so … are you worried about your pronunciation?

Steve Martin, with a bad French accent, apparently trying to master American English, in the remake of the Pink Panther movie.

What pronunciation difficulties do you have? Have you checked the BBC pronunciation web page? Have you asked your teacher for advice during counselling?

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and the big news of the last seven days was …

Last Friday night, I asked my class what the big news of the week had been in Japan and one student told us the very sad story of how a baby had been abandoned in a Tokyo hotel earlier that same day. Not wanting to end the week talking about something so unhappy, I asked if there had been any other, happier, news. Another student then told us all that Tom Cruise was in Japan, at the mention of this man’s name my eyes slowly, and uncontrollably, closed and I started to fall into a deep sleep. Through the onset of sleep I heard her go on to say something about him flying to Osaka in a specially chartered aeroplane, on which he had invited a large number of fans to talk to. Then I heard a faint voice in the distance, through my dreams, saying that Tom was going to attend a special showing of his new film, Valkyrie, in Otori.

“Otori!” I sat upright immediately, completely awake and attentive now … “Tom Cruise in in Otori! Really? Tom Cruise? Tom Cruise the actor? In Otori? Otori in South Osaka? Where I live? Tom Cruise? Otori!”

“Yes! At the Toho Cinema in Otori,” replied my student, surprised to see her recently snoring teacher suddenly so animated.

“The Toho Cinema, in Otor? I can see that from my kitchen window, about 2 km away!” I cried, more and more excited .

Tom Cruise and family arrive at Tony's apartment and Tom is clearly disappointed to learn that Tony has gone out

Tom Cruise and family arrive at Tony's apartment and Tom is clearly disappointed to learn that Tony has gone out

Hollywood comes to Otori, eh? Not Sakai, as it says in this news report, OTORI! No idea why, although somebody else told me that another meaning of the Japanese word otori comes from the theatre. Does it mean something like the end of the final act during a play? Please let me know if you have any information or knowledge. Meanwhile, I am going back to the Tom Cruise fan website to check on my new hero and see if I can spot any photos of Otori! Maybe he went to have a look at Otori Taishya, and actually SAW my apartment building. Imagine, Tom Cruise saw my apartment building. Hehe.

Click here to read the news story of Tom Cruise in Japan.

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but … if you really wanna learn English … try this site, it’s excellent!

emblem

I was having a quick look on the good old Internet, to check out what is happening, and available, for those of you who have some time and motivation (as well as access to a computer!) to study more. And … I came across this excellent website LEO (Learning English Online), which, unbelievably, appears to be totally free! It literally took me one minute to join and upload a profile photo (you don’t have to put a photo, by the way), which gave me access to all the pages – if you don’t register, you only have access to a selection of the pages.

There are some really good things on here such as quizzes, crosswords, common mistakes, grammar tests and pronunciation advice and help. There are also video and audio texts – excellent!

Have a look, and let me know what you think. Don’t worry about the registering process, I didn’t even need to give an email address, or anything, but that may be because I have a Google email account. Good luck! Let me know if you have any difficulties. I will put the link into the study site list on the right of this page. Happy studying!

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so … u wanna learn english, huh?

The first time I watched this, last year, I had tears streaming down my face – I thought it was so funny! I used it in one of my classes when we discussed different types of humour.

Do you think it is funny? Have you seen it before?

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another monday afternoon …

Monday found me up in Kyoto for the first time in years. It is such a beautiful city, and maybe sometimes I forget that. Particularly, I love Kyoto in the evenings, with the lights, and the little streams with the willow trees hanging calmly beside them. Also, I love those little cobbled-stone, wooden-walled alleys that generally lead up to enticing restaurants.

Anyway, as I said, Monday found me in the former capital with time on my hands and adventure on my mind. Having discussed various options with myself and friends, including the penguin, who is shortly to return to the colder climes of the Antarctic, I decided to head up to the forest-covered mountain to discover Kurama, as I had never been there before, and everyone tells me it is wonderful.

thick moss on the temple roof in kurama

thick moss on the temple roof in kurama

At the back of my mind was the thought that my parents are visiting Japan again soon, for the ninth or tenth time, and they have only ever been to Kyoto once or twice I think. So, I thought that I might take them there for a couple of days to see something they haven’t seen before.

So, with camera in hand, I took the train out to Demachiyanagi, and from there I took the excellent tram service to Kuruma. The journey into the countryside only took about 40 minutes from the city centre, and what an incredible contrast the endless greenery and tranquility made from the downtown concrete and noise.

the sweets in the window enticed me in

the sweets in the window enticed me in

I had a quick, and cheap, bowl of Oyakudon at one of the few local omiyage shops outside the station, consciously avoiding the clearly over-priced ‘we-have-English-menu’ tourist traps on the other side of the road, and set off on the 90-minute walk over the mountain, back to Kibune, just to check out if it would be a suitable walk for my mum and dad.

funicular railway up the steep mountain side

funicular railway up the steep mountain side

The initial walk up the steps and through the first temple, Nio-mon, the gate of the guardians, was incredibly steep, but as luck would have it (especially seeing as that a group of around 3000 elementary school kids had gathered around to stare at the pink-faced, gaijin tengu) the last funicular railway train was about to slide up the mountain side: I love those trains. They are called cable-cars in Japanese, which is a bit confusing for a native English speaker, because a cable-car for me is what Japanese call ‘ropeway’, which I guess actually makes more sense really. There is a great funicular railway in Barcelona, which I remember very clearly takes you up to the Miro museum and the Olympic stadium.

friendly old lady in the temple door

friendly old lady in the temple door


final days of plum blossom in the temple yard

final days of plum blossom in the temple yard

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I walked along the well-trodden path, amazed yet again by the beauty that Japan has to offer, and wondering how many people had passed along the same route over the centuries. Eventually, the path meets the mountain road in Kibune, and it is a pleasant 20-minute walk alongside the crystal clear river, where in summer they have the famous kawadoko, to the station.

the narrow road is full of lovely-looking restaurants by the river

the narrow road is full of lovely-looking restaurants by the river

From here, I took the lovely two-carriage train, with seats facing outwards, back to Kyoto city, planning to return soon with my parents to walk once again through the tranquil forest to eat botan-nabe in one of the many restaurants in Kibune. And of course I took many, many photos, some of which I would like to share with you now. I will categorise them accordingly.

Getting there

departure point

departure point

pass through the ticket barriers

pass through the ticket barriers

waiting tram, but not my tram!

waiting tram, but not my tram!

outside kurama station

outside kurama station

The welcome for all gaijins arriving at Kurama is … ruddy-faced and big-nosed … hmm!

red face, big nose, tied back hair? yes! officer, i know that man!

red face, big nose, tied back hair? yes! officer, i know that man!

I am interested in the juxtaposition of nature and man-made objects, and how sometimes there seems to be order in nature: clear lines at right angles, for example. The photos below show how I see things, the things I look for when I take a photo: the lines and the colours, unusual angles and how man has affected things.

Angles, lines and colours

cut down trees

cut logs

cut logs

cut down tree stump with concentric rings and rotten core

cut down tree stump with concentric rings and rotten core

cut down tree stump in the shape of a cartoon cloud

cut down tree stump in the shape of a cartoon cloud

steps

stone steps curving away

stone steps curving away

steep stone steps going up

steep stone steps going up

wooden steps

wooden steps

trees trunks and …

tree and temple to the left

tree and temple to the left

green tree and temple to the left

green tree and temple to the left

tree and orange hand rail

tree and orange hand rail

tree and stone face

tree and stone face

fallen trunk and standing trees

fallen trunk and standing trees

tree and greenery

tree and greenery

more tree images

fallen tree covered in moss

fallen tree covered in moss

moss covered tree trunk

moss covered tree trunk

moving tree trunks

moving tree trunks

parallel tree trunks

parallel tree trunks

oldest tree in the forest, 1000 years

oldest tree in the forest, 1000 years

Finally, as I strolled along the forest path, from time-to-time, I thought I caught sight of some o-bake, monsters or ghosts I guess, which are a common feature of dark forests the world over: don’t be afraid when you see them, they cannot harm you.

Can you see the faces in these photos?

green moss face

green moss face

baboon face

baboon face

the scream

the scream

i can see you!

i can see you!

This last one may be more difficult to spot, but keep looking and you will see the face of a little imp! Thanks for reading!

can you find the little impish face?

can you find the little impish face?

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sunday morning

I love the early hours of Sunday morning

… especially on a day so perfect as last Sunday, with nobody in the streets and the sun rising into the cold air above the trees of Otori Taishya. I looked over the balcony of my apartment and decided to go for a walk.

view from the balcony

view from the balcony

Grabbing my camera and quickly checking if the battery was charged up, I went out the front door. Everything was so quiet. It seemed like the whole building was asleep. I strolled along the road, blinded by the brightness of the morning sun on this crystal clear day.

view from street level

view from street level

looking back towards home

looking back towards home

There weren’t too many people out in the streets, only the occasional power walker or dog owner. Otori Taishya is famous for the variety of trees that surround it, I can’t remember exactly how many different species there are, but I remember reading that it was over 100.

one of the many trees against the dawn sky

one of the many trees against the dawn sky

the stone path leading to the Taishya

the stone path leading to the Taishya

I ambled down the old stone path, worn smooth over the centuries, and now glistening in the dawn light, remembering how busy it was here just a few weeks ago during Shogatsu, when this very lane was full of people jostling to get to the shrine or crowding round one of the many matsuri game and food stalls.

the torii gate to the taishya

the torii gate to the taishya

inside the taishya

inside the taishya


this is where 1000s of people queue to buy omikuji at shogatsu

this is where 1000s of people queue to buy omikuji at shogatsu


inside the grounds of Otori taishya

inside the grounds of Otori taishya

more buildings in and around the taishya

more buildings in and around the taishya

Parts of the shrine are very old, but most of it was rebuilt during the last century after a fire destroyed many of the wooden buildings. Today, visitors bring their little babies here for O-miyamairi, or their kids for shichi-go-san, people even bring their new cars to be blessed by the priest and his stick. However, there was nobody here at this time of the morning except for a handful of people praying and a few of the priests and their assistants getting ready for the day ahead. I marveled at the greenery and the age of some of the trees and I passed on through the shrine and out the rear gate, heading for home and some breakfast.

how old is this tree?

how old is this tree?

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do u know iKnow?

Recently, I have heard a lot of people talking about iKnow, which is a social website that teaches English to Japanese (and other nationalities). I had a look at the website, and really is excellent with lots of different features. In fact, when I eventually have some free time, I may use it for studying Japanese!

Here you can see it in action in a lesson about typing under dictation …

And here there seems to be an application testing word recognition and brain speed …

If you have had any good or bad experiences using iKnow, please share them with us!

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