Category: Japan

My general observations from living in Japan.

Inexperienced Gardener vs Tree Stump

If you follow me on Twitter, you’d know I’ve been trying to uproot a tree stump. Here are some pictures to show you what all the fuss was about.

First, an old one from 2008. I don’t have a picture of the tree itself, but I think it was 3 to 4 meters tall. We had a guy from Benry come round and cut it down, leaving just a harmless stump.

Since then, the garden had grown into a mini-jungle, with weeds 2ft high. Something had to be done about it, and with all the caterpillars and spiders in the surrounding hedge, I decided to dig up the whole lot and be done with nature.

Who would have thought such a little tree stump would require so much digging?

Tapping into the extensive experience of the real gardener in the family, I followed my dad’s advice and started cutting inwards rather than digging outwards, and with the help of a crowbar, I was able to pry off much of the rock-hard, clay-like mud that had cemented the stump in place.

A lot of pushing and pulling eventually broke the stump free…

… and left a crater in the garden.

An hour later and the job was done.

The next step will be to saw or hack the tree stump down to a size I can lift into my car to take to the incinerator.

Was it all worth it? I hope so. The goal is to cover everything with tiles or pebbles, and put out a garden table and some chairs so we can sit under a parasol and drink lemonade (or more likely, beer).

Ramsay Ramblings 2010-03-01

It’s just ticked over into March, which gets me one month closer to warmer weather. Actually we’ve had a pretty warm week anyway and I even splatted my first mosquito of the year. So what’s going on in the life of Nick Ramsay?

My Online Life
Most of my waking hours are spent on the internet, which is kind of ironic considering how rarely I update this blog now. The last few months have been crazy busy building Hotaru CMS, a fantastic Pligg alternative, and in any Pligg vs Hotaru CMS contest it would win hands down! Please excuse my blatant search engine tomfoolery, but it’s true! With its WordPress-style themes, plugins and widgets, user-defined settings, individual user permissions, and barrage of anti-spam features, it really is the ants pants in completely free, open source social bookmarking scripts. :-D

Permanent Residency
I had my permanent residency application approved which was a nice relief because renewing my spouse visa every few years was a bit of a chore, and as an added bonus, I could stay in Japan if Mami ever left me (although I’d be a miserable old sod if that ever happened). Other than that, I’m not aware of any perks of having eijuken except that I could get a mortgage, but I already did that without it.

Parenting
My back is killing me right now. Probably from picking up Rikuto too often without bending my knees, but it could be because of the shrimp-crab-aerobics I had to do today at one of his nursery school events. Finding the event hall was almost as challenging, even with Mami’s car navigation system that tells you to turn left 700 meters before you need to, which inevitably leads you down some very narrow Japanese back alleys.

Ricky’s English is coming along, but he doesn’t say much. He likes to correct my English by telling me the real word, i.e. the Japanese equivalent, so I’ve got my work cut out for me if I expect him to be an English-speaker. My big plan is to insist he does his homework alongside me in my office when the time comes. That way he’ll be a captured audience and will have no choice but to use English, if he wants help with his homework, that is! Saying that, his Japanese homework might be way over my head…

And that’ll do for this episode of Ramsay Ramblings! If you can’t get enough of my updates, I’m on Twitter and I blog about Hotaru here.

Ramsay Ramblings 2009-12-05

What’s going on?
It’s a pretty miserable day outside my window. Gray skies, light rain and a bit on the chilly side. Rikuto has gone to the hospital with his mum to get his flu jab, while I’m trying to fight off another cold.

Making magic
Most of my time is spent working on Hotaru CMS with some great lads from the U.S, Scotland, Italy and Japan. This is something I’ve thrown myself into over the last six months, and the closer the project gets to completion, the more people are seeing its potential and signing up to help out. With a bit of luck, we’ll have a release candidate ready by February and then I’ll port JapanSoc, and probably this blog, to Hotaru.

Riding the wave
Continuing the technology theme, Shibuya246 sent me an invite to try Google Wave. This is Google’s attempt to establish “waves” as the replacement for “email”, and I must say I’m impressed so far. It’s a bit hard to explain Wave, so if you’re curious, learn more here.

Keeping fit
I’ve been feeling quite old lately, so I made the rash decision to go for a jog – the first real exercise I’ve done for about five years, and boy, oh boy, do I regret it now! My body is aching and I’ve caught another cold. Screw exercise! It’s overrated :-P

Told you so
I’m getting an uncontrollable urge to scream “Ha ha! Told you so!” with regards to the “Climategate” scandal, i.e. scientists colluding to fudge data in order to make a case for “man-made” global warming, and President Obama, who has continued the Iraq war, escalated the Afghanistan war, and started his own war in Pakistan. Oh, and he hasn’t closed Guantanamo Bay either. How much more will it take before people realize they’ve been duped by the establishment and mainstream media, not just on those issues, but also on the hard-to-stomach realities concerning the 9/11 attacks. Speaking of which, I’m off to Nagoya tomorrow to listen to a presentation on that very topic. How depressing, eh?

On a lighter note…
My wife is pleased that I’ve started washing the dishes. This is a major success in her efforts to make a housewife out of me (I already stay home while she goes to work!). Fair enough, “washing the dishes” in our house means filling the dishwasher and pressing the start button, but at least I’m trying! :-D

Rikuto is also making efforts to keep the place tidy. Like most two-year-olds, he has a permanently runny nose, but we’ve trained him to use a tissue instead of letting it flow into his mouth. He takes a tissue, touches the end of his nose with it, wipes the rest on his sleeve and then throws the tissue in the bin. If we’re not watching, he repeats this every minute, emptying a box of tissues in a matter of hours!

Ex-Meitetsu Mino Station

I took the family in the car for a short drive north through Gifu prefecture to Mino, a beautiful city, known as the home of Japanese paper (washi). Reminiscent of Kyoto and Takayama, Mino has streets filled with traditional houses and many shops selling paper lanterns.

As fascinating as all that is, our 2-year-old boy much prefers trains, so off we went to the former Meitestsu Mino Station!

Ex-Meitetsu Mino Station

The Meitetsu Mino line had a history dating back to 1911. When completed, it served over two dozen locations on the  24.8km track between Mino and Gifu City. In 1999, Mino station was closed down and by April, 2005 the entire Mino line was abolished, apparently replaced by Meitetsu buses.

Today, Mino station remains as a popular tourist attraction, with three and a bit “one-man” trains. I say bit, because the train on the far left in the photo below has been cut in half, leaving just the driver’s section.

3 and a half trains

Back in the day

The waiting area at the station is filled with mementos from the line’s past, such as these old photos that hang on the wall or are laid out on tables.

A snowy morning

A new train?

The Meitetsu Mino Line

All aboard!

You can climb on board the three main trains at the station. One of them almost looks track-worthy while the other two have had most their chairs stripped out and some old equipment and memorabilia put on display in their place.

On board one of the trains

On board one of the trains

On board one of the trains

The "cockpit"

Inside the station

The station itself is crammed with photos, Choro-Q trains, old timetables and much more. I was particularly fond of the sofas, which are actually seats from the trains.

The station master's office

Welcome to Mino station!

Inside the station

Inside the station

Odds and ends

Train seats as sofas

On the platform

Our son had a great time at Mino Station, but unfortunately, it wasn’t because of the trains… not the real ones anyway. On the platform, between the trains, was a huge Plarail set which kept Rikuto more than happy. That wasn’t the only strange sight on the platform. There were a couple of go-karts with nowhere to go, gardens growing where the train buffers were, and most surprising, a bullet train nose cone!

Plarail on the platform

A go-kart with nowhere to go

Gardens for train buffers

A bullet train nose cone

More information

We were only there for half an hour before heading off to Mino’s Ogura park to see the peacocks and turkeys, but we had a great time!

Posing in front of the old trains

The Ex-Meitetsu Mino station is free to enter and a must see if you plan to visit Mino. Here’s a Google map of the location. If you can read Japanese, here are some related Wikipedia links to help you find the area and plan other things to do while you’re there:

I’m a Programmer – It’s Official

If you were fresh out of school and moving to Japan for 10 years, what would you hope to achieve? No doubt you’d want to travel the country, learn about the culture and indulge in such oddities as Pachinko, Print Club, karaoke boxes and authentic sushi restaurants. But 10 years? You’d probably be keen to learn new skills and advance your career somehow.

Actually, I’m not so sure anyone makes a decision to move to Japan for 10 years. It just kind of happens. Usually, you come  for a year and teach English while experiencing Japanese culture, but when that year is up and you realize you’ve saved no money and haven’t seen or done all you wanted, you choose to stay… just a bit longer.

When I first came here at 21 years of age, I was confident that I’d find a good job in the I.T industry, after all, I had just graduated from university with a degree in Computer Science and expected doors to be open for me. I figured it would take two or three years to learn enough Japanese and then I’d be on my way up the corporate ladder.

How naive.

I studied the language hard for three years, passing JLPT 2, but by that time, I had lost touch with the fast changing pace of the IT industry, had no work experience in computing, and my Japanese was still far from fluent. It was then that I went to Tokyo for an interview with a recruiting company and failed miserably when they gave me a Japanese newspaper and asked me to read an article aloud.

That was a tough time for me, and still reluctant to accept a future as an English conversation teacher, I suddenly found myself as a network marketer in Japan, trying feverishly to sell enough vitamins to get myself out of teaching. Funnily enough, that experience, although a tremendous failure, was a wonderful education, putting me on the road to self-employment.

Fast-forward to 2009 and I’m now a programmer. At least that’s what my alien registration card says after today’s trip to City Hall. Although I’ve been running my own internet business full-time for a year and a half, it’s somewhat rewarding to be officially recognized as something I always wanted to be.

Funnily enough, programming is only a hobby of mine, but try explaining “Adsense Publisher” to the ladies at City Hall and you’ll understand why we settled on “programmer” as a job title.

God, I’m So Illiterate!

I’ve just come back from immigration where I went to hand in a double application for both spouse visa renewal and permanent residency. Everything seemed to be in order, but at the end I was asked to fill in a form that gave my permission for immigration to make copies of some documents.

I may have been in Japan for over a decade, but my Japanese skills are sadly lacking. I passed level 2 of the Japanese test back in 2000 and have steadily forgotten everything since. All right, my Japanese isn’t that bad, but certainly not good enough for today’s situation…

The gentleman behind the counter rattled off in Japanese how I needed to list the documents by name on the form, which to him, was just a formality, with no need for debate. For me, however, this was far from simple. While I understood what I needed to do, I first pleaded that I wouldn’t be able to write the names of the forms, e.g. 住民税納税証明書 (certificate of residence tax) to which he responded that I could write them in English. I told him I wasn’t sure of the English translations, and he, showing signs of impatience, said I could just write the hiragana, which would have been okay if I could read the document names in the first place.

I figured I’d just try to copy the titles of  each document, but on realizing some of them didn’t have clear titles and the names were instead embedded in even harder sentences, I gave up and returned to the counter to beg for someone else to write them.

Typically, since I was the one applying for a change of residence status, I would have to write them myself. Clearly the immigration official couldn’t understand at all why I was having such trouble and I eventually had to ask him to circle the kanji I needed to write. Unfortunately, he did this rather willy nilly, wrapping unnecessary kanji within his halfhearted circles, or cutting other characters in half, leaving me wondering whether to include them or not.

Perhaps it was more difficult for me because I’m self-employed and had to produce a number of forms that would normally be handled by your employer, but I think it’s more accurate to say my Japanese is woeful for a potential permanent resident and I have no excuses for being so illiterate.

However, since this isn’t an application for citizenship, but merely the right to stay long-term in Japan, I certainly think I’m qualified. I’m in my 12th year in Japan, 5th year of marriage to a Japanese national, I’ve bought a house in my name and we have a 2-year-old son.

In fact, since I owe a Japanese bank the cost of my house, I’d  like to think permanent residency was a given.

Rikuto and Daddy Go Digging

Look what we did today!

Rikuto and Dad on a digger 1

And a bit closer…

Rikuto and Dad on a digger (close up)

Big thanks to the kind staff at Kakamigahara Caterpillar for letting two odd looking blokes waltz in off the street and request a demonstration. They even gave us a little digger to attach to my mobile phone. It’s got a movable diggy bit and zooms forward when you pull it back, making it the perfect companion for Ricky’s Choro-Q police car and fire engine:

Caterpillar accessory and Choro-Q cars

For those of you into Japanese toys, do you Choro-Q or Tomica?

Back to the subject of diggers, One of Rikuto’s books has a picture of the Hitachi EX8000 ultra-large excavator, one of the world’s biggest diggers. I wonder if they’d let us sit on it?

Hitachi EX8000

Rikuto’s First Time at the Beach

I can’t believe it’s been two months since I last posted on the Long Countdown. I even missed the last Japan Blog Matsuri about Favorite Places in Japan, which was a shame because this place would certainly qualify:

A beach in Shimoda, Shizuoka prefecture

This is one of many beautiful, sandy beaches at the foot of Shizuoka prefecture’s Izu Peninsula. We went down there in Golden Week, and it was Rikuto’s first time ever to see the sea and play in the sand.

About to enter the water

Ricky wasn’t scared at all of the crashing waves… in fact, he quite enjoyed splashing around in the water.

Rikuto plays in the sea for the first time

You can tell by his trousers in the last part of the video below that he got wet to the waist when he inevitably fell on his bum as one wave caught him by surprise.

We had a great time, thanks to the beautiful weather and wonderful hosts at EigoHomestay.com.

If you’re wondering where I’ve been for the last two months, I’ve actually been very active on the net, most recently blogging on the JapanSoc blog and BloggerTools.net. I’ve also racked up over a thousand posts on Twitter if you’d like to follow me there.

Slow Times in Kakamigahara

April’s Japan Blog Matsuri, hosted by Ken on What Japan Thinks is all about Slow Times in Japan, the opposite to last month’s blog carnival about Fast Times, for which I wrote about some of my off-beat experiences in Japan.

As a self-employed, work-at-home dad living in the countryside, I have a lot of free time. As most of you know, I’m usually glued to my computer screen, but three times a week, my wife heads off to her part-time job, leaving me and Rikuto to fend for ourselves.

We live in Kakamigahara in Gifu prefecture. It’s a city of around 150,000 people, and although it’s only an hour’s drive north of Nagoya, it’s quite different to the mass of buildings that make up Japan’s fourth biggest city. Being on the southern edge of the Kiso Mountains (aka Central Alps), there’s no shortage of hiking trails and parks in which to spend our Slow Times in Japan.

Here’s a collection of photos of us exploring some of the parks in and around the city, with links to each location on Google Maps.

The view from our house

We live at the foot of the Central Alps…View from our house

Sohara Nature Park (Google Map)

This is the closest of the city’s major parks. We usually go here for cherry blossoms and barbecues.

Sohara Natural Park

100 Year Park (Google map)

This one, although only a 10 minute drive away, is actually in Seki city, but I’ve included it since it’s as near as any of the others. It’s absolutely huge by Japan’s “park” standards and will be years before we’ve explored it all.

100 Year Park

Oasis Park / Aquatoto, Kawashima (Google map)

Aquatoto is a “world fresh water aquarium”, surrounded by a park and the Kiso River.

Oasis Park

Kiso Three River Park (Google map)

This park is really simple. It’s basically a huge field with some playground apparatus. The best thing about it is there aren’t any ponds or streams for Rikuto to fall in, despite the name.

Kiso Three River Park

Hida Kisogawa National Park (Google Map)

We need to explore this one a little more as it’s actual a mountain full of trails and adventurous stuff. When we went, we just used the roller skating track for some pushchair grand prix practice.

Hida Kisogawa National Park

Ogase (Google map)

Ogase is popular in Kakamigahara for it’s big pond and fireworks festival. It’s nice to take a stroll around the pond then play in the park a bit.

Ogase

Kakamigahara Citizen’s Park (Google map)

Kakamigahara City likes to promote itself as a “green” city. Personally, I think the money they spend on parks would be better spent on other things, but our leaders at City Hall have just finished building a second huge park right outside their workplace (see the two parks on the map?).

Citizen's Park

Kakamigahara Natural Heritage Forest (Google map)

I think this one is the most beautiful of the parks I’ve been to so far in this city. So let me wrap this up with three pictures. The first two from the park and the last one from up in the forest.

Kakamigara Natural Heritage Forest 1

Kakamigara Natural Heritage Forest 2

Kakamigara Natural Heritage Forest (mountain)Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for other Slow Times in Japan as people send in their submissions for the April 2009 Japan Blog Matsuri (links at the top).

Offbeat Tales of My Time in Japan

This month’s Japan Blog Matsuri, hosted on The Ghost Letters, is all about Fast Times in Japan, so here are some of my wilder experiences, at least the ones I don’t mind my mum reading!

The Surprise Visit
I first came to Japan for a three-month holiday. A Japanese friend had earlier invited me to stay with his family, but I hadn’t heard from him in the month before I arrived, so wasn’t sure whether he would be expecting me. Without even calling first, I got trains and even hitchhiked from Narita airport to his very doorstep in Aichi prefecture, and surprised the heck out of his mum who found me standing on her porch at the crack of dawn.

The Underwear
When I officially moved to Japan the following year, my suitcase got left in Rome. Alitalia Airways gave me 3,000 yen in department store vouchers which I used to by some fancy brand-name underwear… which I wore until my suitcase showed up four days later.

The Youth Hostel
In 1998, I got a job at ECC. During my first few weeks on the job, I was living in youth hostels until I got a place of my own. I was eventually kicked out of one, probably because I was leaving for work with a suit and tie on each day.

The Long Walk
When a girlfriend broke up with me, I won her back by walking through the night from my apartment at one end of Nagoya to her place at the other. I couldn’t afford a taxi and couldn’t wait till morning to see her. I think it took me about 6 hours to get there, which she thought was very romantic.

The Gomi Hunter
In the late ’90s, there weren’t any strict rubbish rules at all. In fact, once a month, people would throw out perfectly good household appliances so they could upgrade to the latest models. My friend Kazu and I would drive around Nagoya looking for the best freebies. I picked up a TV, video recorder, and even a washing machine from the street during our midnight gomi-hunting trips.

The Lock-in
One of Nagoya’s most infamous nightclubs is the ID Cafe. My friends and I knew it was a nightclub, but wondered why it was called “Cafe”. One day, on a sunny afternoon, we saw that it was “open” (“open” was painted on the wall inside the entrance) and figured it must double as a coffee shop in the day. We walked in, took the lift up to the third floor and found ourselves locked in! It’s hard to explain so I won’t try, other than to say it was not a cafe, it was not open, and it was two hours before one of us squeezed a finger under the metal cover that was bolted over the elevator button so we could get out.

The Car Chase
I knew a wealthy family man called Mr. Watanabe who had an amazingly sporty Nissan Skyline GT-R (which looked a bit like this). He had a police detector on the dashboard and I remember one day when we were on the highway it started beeping. Moments later, a rather dangerous driver flew past us in the outside lane, and I was suddenly thrown back in my chair as Mr. Watanabe slammed his foot on the accelerator and chased down the speedster, flashing his lights and honking his horn at him! Within seconds, the guy in front had slowed right down and both cars drove calmly by the police who had gathered at the roadside with speed detectors. Fast times in Japan indeed!

The Cat Killer
I unintentionally killed a cat by emptying aerosol cans in the air when throwing out the rubbish. The cat, who was circling around my feet, started running in circles, high on deodorant maybe, when suddenly a car came round the corner and flattened him. I waved at the driver to stop and together we lifted the cat from the street and placed him alongside the rubbish for the morning’s collection. Yes, I feel guilty about that!

The Pain in the Rear
I once had a really nasty cyst in my… erm… bum, that was so sore I couldn’t walk or sit down. Instead, I had to hop from foot to foot constantly which was quite a sight for my students. After three weeks of enduring the pain, I plucked up the courage to see a bum doctor. The young, attractive nurse read me the following instructions in English:

Pull down your pants and show me your anus.

to which I responded in shock,

I’m not showing you my anus! I’ll show the doctor, but not you!

Minutes later I was on my back with my knees against my shoulders, exposed bum in the air and wooden stick clenched between my teeth, while the doctor entered the problem area with a sharp knife. That was one of the most frightening experiences of my life, but I was all mended within a day and incredibly grateful for their help since I didn’t have any insurance and they didn’t charge me a single yen!

Those are just a few tales, and I’m bet you’re glad I shared them, especially the last one!

Make the Most of 2009

Bill Belew from the Rising Sun of Nihon is asking how we resolve to make the most of our stay in Japan this year. For most people, I’d imagine learning Japanese and visiting new places would be high on the list of things to do, but since I’ve been here for over ten years, the fact that I’m in Japan doesn’t weigh heavily in my plans for 2009.

Instead, I resolve to be a good parent and further my ability to provide for my family. While that doesn’t make for especially good blogging material, those are the things that top my 2009 agenda.

I’ve not always been a stay-at-home, family man, though. When I first came to Japan, I was very much the explorer, visiting dozens of places between Tokyo, Hiroshima and the Japan Sea. I often stayed out all night, opening doors to window-less cafes, bars and clubs, not knowing what to expect inside. For a long time, learning Japanese dominated my free time and I was excited to practice what I learned with as many new people as I could. Everything was new, everything was fascinating, and I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing it.

To make the most out of your time in Japan, I advise newcomers to be courteous to the natives, respect Japanese customs, learn as much of the language as you can, and then completely let yourself go! Only you can make 2009 full of memories to cherish forever.

This was part of the January 2009 Japan Blog Matsuri.

Picking Through Someone Else’s Rubbish

There are 15 families in our neighborhood, and we rotate the twice-weekly task of unlocking the “gomi” station before 6am, then coming back, cleaning it out and locking it after the garbage men come at 8am. The rules couldn’t be simpler – put out your burnable rubbish between those hours in a designated city rubbish bag. There are different days and places for disposing of plastics, cans, glass, cardboard and any other rubbish listed in the “instructions” distributed to all the households.

This week is our turn on “gomi duty”, and today, there was one bag leftover. It really is potluck whether the garbage men take everything or not and unfortunately on this occasion, they didn’t. Normally if there is rubbish left behind (usually because the transparent bags give away any attempts to hide unburnables) I would take the bag up to the incinerator and let the professionals sort it out for me. Of course, since the country is on holiday for New Year, I donned some gloves and picked through the rubbish myself.

Air freshener containers, plastic bottles, cardboard, job-hunting magazines, used makeup stuff, balls of hair, potato peels, generally really gross leftovers from dinner… and half an envelope! BUSTED!!! :-P

Wait a minute! This woman, Hiromi, isn’t one of our group! In fact, not only has she broken all the rules of rubbish etiquette, but she’s put out her rubbish in the wrong gomi station!

Here’s the thing: Hiromi’s apartment block is right in front of our gomi station, but due to some geographical misfortune where the line dividing neighborhoods runs right between our gomi station and Hiromi’s apartment block, she would have to walk for 10 minutes, hauling her bag of rubbish to her designated gomi station.

Not that I have any sympathy for her. I went straight to her apartment and rang the doorbell, wondering what her reaction would be to a pissed-off foreigner returning her bag of rubbish. Fortunately for her, she wasn’t in, so I left the bag on her doorstep with the envelope fastened to it so she would know she was caught out. Don’t worry, I have photographic evidence in case she dumps the bag somewhere else – after all, because of New year, the next rubbish day isn’t for another week!

Looking Outside My Japanese Window

Shane Sakata from Japan’s Online Culture and Travel Magazine, the Nihon Sun, is asking us for photos of the real Japan from the windows of our homes.

The timing is a bit off since we’re having the house painted right now, but that just adds to the realism…

Fortunately, we still have a pleasant view out the back window, so long as you ignore all the power lines…

My former neighbor, but still same city dweller, Jason, offers another view of the mountains around our city from his own window.

What Has Japan Taught Me About England?

This is my last minute entry into November’s Japan Blog Matsuri. I was going to skip it this month, as the question, “What has Japan taught you about yourself?”, would require me to take a deep look inside and pull out something wise and intelligent. Instead, here are a few things Japan has taught me about England…

Ascending the throne

When I first came to Japan, people would say “Give my regards to the queen!”, but soon after, David Beckham became the name that most Japanese associated with my home country and I couldn’t get through a single introduction without someone mentioning him. What did this teach me about England? It taught me that it doesn’t take much to impress the Japanese.

English food is crap

While I still have a fondness for English food, the general consensus is English food is bland and overpriced. What has this overwhelmingly popular opinion taught me? I love bland and overpriced food.

Englishmen are gentlemen

This is a good example of a lie told again and again becomes the truth. Despite exports such as rule-breaking Harry Potter, foul-mouthed Wayne Rooney, and gun-toting Prince Harry, the Japanese population still believe Englishmen are gentlemen. I think they’ve been watching too much Mary Poppins, but this has taught me that no matter how rude and unsophisticated British society becomes, we will always be gentlemen to the Japanese.

English is really hard

I’ve learned that the English language is incredibly difficult, and have huge respect for anyone who can speak two or more languages. [Edit: I also have huge respect for those who try to learn a second language, but fail miserably. ;) ]

In summary…

While writing this, I’ve been drinking a hot “One Cup Sake” – perfect for a wintry evening. Unfortunately, it has failed to stimulate my imagination beyond the points above. I’ll see if a few more cups can’t work their magic next month when I host the Japan Blog Matsuri on JapanSoc. Stay tuned!

Kudos to Danielle for hosting this month!

Five Things Meme – More About Me

The most successful freelance writer I’ve ever known, Michael Kwan, has asked me to tell the world about myself in the latest self-introduction meme. Let’s get straight into it…

5 Things I Was Doing 10 Years Ago:

  1. Learning Japanese
  2. Living in a one-room apartment in Nagoya, Japan
  3. Eating instant noodles and paying off debts
  4. Teaching English
  5. Hanging out with a guy called Bamboo

5 Things on My To-Do List Today:

  1. Get some money from the cash machine
  2. Unplug the phone and internet connection
  3. Watch technicians change the optical fiber and broadband router
  4. Bite my fingernails
  5. Test internet connection and phone
  6. Pay technicians with money from cash machine

5 Snacks I Like

  1. Chocolate bars
  2. Sakeru Cheese
  3. 7-Eleven Burrito
  4. Country Ma’am cookies
  5. Chorus Water (okay, it’s a drink, but…)

5 Things I Would Do if I Were a Millionaire

  1. Pay off the mortgage
  2. Renovate our house, especially the bathroom and toilet
  3. Help out my family and in-laws if they need a few bucks
  4. Start eating fruit again (it’s a rip off here so I don’t bother)
  5. Put my little Suzuki Wagon R in for a service

5 Places I’ve Lived (for various lengths of time)

  1. Crowborough, East Sussex, England
  2. Colchester, Essex, England
  3. Nagoya, Aichi, Japan
  4. Kani, Gifu, Japan
  5. Kakamigahara, Gifu, Japan

5 Jobs I Have Had

  1. Dishwasher
  2. Door-to-door windows salesman
  3. English language instructor
  4. General manager of a chain of English schools
  5. English school owner

5 People I Tag:

  1. Danielle
  2. Michael
  3. Ryan
  4. Jordan
  5. Billy

I’d love to hear more about you guys!

Even Japan Plays Korfball

When I was at university, I played on the Korfball team. It didn’t quite have the wow factor of football, basketball or rugby, but I was proud to be a starting member for the Essex first team, even though we were awful!

Nick, what in the world is korfball?

Korfball is the world’s only true mixed gender team sport with the rules laid down so that both men and women have equal opportunities. [Korfball.org]

Korfball (Dutch: Korfbal) is a team ball game, similar to mixed netball. It is played in more than 50 countries. The Netherlands and Belgium have most players. A team consists of four men and four women.

Korfball is played in over 50 countries including Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Greece, Serbia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, India, Netherlands, Belgium, Russia, Germany, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Portugal, Sweden, Philippines and France. It was a demonstration sport in the Olympic Games of 1920 and 1928, held in Antwerp and Amsterdam). [Wikipedia]

And you say it’s played in Japan?

Korfball found its way to Japan in 1991 via the Tokyo YMCA, and is currently run by the Japan Korfball Association in Akita prefecture. Since then, Japan has competed in four Asia-Oceania Championships, with a best finish of 5th in India in 2002, and twice in the World Championships – Adelaide in 1999 and Rotterdam in 2003, finishing 12th and 16th respectively.

The best resource for Korfball in Japan seems to be the Korball Blog (Japanese | English translation), but you might want to watch some Korfball videos on YouTube to get a better dea of what it’s all about.

Should it be in the Olympics?

There is a strong argument for korfball’s inclusion in the Olympics, even over the likes of baseball and softball. As a mixed team sport, played worldwide, already established in the IOC’s World Games, and with TV-friendly match lengths, it seems ideal… but still as a relatively unknown sport, we may just have to wait a little longer yet.

This has been my entry into October’s Japan Blog Matsuri. For the latest Japan blog carnival news, tune into the Japan Blog Matsuri Newsroom.

Need a Time Out

After a hectic week of changing servers, I deserve a

And that’s what I got when I went into the Family Mart convenience store and saw only the 4th major western chocolate bar I’ve ever seen in Japan. We’ve had Snickers, Kit-Kat, and Aero, and now Time Out! Woot!

Imagine only having a choice of three chocolate bars? Thank goodness we now have four! :-P

Suitopia in Konan City

Three times a week, when Mami goes to her part-time job, I watch over Rikuto. Now, I know our 1-year-old son would be quite happy to watch YouTube all day, but that’s not going to happen. Instead, I try to take him to some of the sightseeing places around town. We’ve already done a lot in Kakamigahara, so today we headed south and crossed into Aichi prefecture where we would take in the view from the Suitopia Skyroom in Konan City.

Excuse the blurry picture. it was hard to take with Rikuto squirming in my arms, trying to grab the camera! But look at what a gorgeous day we had! It was 27 degrees in October!

Suitopia is right on the bank of the Kiso river that runs between Gifu and Aichi prefectures. According to the Konan City website

The place opened in September 30, 1994, as a multiple-purpose facility to promote gathering, contact, and exchange among the citizens. This is a part of the city project to create a hometown in harmony with water and green. In the facility, there are lodging, which can accommodate 80 guests, a seminar room, a exhibition center, an observatory tower, a tennis court, a square, and so on.

As wonderful as that sounds, there wasn’t much for an Englishman and a baby other than the observation deck at the top of the tower. For a measly 210 yen, we took the elevator up, past the window washers, who you can see in the photo above, and to the “Skyroom”.

Looking south, you can see Nagoya, but looking north across the river into Gifu prefecture is a bit less “concrete”…

Like any observation deck, you walk around for a few minutes and that’s about it. We were lucky we had such clear views, but I’m not so sure Rikuto was all that interested…

Kakamigahara Aerospace Museum

Rather than sit in front of the TV all day while keeping an eye on Rikuto, I decided to take him to the Kakamigahara Aerospace museum instead.

Kakamigahara is home to the Gifu Self-Defense Force Air Base and the Kawasaki Aerospace Division, so perhaps to make up for the noise of fighter jets flying overhead, the public are treated to a museum dedicated to flying machines.

The museum was better than I expected. While most of the focus is on Japanese planes, designers from Kakamigahara, and products of Kawasaki, there are also displays about man’s early attempts at flying, rockets, helicopters, more rockets, space stations and Jules Verne stories. Real planes fill the area outside the museum as well as inside the main hall, and you can get on board and sit in the cockpits of some of them, too.

Rikuto enjoyed watching a remote controlled helicopter fly around inside a large plastic dome, the walls of the dome preventing Ricky from touching the whirring propeller blades. He also liked playing with the computers and clicking the mouse buttons, somehow navigating through a database of rocket engines.

Best of all, though, was crawling around among the planes and helicopters in a hall which we pretty much had to ourselves. If you’re in Nagoya or Gifu and have kids with you, I can recommend a couple of hours at the Kakamigahara Aerospace museum.