Scribble scrabble.



Kawagoe, Japan
A question I often get when penning my travel guides is if it’s possible to make a day trip to Kyoto from Tokyo. This question is always accompanied by a faint sense of hope and desperation, as if the asker already knows the answer, but still hopes for validation otherwise..

The correct answer, of course, is what your wallet allows for. So technically, yes, it is possible, but it’s mad expensive and frankly, a day trip most people aint willing to pay for. The bullet train alone is over a hundred dollars! In general, it only makes sense to head to that side of Japan if you’ve got a longer trip and can afford to spend a good couple of days in that city – check out Tokyo Cheapo, which did a pretty straightforward breakdown of easy ways to get from Tokyo to Kyoto here.

But what if your week long holiday is based purely in Tokyo and you can only afford to take a day trip out?

Most people don’t realise that there are a ton of day-trip options out from Tokyo that are really accessible and feasible, as long as you put in your research hours prior to the trip. For those who want to see Kyoto but can’t afford the time to travel so far out, the perfect day trip you’re looking at lies half an hour out of the city center, in a little town called Kawagoe.

Why Kawagoe?

The appeal of Kawagoe resonates strongly with that of Gion, Kyoto. Often referred to as Little Edo, it’s one of the small towns in the Saitama prefecture that survived the World War Two bombings, and so retains the old school Japanese charm of what Tokyo might have looked like, once upon a time. The architecture and atmosphere of the city center is so similar to what I remember of Kyoto from my trip there two years ago, and it’s location is much more accessible from Tokyo for a better price!

Getting to Kawagoe
All that lies between you and Kawagoe is a half hour train ride. You can get a 700yen return trip ticket under this Discount Pass scheme they have going on, which is available only from Ikebukuro Station and only to tourists. Ikebukuro, as you may remember from my Broke Student’s Guide to Tokyo, is on the JR Yamanote line and also is where Tokyo’s Pokemon Center is located, so you can drop by the Pokecenter then head to Kawagoe if you have time!


This is what the very cute discount pass looks like. You have to go to the train office and ask for it, you can’t get it from the machines. Which means that you don’t tap to go in either, you just flash it to the station guard and he lets you pass through this aircon room into the station! Ha.

This is actually a really good price because it’s essentially 8SGD for a round ticket, whereas going there on a normal ticket is at least 470yen one way! As with most of Japan, different line operators will service the tokyo-kawagoe route for different prices, but this is the most economical. WITH ONE EXCEPTION. If you’re on the Japan rail pass, you can take a 55min train from Shinjuku station to Kawagoe station via the JR Saikyo/Kawagoe Line and it’ll be covered. But the Japan rail pass is pretty pricey too, so you wouldn’t get it unless you were already going to travel long distances within Japan. So for most people, the Kawagoe Discount Pass makes the most sense.

Please note – the discount pass is only valid for ONE DAY, so don’t expect your return pass to work if you’re planning to stay a night there!

Kawagoe: getting around

Your main mode of transport in Kawagoe are your legs. The city is very, very walkable, to the point where bikes and cars don’t really make sense if you’d like to get a good sense of the city, in my opinion. Kawagoe’s train station is a fair distance from the heart of the traditional little town, about a thirty minute leisurely walk. Because it’s easier to visualise, here’s a screenshot of the map for Kawagoe:

Screenshot 2017-01-31 22.46.05

As you can see, it’s a fairly straightforward walk. That really long bit in the middle that’s just one straight road, is a city bit which is essentially one long road of modern-ish shops with lots of things to see. You can also skip the walking by taking a ten minute taxi ride or a twenty minute bus ride, but I’d suggest walking instead because then you can really see what the city is like. Remember to time yourself – shops close early, and so you want to reach the old town just before dusk since it gets really beautiful once the lights dim and street lights turn on.

*I mapped to Candy Alley because that’s the most iconic street in the old town and the easiest to remember if you’re trying to navigate your way around, but the city does start melting into traditional architecture before that.

*Just another note: Almost no one in Kawagoe speaks English. So you’re better off mapping your way before heading there, instead of trying to ask for directions when you reach.

Kawagoe: All Eel Need Is Love
Pardon the bad pun. But Kawagoe’s main specialty is Unagi, and so Unagi one must have when in town.

As the story goes, other forms of meat like pork were forbidden back in ~the day~, and so the locals ate lots and lots of eel. Up till this day, Unagi remains their main specialty, and most restaurants have their own special way of seasoning the eel that’s been passed down through the generations!

Unagi as it is is an expensive dish, so this is going to be an expensive meal relative to the five dollar ramen bowls you’d have been eating throughout Japan. But by expensive, I mean.. thirty, forty bucks? Which, if you think about it, is not bad at all for a good meal, and way cheaper than what the Singaporean equivalent of a good meal would cost. So it’s all about the value, you guys!

The best restaurant in Kawagoe for eel is Uchinoya, and following the when are you ever coming back to kawagoe again..?? logic, to Uchinoya we went. The wait time was about an hour, so we took the hour to wander around the Warehouse district while waiting our turn. I’m not sure if you can do a phone booking, but as we had no japanese-speakers in our group, we were content to just wait it out. Later, I googled it and it seems you can make a booking on this site in English!


The restaurant itself is gorgeously set up, with tatami/tabled private rooms, and everything is in Japanese. Ha! Thankfully, the more popular items are also available on a simplified English menu, so ask for that. The place also accepts major cards, so don’t worry if you haven’t brought enough cash. Easily one of the most satisfying meals in Japan, and even more so if you’re originally an unagi fan!

Kawagoe: Candy Alley and More

Jacket: Her Velvet Vase | Skirt: GU Japan | Shoes: Timberland Japan
Candy Alley (possibly the cutest street name ever) and its surrounding lanes are all architectural gems. Done up in the traditional style, each shophouse glows with warm light in a comfortingly cinematic style. The street shops sell everything from pricey souvenirs to awesome street snacks, and you could spend a couple of hours just popping in and out of stores, gazing at every brick and tile… it felt a little like we were behind the scenes on set for an olden day movie, and given free rein with which to play with the set props. Amazing!

The best time to be here, as mentioned before, is sunset. In the day it’s pretty, but at dusk it’s spectacular. We were there in October, when the air gets chilly with the turn of the day, and so the compounded effect of the bustle, lights, and chill was amazing.


Each shop seems individually dedicated to being the most accurate representation of olden day Tokyo it can be. While there isn’t one particular thing that you’d be flocking to see, in Kawagoe, the devil really is in the details. Take your time to look at every single thing and don’t just stride past the little shops – we saw a mini outdoor onsen at the back of a craft store, where you could have a beer/coffee and soak your feet in steaming spring water, and stumbled upon a mega traditional and gorgeous dining area by a private bamboo grove behind a door in a random bar! And although not many people speak English there, everyone is mega friendly. You get the feeling they’re used to tourists reacting to their little town in wonder, and that can only be a good thing.. or so we hope.

Just note: Kawagoe, though not exactly a tourist town, isn’t a hidden gem either. And so souvenir or handcrafted items tend to be slightly pricey in my opinion. Though if you stick to just snacking and walking around, you’ll find that you shouldn’t burst your budget.


Random Snack Store Words of Wisdom: Addicted by the heart of eggs make you happy. Sounds about right..

Kawagoe: Heading Back
Kawagoe starts getting sleepy about an hour or two after sundown, which is about right since you need time to head back to Tokyo before your day pass expires anyway. Not gonna lie, it can get a bit quiet at night since the shops all start closing early. And while it never felt dangerous in the least, if you have friends like mine who derive extreme pleasure from telling ghost stories in the middle of the night…

One tip I have for heading back – keep your google maps of Kawagoe saved. Because we wandered around so much without keeping track of where we were, the roads back looked pretty unfamiliar by the time everywhere started closing and turning out the lights. So that’s just something to take note of. And when you reach the train station again, there’s a little bread shop right outside the gate that serves the most amazing pastries. So grab one for your return journey, or to keep for breakfast the next day!


A random pet shop we passed on the way back that let us pet their kittens.. soooo cute
And so that concludes the little day trip out of Tokyo! The picturesque town of Kawagoe is definitely a must-do if you’re headed to Tokyo but still want a taste of what traditional Japan would be like, or if your itinerary doesn’t allow for you to stop by Kyoto. It’s definitely very doable since it’s but a half-hour out from the main city of Tokyo. I also like the fact that it’s a day trip out from Tokyo in particular, because Tokyo is very much a 24 hour city, so you could get back from Kawagoe and still go out for ramen or karaoke if you still feel like you have energy for more.

If you’re going with family, I should think it’s the kind of place your parents would enjoy seeing because it contrasts so nicely with the cosmopolitan Tokyo. However, take note of all the walking that has to be done – if there are older folk in your group, you might want to consider checking out the local bus routes, or just take a cab to the main area instead of walking.

But either way, it’s definitely worth a visit. And don’t forget – if you haven’t already started planning your trip to Tokyo, Skyscanner is the best way of searching for and comparing fares across all airlines! It’s what I use for every trip I plan, whether on web or mobile, so definitely start incorporating it into your travel planning arsenal 🙂


hi from the nashville airport

took one of those red-eye flights to nashville for the sewanee writers conference, worse: a red-eye divided in two, with three hours on a plane, two in houston airport, another two on another plane. safe to say ive been moving as if swaddled in a puff of cotton candy. the thoughts that follow, accordingly:

– walking by the united business class cabin to my seat at the back of the plane i wonder whose chaotic idea it was to have half the seats in united biz face.. backwards? I wish i thought to take a photo because it was truly deranged. like, nobody chooses to sit in those train seats that face opposite from the direction the train moves in, so i dont know who would import the idea to the sky. though with all that said and done if i were upgraded at the gate (my dream!) i’d shut up about it forever
– one time on a half-empty cathay pacific flight from sg to nyc i drifted mid-flight to the business class cabin and took a nap there, woke to a very perplexed stewardess shaking me gently and explaining that i couldnt just… sleep there… i was 18
– i was possibly the only person wearing a mask on my flight. i have dodged covid for 3 years and if this flight is what undoes that i’ll be so annoyed.
– how much faith do we put in airport water fountain water filters?
– on the houston to nashville flight i was put beside a middle-seated man who immediately claimed both arm rests so i elbowed him off and went to sleep immediately. who does the armrest belong to and why cant it be me, is what im saying.
– in a possibly related/unrelated??? turn of events, when we landed in nashville a woman who was in the seat behind me stood up and pet my head.
– thank god for the laneige lip mask for flights (this thought is definitely unrelated to the above)
– had a mediocre peanut butter cookie at the airport. i had one amazing peanut butter cookie from levain upper west side back in feb 2020 and i feel like every cookie ive had since then is just an attempt to approach a similar transcendence. i dont even like cookies that much.
– not a single place in the 3 airports i passed through in the last 8 hours sold bug spray, target did not sell bug spray either, and my online order of bug spray was delayed two weeks due to, what, i dont know. im going to be devoured in nashville, DEVOURED i say
– im convinced my teeth are moving around in my mouth while im not paying attention

alright my babies it is writer camp time

x J

stuff and fluff!


All my friends thought it was hilarious when I moved to California, because its primarily known for 1. nature, and 2. being damn freaking big, both of which feel incompatible with the fact that I don’t drive in the States. Yet another thing the British left us Singaporeans with — this right hand drive — and I am so certain that getting behind the wheel on the wrong side of the road in America is a disaster we simply cannot afford to let happen. And I mean, it’s fine. After 30 years of living on this humid earth I have come to understand much about myself, the first of which is I actually don’t like nature. So the beautiful hills and rollicking fields in california are pretty much moot to me; one time we rented a car and drove an hour to a forest famous for having damn tall trees and after the third tree I was like alright lets see some variation sir.

And for the last 8 months I’ve got on fine without a car. Because I write from daybreak to 7pm, I barely leave my desk from the day to day, and when I do need to get out, like to Stanford, I either hitch a ride from the other Stegners or take a train. But the thing about being married is you keep learning new things about the other person and the latest fact that’s presented itself is that Shane??? Likes??? Nature????? Seriously, after 10 years together, this is a shock to me. I thought he liked cartoons and shopping, but the man has range.

Anyway. I finished my book in April (after almost losing my mind!!! it involved handwriting a whole draft from scratch… my right hand doesnt really work anymore, lmao, but I have a book, so you win some you lose some), and then looked up from my desk, and figured that since Shane moved across continents so I could chase my dreams, the least I could do was go look at some trees with him on the weekends. So we got a third-hand beat up car this month! Here comes nature, I guess. Will wonders never cease.

So at the end of April, after gripping on to my manuscript with, as my friends say, a death clutch, I was nudged, nay, shoved, to send out the book and finally embarked upon my querying process. A whirlwind month followed, and I couldn’t be more thrilled —

It still feels surreal. But also, after waiting for so long to take the next step, I do finally feel settled. A naive part of me thought I’d jump straight back into work (writing and revising was inevitably on pause during the querying period) but May has proven to be a nonstop party train, for reasons that have to do with the end of an academic year, and whenever theres a period where nothing is scheduled it turns out I just kind of.. fall.. into.. a.. nap…

All of this happened in May — fun & hanging out so hard:


last dinner with the 2022-3 Stegners, with Chang-Rae on one side and Francisco on the other, blotted out for privacy baha


Stegner Prom!! Now a tradition…


Cabin trip to Tahoe

And helping everyone move out of their places given the end of the academic year, which always means people leaving, moving, and the commencement of yet another batch of long distance friendships:


Bringing my Dyson all over the Bay area… Alameda… Palo Alto… Santa Cruz… it’s been places…

All that to say that the napping has been spontaneous and immense. I have been napping so hard.

Anyway! Given the institutional organisation of my last few years, May has always been a particularly sentimental month for me — people coming, people going, moving from one phase to another, the sense of an ending, the slow slide into springtime and allergies. Massive hugging season.

And although saying goodbye to people will always be bittersweet, I’ve become increasingly habituated to the idea that I’ll always just have parts of my heart scattered across the world, held by various people, and that it doesn’t have to be a disaster to be separated by oceans and land. This is, after all, the life i chose. And it feels so cheesy to say but I’m so, so happy. I was thinking about it the other day and getting (as usual) emotional — this year, the first year of my thirties, is also the first year of being a Stegner; of being a legitimately full time writer sans caveats, something I’ve dreamed of for years; of being married and living in a whole new coast; of building a life in our first ever marital house. What a privilege and blessing to recognize the beauty of life as it unfolds, and not simply in retrospect. After years and years of rushing and hustling it finally feels like I can slow down, and how sweet it is, to take exactly the time one needs.

x J

double pub day!

Fun 🙂

I had two things out today!

1. The Bet, which I wrote in 2021 and which won the 2022 William van dyke story prize finally appeared in my mailbox today, in the first month of 2023. Writing is such a long journey, something I try to remind myself every time I feel lousy about the fact that I’m still plugging away at this novel. Which is… dare i say? I do not. The thing goes unsaid. Regardless, I’m very happy about The Bet, and about being able to hold it in my hands, a pleasure so visceral that it feels akin to cracking open and having that first sip of golden lager…

2. Unruly, a commentary piece for Channel News Asia, non-fiction, also came out today, and, fine, it’s called something else officially, but I’ve been referring to it in my mind as Unruly because that’s how I conceived of the piece initially, as a meditation on definitions and the differences between can and should. Writing this was interesting, because I’ve gone from being an avid traveller (averaging 2 flights a month, pre-pandemic, when I worked in media) to basically staying put for such long periods, becoming, I suppose, rooted simultaneously in two places. And despite the piece, I do enjoy travelling — the actual process of being on a plane and having that long stretch of time to just sleep or read — but its a sentiment I understand to be rarely shared by others. My partner says it’s because I’m short and so curling up into a crammed space and immediately falling asleep isn’t physically uncomfortable for me the way it is for someone with long legs (ie. him), which might be true, and might also be his way of getting another dig in at my totally normal and average height. Other things he likes to say, often, include: how’s the air down there? and *squatting* ah, so this is what you see…


In researching the piece, something interesting that came up and that make it into the piece was the learnings from this NPR piece on air rage which posited the existence of first and business class (or being forced to walk by these cabins on your way to coach) as a trigger for bad behavior. Physical design, the research posits, that flaunts inequality triggers antisocial behavior, resulting in delays the equivalent of nine hours.

Which makes sense to me, the fact that people react badly when they suspect they’re being discriminated against for their spending ability, the value of their seat, their money, essentially, which is often not morally neutral.

I think (and this is something else that didn’t make it into the piece, because 1. word count and 2. my feelings are not journalism, lmao, which is why I turn to my cute lil blog) that we often also run the risk of reducing people like gravy on a long-simmering saucepan. It’s something that came up in conversations around this piece (“but I’m paying, so don’t i deserve XXX”) and also in general whenever talking about a two-sided interaction where money is involved. The problem is that money really is rarely morally neutral, it confers power, and the spender is not incentivized to put limits on this power. And what are the boundaries around what a service worker is obliged to do for you? If we’re sticking to the aviation line of reasoning, our national airline, Singapore air, is famous for its impeccable service — but I remember this pre-pandemic vlog I saw where this guy was complaining about our SQ stewardesses not giving him special treatment on the plane, or spending time talking to him. I remember thinking, im not sure that impeccable service equates to a promise to be your best friend. I mean I think there’s a very thin line between professional warmth and demanding, basically, a kind of faux friendship that exists to make you feel good about yourself. And I say this as someone who’s presently based in America, where the tipping system means that service workers are constantly performing friendliness, and having part of their everyday reality be dedicated to walking that thin line.

I dont think its wrong to want a good experience when you pay for something, but especially in the realm of service it always feels a bit tricky. There will always be examples where there are faults on both sides — any kind of service worker is human, and prone to temper of bouts of bad behaviour — and it just feels like too easy a leap to turn it into an argument of equations, where you say, you’re being paid and it is literally your job to be nice to me. Especially if its baked into the brand promise, like with a lot of asian airlines. idk. It feels a bit ick that so many of these service workers (cabin crew or not) face very real economic repercussions for talking back to unreasonable demands and so just won’t. Esp since they’re expected to represent their whole company’s brand etc, and we all know how quickly companies can pivot to letting go of employees who might be bad for PR. But if we’re able to see the person on the other side of the interaction as human and not statistic, or referential of some bigger argument, some bigger brand, then might it not lead to a more dignified world?

Maybe this comes back to my own personal beliefs — i think offering dignity confers dignity on everyone involved. And i do think that that makes way for a more forgiving world, a less dogmatic one, where you treat others and yourself with kindness even in cases where you sorely disappoint yourself, as we are all wont to do, over and over again, because we are only human. You pick yourself up and go, well, should have behaved better there. And try to do better tomorrow and again.

Anw it’s like, 1230am lmao and I have to brave the once-in-a-lifetime bay area floods to get to Stanford tomorrow, so i guess that’s that on that.


the not-so-small things

moving is, not to put too fine a point on it, bloody stressful. over the summer i had to mindmap my way through a three-way move, my life’s possessions triangulating between NYC, Singapore, and the Bay Area, living largely out of a suitcase. the number of excel sheets i had to make, seriously. and dont even get me started on visa and administrative issues! so much homework to be done, except then the stakes are that if you get it wrong you might get deported, ha ha ha.

i probably shouldn’t joke about that lmao.


I finally found a place and signed a lease, which honestly, is an amazing feeling. Despite moving around so much, I like having a place to nest in, to call home. I like putting things on the walls and having my notes be scattered haphazardly while working, and being able to go to bed and wake up and find them in exactly the same order of chaos as they were the night before. I like living with my partner, who dithers around the house in his own happy routine, the both of us mindlessly stopping for a hug as our paths cross in this mostly-square apartment before continuing on to whatever we were doing before — him, drawing, me, reading or writing, usually. And I love this apartment — it feels like the best kind of cliche; we viewed so many places, but when we walked in to this one, we just knew.


I also got to work immediately setting up my work cave. After working off a tiny desk for years… i nearly cried when I scored this baby. 30 bucks secondhand (it used to be a craft table for a woman who does a lot of work with… yarn), this baby is all fake wood and 60 inches long! Which I filled up right away of course. I’m in a fever for desk space the way some people are for romance or the smell of soft leather. When Shane and I settle into a permanent home someday I shall have a desk that stretches from wall to wall.

other things i like about my new apartment:

– the shower water comes out hot immediately. For the first time in three years I’m not doing that strange naked hoppy freezing dance while waiting for the water to heat up
– no bugs. though this might be more of a California thing.
– in-unit washer dryer! turns out i dont hate doing laundry, i just hate trudging through the filthy streets of manhattan with a sack of clothes over my shoulder while knowing that the lint in the laundromat’s washer hasn’t been cleared in probably eight and a half years
– all the furniture is exactly where i decided it would be. after living with three boys, all of whom had a vote in all things home-related, it’s really nice to just make a decision (the correct decision) on how far the dining should sit from the wall and have that be it. and i haven’t stubbed my toe on a random table or chair corner, once.
– many power outlets. like there’s one every five steps, which seems excessive even to me.
– so much natural light! part of why my rent was so low in NYC was because my room — the cheapest in the house — had zero natural light. it was like living in a little electronically lit cave. sometimes i would knock on the boys’ doors and ask to sit in their expensive sunlight for a bit and they would joke about charging me rent and i would laugh and not pay it.
– the elevator moves really fast
– there’s a roof! which I’ve been to like, all of two times.

Anyway. It’s nice to be so happy. After so much uncertainty, even my struggles on the page feel less depressing, now that I know that I’m all but guaranteed another day at the same desk, in the same chair. And another, and another, and another.


Podcasts for Writers


I was thinking, the other day, about the rise of podcast consumption during the pandemic in my own social circles — and of its parallels to the ways in which we as writers seek out community from our little corners of the world. Text-based communication is, of course, still my main jam, but sometimes it’s nice to hear another human voice. (Side note: Whatsapp voice notes, emphatic yes.)

Anyway, I collated a list of podcasts relevant to the writing life, to be listened to while driving / gymming / doing housework / whatever you please.

They are listed in this order (you can click on each one to jump to that section): Craft, Industry, Conversations About Fiction, Conversations About Poetry, Listen to Fiction, Screenwriting.

This list is obviously non-exhaustive — feel free to recommend additional podcasts using my contact form here, otherwise, click to continue reading after the jump!


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I shoot on a Nikon D750 with a 35f/1.8 lens, a Fujifilm x100v, or my Samsung Note 20 Ultra. Pictures are edited in Lightroom Mobile or VSCO