Martin In Japan

Our Man In Japan

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Call that a Bicycle Kick?

Ronaldinho's scored this bicycle kick goal at the weekend. People have been raving about it, but for me it isn't quite as impressive as this effort from 'Tricky' Trevor Sinclair...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Something to remember in the last week of study

It's less than a week before the test and I need to start thinking about focusing my studies. Where am I weak? Which parts are fuzzy? Which parts can be left so I have more time to study the essential stuff? In short, and to use a nasty bit of management speak, how do I maximise my test score on a limited time-scale?

A book called "Pass JLPT in 30-hours" would be tempting but I think we all know (well, those that tried "Learn in 30-hours" would know) it wouldn't work. Instead, why not try this nugget that I found on's forum. The post refers to Level 2 JLPT but the advice is pretty much the same; there are 300 kanji you need to know, 1000 or so vocab entries but only 120 or so grammar points. The grammar (and reading) section contribute 200 points to the overall 400 points. "Thinking from a purely test-taking perspective, it's very proficient use of time in your studies" to quote the post.

Definately something to remember in those times when you start to panic in the face of the overwhelming amount of stuff you don't know.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Old ideas are the best

I'm starting to get a bit fed up with the amount of plastic bags I'm accumulating. So I've been starting to look at ways to apply Mottainai or Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. (more info). The ordering for the three R's is important. It's best to try reduce consumption, reuse what you have to consume and finally recycle what you cant reuse. As with everything in life, the right way is the most difficult way.

Recycling is easy. I can put the bags out for recycling every other Wednesday or take them to the special bins at the supermarket. But recycling isn't ideal since you need energy to turn the old bags into new.

Reuse; if you can reuse the bag, then the bag is still useful and it doesn't become waste. I can re-use some bags to keep my dirty footy kit in on the way back from training as rubbish bags. But I still have many left over that need to be recycled, so not ideal

Reduce is the first R, the most effective but also the most difficult to implement; I need to reduce the amount of plastic bags I get given at supermarkets. Now, I've tried keeping old bags with me so that when I went shopping I could whip them out and use them instead. Every time I did this, the clerk and the other shoppers looked at me as if I'd taken a big dump on the counter. No shit. I had similar looks when I had the audacity to give back an unused bag when I managed to fit my shopping in two of the three they offered. It's a manifestation of the local Double-Think; "We're eco and we re-use things, look at Hard-Off and Second Street" alongside with "Here, have a new one to make sure it's clean". But, there could be couple of traditional ways round this.

The first idea is MyBag*. Basically, it's a new term for shopping bag, as in your own fabric bag that you take and fill with shopping. My Mum used to have one before the days of the 'Weekly Asda Run'. The idea has been given a new term which makes it easy to talk about and less thus less scarey more likely to become acceptable (compare
"What's that?" "It's a bag I brought to put my own shopping in" "Ayyyyyyy? [That's] very unusual. [You are] strange."
"What's that?" "It's MyBag" "Ah! I know MyBag! [it is and you are] Very Cool!")

The second idea is an old Japanese tradition; Furoshiki. Basically, it is a very large cloth that you can wrap and carry things in. I've had a curious obsession about these after seeing my teachers wrap their bentos in one and old people carry stuff in them but I've never been able to work out how to fold and tie them properly. Help is at hand, bacuse I found this Furoshiki Folding Guide.

So, armed with a shopping bag and a big handkerchief, I'm off to save the world!

*There's also the term 'My Hashi'(My chopsticks) which describes taking your own chopsticks to restaurants

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Nakamura Update

Here's that Nakamura goal I was raving about from Tuesday night/Wednesday early morning:

As the Guardian's minute-by-minute report describes it "That was postage stamp stuff giving Van der Sar no chance."


Friday, November 24, 2006

Where's Bin Laden?

I know, I know. The whole Taliban/Iraq Invasion/Bush, Blair-poodle thing has been done to death, but I found out about this "Where's Bin Laden" book that's available. Made me chuckle. For a bit.

Communicative ideas used back home

I was doing my chores and I usually use the BBC's Listen Again service to find some radio programme to listen to as I do them. Today I was listening to Ha Ha..., a Radio 4 comedy clip programme about studying. This week it focuses on Foreign Languages. About ten minutes from the end, it starts talking about how languages are taught in the UK and there's an interview with a French-teacher from Yorkshire. This guy tries to get his students motivated and his lessons interesting by using songs, chants and jokes. It reminded me of the things we can use in our team-teaching classes and gave me one or two ideas too.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Useful JLPT sites

I've been finding these sites quiet useful for my revision. I thought I'd spread the word in case you might find them useful too:

  • Jim Breen's EDICT - pretty much THE online Japanese/English Dictionary. Any decent revision site recommends this, and so do I. A massive dictionary that's amazingly useful.
  • Tae Kim's Guide to Japanese Grammar - A concise and easy guide to Japanese Grammar. I found this really useful last year and still rafer to it regularly.
  • SpurryMoses JLPT Study Pages - An exhaustive and current list of the vocabulary, expressions and grammar specififed in the official Test Content Specification. Not all these words will appear in the test, but all the vocabulary used in the test appears in these lists. The grammar has links to Tae Kim's pages for explanations. Use Jim Breen's EDICT for translations.
  • JLPT Kanji Project - A great resource for checking and testing kanji
  • - JLPT - a good site for testing vocabulary
  • JLPT Study Forum - If you have questions, you can post here and someone might be able to help.
  • JLPT on WikiBooks - the start of online versions of JLPT study books. Not too extensive yet, but has useful links to other sites, including...

Hope you find these useful. I'd better get back to the study myself.

Labor Thanksgiving Day

Today, in Japan, is 勤労感謝の日(Kinrō kansha no hi) or Labour Thanksgiving Day. According to Wikipedia:

Labour Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday. The law establishing the holiday cites it as an occasion for commemorating labor and production and giving one another thanks. It became an official holiday in 1948. Earlier, it was a harvest festival named niinamesai.

wikipedia (more detailed info)

Well, I've not done anything myself to celebrate, just knuckling down to study for next week's Japanese test. I've worked up quite an appetite so I'm off to Erik's for a pot-luck Thanksgiving dinner and to see how ex-pat Americans celebrate Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Minilogue/hitchhikers choice - short version (longer on DVD)

Just saw this on the internet before I turn in. If only I could make this happen with the whiteboard in class, then my lesson's would the bestest!!

Study Update

Well, less than two weeks before I take my Level 3 - Japanese Language Proficency Test (wikipedia). How well am I prepared? Well I scared the shit out of myself on Monday when I finished a mock test and found that I'm coming below the pass mark mark. But the plus side was that I passed the kanji and grammar parts, the stuff that I had been studying over teh past few weeks. What's failing me is my listening and my vocabulary, which are pretty much linked. Question is, can I learn enought vocabulary in teh next two weeks to pass?

Well, I can but try. I've found a listing of the official vocabulary specification. All the words used in the test will come from this list and the list for level 4, so if I can memorise these, then no problem!! There are a lot of words, around 1,500, so to focus my efforts, I've been compling a subset from the past papers and the study material.

Tomorrow, Japan has a public holiday, so no school for me and an opportunity to study instead. I've been feeling too tired to study tonight (mainly because i had four lessons today, and also because I woke up early to watch Nakamura score an amazing free-kick, not too dissimliar to this one against Man Utd last night), so instead I've been preparing for tomorrow; food for breakfast and lunch, kerosene for the heater, getting housework out the way. So, hopefully no distractions for tomorrow's vocabu-a-thon.

Night night.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Interesting Stuff from Google TechTalks

I have a habit of watching something when I'm eating on my own, something like an episode of 'Black Books' or 'Spaced'. Maybe it's because I can delude myself that I'm multitasking and not wasting time watching comedies.

Anyways, I've done all my comedy DVDs to death (I'm waiting for a new batch from Santa) so I needed to find something else to keep my eyes busy when my mouth is. I've found 'Google TechTalks' to be quiet interesting. Yesterday and today I've been watching The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less. Basically, choice is a good thing, but too much choice can be bad for you. I found it to be really useful, probably because the techtalk helped me get my head around the problem of buying a new snowboard. Like any big investment, I want to make sure I'm not wasting my money. For the last month (or maybe more) I've been hanging around sports shops checking the new snowboards trying to find the perfect one for me. It;s been nearly impossible, mainly because there is so much choice; long boards, short boards, wide boards, narrow boards, stiff boards, soft boards, Burton boards, Ride Boards, GNU boards, red boards, blue boards, black boards, boards with skaeboard grip, boards with wood finish, boards with polycarbon-graphite mesh torsion structures. It's mind boggling. The worst thing is that I hand almost made up my mind on a board, the Arbor Draft, but after looking the last few weeks, I've become less and less satisfied with teh decision, eventhough I know that the board will suit me fine.

According to teh techtalk, this dissatisfaction comes from having too many choices. If I had to choose from a small selection, I would have lower expectations about how good the board would be and would be more likely to be satisfied when the board exceeded these lower expectations. By having a broader choice, it's hard not to believe that somewhere out there is the 'perfect' board, and since any board I choose is bound to have at least one fault, then it will never met, let alone exceed, my 'perfect' expectations: any board I choose is doomed to be unsatisfying and forever compared to the phantom 'perfect board'.

So what to do? Well, the plan is this. Remind myself that I want a new board that is better in the park than my current board. Remind myself that the Arbor Draft is a park board that's greener than the rest. Remind myself that the longer I don't buy it the less chance I'll have to ride it. Then, grab my credit card and order the bloody thing!

But what should I do about boots and bindings?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Are Oasis trying to break in Japan?

Oasis; great live, but so-so albums. I thought they'd had enough of touring and settled for being having sales gentley ticking over back home. I mean, they tried so hard to break America but came away with nothing more than a different line-up.

So, what makes me think they're getting itchy feet and want to break Japan? Well, in recent weeks I've seen Sony use Oasis to sell their latest mini-mp3 player (very strange it was to listen to 'Don't Look Back in Anger' on tiny earphone from a tiny player in a massive Japanese Electronics shop). Then today I saw this article on Japan Times about Noel playing an acoustic for the launch of MySpace Japan.

Oasis at next year's Fuji Rock anyone?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Lucky break

Looking at today's reports, it seems that the big quake last night didn't cause a big tsunami (see 'Big quake triggers 4 small tsunami'). Looking at Google news, it seems that the Phillipenes and Alaska were both worried about a tsunami. Just goes to show how unpredicatable these things can be.

And just to remind me that Tokamachi is far for entirely safe, we had a small quake right in the middle of town. It wasn;t too big, causing only the glasses in the cupboard to rattle together. For a second I thought I was back at the old flat!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Tsunami Warning

I had teh TV off all night so I could study, but I flicked it on just before going to bed. One of the channels was interviewing an astronaut in the International Space Station, which was unusual in itself but also more unusual because there was a flashing map of northern Japan in the corner. The whole of the North-East Coast, from Hokkaido through Sendai to Tokyo, was highlighted in flashing yellow. I emailed Keiko to ask what was going on and she said that here was a massive earthquake around 8.30pm and that this was a Tsunami warning. Apparently lots of people in Hokkaido have been evacuated for safety. I guess those people will be going trough a similar experience to that I had during the Chuetsu Earthquake two years ago. But a big difference will be the weather. Recently it has been getting colder and colder, with snow falling in the northern parts of Japan. Sleeping in my car would be the last thing I'd want to do.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Mozart Downloads

Stressing with the upcoming JLPT? (23 days and counting!!) Need a bit of classical music to help calm you down? Radio Suisse Romande ar offering free Mozart downloads until the end of today, Swiss time. Best be quick!

"Bond, James Bond"

The new Bond film is released next Friday in the UK and US and it comes out in Japan on 1st December. Like most films in Japan, theres been no promotion except at the cinemas, which seems a bit strange for someone from a country were a blockbuster is advertised on every ad break, newspaper, bus, tube and burger. But thanks to the internet, I can watch the trailer. I think it's going to be a cracking film and I can't wait!

Friday afternoons

One of the unusual things about my job is that I get Friday afternoons off. While I'd like to think this 'perk' is to reward my hard wark persuading uninterested teenangers to read English aloud, I doubt the free afternoon is little more than a way to keep my working time below 38 hours. And by keeping my hours below 38 hours, I'm considered to be a part-time employee, which is either a condition of my visa or a fiddle to reduce the benefits I'm entitled to.

Regardless, my weekend starts from 11:45am on Friday afternoons. And what does one do with this free-time extention? Do I take a drive out to a viewpoint? Do I enjoy a long, three-hour onsen? Do I cram in all the week's household chores? DO I whip out the study books and revise those strange words I've heard over the week? Well, sometimes I do get motivated to one of the above, but usually what happens is I take a nap, and the nap grows from twenty minutes to two hours when I roll over an sleep through the alarm.

I'm not sure if I actually need the sleep or if it's a habit from my old flat but, eventhough the nap and the dreams are nice, I can't help thinking that I've wasted my time. That I could have spent the two or three hours doing something more productive. But then I guess, Friday afternoon is my free time, and I should be using it to relax. And you can't get more relaxed than on your back snoozing.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

First Day of Winter

Yesterday was 'ritto'(立冬, りっとう) the first day of winter, according to the traditional Japanese calendar. And the weather didn't half live up to the title. We had rain and freezing cold gales, and this was in Tokamachi, nestled between the mountains. I felt sorry for the farmers working in the fields next to the school, even more so when the wind took the contents of basket and blow it over the ground. Embarassingly, the students in my class rushed to the window and laughed at the old farmer as she tried to pick everything up. She managed it, bless her, only for the same thing to happen ten minute later. I felt so sorry for her.
The winds we had were nothing compared to the deadly tornado in Hokkaido. Japan usually has typhoons in the south during summer. A tornado on the Northern-most just before winter is completely random and it caught everyone off guard. Hopefully there won't be another.

Today, you wouldn't imagine that we had such extreme weather yesterday. The sky is blue, sun is shining and the hills are turning orange. This weekend last year, Keiko and I took a day trip to Nagano to see the Colours (I'll post those photos soon). The weekend after we went to Electraglide (for some reason, not on this year :-( ). Weekend after that, snow started falling and I had my Japanese test in Matsumoto. So, not long left to study. And not long til I start boarding again.

Another amusing video

On your lunch break too? Have this link I found last night:
Mario meets GTA: Vice City

A bit of fun from Japanese TV

Fuji TV did a charity 24-hour program (a bit like Comic Relief of Telethon) and this sketch was made for it. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Winter is officially here when...

  1. You have to start wearing a jumper to school
  2. The leaves start changing colour
  3. The trees start to get winter coats
  4. The kerosene heater makes an appearance
  5. The smell of kerosene on a cold morning makes you want to throw your snowboard in the car and head to the nearest mountain.

Ah, snowboarding. Can't wait til the season starts. I need to study and pass my Japanese test first, but what a great reward for all that hard work!

Earthquake Two-year Memorial

A couple of weeks back, on 23rd October, Tokamachi held an anniversary ceremony for the earthquake. It was the first time they had done something like this. I think they thought last year was too soon after the earthquake.

The ceremony was built around times of the three major earthquakes. At 5:56pm, the lights on Honcho were turned off and candles were lit along the side of the road. At 6:20pm(ish) there was a minute's silence. At 6:45pm, three processions of people, carrying illuminated balloons, left Kinare and took different routes to Honcho where they placed the balloons. Ton Jiru (pork soup) was served and a taiko group played their drums in the darkness.

It was quite an experience. The darkness and the silence brought back many memories from the hours after the earthquake. It was strange to hear the taiko drums too. I love taiko drums, but on a night like this in the dark, they could easily remind you of the quakes and the aftershocks.

So I guess that's official 'closure' for the earthquake so everyone can move on and get back to normal lives. It's certainly true of the majority of people, but there are still about 5,000 people in Tokamachi, Ojiya and Nagaoka living in temporary prefabs because their house sustained too much damage in the quakes. The empty spaces were houses once stood are slowly being filled as construction work springs up every now and again, but I guess with the snow due to arrive in a month or so many will have to wait until next year. Gambarre.

Friday, November 03, 2006

City on the Guardian Footy pages

City's terrible start to the season has been picked up on the Guardian's Footy pages. Here's hoping they notice when things turn around!

**Snow Blog**

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