Monday, 7 September 2015

Walking around Kamikochi

After posting some of my pictures of my recent trip to Kamikochi, many of my friends have asked me how to get there and how much it would take to get there, so I decided to make a blogpost about it, in case anyone else was wondering as well.

So Kamikochi is sort of a basecamp for hiking into the Japanese Alps and it is located about one and half hour from Matsumoto in the Nagano prefecture of Japan (see this well written explanation about the place and the official website here). It is a perfect get a way for a two day easy nature trip from Tokyo, and it can also satisfy more advanced climbers since from Kamikochi you can easily climb up to the more difficult routes of the Japanese Alps.

Here are some of the more pragmatic information relating to Kamikochi

View from the Kappabashi bridge, one of the easy accessible photo spots in Kamikochi

How to get there?

It is actually quiet easy to get to Kamikochi, there is a bus that is run by the KEIO bus line from Shinjuku that goes directly to Matsumoto, it takes around 3 hours and 10 minutes. Then you have to take the train to Shin Shima Shima Station, which takes around 30 minutes, and from there a bus will take you to the Kamikochi bus terminal, this takes around an hour. The KEIO bus line provides a whole package that covers the trip from Shinjuku-Kamikochi-Shinjuku, and this will cost you around 8,200 yen. 

Since I traveled with my Japanese friend she was the one who found the deal of the 8,200 bus+train ride, and she paid it directly by going to the KEIO bus terminal in Shinjuku. I would advice you to call directly to their office or just pay them a visit if you are in the area to ask about this package. 

If you are planning to go by car please note that it can only go until a certain point, and then you still have to take the bus to get within the Kamikochi area. There are also other JR packages that you might be able to use. 

The view from the walking path in Kamikochi

Where to stay?

The Kamikochi area is a popular tourist destination that only opens 5 months per year, so naturally the accommodation around there is pretty expensive. Me and my friends stayed in the camping ground that is closest to the main viewing spot, Kappabashi, this camp ground is called Konashidaira. 

If you are planning on staying in a cabin, the budget would be around 5,000 yen per person, believe me this is cheap in comparison to the other hotels in the area. You can however also stay in a tent, which is considerably cheaper. If you have your own tent than you pay 800 yen per adult, while if you use the tent provided by them its 8,000 yen per tent (it can fit 4 people), please note however that it gets cold especially during the night and in the morning so it is advised for you to bring your own sleeping bag since the camp ground does not provide sleeping bag rentals. 

Other than the Konashidaira Camp ground mentioned, there are a number of other camp grounds in the area, please see the link here

If you are like me and have no sleeping bag and nobody around you can lend you one, there is a very nice rental place in Shinjuku, Tokyo that rents out all sorts of outdoor gear, such as sleeping bags, climbing jackets, climbing boots, bags etc (see the link here). Renting a whole set of sleeping bag is 4,000 yen for two days and with every additional day it only adds 500 yen or so. A full set of climbing clothes is also around 4,000 yen for two days, and an additional 200 yen is needed for every additional day.  The good thing about the this rental service is that after wards you can simply go to any convenience store inside Japan and send it back to the rental place, free of charge, considerably reducing your baggage weight, if you were to have a long trip in Japan.

What to wear?

If you are not planning on hiking one of the nearby mountains, and are just thinking of staying around Kamikochi and do easy hikes like I did there really isn't so much need for fancy hiking gears, usual clothes are OK, as long as you yourself feel comfortable walking in them. You will however need to have warm clothes nearby since even in early September the temperature can get down to 13 degrees or so. 

The Marsh Land close to Tashiro Pond

What to see?

There's plenty to see in Kamikochi, and everything is relatively close by, the farthest being a two hour (easy) hike, you can see the course route from this link.  The most famous sight would be the Kappabashi bridge which is a 3 minte walk from the main Kamikochi Bus terminal. From here you acn already see the most breathtaking view of the gorgeous Japanese Alps and the blue river that flows from it. 

The route of going up and down from Kappabashi will each take a little more than half a day back and forth on an easy pace, but you can potentially do everything in one day, although that would probably defeat the whole purpose of having a refreshing week end among nature. 

The Taisho Pond and Tashiro Pond are by far the most beuatiful spots in Kamikochi for me, but the walk in the forest is also quiet refreshing by itself.  Please note the weather report, since like many other nature places Kamikochi is best enjoyed with beautiful weather. 

What to eat?

Kamikochi is a tourist destination so you are not going to starve to death since there's plenty of restaurants selling delicious food with a wide variety of options. They do however close pretty fast (all shops are closed by 5.30 pm I think) and are quiet expensive (ranging between 800-1200 yen per meal). 

There are some cheap options though, such as eating at the canteen in the camp ground, where you can still get some soba at around 500 yen or so, or if you are staying in a cabin inside the camp ground you will get a fully functioning cabin in which you can cook your own food. You can buy groceries such as vegetables, oil, rice, noodles from the shop at the camp ground. This might be best option for the vegetarians out there since despite the big variety of food in the restaurants in Kamikochi, most of them are not vegetarian friendly. 

Beautiful Tashiro Pond

What to do?

Everything in Kamikochi closes early, so don't imagine to be in a place where there is much activity after dark. Other than hiking and eating (and sipping in all that beautiful nature), you can also enjoy Onsen in the hotels in the area. They have specific open time where visitors who are not hotel guests can also enjoy the Onsen in that fancy hotel. The time allocated for outside visitors are usually between 12:00pm - 2:30 pm, although it might change depending on the hotel. 

The Onsen are typically 600 yen to get into but does not include towels. If you were to rent towels it will cost you an additional 200 yen or so, so I would advice you to have a towel ready for whenever you are thinking of going into a fancy hotel Onsen.

The internet coverage of even Docomo is quiet weak in Kamikochi, especially in the camp ground, although it gets better around major hotels. So you will have to think of other things to do then browsing your smartphone during the night. An excellent chance to finally disconnect from the internet like you always thought of doing but never get to do. 

Make sure that you do go with a set of great friends to talk to since traveling to Kamikochi is a great opportunity to catch up with them. 

The view of Taisho Pond from inside the forest. 

I hope I have covered all the questions you might have about Kamikochi, and I hope this would be helpful for anyone planning on going to visit Kamikochi. Enjoy your trip!

Thursday, 3 September 2015

How to start writing with Latex

I am by no means an expert on Latex, but since I somehow succeeded in writing my phD thesis, which has a total of 171 pages, in Latex, I can at least say that I am proficient enough.  Since I have found the joy in writing with Latex, I have been advocating the use of this software to as many people as possible. This is because Latex has taught me, a self proclaimed technological illiterate, into a firm believer of the power of technology, specifically open source technology (and the internet).

In this post I wanted to share some of the information I found useful when I just starting out with Latex. Hopefully it will also be useful for you.

Learn the step by step of Latex from YouTube

When starting Latex, I watching this video by Michelle Krummel on YoTube on how to start making your first document. Here she also explains what and how to install the necessary Software to run Latex for the first time. Note that the beauty of Latex is that it runs on different platform for free, I can use the same Latex software on my Windows run computer and on my Mac, and I have no problems. Michelle Krummels channel by itself has many many useful videos relating to Latex, so I would recommend you to subscribe. 

There is however yet another channel that I found very useful, which is called ShareLatex. This channel is particularly useful because it has a playlist that is especially dedicated for learning how to write your thesis on Latex, so it has all the major important things that you must know in order to write your thesis. 

From these YouTube channels you can learn a lot already, but I would also like to give you some tips on other useful things that you can use for writing your Thesis (or anything else). 

Making Figures in Latex

When making figures in Latex, we can use the tikz package. In the beginning when I used Latex, I drew all my figures by using coordinates manually. So I actually had to calculate where everything goes, manually and then write the code for it. It took me ridiculously long just to make one figure. So one of the very first figure that I did took me 6 hours to make. You might think that is a ridiculous amount of time to make one figure, but I really enjoyed it, since it looked so beautiful. Realistically speaking though, its impossible to keep doing this for all my figure in my Thesis, so I had to find another way to make figures.
Figure that took me 6 hours to make
So after further investigation, we can actually use a software called GeoGebra, which is actually a very useful free software to make beautiful figures. From this software you can output the tikz code directly and then you can input it on your Latex code. Its easy and simple. With this software, I can make very complicated figures in about 30 -50 minutes.
My latest figure that I made by using Latex.
Geogebra is basically a very useful tool already, but if you want to make diagrams, there is another free software that you can use. This is called Dia, Dia is not as user friendly as GeoGebra but it gets the Job done. From this software you can also simply export the tikz code and then input it to Latex. As you can see from my diagram example, it doesn't look oh-so-fancy but really it gets the job done and it will reduce your over all effort in making your thesis look beautiful.

This is an example of a diagram from my thesis, I generated it with Dia
As for making graphics, I used a special software that was required of me by my supervisor, it is called Kaleidagraph. The software can not directly be used in my Latex, so I had to safe the figures as .png and then input it into my Latex code (also the software is expensive and difficult to use, although it has many other good features). The same thing is also true for excel graphics, you can safe them into .png or .jpg forms and then input them into your Latex. Note here though that you should prepare the resolution to be much bigger than the required A4 paper you will put it in, so that the graphs will look good even if you zoom in. In my case I always made the figure 4 times bigger than necessary so that I can still zoom the pdf in to 400% and have a beautiful figure.

One of the advantage of writing your thesis in Latex, is having an exquisite resolution. So actually making figures with softwares like Kaleidagraph and Excel is somewhat a pity because the resolution might not be as good as Latex generated resolution.

You can however make your graphs with Latex. I did not do this because of my supervisors requirement but if you were serious in making a high quality thesis, I would strongly recommend it.
As far as I know Latex and Matlab work very well together, so I think if you had made your figures in Matlab, you can somehow use these in Latex with ease. Since I have no experience in the matter I can not give advice more than this.

Making Tables in Latex

Just like my figures, I used to make all my tables in Latex manually. But then I learned that there is a very useful adds-in that you can put in excel that can simply convert your tables in excel into Latex code. I really recommend you to use it, the program is called Excel-to-Latex.

Writing equations in Latex

If you were one of the lucky ones to have MathType installed in your computer, you can directly copy the equation from MathType to Latex and it will already be in the form of a Latex code. If you are like me though and don't have MathType installed then you can use an free online converter. You can write the equation here and copy it into your Latex.

Latex templates

If you are now excited in impressing people in your amazing Latex skill, you can bring your Latex game even further by using one of the freely available Latex templates sites. From these sites you can simply download a template for your own purpose, whether for academic journals, curriculum vitae, thesis, etc. These sites include:


So Why Latex? With Latex you can let the program think about how to best present your idea, while you focus on what matters most: content. If you are still not convinced, here are some opinions by MIT and ResearchGate on why Latex is better than Word.

For now I think this is all I can share with you on Latex. Please feel free to ask. 

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Global health and how to fight for it

In Indonesia diseases such as Dung fever, typhus and diarrhea is normal, most people I know in every socioeconomic level has experienced one of these diseases themselves or have had a family member have it. It is the curse of humanity that it learns to tolerate even the most horrible situations by habituation.

Many sanitation related diseases happen in developing countries such as Indonesia, especially in big metropolitan cities like Jakarta that has embraced modernity to the fullest while depending on huge numbers of low wage labors who life in conditions without sanitation facilities. These people then will be the ones most prone to all sorts of diseases while having the least insurance to fall into in case of sickness, making it incredibly difficult for them and their family to get out of poverty. They are trapped in a cycle of evil.

I believe that we must deal with the issue of global health as a system of disease eradication by prevention, where emphasis must be put on building basic infrastructure facilities to ensure that there is no spread of disease. But hard physical infrastructure is not enough.

No system can work without the people who benefit the most out of it understanding its merit. Therefore the key to a well-designed global health program is community education. With education the community can be part of the solution rather than only as the subject of aid. It is important to treat them this way because in turn it will create a sense of dignity and responsibility within the community, making the built infrastructural system more likely to be sustainable.

A well designed global health program must invest equal amount of time for both physical infrastructural improvements and community education. This community empowerment with emphasis on each individual’s personal empowerment is key to building a sustainable structural empowerment. Personal empowerment must consist of building the motivation, self-confidence, self-reliance, self-evaluation and creative ability of the community[1], so that the community can be their own agent of change.

After all, nobody can help anybody unless they themselves want to help themselves. Therefore rather than simply giving aid, changes that involves the community in the decision making would, I believe, be more beneficial to the community. These little tweaks of personal empowerment will then ripple through and ensure lasting changes within the community.

[1] This is an idea taken from Tri Mumpuni, the founder of IBEKA, a non-profit organization dealing with the electrification of rural villages in Indonesia. I have met her through the Global Leadership Program in 2014.