I like ancient costume dramas, particularly those of the wuxia and fantasy genres. No doubt I watch more of them than modern dramas. Personally, I find that they occasionally offer more than just narrative entertainment and thematic or moral value. An effort is put forth to add a touch of artistic, beautiful presentation to them that rarely exists in TVB modern dramas. This care for visual aesthetics is especially evident in Ghost Writer as far as setting and emphazising the mystical atmosphere or current events. It is the main element that kept me reeling with the show, and the image above is specifically what inspired me to think twice about the presentation of Ghost and ask what the crew and camera were perhaps seeking to do.
As with many TVB dramas, I can count the major locations with one hand and Ghost is no different. Leaving out the various mountains, rivers, and forests, notable places in Ghost are the Po’s home, the factory/shop, Ko’s home/restaurant, Ling Wu’s abode, and liaozhai. For the purpose of this post, I want to focus on the Ling Wu’s “Peach Blossom Grove” because it stands out the most to me.
I don’t know about you, but the first time Siu Tsui (Fala Chen) took Pu Song Ling (Steven Ma) to her home in episode 13, I was insanely mesmerized. Not that I haven’t seen a gorgeous setup before, but it’s because this place ignited a feeling of nostalgia. It reminded me of past TVB productions where the same little edifice can be an entirely different world. Now, I’m not sure if the crew went out of their way to build this new location. But they had apparently put a lot of energy into its design, decoration, and lighting.
The Ling Wu’s home lies inside a forest protected by magic, allowing for the innocent grandfather and child fox to exclude themselves from the fearful human world outside and beyond. In the beginning, “Peach Blossom Grove” was a place of calmness, meditation, and healing. It was a divine paradise. However, once the jealousy, greed, despairs, sorrows and many more emotions of mankind entered and filled this quiet paradise, “Peach Blossom Grove” became a sad, sad place where loved ones were separated, innocent beings were injured, and lives were lost. Through these occurrences ands the growth of our characters, “Peach Blossom Grove” witnessed everything, changing its ethereal cloudiness and shadows to match that which we (the audience) may be feeling.
When done well, the background aesthetics of a scene can enhance the mood, solidify the scene, and bring you into the imagined world. And sometimes, there is a lot more to what we see. Little things like flowers, food, candles, jewelries can have hidden messages or emphasize possible implications the producer desires be made.
I’m not saying that I’m okay with a plotless yet gorgeous show. If a show can use its “eye candies” to support the plot, then more power to it. As in the image above, it alone is not enough to explain what Pu Song Ling may be feeling or thinking. Without the context of the story, we wouldn’t know that Pu Song Ling is in a serene piece of mind because he had been through rougher times and thus, cherishes what he has now. It would also be difficult to understand that Pu Song Ling chose this way of life, this dark world along with the spirits and away from the humans, because he had been utterly wounded and despaired. It’s not that Pu Song Ling has given up on humanity, but he chose not to be a part of it. For him, peace and happiness reside in the dark and mythical rather than the colorful and chaotic world. Along this line, his emotions are supported by the scenery. The cloudiness and the moon contrasts with the darkness of his residence, perhaps indicating that Pu Song Ling is a man who deserted the world of man for his own paradise. Is Pu Song Ling living a reality? Or a dream?
Unbelievable. It took slightly over 6 months for me to recap this very, very, very SHORT travel show. I can’t fathom how some bloggers do this almost every day, writing extremely detailed summaries for dramas over 20, even 30 episodes long. Me? I officially suck at recapping shows episodically. I wish I was *that* dedicated. But nevertheless, I made it and we’re here, at the very last chapter of Sakura Memories. Banzai!!
Have you figured out what “happiness” is? Did Niki Chow manage to show it to you or tell you where it can be found (in Japan)? Are you able to see it, taste it, touch it, feel it … in your own life?
Happiness is simple. Happiness can found anywhere and is everywhere. It can be fleeting joy you experience while getting caught up in the moment, like getting a 100% on a very difficult exam or cooking up a delicious dish for the first time. It can be savored bliss you feel while recalling important memories of special people and past times, like the days of your honeymoon or the years you spent playing on the slides and sandbox. But I think the epitome of happiness is when you truly love yourself, for you and no one else.
For a final chapter, Sakura Memories ended rather calmly, without any sighted attempt of pounding in the show’s theme. I guess this is to be expected of any travel show since they are merely “fun” documentaries and nothing more. Thus, Sakura Memories fulfills this purpose.
One day, I definitely want to explore the scenic wonders Niki saw, especially the field of yellow flowers (Rapeseed) because I have seen it often in anime, namely Clannad. I would also like to try those crazy seafood dishes. Our family went to dim sum today and I totally ordered crab just because my mouth had watered when I watched Niki boil those HUGE crab legs. When shopping, I bought strawberries and made a slushy just because she picked out some of the most insanely fresh and red strawberries. Yum!
Niki is adorable. She is naturally bubbly, from being afraid when feeding seagulls to trying out new food and dining with others who don’t speak her language. I think this is where her charisma originates–she breaks down the wall, becomes friendly, and communicates easily. Throwing herself into an experience helps her gain more from it. Likewise, if you put more effort in to something, the more happiness your heart holds when that something works out.
Happiness can be found anywhere, even in a foreign land. You only have to open your heart, and appreciate every second, every encounter in your life. Cherish the relationships you have, the life you live, the person you are. Don’t take the things in front of you for granted. Happiness is that simple, so when the sun rises, make sure to smile.
You thought I’ve forgotten about this, didn’t you? Fear not. Though I am lazy and take forever to update my blog, I will not forget about Sakura Memories and leave it hanging, especially when this chapter was so sweet. Thus far, Sakura Memories has succeed in showcasing the beautiful landscape of Japan and its unique food and culture through the dining and exploration of our host, Niki Chow. I also commend the camerawork. The angle and lighting present captivating stills that almost look like paintings. But what this episode offered was a little bit more, making a travel show more than a mere travel show. Similar to the second chapter, there was underlying emotional appeal, but in a more day-to-day perspective.
Do you remember your days in high school, your friends and the time you spent studying together, eating together, playing together? If you’ve graduated, have you been back to visit that place where many of your memories reside? I think high school is a period in which a teenager truly grows and learns to be more mature. (This explains why so many anime focus on school life.) The process is hard and sometimes, when you realize what you’re going through, it is startling. But that’s why there are teachers around to guide you, family to support you, and friends to walk with you. Some of what you’re taught may not be practical for real life, but that’s not important. What’s important is your growth throughout the process.
The same goes for time spent with family and time used for relaxation. Homecook food and a rice cake your father personally hand you probably aren’t too expensive. Actually, they’re priceless. Ten years from now, you’ll remember them and tears might start flowing. Ten years from now, maybe you’ll be able to afford your own luxurious home, rather than spend your life in a tiny trailer home by the lake. But that’s when you’ll really start appreciating the little things in life and the carefree days you had. These subtle feelings of joy are what I enjoyed most while Niki explored an older town school, experienced a family meal, and visited an older couple by the lake.
However, no interaction between Niki and the family or couple would have been possible if marriage didn’t exist. Weddings are special, and they’re special because so much effort go into planning them, so much love, desire, and commitment to making them happen. The time and energy Niki forked out to learn and create the bridal ornament was worth it. It looks very sweet. I hope she’ll get the chance to make one for her own wedding one day. I hope she’ll soon find a perfect partner to sit facing her and watch the sunset together.
Right after I complained about last chapter’s randomness, Sakura Memories strikes back with an engaging emphasis on apples. That’s right. This entire chapter is dedicated to the red, juicy (Fuji) apples we all know and love.
When you see an apple, what do you think? What do they represent?
We often hear the phrase, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” and from that, we often relate apples with health. However, the color of an apple, its shape, taste, and size can make an apple mean much more. It can mean love, cherishment, good luck, or in the perspective of Niki Chow, happiness.
On a snowy day, Niki is inside painting an apple-shaped bell. On it, she writes, “Always be happy.” She later goes to the seaside and sees a glass float, which is a fishing item, lying on the shore. From far away, it looks like a simple hollow sphere, but its shape is similar to an apple and it is made from an interesting technique called glassblowing. Therefore, Niki’s next destination is a glassfusing workshop, where she tries glassblowing with the help of an expert to form a piece of glassware. At the end of the day, he gives her a beautiful red glass apple.
The next day, Niki visits a seafood market (FRESH SCALLOP!), a waterfall, and an apple orchard. At the orchard, Niki briefly interviews the owner. He gives her a plate of wood, on which she writes her name and then attaches to one of the apple trees. I’m not sure if the owner gave the tree to her or she bought it but on April 28, 2009, Niki became the owner of a Japanese apple tree!
Reason being Japanese apples are “perfect” and it all comes down to the production process. Now, I’m one heck of a picky eater and honestly, I hate apples. I know they’re supposed to be good for my health but that doesn’t mean I have to like them. The only kind of apple I’m willing to eat when my mom makes me is Fuji. After watching this chapter of Sakura Memories, I got intrigued and went to hunt for information about how a Japanese apple was produced. Turns out, Japanese apples are “perfect” thanks to the massive amount of farming effort. I’m not going to go into the details but you can read about it here.
Apart from the tribute to apples, Niki was again really cute. Her outfits in this chapter are probably my favorite so far. I also like the use of English, especially when Niki asked the orchard owner, “Apple tree?” (LOL.) I think by the end of summarizing these episodes of Sakura Memories, I’m going to sound like a broken record for continuously praising Niki.
Actually, I think already do.
Random traveling is so random. The storyboard (if any) for this chapter of Sakura Memories is beyond sporatic. There is no focus, no special touch, no true meaning. The crew and dear Niki Chow are all over the place.
Moving on to the next destination, Niki is on the road again, somewhere around Akita. The weather is generally wet and rainy, with temperatures below 10 degrees C.
To start out, Niki wears a purple traditional Japanese kimono and gets taken for a ride through the streets on a rickshaw, meanwhile narrating about what represents a Japanese lady (ojou-sama). She then randomly goes to have lunch. I think the dish is a type of chankonabe, or Japanese stew. I’m guessing it is kim-chee style chankonabe and below is the recipe in case you want to try it out.
After that, she randomly gets on a train, randomly goes to watch a Japanese stage play, randomly goes to a park and what looks like an open market, randomly eats Japanese chow mein, randomly goes to play with a pack of tremendously fluffy and adorable dogs, randomly enjoys herself at an onsen, and randomly walks along a field of icy snow?
You get the drift … and the chapter ends. Fantastic, right?
The hometown of folklore, Touno City, here we come!
The start of the episode shows Niki Chow spending most of her time in the big city and again, eating Japanese cuisine and viewing Japanese sakura trees, while wearing an ultra cute hat! However, the big city only took up about 5 minutes of the chapter. For the remaining time, Niki goes to Touno City in the Iwate Prefecture to experience the life of an average middle class Japanese family.
The family Niki spends time with owns an inn and plantation. Four generations of their family live together and they are all very well off and happy. While Niki is with them, she tries fishing, milking and feeding cows, plucking shiitake mushrooms, and having fun with the cute kids.
Kappa stories aren’t exactly interesting to me. Nevertheless, I really enjoy kappa references and jokes in anime, especially kappa-face Kusuda in Hatsukoi Limited. I didn’t feel like this chapter of Sakura Memories focused very much on the kappa legends anyway.
Niki was mostly trying out the countryside lifestyle and that was definitely fun to watch. I think the one word Niki has learned to keep on the corner of her mouth while traveling in Japan is “hoishi.” She usually smiles and nods when she tries to show that something is good but “hoishi” eventually became a reflexive response and the way she says it is so cute. Also, her expressions are extremely adorable when she was trying to catch the fish and milk the cow. She kept jumping around and laughing! The other thing I’ve noticed about Niki is she is a really personable person, particularly with the elders. Her hug with the granny was so sweet!
In the next chapter, we’ll get to see the dog and you can expect me to be squealing with delight! Oh, take note. The best part of this chapter (for me) is kappa Dora-chan.
Continuing her travel, Niki visits a cherry orchard at the beginning of this chapter before making her way to a temple. At the temple, she meets the temple’s caretaker, an old lady at the age of 86. The granny takes Niki around the temple and shows her how prayers are done. Through their conversations, Niki learns about the granny’s past. (It’s something about her husband. I’m not sure.) The granny gives Niki a charm to bless her love life, hoping she will find happiness in her next romance, and they make a promise that the next time Niki visits, she will bring her partner along.
The next stop is Kamanokoshisakura, where Niki enjoys the sight of an 800 year old cherry blossom tree. In town, she goes to a restaurant where she watches as well as tries “dough whacking”, which is a Japanese method to make mochi. Afterward, Niki visits a public bath house. She interviews the owner and also plays shogi (chess). Niki then gets a chance to watch traditional Japanese dances, specifically the type called “nihon buyo”. You can read about the dances and history here.
Moving on to Tsuruoka, Niki visits an udon master, who teachers her to make udon. (Niki learns rather fast!) She then goes to a park and this time, spots a 1200 year old cherry blossom tree. The location is not only a tourist attraction but also a place for many families, friends, and couples to relax during their free time. Finally, by a river, Niki listens to an old gentleman play the bass and also makes a few sounds on it herself after he leaves. (Niki doesn’t play any instrument does she?)
Sakura Memories went from educationally interesting last chapter to touching at the beginning of this chapter to an uplifting and relaxing piece of art. However, I like the first chapter better. This one grabbed my attention at the beginning but got a little boring in the second half. Whenever Niki gets to eat though, I got really hungry too! All the food looks so delicious. Therefore, a warning to anyone planning to watch this–make sure you’re eating something or is already full while watching.
Some scenes in Sakura Memories remind me a lot about anime I’ve seen. At the beginning when Niki was munching on those cherries, I immediately started thinking about this picture of Enma Ai from Jigoku Shoujo. It was funny for me because I just pointed at the screen going, “Oh! Oh! Oh!” (LOL.) In any case, I’m really enjoying what Sakura Memories has to offer so far and I expect it to get better. The least that this travel show is would be a very good tourist guide. But it is definitely more than that.
I absolutely love the theme song for Sakura Memories. Only the chorus is played for the opening portion of this travel show, but getting to listen to some of the song in a high quality clear-cut version was simply a blessing to the ears. With enchantingly captivating scenery, sparkling cherry blossoms, and the gorgeous sunny smile of Niki Chow to go along though? The wonderful feelings building up within the heart enhanced tremendously.
The show starts out with an overview of the many places Niki would be exploring, allowing us to get a glimpse of what she would be doing, who she would meet, and what we should expect. In the background is her narration, basically defining “hang fuk” (幸福) or “happiness”. She talks about the sharing of “happiness” and gives a summary of her general feelings for each of the places we would be seeing like the “romantic” hot springs. We also see that Niki keeps a journal of her travel that is most likely to make notes/references for her book.
Niki then begins her travel. She first attends an outdoor wedding ceremony, congratulating the bride and groom. The guests kindly invites her to sit with them and even taught her the hand sign for “love”. She then watches a horse-racing event, which I didn’t think was very exciting. Next, she sits down for a tea ceremony and apparently, the tea is very bitter. Niki also gets to taste a grand Japanese cuisine set (I’m not quite knowledgeable about the topic, so I wasn’t sure what the box was though I did see wasabi in there.) and drinks a bit of sake. Afterward, she experiences a ride on the JR Senseki Line and then heads to the Ishinomori Mangakan Museum. The museum is a tribute to the late Shotaro Ishinomori, a manga artist famous for Cyborg 009 and Kamen Rider. In the museum, Niki sees some of Ishinomori’s original drawings. She also tries to draw herself and says being a manga artist is hard.
A seafood restaurant is the next stop and Niki gets to try some very special delicacies. Later in the day, Niki stops by many shops selling kokeshi wooden dolls but the main attraction is when she goes to the actual workshop. She gets to make a traditional kokeshi doll of her own with the help of a craftsman who has been in the business for over 50 years. On a paper strip, Niki writes her wish in which she hopes for “hang fuk fai lok” (幸福快乐) and attaches the strip to a large kokeshi doll. (I’m not sure what this is although I believe it’s similar to tanabata and the spirit of the doll would bless her.) Finally, at the end of the day, she is back in her hotel. She briefly interviews a worker who manages the hot water. He explains their work and she says, “Fushigi desu ne!” which would literally mean “That’s mystifying” or I think in this case would be “That’s wonderful”. Niki then takes a nice warm bath and goes back to enjoy the view from her room.
Don’t miss out on the travels with our adorably fun Niki through beautiful Japan again in the next chapter to learn more about Japanese culture along with its natural as well as man-made wonders. Be sure to tune in!!
Although I read manga, watch a lot of anime, and can probably name quite a few Japanese celebrities, I’m not strongly familiar with Japanese culture other than a few common things like hot springs, origami, the kimono, sushi, tea ceremonies, tanabata, etc. Thus, watching Sakura Memories was a rather enriching experience. I got more out of it than I had expected and of course, getting to see Niki for 20-something minutes straight was a joyful delight. I loved it when Niki spoke Japanese. It was really cute!! If I remember correctly, she only said 4 short phrases including “itadakimasu”, “sumimasen, koreto, koreto, koreto”, “hoishi”, and “fushigi desu ne”. The best part in all of that was I understood every phrase! (So proud of myself, lol.) Niki sounded a bit awkward in Japanese at first but by the end, she seemed more comfortable.
The most interesting attraction in this chapter for me is the making of the kokeshi dolls. (Weird how it isn’t the manga part, right?) You can read up on the history and theories of the dolls here. I think they are somewhat similar to Chinese paper dolls that are made to honor the dead. I liked watching Niki make her doll and the craftsman who helped her was so nice and totally adorable. Since kokeshi dolls are originally from northern Japan, I believe Niki is somewhere in Naruko. Thus, we will probably be seeing her travel from north to south and perhaps to some of the famous islands later.
The overall show gives off a relaxing, light-hearted atmosphere which fits the theme perfectly. I will definitely be following this travel show and since there are only 7 chapters, I’ll try my best to summarize them all. Finally, please do understand that my Cantonese is limited and this post is written based on what I could make out. If you find errors, don’t hesitate to correct me.