Fun in the blistering sun … and it’s only April!

Underneath the trees behind the union flag, that's where you'll find us, please!

Underneath the trees behind the union flag, that's where you'll find us, please!

What a day for a picnic! Not a cloud in the sky and baking hot. And it’s only the middle of April! Here’s the Kinks and ‘Sunny Afternoon’ – enjoy!

Click HERE for the lyrics to this famous song from the 60s.

Last Sunday, we headed down to the park inside Osaka-jokouen, which seems to be unknown to many people. But what a great escape from the city – it was like being in Hyde Park in London, or Central Park in New York.

Acres of green, green, open spaces in the heart of Osaka City

Acres of green, green, open spaces in the heart of Osaka City

A great, green, open space in which to relax and breathe, play frisbee, ball or run around, and munch on all the great food that students, friends and staff had brought along to the first Spring term social event. The weather was fantastic, and such a contrast to the last time. Those of you who have been studying with us for a couple of years will remember the torrential downpour that we experienced in 2007!

The kids and I arrived at Osakajokouen station on the loop line sometime around 12.30 and were surprised by the intense heat that greeted us outside – time for some sun block! We met up with Sarah and some friends and ambled through a busy park and up and around the castle itself to the peaceful hideaway of the walled park on the west side of Osaka-jo. It must have taken us about 45 minutes in total, walking in the blistering sun, it really did feel like a summer’s day. When we arrived there were already around 50 people reclining under the trees.

Irie puts on her special sun hat on arrival in the park

Irie puts on her special sun hat on arrival in the park

Everyone had a great afternoon talking to friends, eating lovely food and playing games and enjoying the shade of the trees. For some, the party stretched on into the evening.

Beer in hand as the sun goes down in front of the castle

Beer in hand as the sun goes down in front of the castle

Me and the weary kids finally got back to Otori some time around 10.30pm. A long day out in the April Sunday sun. Thanks for coming! We are looking forward to the next BC Osaka social event already!

Here are some more photos from the event!

Hugo thinks he has caught sight of a UFO in the park

Hugo thinks he has caught sight of a UFO in the park


UK obachan style protection from the blistering sun

UK obachan style protection from the blistering sun

Long shadows tell us it is nearly time to leave the park

Long shadows tell us it is nearly time to leave the park


The heat of the sun, or IELTS study, obviously starting to affect some people, hehe!

The heat of the sun, or IELTS study, obviously starting to affect some people, hehe!


Hugo takes over camera duties and captures papa being silly

Hugo takes over camera duties and captures papa being silly


... and some others being silly!

... and some others being silly!


... and more silliness!

... and more silliness!

Getting tired after all the exertions of the day

Getting tired after all the exertions of the day


Nobody catches the attempted terrorist attack except for this alert cameraman!

Nobody catches the attempted terrorist attack except for this alert cameraman!


Osaka castle still standing

Osaka castle still standing


Johnny pops his head over the parapet

Johnny pops his head over the parapet


Sunset over Osaka and a tired little boy at the close of a long day in the sun

Sunset over Osaka and a tired little boy at the close of a long day in the sun

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Stop the pigeon!

When I was a kid, I used to love this cartoon. Dick Dastardly and Muttley, his long-suffering dog with the funny laugh. We used to run home from school to watch it, along with our other favourite TV shows.

I was reminded of this programme this morning, when I found two huge pigeons on my terrace looking menacingly at my herb seedlings, which are sprouting nicely in the boxes that I planted a couple of weeks ago. In the theme song for the show they sing ‘Stop the pigeon’. You can watch the video below and see for yourself! 🙂

I have come to love raising plants over the past few years, although I still don’t have enough flowers outside my home. Back in the UK, my parents always had a lovely garden and spent hours outside nurturing their plants, trees and flowers of many different colours. They know everything about gardening and have very ‘green fingers‘, but I am still a novice and so I got a great thrill when the seeds I planted started sprouting out of the soil, little green leaves pushing their way upwards towards the sunshine.

As you know, I love cooking, so I decided to try and grow loads of herbs, and I especially wanted to grow coriander, as it is often difficult to find in Japan, and I love making Indian and Thai food, for example. Other herbs that I am growing include oregano and tarragon, and I am also growing roquette and dandelion leaves for salads throughout the late spring and early summer. There was no way I was going to let those two big pigeons near my precious little green shoots.

little green shoots pushing their way out of the soil towards the sunlight

little green shoots pushing their way out of the soil towards the sunlight

I will let you know how I get on with the herbs, and whether or not I need a scarecrow to deter the unwelcome guests from eating my green shoots and stop those bloody pigeons!

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Wisdom of a (different) child … (part 7)

Irie is 18 months old, and she constantly has me in stitches, which means that she is always making me laugh. She is so funny. The little dances she does, the games she plays and more recently, the things she says. She doesn’t have a big vocabulary yet. She is limited to bellowingohayou‘, ‘akachan‘ and various other simple words. But what warms my heart, each and every day, is when she says, ‘Papa, papa … papa!’ Nothing gives me greater pleasure than hearing her little voice say this word, over and over again.

Anyway, yesterday, as I was brushing my teeth in the utility room, next to the bathroom, she came running in and wanted to brush her 8 little teeth, too. So I gave her little pink toothbrush to her and picked her up so she was the same height as me. On the wall, over my shoulder, is a painting I bought in Vietnam several years ago. As Irie was kind of brushing her teeth, she looked over my shoulder, and suddenly she started excitedly shouting, “Papa, papa, papa!”, pointing at the painting. We looked at it together and, of course, she had me in stitches once more as I realised why she was calling out my name.

Can you see why she was saying “Papa” as she looked at this painting?

Naked woman washing with hair tied up

Naked woman washing with hair tied up

Maybe if you look at the photo below, you might understand! Hehe!

Hontony papa at home

Hontony papa at home

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Loads more listening activities …

I have known about Randall’s ESL Cyber listening lab for a long time, but somehow I forgot to put a link to it in the study list of useful websites on the right-hand side of this page.

Anyway, better late than never I always say 🙂

An excellent site to practise your listening skills

An excellent site to practise your listening skills

On this site you will see that audio texts are graded into three different levels. They cover all different kinds of topics with a range of different accents, but a lot of American stuff, I guess. The listening tasks often have pre-listening activities to start you thinking about the topic and comprehension questions to check your understanding. There are quizzes and academic English tasks, and also there are some vocabulary building exercises and further tips for students on how to study effectively in your own time.

Have a look at the site by clicking on the link above or from the study box on the right. Let me know if you have any success, or, if you have any comments, please post them. Cheers!

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everyday japanese products … (1)

You beautiful cow!

You beautiful cow!

In UK English, if you want to insult a girl or a woman, or you become angry with a female because they were rude to you, it is quite common to call them a “cow”. Often, this is preceded by a nasty, negative, adjective such as “stupid”, “silly”, “old”, “ugly” or, perhaps most insultingly of all, “fat”. Sometimes it is just used on its own, as in the following clip from one of the UK’s longest running and best loved, real-life, soap operas, Eastenders.

The reason I say all this is because I recently found a box of “Cow Beauty Soap” in my bathroom, and it reminded me of a time I upset my sister when she came to Japan a few years ago. I bought a packet of three or four Cow Beauty Soaps and gave them to my sister, telling her to take them back to England as a present. As Queen Victoria before her, she was not amused at all! She didn’t speak to me for ages!

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sakura photo challenge

It’s been nearly two weeks since my last post, and I apologise for that!

My parents came to Japan for nine days, and so, as I was off work between terms, I spent a lot of time out and about with them and the kids. It was the eighth or ninth time that they have been to this country but perhaps only the second time they have been here to witness the cherry blossom. A couple of weeks ago it seemed as though the blossom would be particularly early this year, but then the weather turned cold again, so even as I write the sakura has not reached its full bloom outside hontony mansion!

OK blog readers, I have a spring challenge for you. I am going to put some photos below and you have to decide where I took them. They all include some cherry blossom and they were all taken this week. And they were all taken from a 10 minute to an hour distance, or so, from my house here in Otori.

If anyone can tell me the location of all the photos, I will give them a special spring prize! Yippeee!

Photo A

Ten minutes by bicycle

Ten minutes by bicycle

Photo B

An hour or less south by Nankai train

An hour or less south by Nankai train

Photo C
Clue – burial grounds of former kings

Ten minutes by train

Ten minutes by train

Photo D

Fifty minutes south by JR train

Fifty minutes south by JR train

Photo E

Twenty-five minutes north by tram

Twenty-five minutes north by tram

Photo F

An hour or so east by Kintetsu

An hour or so east by Kintetsu

So, as I said earlier, the first person to tell me the six places will receive a special spring honTony prize! Good luck!

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sumo sunday

For years now, I have been intending to go down to the Osaka basho at the beginning of Spring, but for one reason or another, usually either work or idleness, I have always missed it. Last year, I was invited to attend, but had to decline as I was working.

colourful banners outside the hall

colourful banners outside the hall

However, this year I was once again invited along to sit in view of the dohyo for the first Sunday of the 15-day event, and watch the rikishi going toe-to-toe, belly-to-belly, in their quest for the Emperor’s cup, won last year by the Mongolian fighter, Asashoryu, the wannabe soccer player. This year though, his countryman, Hakuho is in form and attempting to claim the cup from his country rival.

the emperor's cup

the emperor's cup

Before entering the Osaka prefectural gymnasium, I sampled the atmosphere outside, and then found myself sitting in a delightful little soba restaurant near Nanba Parks, filling up on zaru-soba and beer, while trying to understand the animated conversation of the two press men at the next table. I may be wrong but I believe they were discussing how the cold weather expected later in the week may affect this year’s early cherry blossom, or maybe they were discussing which of the two Mongolian sumo warriors is going to walk off with the main prize next Sunday. I’ll let you decide which of the two subjects, and also which of the two fighters perhaps, is more likely.

Attending a major sporting event for the first time is always an eye-opener, especially if you are accustomed to the images shown constantly on the TV: sumo is no different. There are surprises waiting for you throughout the experience.

big men everywhere

big men everywhere

The first thing I hadn’t anticipated, despite this sport only really taking place in Japan, were the similarities with big sporting ocacasions back home in the UK. There were crowds of fans waiting as you entered through the main door, and I noticed that there were also TV crews filming the arrivals. As I hung around, seeing what all the fuss was about, a couple of sumo people arrived, top-knots in place, the familiar sweet smell of tea seed oil trailing behind them. This aroma I have smelt every spring for the past seven years as some of these giant men, their trainers and staff take the Nankai line home to their heya’s competition time accommodation, near Sakai.

top knot and the aroma of tea seed oil

top knot and the aroma of tea seed oil

What did amuse me though, was the group following immediately behind, who were greeted by an audible gasp of expectation and the flashing of cameras lights. As the focus of all this excitement pushed its way through all the people crowding around the doorway, I was surprised to see a couple of obviously star sumo wrestlers in the full traditional outfit, wearing dark sunglasses, to make themselves invisible perhaps? Clearly, it doesn’t matter what the sport is, if you are the glitterati, you wear dark glasses at all times – except inside the dohyo, of course!

no shades inside the dohyo gentlemen please

no shades inside the dohyo gentlemen please

The next thing which made me laugh was when I saw the TV pundits for the live broadcasts. Back in the UK when football is on the tele, the co-commentators and the experts are all ex-soccer players. Of course, for sumo they are all ex-sumo wrestlers. But I hadn’t expected to see all these enormous older guys squeezed into tight fitting suits. There were big guys everywhere. Not only were former wrestlers doing TV work, but they were also working as security guards, as ticket collectors and doormen. It all makes sense really, but I just hadn’t thought about it before, and it made me laugh. A place where being fat is normal, made me feel small.

Something which surprised me a little was how close you could get to the wrestlers, especially before they entered the arena. As they psyched themselves up for their bout, they waited in the wings just 25 metres from the dohyo, flexing their muscles, doing stretches, or just looking like man mountains. You could get close enough to touch them if you wanted to. I didn’t. But I did take a load of photos, of these giant sportsmen in the final seconds before they went out to do battle. The concentration was deep and the looks were intense. I have to say though, these huge fleshy athletes can move with the grace of a ballet dancer pirouetting around Covent Garden, but if they come crashing to the floor the vibrations can be felt throughout the gymnasium. Here is a selection of the photos I took.

pink hand-towel

pink hand-towel

waiting in the wings

waiting in the wings

last minute preparations

last minute preparations

so this is where high-school girls get their squatting-on-the-train influence

so this is where high-school girls get their squatting-on-the-train influence

shinto style referee outfit

shinto style referee outfit

warming-up with balletic movements

warming-up with balletic movements

kotooshu the bulgarian ozeki

kotooshu the bulgarian ozeki

anyone seen my contact lens?

anyone seen my contact lens?

back from the dohyo

back from the dohyo

the one-man mountain on his way to the dohyo

the one-man mountain on his way to the dohyo

the broadest back in the world

the broadest back in the world


biding time

biding time

I can’t finish without mentioning the gift shop. Back home they make a fortune out of merchandise at sporting events such as Premier League football. But here at sumo world, the goods on offer were much more reasonably priced, and ranged from the essentials such as sweets, crisps and beer to the stuffed, angry-looking sumo wrestler toys and key-rings.

what can you not buy in this shop?

what can you not buy in this shop?

It was a great afternoon’s entertainment, full of drama, costume and noise. All of this slowly reached its anticipated pinnacle just before 6pm, as one great Mongolian yokozuna after another made short work of their hapless opponents, as the two marched inexorably towards a second Sunday showdown for the Emperor’s cup. See you at the gym in Nanba on the 29th for all the fun!

Click here for the official sumo website where you can also listen to broadcasts in English.

Finally, one more silly photo …

twins

twins

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