his own.) Ota san said it's the Just Do It spirit for Japanese people. Thanks for the phrase, I'll remember it for lifetime.

I've gained a lot during this trip, my wallet is empty but my heart is full. I've seen a young lady who running a hostel on her own, working everyday from 7am-12am non-stop without complain. A guy who didn't studied graphic design but able to run his own design studio from top to toe. They are giving 100% in doing what they like to do, and bit by bit slowly contributed back to the neighborhood as well. Everyone in Monzen is enjoy doing what they are good at, and influence each other to be better everyday, I hope to see such positive energy in Malaysia community as well.

I've been trying to run away from Malaysia because I think it doesn't have potential for a designer to grow. But after the trip It makes me feel that maybe I should start thinking of what to give to the community instead of waiting for it to give me something, maybe I should give more love to my native land... should I?

Ota san and me were trying to do a collaboration project together, of course it's definitely just for fun and will not earning any money at the first stage, but I hope it can be done and lead to something good in future, let's not talk about things that haven't realized for now.

I'm looking forward for the next challenging year already, with all the blesses from you all in Nagano, I'm sure everything is gonna be fine :) And so it's ended my full time blogger project, I'm not a good writer and really slow in writing, always feel reluctant to reply long emails and Q&A. It takes me whole day to finish the last 3 blog posts.

Will try to do less talking and more working from now on. So at last, I've attached the lyrics of the last song you guys make me sang in the Karaoke the other night. Happy new year.

"...We are the ones who make a brighter day, so let's start giving. There's a choice we're making, we're saving our own lives, It's true we'll make a better day, just you and me. "


The warmest place on earth

- The story begins from 1166 backpackers hostel.

I'll be heading back to Tokyo at 4pm. Didn't talk much and taking photos today, maybe I was getting tired from last night party or simply just not in a good mood. We have our last pasta lunch in cafe toque toque with friends from 1166, then went for mochi pounding session right in front of nanographica. There are plenty of delicious mochi free for everybody, it was pretty cold and snowing out there but the young and old still gathered around to participated in it. I'm so jealous of the friendly neighborhood and simple lifestyle in Monzen (the area surrounding Zenkoji).

- Off you go.

- Backpackers no mina san.

The snow makes the departure slightly melancholy. We took some more group photos in front of the hostel and then Ota san drove us to the bus station. Ota san and Yamada san stood in the snow for about 10 minutes until our bus left. I felt so sorry, you guys are just being too kind.

For all you great people in Nagano I will miss you all and will definitely come back again as often as I could. Take good care Nagano no Mina san, you all makes Monzen the warmest place on earth. Ganbaro!

- 男は黙ってサッポロビール!

- Omamori from Zenkoji.

- 街並み, 長野門前暮らしのすすめ, ザ・ドリフターズ (The Drifters) photo, and postcard by nonoko. (I never know you're such talented illustrator before this.)

- Blessing from 1166 no mina san, I will try to understand all the Japanese words on it without checking translator one day.


This is my second last day in Nagano. We went to check out an old kindergarten (長野中央幼稚園) in the morning with Kuraishi and Kei san from Bonnecura. According to Kei san the kindergarten will not be occupied anymore since the building is getting too old and will be demolished in few years time. They are planning to renovate the space and reuse it as a gallery, shop or something. I loves old and antique stuff, and appreciate the way of Japanese preserve their own culture and historical objects, they always make good use and find a good place for this classic old design.

- Custom-made wooden blocks, simple and great toy design for kid.

- Orie san's figure made by her puppeteer parents.

- Mari chan stealing wooden tea tray from Nanographica.

A good friend of mine Mari chan from Tokyo came to visit us in the afternoon. We had lunch in Hiyori and had great conversation thanks to Orie san, our caring translator. I became a tour guide and show Mari around Monzen area, the naughty Mari chan made snowman in front of the sacred temple... And then I brought her to nanographica, which I think is one of the best cafe gallery, shop, studio in Nagano. The monthly photography magazine, machinami 街並み which produced by them are simply beautiful. Too bad the cafe was closed but we manage to steal some free gift in their front door.

Joined Bonnecura's bonenkai 忘年会 at night. It was a bit dreamy and unreal to see most of the people I've met during the past 3 weeks gathered around together in a tiny restaurant, it's kinda like a movie flash back when I saw all the nice people from Bonnecura, todoroki design, Hiyori cafe, country-press, ultra-L (Hara san's office), great chef and owner of the Italian restaurant Komatsuya, etc. It's so amazing that all the talented people from different fields are friends and knew each other.

Ota san presented a pair of Tshirts that he designed quickly yesterday for me as a souvenir. Well, It's a bit gay to have both of our face on the T-shirt but it makes the best gift for my stay in Nagano. Arigatou! I'm really appreciate it!

- Wild people in the Karaoke.

- Ota san with our memorable Tshirt.

It was my last night here of course they won't let me go home so easily. We went for midnight karaoke session, the good and gentle people I used to know suddenly become different at night... jumping around and shouting like a mad person. Yeah~ work hard and play harder, that's the spirit!


Three weeks

Time flies. It's already the third week I'm here and I can't believe I'm going to leave in 2 days' time. To me this trip has been the most meaningful and amazing experience throughout the year, it makes me feel that I didn't wasted my 2010, and it was a right decision to go for this long vacation.

Today is a quiet day, Ota san didn't have much meetings and presentations to rush for, so we spent most of our time in the office. He show me old photo of him in dreadlocks, the photo was taken about 10 years ago, Kakoii guy. We had some more discussion about our collaboration, and finally we lock down our project name and rough direction. Alright! Let's make things happen.

We went to Shimi san house for dinner again, it was kind of like a farewell dinner for me. Thank you Shimi san and family! This is the first time I have noodles in ice, Oishii. I hope I can come back to visit you all again in near future, please take care and stay happy everyday.

- Great Teenage Ota.

- Super Ai chan at work.

- Icy Somen.

- Happy family.

Day 20

1. We had simple udon lunch, and Ota san suggested we should go for Onsen today, and off we go.
2. Love the scenery so much, the mountains are beautiful with snow.
3. Stop over at Morinowakko for an exhibition.
4. Natural light.
5. Photography by オオイガワ
6. Inside Morinowakko.

7. Outside Morinowakko.
8. Susaka Onsen. I started in love with this Japanese way of releasing stress.
9. Took a walk in the evening, hello 1166.
10. Good for your stomach.
11. Narado cafe. Recommended by Ota san.
12. Very old cafe with nice ambient, make me feel like smoking.

13. Ota san being a photographer for a sushi project.
14. Ebi miso soup.
15. Super expensive sushi... we had it for free, arigatou!!
16. Itadakiimasu.

Night discussion, Ota san making notes on his notebook.


All things bright and beautiful

Woke up in the morning realized that the street out there is already covered by snow. Wow this is the first white christmas in my lifetime ever, thank you Santa! I met Ota san in the office then we go out together for christmas photograph session. It was still the same old views but the snow makes everything looks so beautiful and fascinating.

- Ho ho ho~

- Bought apple Kit Kat and spicy Kit Kat for souvenirs.

Had second meeting with Sato kensaku san this evening. They were first hesitated about the the visual proposed by Ota san, but he managed to came out with another solution right on the spot and in the end they are both happy with the outcome, everything get back on track again, yokatta.

- Pressure pressure.

- Christmas party.

Right after the meeting we went to our lovely neighbor 1166 backpackers hostel for their christmas party. Yamada san made a wonderful meal for us, Chou Oishii~

Ai Wei Wei Documentary



Silent night

Past few days Ota san and me have been talking about starting some projects together so that we can continue our collaboration even after I left Nagano. The talking seems to be getting more serious and we wanted badly to make it happen.

- Aluminum silkscreen's frames.

- Screen printing machine.

So this morning we visited a T-shirt printing factory, to have some research and understanding about Japanese T-shirts' production. The printing factory is equipped with professional facilities, this is the first time I see the major silk-screening machines, the ink-usage and positioning are very accurate. I remember visited a T-shirt printing factory in Malaysia before, they were all manually adjusted and printed by man, hence the quality is easily get out of control.

- There are always visitors in Kanematsu.

Ota san show me some paper samples from Japanese retro printer, for print-freak like me will easily get over-excited to see such nice papers and printing techniques, I wish there are such quality printers in Malaysia...

- Japanese retro printing.

- Nice!

- Silent dinner.

Today is Christmas eve, Ota san is having his own dinner plan :) So I went for my silent dinner at the very nice cafe nearby - Hiyori again. Love the chicken soup curry here, it's not a typical Japanese curry, somehow it tasted a bit like our South East Asia curry, maybe I'm just getting home sick. I was trying to think about the collaboration project in this quiet cafe, the cafe manager - Hiromi san came over and gave me a free drinks coupon and their Tenugui (Japanese handkerchief) due to their 5th anniversary celebration. Thanks for the little surprises for me everyday, arigatou gazaimasu and Merry Christmas~

- Merry Christmas~

Day 17

Public holiday. Skip today's post.


Day 16

Not a productive day. Wake up at 9am this morning in Shimi san's house. Ota san is getting tired, I can tell from his face. We took a walk during lunch time, bought some cup noodle and bread then have our lunch at a small neighborhood park. By evening I went out to collect my film from a camera shop, encounter the beautiful evening sky.

- Ota performed Tetsubou flip.

- Good night zenkoji.

- Mr.Ota special fried rice.

Day 15

Today's schedule is simple, meeting, meeting, meeting, and meeting. Running a studio on your own is not an easy task, Ota san is doing almost everything from planning, design, photography, print check, meeting, presentation, account, all by himself. I'm impressed by the hard work he put in his studio and he is actually enjoying every single process in the business. "Design is not only about sitting in front of the computer creating beautiful graphics, it's involve a lot of planning, organizing and communication with people... " I agree, and that's the hardest part for me that I really need to catch up.

- Family dinner.

Shimi san, the owner of Saunter Salon invited us to his house for dinner, this is consider my first family dinner ever in Japan. Shimi san and Ota san are best friend for more than 10 years. He is a really funny man, and a good father too. "I want my family members to be happy and laugh everyday." Such a simple statement but I was touched, you're the real man Shimizu san.

- Rin, Kai, and Sora chan.

- Family's pet.

We had a long chat until midnight, with simple English and Japanese but I think we're able to communicate quite well, we share a lot about our languages, histories, religions, and so on. I enjoyed the conversation so much, Ota san decided that we should stay over in Shimi san house for tonight.

I met a lot of generous people during this trip, thank you Mina san. Not many people willing to let a stranger stay overnight in their house, sit in their office everyday, bring him along to any client's meeting, share about their business and experience without hiding anything behind.

I'm just a stupid jobless guy who never think much about money and my future, I've been lucky enough to meet with someone as stupid (if not more stupid) as me who gave trust to a total stranger from nowhere. Thanks for your kindness, It makes me harder to leave this place...

- Oyasumi busy man.


Shashin time

- Zenkoji

Took a short walk around Zenkoji 善光寺 after lunch. Beautiful sunny day, the weather is so comfy, best time to take some photos!

We had a meeting mid afternoon, I took some more photos when we're on the way to client's office. Nagano (ShinShu) has a very unique geographical location, according to wikipedia, nine of the twelve highest mountains in Japan can be found in this inland prefecture. It's a city surrounded by mountains, you can see the gigantic mountains anywhere you go, subarashii~

- In front of client's office.

- On the way back.

- Coffee time.

We had coffee in D&Department before heading back to office. Were joking about we should collaborate on some projects and call our team - Zannen Boyz 残念男衆 (simply means Regrettable Boys). The nonsense talk seems like getting more serious, I don't like the word - Boyz, so we try to think of other alternatives... Zannen rider, Zannen manz, Zannen otoko shu, Zannen koji, etc.

Hope to see our Zannen group to be formed and doing some Zannen design soon. Go go Zannen Boyz!