Feb 22, 2017

Inuyama, Japan

Urakuen Garden 有楽苑
Inuyama 犬山 literally means dog mountain, is located approximately 25 km northwards from Nagoya. I actually planned a day trip to this place as I wouldn't want to spend too much time in Nagoya, and relatively this touristy little town is not very far away from Nagoya. We took a train in the morning from Fushimi Station (Nagoya) to Inuyama-Yūen Station.

Our first stop was Urakuen Garden (有楽苑) which houses one of the Japan National Treasures, Jo-an, one of the 3 finest teahouses in Japan. Well there was suppose to be entrance fee, not knowing that, we somehow went in by the side gate, thinking that's the entrance to it, until we're about to leave and saw the main entrance. A little guilted, but we're glad that we saved some money from that. LOL~

Feb 21, 2017

Takayama, Japan

飛騨特産品の店さくら井や @ Hanasatomachi 花里町
Departed from Shirakawa-go, we arrived safely at Takayama Nohi Bus Center at 4:15pm - we didn't have much time left so we had to kind of spend our time here wisely.

Similarly, the temperature here was as insane as Shirakawa-go. We waited no further and marched towards the old town district, Kamisannomachi 上三之町. The old town district is due east from the bus terminal, after crossing the Miyagawa River 宮川.

Takayama is known for its preservation of buildings dating from the Edo period two-three hundred years ago along the streets of its old town district. Apart from immersing oneself in the cultural richness at the old town, there are plenty of attractions to visit along the streets such as sake brewery, art galleries, museums and coffee houses.

Miyagawa River 宮川

Nakabashi Bridge 中橋

Kamisannomachi 上三之町
For a while it snowed quite heavily, as you can see in the photo.

Gohei Mochi 五平餅 @ ¥400

Harada Sake Brewery 原田酒造場

Shirakawa-go, Japan

We boarded the bus (Gifu Bus) at Meitetsu Bus Center at 9:00am and was expected to reach Shirakawa-go at 11:53am, it took a little longer and we reached Shirakawa-go Bus Terminal 白川郷バスターミナル at around 12:30pm.

Image courtesy of Meitetsu

Located in the Gifu Prefecture, Shirakawa-go is the first place I parked in our Nagoya trip itinerary as it has become an increasingly popular travel destination - I've seen friends posting photos of their trip to Shirakawa-go on Facebook and Instagram back in 2016. It thus became the highlight of our trip this time round and I certainly prayed for a smooth journey there.

Looking out of the bus window on our way up the Gifu mountains and the amount of snow was surely something that reminisce my student exchange experience in Sweden. I was surprised at Kenneth's calmness when he told me that that's his first time seeing snow (well, I would have been overly excited like a little kid if I were him).

The moment I alighted, I regretted that I was pretty underdressed for this harsh weather - merely a long sleeve T-shirt underneath my winter jacket, a pair of gloves, a pair of jeans and a single pair of socks underneath my usual pair of shoes, and it's −2°C.

Pickup point for Tenshukaku Observatory

We started walking southwards and realized there's this spot that people are queuing, and of course, it's the pickup point for the observatory. We boarded and paid ¥200 fare when we alighted at the Tenshukaku Observatory 天守閣展望台.

The view of the village from the observatory was simply mesmerizing.

There's a professional photographer there who helps to take photos of you with her DSLR and your camera(s) as well. The photos are immediately printed at the back and you can buy them if you wish to.

Jan 18, 2017

Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB)

I started taking the ASQ Six Sigma certifications in March 2016, to be specific, I took Certified Six Sigma Yellow Belt (CSSYB) in March 2016 and Certified Six Sigma Green Belt (CSSGB) in June 2016.

Unlike Yellow Black and Green Belt, a Certified Six Sigma Black Belt candidate is required to have two completed projects with signed affidavits or one completed project with signed affidavit and 3 years of work experience in one or more areas of the Six Sigma Body of Knowledge.

I already have more than 3 years of work experience in Cameron and so I used one of my Six Sigma Green Belt projects (Warehouse Picking Cycle Time Reduction) in Cameron as my affidavit, signed by the Operations Manager, who was my project champion.

I was still a member of ASQ, so I enjoyed the discounted exam fee at US$388 (S$570).
My last day in Cameron was 6 Jan 2017 and I'm joining Seagate as a Lean Engineer, and so I requested to join Seagate on 19 Jan 2017, which is a day after my CSSBB exam, so strategically I have time to study at ease during the period I was jobless.

ASQ has recently phased in computer-based testing, so similar to PMP and PMI-ACP, the CSSBB exam is delivered by Prometric testing centers, and again, Kenneth and I booked our slots at the King's Arcade branch.

Good things about computer-based testing:
  • You'll know your results immediately after submitting the answers.
  • No more pencil marking and erasing.
And also a few bad things about computer-based testing::
  • Unlike pencil-based testing, all materials accompanied (it's open-book exam for CSSBB) into the examination room are strictly inspected by the proctor. To sum it up, make sure your materials are binded, not stapled; and no sample Q&A portion can be taken in - they flip through almost every page to check on that.
  • When it comes to reviewing each question, you have to click one by one as one question is displayed in one screen, so you can't take an quick overview of a section.

Why Six Sigma certifications?

I had my first job landed in Cameron as a Global Rotational Development Program trainee, ever since then, I was exposed to the Six Sigma methodology because Cameron was a Lean Six Sigma enterprise.

I'm thankful that I was given the opportunity to lead the warehouse project which also served as my very first Lean Six Sigma Green Belt project. This first step was important in keeping me motivated further to subsequent Green Belt projects, which in time I closed a total of 3 Green Belt projects, entitling me to be certified as a Cameron certified Six Sigma Green Belt.

I believe it's the success and job satisfaction derived from project results and deliverables that made me persevere in the Lean Six Sigma discipline, to the point that I wanted to take ASQ Six Sigma certifications and considered this field for my future career.

How did I prepare for CSSBB?

You probably don't want to follow my footstep for this, because I only seriously started to study 2-3 weeks before the exam. Do a search online for tips, they'll tell you to start preparing at least a few months before hand.

The reason why I did last minute preparation is because I was busy (actually, lazy... XD). Also, I have read one of the modules in my Master of Science program in NUS last year, titled Applied Engineering Statistics, which comprises of the essential topics in inferential statistics. This saved me a lot of time going through topics in hypothesis testing, ANOVA, regression, DOE etc.

The two most common preparation materials available are:

I used the CSSBB Primer (2014 Edition) I already had there available from someone else. I personally have not gone through the handbook so I can't judge which book prepares the candidate better. But what I can say is, the real exam questions are pretty similar to the CSSBB Primer Solutions Text.

It's a 165-question, 4.5-hour-long exam, where 15 of them are unscored. I finished and submitted my answer in 3 hours because I just don't feel like wait any longer. It's pretty draining as well for 165 questions, but I told myself that I had worse from PMP, which was 200-question.

As mentioned, the results will show on the screen after the answers are submitted, and thank God, I passed.

I do feel contented with the certifications I've achieved so far, CSSYB, CSSGB, CSSBB, PMP and PMI-ACP, all done within 10 months on first try, while I was still studying for my master's degree. Grateful.

Nov 23, 2016

5 Wonderful Things to Do in Hokkaido

With its rich cultural heritage, spectacular National Parks, beautiful countryside sceneries, and tempting culinary traditions, Hokkaido is certainly a place you shouldn’t miss when you visit Japan. The country’s largest prefecture and second-biggest island offers a whole host of places to see and activities to do for travelers who are willing to look beyond popular destinations like Tokyo, Mt. Fuji, and the Kansai Region.

Here are some the best things that you can see and do while on the island:

Image courtesy of www.outdoorjapan.com

Play Winter Sports – Hokkaido is a premier destination for winter sports enthusiasts, thanks to the powder snow that is created by the winds that blow in from the frigid regions of Siberia every winter. This snow is world-famous for its weightlessness and dryness. On the island, you can experience prime tracks and slopes covered in this snow in any one of Hokkaido’s many luxury ski resorts.

If you’re looking for a place where you can experience the best snow on the island, you can book a stay at the Kiroro Resort. The complex is conveniently located just 1.5 hours’ drive away from the New Chitose Airport in Sapporo and offers a wide array of dining, shopping, spa, entertainment, and ski and snowboard training facilities for visitors. It is also just 30 minutes away from the charming fishing town of Otaru. If you’re visiting Kiroro in February, make sure to catch the Sapporo Snow Festival and the Snow Light Path Festival in Otaru.

Jozankei Onsen 定山渓温泉
Image courtesy of jozankei.jp

Bathe in an Onsen – Hokkaido offers an alluring array of hot spring baths knows as onsen. Sure, you can probably dip into a hot spa bath in your hotel, but for an even more authentic Hokkaido hot spring experience, you should visit some of the most famous onsen on the island. For instance, the Noboribetsu Onsen, the most well-known hot springs in Hokkaido, is within the spectacular environs of the Jogokudani “hell valley”. It may be called hell, but its natural hot water baths with different chemical compositions are said to provide heavenly relief to various bodily conditions. If you are looking for something nearer Sapporo, consider going to the beautiful Jozankei Onsen hot spring village, which can be reached after an hour-long bus ride from the city.

Sapporo Central Wholesale Market Crab Market 札幌市中央卸売
Image courtesy of www.jyogaiichiba.com

Feast on Seafood – Hokkaido is like seafood nirvana to traveling foodies, and many visitors claim that the island’s seafood offerings are the best in the world. For the freshest sushi, sashimi, kani (crab), ika (squid), hotate (scallops), sake (salmon), and uni (sea urchin), go to Nijo Market in downtown Sapporo or visit the Sapporo Central Wholesale Market Crab Market. In the fishing town of Otaru, you can also enjoy a bowl of kaisen donburi—which is made with rice and seafood ingredients like maguro (tuna), uni, kani, and ikura (salmon roe).

Matsumae Castle 松前城
Image courtesy of www.japan-guide.com

View the Flowers – Hokkaido is an amazing place to see the beautiful blooms of spring and summer. The time between early May and the middle of May is the height of sakura (cherry blossom) season on the island, so this is the best time to see Japan’s iconic flowers in full bloom. You can visit the Matsumae Castle grounds in Matsumae and the Goryokaku star port in Hakodate to see the best clusters of sakura. You can also go to the Kamiyubetsu Tulip Park near Yubetsu to see the tulips in a field known among visitors as “little Netherlands”. If you go to Takinoue Park, on the other hand, you’ll be able to witness the carpets of pink shibazakura (moss phlox) covering entire hills and fields. In July, you also can visit the towns of Furano and Biei in the heartland of Hokkaido to see their beflowered lavender fields.

Image courtesy of www.huffingtonpost.com

View the autumn leaves – Alternatively, you can also go to Hokkaido in October and November to see the grandeur of Japanese autumn in some of the island’s most famous national parks. These include the Shiretoko National Park, the Daisetsuzan National Park,the Shikotsu-Toya National Park, and the Akan National Park.

In Sapporo, there are also many places where you can take in the sights of the fall season. For instance, you can visit the campus of Hokkaido University or stroll down the pathways of Nakajima Koen Park. The Takino Suzuran Hillside National Government Park, with its wide-open spaces and hilly landscapes, is also one of the best places to enjoy autumn in Sapporo.

Hokkaido is clearly one of Japan’s most interesting holiday destinations, so make sure not to miss out on all the wonderful things that it has to offer. If you love expansive natural landscapes and pristine wilderness environments, Hokkaido is sure to be one of the most magical places that you’ll ever visit.