Tagged: jbmatsuri

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.


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).

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.

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!

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.

What’s My Name? Revisited

This month’s Japan Blog Matsuri theme is The Language of Japan, and I’ve been scratching my head all month over what to write. I haven’t studied Japanese for years now, and although I have a few amusing stories of miscommunication, nothing worthy of an entire blog post.

So, I delved into the LongCountdown archives and submitted an article I wrote back in March 2007. It’s about the confusion that arises from having a foreign name in Japan. It’s just as appropriate today as it was when I wrote it. Enjoy: What’s My Name?

The deadline for this month’s Japan Blog Matsuri is this Saturday night, September 20th. Get your entries in quick! More info here.

New Narita Express Coming 2009

I came to Japan in July 1997, arriving at Narita airport late in the afternoon, with the intention of getting to Nagoya by nightfall. The first challenge was to get to Tokyo so I could somehow board a Shinkansen bullet train and head west.

The NEX welcomes you to Tokyo

With signs in English, it wasn’t too hard getting a ticket and boarding the Tokyo-bound Narita Express. Although I was looking forward to riding the Shinkansen, I hadn’t given much thought to the train that would take me from the airport to the capital. Even in 1997, trains in my part of the U.K were rather primitive, so old, in fact, that to get off the train, you had to pull down the window, reach out and open the door from the outside! Not the Narita Express.

The N’EX was ever-so high tech, it had sliding doors, air conditioning, room to put your luggage, a map with flashing lights to show you where you were, and a news ticker streaming the latest world affairs. Peering out the window as I hurtled along at speeds that couldn’t explain the smoothness and quietness of the ride, I remember seeing pictures on the tunnel walls made of colorful little lights. The Narita Express tilted to its side as it weaved its way through the increasing number of buildings on its approach to Tokyo.

An even better welcome with the new N’EX

The Narita Express that whisked me into Tokyo on my first day in Japan is 17-years-old this year, and while that would probably be considered “new” in England, the Japanese are ready to retire the N’EX 253 series, and roll out an even flashier model in autumn, 2009.

The E259 series brings a number of improvements. There will be improved safety features, security cameras, and even lockers in the cargo area so someone whose luggage was left in Rome won’t be tempted to steal your suitcase. Other changes include more spacious “green” cars for first class passengers, toilet facilities with wheelchair access, better bilingual guidance and an even smoother and quieter ride, despite speeds of up to 130 km/hour.

Making a good first impression

Since the theme of this month’s Japan Blog Matsuri is “First Impressions of Tokyo“, I couldn’t think of a better first impression than that offered by Japan Rail’s Narita Express. Whether you ride the new or the old N’EX, I hope its an experience you’ll remember long after you step off the train and enter Tokyo station – another unforgettable experience, if a little less welcoming.

Reviving the Japan Blog Matsuri

I’ve been working behind the scenes with other members of JapanSoc to revive the old Japan Blog Matsuri. This is a monthly blog “carnival” where given a theme to write about, bloggers everywhere are invited to share their stories with everyone else. It’s a great opportunity to find new blogs and attract new readers to your own.

Organization and Announcements

The Japan Blog Matsuri Newsroom is where things are being organized, and I can now tell you that the first matsuri of the revival will be hosted in August at The Tokyo Traveler.

Shane has published a Japan Blog Matsuri announcement naming the theme and submission details, so if you’re interested, swing by her blog to learn more!

What’s my name?

In my post about choosing a name for our son, I said that one reason for giving him my wife’s family name, i.e. a Japanese name, is because it would be more convenient. In this post, I’m going to write about my experiences of having a non-Japanese name in Japan.

Nikuman - a meaty dumpling thing.Informally, my name Nick is pretty hard for Japanese people to pronounce. They tend to say Ni-koo, or nikku in romaji. Having been in Japan for ten years, I now introduce myself as Ni-koo, and to help people remember my name, I list a variety of meat dishes – yakiniku, nikujaga, and nikuman. Naturally, having a name similar to the Japanese word for ‘meat’ is funny enough to break the ice during an introduction.

Things get really awkward in formal situations, and I often struggle to remember what my own full name is. At least, I forget the order in which it should be written. Let me explain…

Last, First, Middle names - confusing to Japanese.Here’s a scan from my old passport. You can see that my surname is listed first, then below are my given names, Nicholas (first) and Hannant (middle – don’t laugh!).

The problem arose right at the beginning when immigration decided, based on my passport, that my name is officially Ramsay Nicholas Hannant, and City Hall put that on my alien registration card. Can you imagine how confusing it is to be recognised as Last name, First name, Middle name?

I can’t count how many times I’ve had to rewrite forms at banks and post offices because I got the order “wrong”. When we applied for a mortgage, I had to open a completely new bank account because my existing one was opened without using my middle name, and apparently this was impossible to rectify.

Everything must match my alien registration card: my driver’s licence, health insurance, pension, even our house is owned by Mr. Hannant. It’s a bit annoying that all my neighbors think I’m Ramsay Nicholas Hannant-san, but that was the name on the list at our recent neighborhood meeting.

Having a meaty nickname and a long-winded, scrambled full name is one thing, but the problems don’t stop there. When I applied for a credit card at a shopping center years ago, the staff promoting the cards and signing people up where young, part-timers who didn’t really know how the application form should be filled in. I asked one of the girls if I should write my name in English, romaji, or katakana, and she guessed at the latter. Clearly this was a mistake because when I eventually got my card, it had been converted into romaji, reading Ramusei Nikorasu Hananto.

I was able to use that card, without getting billed, for six months before the credit card company contacted me to say the name didn’t match that of my bank account, and I would need to fill in more forms to correct it!

I could go off at a tangent and talk about how I opened another bank account with the name “Nishi”, but I’ll save that story for another time.

Anyway, I hope from these experiences you can understand why our son Rikuto, will not be given a middle name, or my foreign surname. When something as simple as a name can cause so much hassle, why complicate things for the little fella?