Hiking “Valdereee, Valderaaa…”

The weather has finally become warmer. It has been a long and cold winter this year. I wonder if it will be a long and hot summer, too! The cherry blossoms were later than usual. But there were many cherry blossom viewing parties at the usual time. In England we do notice Spring, but we do not have parties or large picnics like in Japan to celebrate spring. It is Easter time in England, so it is a bit more religious. The nice weather, however, reminds me of what we do like to do in England when the good weather arrives. We like to go hiking!

I am not sure what the Japanese image of hiking is, but I think there is a wide range of hiking styles. Some people go hiking in a very light way, they go hill-walking. They pack a bag with sandwiches and a thermos flask of coffee. They drive or take a train to a national park, then they walk on the public paths up the hill, which are not very steep
or strenuous. They walk for about an hour or two to a good view, then they sit and have lunch. Then they walk back. It is a nice, easy 4 hours in the countryside.


   There are others who go for hiking that is a bit tougher than hill-walking. I guess their hiking is closer to the real meaning of hiking. They pack food, a first aid kit, emergency supplies, bad weather kit and so on. They have hiking boots go on a tougher course that involves a steeper climb up a bigger hill. England does not have many mountains, so most people go on steeper hill-walks. The views can be more spectacular, but it is a tougher journey to get there.

   The next level up from hiking might be trekking. People pack a tent and their hike takes more than one day sometimes. They take a map and try to find a new or less used path through the national park. It becomes more of a challenge, and thus more of a trek. The famous TV show Star Trek is named trek because it is a long journey finding a new path through space. Trekking involves finding your own way through the countryside.

    Maybe the toughest level is not really hiking, but mountain climbing and rock climbing. For those activities, you need special equipment and careful planning. There are challenging mountains in Scotland, so people can go mountain climbing there. The tallest mountain in the UK is Ben Nevis in Scotland, but it is only 1,344m high, which is much lower than Mount Fuji which is 3,776m high.

When I lived in England, we would often go hill-walking. We called it hiking, but in truth it was more like hill-walking because it was not so tough and there were not real steep climbs. We usually went to the Long Mynd, which is a national park in the middle of England in Shropshire County. It has an area of 22 square miles and is 10 miles long if you walk the whole path. We would take a train to Little Stretton Station and then walk on one of the main paths to a good view point for lunch. I went there with my family and also with my church choir, who went there every year as a kind of annual trip. I think it was excellent way to spend a day. We had lots more healthy fun than at a bowling alley or amusement park.

 Another popular place for hiking, hill-walking and trekking is the Lake District in Cumbria in North England. It has some very beautiful views of countryside and lakes. It is popular for holidays, too. I went hiking there with my family a few times and I really enjoyed walking through fields of cows and sheep and finally reaching some breathtaking views of the English countryside. Many visitors to the UK go to the Cotswolds to see the English countryside and traditional villages because it is closer to London and the South, but I feel the Lake District is a place of real outstanding beauty, too. For those of you that prefer nature over shopping, then they are really good places to visit when you come to England.

 I really miss having a good place to go hill-walking. I don’t really enjoy strenuous hiking up half-mountains, but a nice walk in the countryside is lovely. I have asked for recommendations, and have been told about Ontake and Gozaishou, but I am not sure if they are for hill-walking or mountain climbing! If you have any suggestions of where I can enjoy a nice forest walk, hill walk or nice day in the countryside, please do email me your suggestions! The weather is just right for it now.





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Flower Power


I heard a funny story last month. My friend got in trouble with his girlfriend. My friend is an Australian. He is currently dating a Japanese lady. Last month, on February 14th, it was Valentine’s Day. In our culture, it is customary to give a gift of flowers or chocolates to your girlfriend on Valentine’s Day. My friend had a very busy schedule on that Tuesday, so he did not have time to get flowers from a flower shop. He was sad about that, but when he was walking home, he passed a small grocery shop and outside it had a black bucket with a few small bouquets of flowers ready wrapped in plastic. They were not large bunches of flowers, but he thought that some flowers would be better than no flowers, so he bought them. They were quite cheap, too. They cost only 300 yen. They were quite delicate and pretty flowers. Some blue, some white, some yellow. It was a nice mix he thought.


Anyway, he got home and gave them to his girlfriend with a big smile and saying

“Happy Valentine’s day, I love you!” His girlfriend, however, looked very shocked and then her shocked face changed to a sad face, then her sad face changed to an upset face.

“Why did you get me those flowers?” She asked.

“What do you mean?” He answered. “I got you some flowers for Valentine’s Day.”

“Those flowers are the kind of flowers that you put at people’s graves!” She replied.

“Oh! What? Really? Oh my word. I’m so sorry. I had no idea!” he said.

“Well, never mind, it’s nice that you tried to get me some flowers. But why today? It’s Valentine’s Day. I made you some chocolate. You can give me flowers next month on White Day?”

“White Day?” He said in a confused voice.

“Yes, you can give me something then.” She smiled. Maybe hoping for a return present that was three times as big as the present she had given him.


My friend decided that he didn’t want to give his girlfriend flowers meant for a grave, so he went back to the shop and explained the situation to the shop worker. The shop staff laughed after he had explained.

“Well, you were the fifth foreigner to buy some of those flowers today, so there might be a lot of unhappy wives today…”

I cannot laugh at my friend, because I made the same mistake twice myself when I first arrived in Japan and I didn’t know the system either. I gave them to my girlfriend twice, but she didn’t say anything the first time! She must have been trying to be polite or was happy to receive any kind of flowers. The second time she told me that they were Buddha flowers meant for the special altar inside the house for dedication to Buddha. So I took them back because I didn’t think that was very romantic.


So I always get my flowers at a proper flower shop now. The supermarkets and small shops in Japan often have small bouquets of flowers for graves and Buddhist shrines, but in England, if we see small bouquets at a shop, we think they must be people to buy on their way home from work to give to their wives. It’s the most common thing to do with flowers in England. I am always worried that on Valentine’s Day all the good flowers will be gone if I go to late but the flower shop staff assure me that Valentine’s Day is not a busy day in Japan because nobody buys flowers except foreigners on that day. She told me that she often has to explain to foreigners not to buy the Buddha or memorial flowers, since they often pick them up first. They look nice, but they are not a good gift on Valentine’s Day!

It is interesting how almost all of my foreign friends have made the same mistake at some point in their time in Japan. I guess we like to buy flowers for girlfriends, and sometimes we pick the wrong ones. So next time you see a foreigner picking up Buddha flowers on Valentine’s Day, why don’t you double check with them if they know what they are buying!


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Hello. You read this. I am happy.

That was some very simple English, but I think you could understand what I meant. Hello and thank you for coming here again. If you read this article, it makes me feel pleased.
This time I want to talk about international communication.

1.      Simple is best.

 Communication is about having a message, trying to pass it to another person and that person understanding your meaning. International communication does not depend on one person speaking English perfectly. It depends on one person speaking English that another person can understand. For this reason, I often feel that if you can communicate your idea in simple English, then it is good communication, because the other person understands.
In cases where one person has a high level of English and the other person has a lower level of English, if there is a problem of communication, part of the problem is the high level English speaker not making an effort to communicate properly with the other. Some people might say the lower level person cannot speak English well, so there is a problem with communication, but I would say it is the higher level person who is not changing their English to a simpler level.

 A real example of this is when native speakers meet foreigners. Most foreigners can speak some English. They study it in schools for many years and often, before they travel, they review and get ready for their trip to an English speaking country with excitement and anticipation. Unfortunately, they are greeted with metaphors, colloquial phrases and idioms which make things much harder for them to understand. They feel their English is the problem, but in fact it is a lack of communication ability from the native speaker. Examples of this:

Waiters: What do you feel like this morning? à What would you like to eat this morning?Shop staff: What can I do you for? à What can I help you with?
Taxi drivers: I can’t break that twenty. à I don’t have change for a 20 pound note.
Information booth: Your guess is as good as mine. à I don’t know.

 Of course, native English speakers use these phrases because it is more interesting, more colorful, more natural and less robotic, less formal, less cold than just using the simple phrases. The choice of phrase used by someone often quickly shows the character they have, so it is full of many kinds of other signals for communication.
My main point is that good communication requires two people to both make an effort to speak in a way that the other can understand. The responsibility is on both sides.

              Helo. Yu this reed and I hapy am.

2.      Don’t worry about mistakes.
 Could you still understand what I want to say? It is a little more difficult but I am sure that you had a good idea of the point I want to make. My second point is that sometimes (but not always) making mistakes is not a problem if you can communicate. Especially when your English is in its early stages, if you worry about mistakes too much, then you will never use enough English to get used to it and get confident with it.
When I lived in England, the most interesting conversations I had with foreigners at university were the ones who spoke a lot, often making mistakes, but often saying the same idea in 2 or 3 different ways with real examples so that I could understand what they were trying to say. They didn’t care about their mistakes; they just cared if I understood what they said. The most boring conversations were with the foreigners who spoke so slowly that by the time they finished a sentence, I had forgotten what the start of it was. Their grammar was perfect. Their vocabulary was advanced. But the speed of communication was slow.
For example, there was one student I met from Bangladesh, we had just finished a test and he was telling me about how he prepared for the test.
“I glad this over. I go home and sleeping now. Right? Last night, I drink coffee and energy drink every time all hour. 10 cups, I think. My fingers, they moving, like dancing. Look. You see? I must get sleeping one week. See you next week!” He spoke quite fast, used gestures, often checked my face to see if I was following his story, and I could quickly understand his experience since many people go through that at university.

 However, there was another international student who was always careful about their English and often spoke slow and deliberately. I think he was afraid of making mistakes. For example;

“I am glad that this test has finished. … Last night …  I drank a lot of coffee and a lot of energy drinks. …  I drank one drink  … every hour. … I probably drank about 10 cups  … of coffee  … I think. … If you look at my fingers, … you can see that they  … are shaking  … slightly. … They are quivering. … I will go home now, … then  … I will go to sleep. I did not sleep last night  … so I feel like I …  could sleep for a week. … Because of this, … maybe I shouldn’t say  … see you tomorrow. … I should say  … see you next week.”

 As you can see, the second person’s grammar is prefect, but it seems to take a longer time to communicate the same idea. In fact, I sometimes feel there are many native speakers who are like this, too. They take a longer time to explain something that needs much fewer sentences to explain.
 So if you are not in a test, or not in a formal business situation, then don’t worry about mistakes. Instead, worry about communicating your idea. Do they understand?

    ハロー。ユー リード ヂス アンド アイ アム ハッピー。

3.      Japanese English is ok.
For international communication, every country speaks English in their own way. Every country develops their own pronunciation as a combination of their mother tongue’s pronunciation adapted to English. Each county imports some English words into their own language and these start to change their meaning as they are used in different ways in their country. English has become an international language with many different versions. It is a living language and a living language changes as the people who use it change. British English, American English, Australian English all have different pronunciations, vocabulary, phrases and even grammar. But they are all recognized as “real” English. India, South Africa, Jamaica, Kenya, the Philippines and so on all use English and have adapted it, changed it, merged it, added to it. I am sure that they do not spend too much of their English study time trying to master “American” or “British” pronunciation of the words. They say the words. They understand each other, and they expect other English speakers to understand them. If a British person cannot understand a South African, it is not because the South African has poor English, it is because the British person’s ear has not yet tuned to the difference in pronunciation. But after a while, the communication problem reduces.

 When I first came to Japan it took me a while to tune my ear to Japanese English and also Australian English. I had not met many Australians in England, and I have to admit, the first few times I met them as a group, they spoke to each other with fast Australian accents and using Australian vocabulary that has different meanings to the very same words in British English, and I sometimes didn’t fully understand what they were saying. But of course, I got used to it. The same is true for Japanese pronunciation of English. Don’t worry about trying to speak the American version of English. You should worry about learning enough vocabulary and grammar to be able to express your ideas. Japanese English is its own new version of English. Make it yours!

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The results are in...

Last December, I taught one of my favorite lessons. It is a lesson in which students do a questionnaire on cultural events. The students brainstorm different cultural events for each month and then brainstorm activities for those events. Then we select some activities and make a questionnaire about them. Each year I am surprised by the results because they often differ from my image of Japanese culture.


Starting with January, What happens in January? New Year happens in January. What do people do for New Year? They go to shrines. My image is that most Japanese people do this, but when we interviewed each other, we found that only 72% of the students go to shrines at New Year. My image was that visiting a shrine is something all Japanese people did at New Year, so it was quite surprising to see that result. Did you go to a shrine this year?


 Next is February. What happens in February in Japan? Setsubun happens. I think Setsubun is hard to translate into English. Some people say Devil’s Festival or Spring Equinox festival, but I think translations like that give an incorrect nuance for the event. If we translated “Christmas” as “Jesus’s birthday” and “Easter” as “the day Jesus went to heaven”, it would lose some of the power associated with the words Christmas and Easter which have built up many other associated meanings. For this reason, I think calling Setsubun its Japanese name is a better way to talk about it. Translations like Demons festival can give a very odd image to foreigners I think. What happens in Setsubun? People eat beans and throw beans at people dressed as demons. We asked if people ate beans at Setsubun and the results came back as 90% of students eat beans at this time. The main reason for this is probably because beans come in school lunch, the 10% who answered no just forgot about that! Do you have beans at Setsubun?

In March, towards the end of the month, we can see the start of Cherry Blossom Time. We asked the students if they went cherry blossom viewing. Can you guess the result? A surprisingly low percentage of only 13% of students go to cherry blossom viewing. I thought this was one of the high points in the Japanese year! People are often talking of cherry blossom parties and going to see them at nearby parks or rivers. But 13% is a very low number. Is it because students are very busy at this time? The end and start of school years means they don’t have enough time to see cherry blossoms.


 In April, it is the start of school, and of course everyone starts school in April. In May it is Golden Week. In Golden Week we asked students if they put up carp flags for children’s day. 33% of students answered yes to this question. I guess this really depends on whether they have boys in their family or not. In June it is rainy season. This is not really an event, but there is a cultural activity associated with rainy season. That is putting up teruteru dolls. I’m not sure what teruteru means, so again I keep teruteru as it is, without trying to translate it into English. Do you put up teruteru dolls in rainy season? The response from the students was 8%. So very few students do that. I asked them why and they said that putting up teruteru dolls was an activity for younger kids at elementary school. Do you think this is true? I heard that the teruteru doll is a way of wishing for the rain to stop and the sun to come out. If more people put up these dolls, will rainy season get shorter?

In July, of course, it is Tanabata. Tanabata is often translated to “the Star Festival” in English guide books, Star Festival has an interesting, magical and mysterious sound to it, so I think it could be ok to use Star Festival as an effective translation of Tanabata, but again, I would say that Tanabata has a lot of different images connected to the word, so sometimes translating it to English like that can lose some of the nuances. Star Festival, however, has a lot more nice connotations (meanings and images) connected to it than Demons Festival! At Tanabata, people often make wishes and tie them to trees. I asked the students if they did that. 41% of them did. Again I was surprised since I thought it was a fun summer festival that most people took part in, and especially students since they finish the first term and summer holidays begin soon. Don’t they want to wish for good grades or a bright future? I guess they are still too busy with school on July 7th.


In August there is Obon and I didn’t ask them how many students went to family graves during this time. Someone once said this was akin to Japanese Halloween, but I think that is very different. Obon is a more serious time, isn’t it? Halloween is a fun, light hearted festival. Spirits of ancestors come back in Obon, but its not like the ghosts and monsters of Halloween!

In September there is Otsukimi, sometimes translated in English to Moon Viewing Time. Again, the translation is fairly accurate, but the feeling of Otsukimi is lost a little by the translation. Do you eat otsukimi dango at this time? I didn’t ask the students since it comes in school lunch at this time, so they all should be eating it. Maybe I should have asked how many of them eat an Otsukimi burger from McDonalds instead!

In October many schools have a School Festival with singing and performances. Then in November it is Fall Time. Momiji can be translated to Fall leaves viewing. I asked the students how many do that and unsurprisingly the number was even lower than that of Cherry Blossom Viewing. Just 7% of students go to see Fall leaves. I wonder why? Kyoto is always full! I guess it isn’t full of students.

December is, of course, Christmas. I asked the students if they have Christmas Trees or if they ate Christmas cake. The answers were surprising. 80% of students had Christmas trees and 100% of students ate Christmas cake! So out of all the cultural events and activities, the one that all students do is eating Christmas cake! What is happening to Japanese culture? Next year I want to ask students if they eat Osechi Ryori at New Year. I wonder what the result will be for that.


Well, the answers to the class questionnaires were very interesting. Can you think of any questions that would be food to ask? From reading this, it is interesting how some events can be translated easily into English, like Cherry Blossom Time, without losing much of the nuance but others might be best left in their original Japanese like Setsubun. Soon it will be February. Don’t forget to eat and throw beans!  
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Christmas Haiku

Electric reds, whites and greens.
Light up yellowing leaves.
Familiar music plays,
Christmas is here.

The festive season is here. Christmas is here. The above poem is my attempt at a Christmas Haiku. I have been told that it should include colors, a reference to nature and a reference to the season. I am not sure if I need all of those or just one or two, but I tried to put them all in. You might have noticed that I cheated and have four lines instead of the usual three, but I could not fit everything into three lines. Also, I am not sure if each line is too long or too short, but maybe it will inspire you to write a better one and email it in. Please send your Christmas haikus to englishinkariya@hotmail.com

Is it traditional in Japan to write poems in the winter season? Near Christmas time some people try to write new Christmas songs. There are often new Christmas pop songs, carols or church hymns. When Christmas comes, the old and the new songs are played in shops, on radios and in houses. When we hear the Christmas songs, it helps us get into the Christmas mood. Each country has different famous Christmas songs I think. The types of songs can tell us a little about the difference in Christmas styles.

In Japan, I notice that a lot of the Japanese Christmas songs refer to relationships, often talking of a couple being together at Christmas. I also notice that Christmas songs that play on the radio are also the songs that refer to couples and being together, such as “Last Christmas” by Wham or “All I want for Christmas is you” by Mariah Carey. In the shops in Japan, the English Christmas songs seem to be more traditional Christmas carols. These are often the American versions of songs, such as “Silent night” by Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra; or “Frosty the Snowman”; or “Jingle Bell Rock”. In Britain we have the same songs but often sung by our famous singers such as “Silent Night” by Sir Cliff Richard or “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” by Sir Harry Secombe. In the UK there also a lot of famous Christmas pop songs that are played every year on the radio and in shops such as “Do they know it’s Christmas time” by Band Aid or “It’s Christmas” by Slade. I see that Japanese artists have also begun to make their own version of Christmas songs. Such as “Last Christmas” by Exile or BoA who have both made their own cover versions.

Music plays a big part in both the British and Japanese winter holidays. In Japan there is the karaoke battle between the red and white teams of celebrities on  New Year’s Eve. There are also the various music programs that replay the top songs from decades ago! We get to see the clothes and hairstyles from the 90s, 80s, 70s and so on. In the UK we don’t have song contests like this or song review programs, but we do have an interest in what will be the No1 single at Christmas. In Britain the music chart’s number one music single is decided by which song was bought the most in that week. So the number one song at Christmas means it was the most common choice for a present to give to other people. Each year people get interested in who will be number one. Sometimes the number one is a famous group like Take That with a regular pop song, sometimes it is a Christmas song by someone like Cliff Richard and sometimes it is a children’s song like Bob the Builder. This is because a lot of people bought it as a gift for young kids. The number one songs are played repeatedly on the radio, so this sometimes means that at Christmas a children’s song might be play four times every hour on some radio stations! It can become annoying for some people and get stuck in their heads, since children’s songs are often easily remember and stay in your mind for a long time.

 I also like to put on the Christmas music in my home to get into the Christmas spirit. The first year that I was in japan, I didn’t miss Christmas so much, since it is such a busy time for shopping and travelling around to visit family, but from the second year, I started to miss it more and more. So I even wanted to listen to the Christmas songs I had sometimes thought annoying when in the UK! But I had to download and make my own Christmas CD since when I bought Christmas CDs in Japan, they were full of American versions of songs. They were the same lyrics and the same music, but sung by voices that were unfamiliar to me. So I searched for the songs sung in the UK and put them on my own CD. It was nice because I put on the songs I liked the most and leave out others.

 If you want to search out and listen to the British version of Christmas music and see how it is different, then my list included these songs:

1. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) - John & Yoko 

2. Wonderful Christmastime - Paul McCartney 

3. I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday - Wizzard 

4. Merry Christmas Everybody - Slade 

5. Do They Know It's Christmas - Band Aid 

6. I Believe In Father Christmas - Greg Lake 

7. Last Christmas - Wham

8. White Christmas - Bing Crosby 

9. The Christmas Song - Nat 'King' Cole

10. Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow - Dean Martin

11. Mistletoe and Wine - Cliff Richard

12. Walking In The Air - Aled Jones 

13. Winter Wonderland - Peggy Lee 

14. Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree - Mel & Kim (The Spice Girls)

15. Auld Lang Syne / You’ll Never Walk Alone – Slade (A song for New Year at midnight)

              I hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


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