dalliard.net

He didn't get where he is today by stealing somebody else's catchphrase.

4 Minutes

I've been to Japan a few times now, and whilst I've been there I've collected a reasonable amount of video footage. So, after a bit of editing in iMovie, here's the result - 4 Minutes - Shaky camera hand and all.

I've tried to encompass everything I could in here - Gardens, bullet trains, koi, pachinko, baseball, the madness of Tokyo, etc.. etc.. I can think of other stuff I should have put in there, but more will come in the future as I get more footage. I'd like some sumo, /kabuki and temple shots as the one shot I've got in there doesn't do Japan justice. Unfortunately, YouTube/Google seem to take what was reasonable quality video and make it rather grainy, so some of the clarity is lost. Sorry 'bout that.


When opportunity allows, I'll also subtitle it with placenames, so that you can put a place to an image.

Anyway, if nothing else enjoy the music. (Hexstatic - Perfect Bird)
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Pickled

I'm not entirely sure why, but during the Christmas period people eat a lot of nuts. I've never really been a nut person, though - I think I'll leave those to my parrot.

In the MrD household though, consumption of pickled onions increases. Remember folks, they're the ideal accompaniment to any cold meat (*snigger*) you've got left over from Christmas day - and of course a cheese and pickled onion sarnie is a marvellous snack at any time of the day. As I read the side of the jar, I'm informed that 100g of these only contains 32 calories! Tasty and low fat too! It's a food miracle!

This probably explains why I'm sat here with a fork and a jar of onions - Christmas has obviously come early.

I'm not the only one who likes them. Follow this link (*clicky*) and you can see the Japanese equivalent of the "Good Onion Guide". It's good to see their top rated product - they obviously know their onions.

*sigh*
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The Algorithm March

You might have noticed that in a previous posting I mentioned a Japanese program called ominoes (2)">"Pythagorus Switch", which is a bit like a Japanese Sesame Street, but with more brains. Anyway, I introduce to you the "Algorithm March", which is a dance with a staggered start for everyone but the first individual - and nobody collides.

On top of that, because it's Japanese, it's done by Ninjas! How cool is that?

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Jubilation & Beer

Things went pretty well. As usual, there was stuff I could have done better but the key thing was that I knew what to do - and it all felt much better than last time.

Anyway, here's a picture of me being smiley and wearing my latest fashion accessory.



I managed to get this grading recorded, which will serve as a really useful tool in ironing out my mistakes should I ever grade again. Whilst it wouldn't be fair on all those involved to put the complete video on the web, here's a tiny 30 second snippet showing me doing some self-defence, just so friends/family can see what I was up to. My uke took things very well, considering how hard I threw him sometimes.



As you may have gathered, some celebratory beer was consumed and despite having a slightly cloudy head today, I'm still a very happy bunny.
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2007 Trip Planning

As soon as I was able, I booked my 2007 Japan trip. I'm now enjoying a bit of planning.

This will be my fifth visit. As before, I'm aiming to go for a little bit over a fortnight, so that I have plenty of time to mooch around and talk crap to strangers. I've not had it yet, but I'm eventually going to get the question, "Haven't you seen enough yet?". The answer (if you hadn't guessed) is,"hell, no". I guess if I'd chosen to speak French it would have been an awful lot cheaper, but there you go.

So, as usual, I started thinking of the things I want to do this time - and as usual there's a few, so here's a list:

1) Rotemburo - You've heard of me talking about bathing and onsen (*clicky*), but they hold nothing to the Rotemburo, which in the open air. I tried to find a picture of one and this was the best I could muster up. Apologies for using a shot which has lots of exposed flesh, but at least you get the idea (*clicky*). After going to Bath's Thermae Spa and enjoying the rooftop bath, I can confirm that outdoor bathing is a wonderful experience, which I hope to find again in some of the most tranquil settings in Japan.

Talking of which, if anyone wants a read, I found another good article on Japanese bathing - here you go. (*clicky*)

2) Fuji - Previously I've been to Japan in March/April (Cherry Blossom season) and September (typhoon season), which are both really bad times to climb. This time, I'm going in May/June, which whilst not being the "best" time of July/August (when the entire country climbs), it should make the weather an awful lot more hospitable than freezing temperatures or torrential rain. I'm aiming to climb a few days before coming home, to maximise my chances of good weather.

3) Hokkaido - Generally renowned as a very different island to Honshu, Hokkaido is supposed to be a much greener and rural affair, with several national parks. I'm looking forward to seeing untouched woodlands and soaking up some lakeside tranquility - unless I go to Sapporo, of course. In temperature terms, it's also the coolest of the main islands. As a person who doesn't get on well with super-hot temperatures, this should feel much more bearable than the 35 degree humid unpleasantness that exists back on Honshu, as it's about 5 - 10 degrees cooler.

I guess that this time, what I'm looking for is contrast. The frantic pace of Tokyo is a huge contrast to the solitude that can be experienced in the middle of a Hokkaido national park. I spend my days at work continually dealing with people. To take a step back and experience tranquility will be a welcoming affair. True, no man is an island, but for a couple of weeks I'll be looking forward to enjoying just my own company.
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J-Pop Illustrated

Not long ago, I was trying to explain to a friend what Japanese Pop (or J-Pop for short) was like. J-Pop is nasty, nasty stuff that makes you want to cut your ears off. It usually adheres to the following criteria:

1) Sung by a nobody who you'll have forgotten by next week.
2) Usually an insipid song that has no redeeming musical features - stuck in your head today, stuck in the bin tomorrow.
3) Must have cutesy, cuddly cartoon creatures in the video.
4) Must include randomly borrowed English phrases in the lyrics.

Anyway, here's one that fills the criteria nicely. Strangely enough though, "Ken" looks English.

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Japanese Bathing

As I didn't get around to it when discussing Capsule Hotels (*clicky*), I thought I'd write about the whole bathing thing in a separate article, so here you go.

The Japanese have pretty much got bathing down to an art form. Whilst us Brits just get our kit off and dunk ourselves in a bath, it's nowhere near that simple for the Japanese - so I'll do my best to explain.

In Japan, you can bathe in loads of places, but this list of three sums up the most common places:

a) Japanese homes.
b) Ryokan/Minshuku (Japanese-style inns) and many hotels.
c) Public baths.

I thought I'd show you a pic of what a public bath looks like. As a tin shed, this is a pretty basic one (although it was free, so I wasn't going to complain).



But the more seriously cool ones look like this:



Should you ever want to find one, you'll need to ask for o-furo. (The "o" is honourific. One always talks about baths nicely). Alternatively, if you're looking for one of the baths that are heated naturally by volcanic activity, you'll be looking for an onsen. The characters are shown below:


温泉

Bathing prices in most public baths are around 200 yen, although some "sauna" complexes in capsule hotels will add up to another 1,000 yen for the privilege of visiting theirs. When you enter, they'll probably ask if you want one of their towels. Unless you've already bought a special Japanese bathing towel (in which case, you probably don't need this guide), get one. They're usually only about 200 yen and are about the dimensions of a facecloth, but about three times longer. They're marvellous things - I'll explain why in a moment. Don't bother using your regular Western towel. The Japanese call towels ”タオル” (taoru).
Of course, the first thing to do is find the changing rooms.

The men's is: (otoko).....

Whilst the women's is: (onna).

It's usually the case that a big curtain with the character concerned is hanging over the doorway - so you shouldn't be able to miss it.

The next thing to do (and this might sound like a stupid thing to say) is to take one's clothes off. Whilst in Britain we keep ourselves generally covered in a swimsuit in baths, it's not the case in Japan - get your kit off. That said, most (but not all) Japanese baths are segregated, so you'll only bump into people of the same sex, anyway. When you take everything off, you should find that you've either got a locker to put things in, or a little basket. Stick everything in there and then walk your way through to the main bathing area - everything in these places seems to be separated by sliding doors. Don't forget your little towel!

You should discover two things as you go through:

1) That there appears to be something that looks like a huge bath or appears vaguely swimming pool-esque.
2) That there are loads of low-level showers with little stools to sit on next to them.

The key thing to remember here is:

DON'T WASH IN THE BATH.

It's purely for relaxation purposes. All scrubbing must be done at the showers. To be remotely soapy when entering the bath is a bad thing and will lead to much scowling on the part of your fellow bathers.

Now, this is the fun bit. The scrubbing. Without going into too much gory detail, the towel is a multi-purpose magical item that works as facecloth, loofah and all sorts. In most baths you'll see a little hand-bowl next to the stool. The usual protocol is to fill the bowl with hot water and work with that and keep refilling it as you use it. That said, the Japanese quite like throwing their water around and emptying the contents over their heads. Washing with gusto is just fine. Soap/shampoo is usually provided - so there's no need to take your own. They usually have a few bottles of it right to your shower.

Anyway, wash away and just make sure that you don't have a bit of soap remaining on you. Once rinsed, it's time to enter the bath.

Most people tend to enter somewhat gingerly, as there's a tradition of having the bath water so hot that it nearly causes burns and turns your skin pink. Simply easy yourself in and relax. After an exceedingly hot Japanese day, it's a really good way of unwinding - and even on a cold day it works nicely too. Sit in it for as long as you can stand (usually a few minutes, at best).

In some places, they have cold baths too, so once you've boiled yourself, you can die of shock. I've not worked out what the benefit of this is yet, although I have tried it, weird a sensation as it is.

Once you're finished, it's time to exit, dry off and get dressed. If you wring out your towel you bought earlier well enough, you can dry off with it too. They're marvellous little things. It's usually good protocol to get rid of the worst of the wet stuff on the wooden stands that are usually by the bath door - this saves you from dripping all over the place. If you're staying at a Ryokan/Minshuku, this is the time you then put on your yukata (bathrobe) and go vegetate somewhere.

...and there you go. Hopefully, that's enlightened you a bit (if you ever were curious). It might seem a bit daunting at first, but actually, it's thoroughly enjoyable. Bathing is such a deeply ingrained part of Japanese culture that should you ever go to Japan, it'll be hard to avoid. As usual, feel free to e-mail me with any questions - I'll take the answers to the bottom of this post for the benefit of everyone else.

Questions....and answers!

Q) Would it be bad form to wash, soak, wash and then soak again?I only ask as on the few occasions I've had a Turkish bath, the theory was to wash, soak out the grime in a sauna, wash (cold shower), sauna again then get a two stage massage involving a harsh scrubbing then a full on deep tissue massage. The point being I think to get a deep cleanse by sweating out any impurities. As the Japanese are bath experts do they have a similar system where you can wash, soak, wash, soak, shiatsu?

A) No. In fact, it's ok to wash, soak, jump in another bath of cold water (does things for the pores) and then hop back in the hot one again - that's a common thing and would probably replace the second scrub. Another thing is that you can almost get in the bath without scrubbing - as long as one washes one's genitals first. Nice. I didn't go into that originally. A lot of saunas are "gentlemen only" establishments and for an extra fee, one can be "scrubbed" by a lady. I kid you not, it's pretty commonplace in a lot of capsule hotels and the like to go for massages/scrubbing as well as the bathing. Shiatsu or an alternative is fairly commonplace.
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Pies, pies and yet more pies.

I think this summed up how I felt about today - carrying on regardless, no matter what happens. The video links below brought a smile. I won't give anything away, just click and enjoy.

I couldn't embed this one into the blog, so you'll need to follow the links.

Update: There's 3 parts - (*part1*) (*part2*) (*part3*)
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Relativity

Aggression is an interesting thing. I don't think you can fake it. Real aggression comes from moments when you really lose it - and I figured I must have been pretty close tonight.

When training tonight, we did a small and simple "self-defence" round. It's a simple idea, you have someone trying to knock your block off for a set amount of time and you keep them at bay. It usually means that you have to keep a good succession of throwing techniques to hand and is quite a tiring affair, so we usually keep some sort of time limit on it - unless you flake out, of course.

When I attacked my partner, I tried to throw punches at him like I really, really meant it. This didn't mean much on the first one, but once he'd smashed me to the the ground, I immediately bounced back up and was actually on the verge of seeing red. My subsequent punch came in a way that would have probably separated his head from his body, poor chap. Bang. Down I went again, but instead, the rage was making me get up again in a matter of a second, before he'd composed himself from the previous technique.

And so it continued, I went like a mad one (even growling as I tried to connect) and he continued to block.

Eventually, we both sat on the mats, knackered. It had seemed like we'd gone on forever.

"How long were we doing that for?", I asked.
"Thirty-six seconds", came the reply.

This goes to prove that time is relative.
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Sauce

Well, I've finally done it. I've gone and entered myself for the Level 4 Japanese Proficiency Test (*clicky*). It takes place in December in London. The examination takes place simultaneously around the world at virtually the same time. It's an internationally recognised qualification - much more so than my GCSE.

I was pondering over entering level 3 (the levels run backwards - 1 is hardest, 4 is easiest), but having now seen that some of the vocab and kanji are substantially different from my GCSE papers, this was probably the right thing to do. I seriously need to discipline myself into a good study regime, as I've only got two months to get it right.

Anyway, I ordered a past paper from these guys (*clicky*), which should allow me to get to grips with the examination format. And as a plus, they sell Japanese curry sauce at two quid a block! Marvellous! Gasp)
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Silent Library (2)

For those that enjoyed my last forage from Youtube of "Silent Library", here's another.

They're doing very well and staying pretty quiet at the beginning... Well, until the tarantula.....

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Dominoes (2)

Following on from my discovery of the "Dominoes from household objects" video on Youtube (olls & Dominoes">*clicky*), time for:

ピタゴラ スイッチ (Pythagoras switch).

Like dominoes... and just as mesmorising. Enjoy.

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Random Photo

Here's another one I had fun with. I've held on to this one for quite a while before publishing it.

I took this picture about 18 months ago. It's (I think) a Japanese wedding. I was lurking around a temple at the time and my opportunist snapshot worked. Well nearly - beforehand, there was a chap in a suit standing in front of the groom, but with a little bit of Photoshop magic, he's now been removed.



What I like about it is the fact that the picture appears to be of the "fly on the wall" sort - a little capture of Japanese life. What I also like about it is the expressions on their faces. It's a happy day, but their expressions hint that just maybe the happy expressions are painted on - it's not easy to keep smiling all day for the cameras. Finally, the use of black and white just seems to work.

It'll end up on my gallery in due course, but is the first picture I've displayed that has had any Photoshop tweaking.
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Could someone explain...

...why that racoon has such oversized knackers?

The advert makes reference to Genki (元気 - healthy) - is that a sign of good health?

(
Note: You don't need to understand Japanese to know what I'm on about - the racoon is pretty obvious to see)

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Thermae

If there's one thing I love about Japanese life, it's onsen (温泉) culture. Onsen are all over Japan. They're hot springs. People bathe in them, sometimes in the open air and bathing in Japan has been raised to almost an art-form - at some point in the future, I'll write about the oddities of bathing, Japanese style, but that's another entry.

Having enjoyed onsen culture so much (I had in the past been to five in one day, just to experience different types), I was somewhat excited when I found out several years ago that back in the UK, our only equivalent in Bath (*clicky*) was going to reopen. This happened as a result of the project getting a significant amount of funding from lottery money. I was chuffed that eventually, I wouldn't have to hop on a plane to indulge in one of my favourite pastimes.

However, the project has been fraught with delays and problems (*clicky*). It's also cost significantly more than originally planned, and has been cocked-up in only a way that the British could manage it. We've got that down to an art-form too.

But it's open now. Gasp)

I shall be going in about a fortnight's time... I'll let you know what it's like!
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Dolls & Dominoes

Sometimes I have a peruse around Youtube and random Japanese blog sites to have a look at what's around - today I found two gems that I just had to share.

The first is called Cantomoko and is basically a blog, written by a Japanese sex doll. However, the author has taken great pains to make this doll look like a normal person, posing them, fully clothed in normal situations. My favourite pictures have to be these two:

1) Near the summit of Mt. Fuji.



2) Snowboarding!



This guy has obviously spent a little too much time and effort on doing this, but it's funny nonetheless, especially the temple visits (how did he get away with that?). The blog finishes at the end of last year, but is still well worth reading. Even if you can't read Japanese, don't worry, as there's a link for a (somewhat rough) English translation.

Have a shufty here. (*clicky*)
(Click the bottom link to enter the site)


Secondly, this Youtube video is amusing - don't worry if you don't understand Japanese, just watch and it's quite evident what is going on:



Take all the rectangular domestic items in your house that you can - and make a domino chain from them! Marvellous!
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Capsule Hotels

When I tell people that I've been to Japan a few times, it seems to be that the first question isn't, "did you eat lots of raw fish", or "did you see a geisha", but "did you stay in one of those funny hotels"?

Well, the answer is "yes", I have - so I thought I'd put a little entry on here about it, so that if anyone who is going to Japan wants to try it, they've got a little background knowledge (which is always useful).

Capsule hotels are wonderful things - they're just hi-tech dormitories and there's nothing to be afraid of. In fact, if you're visiting Tokyo on a budget, it's worth using them, as the price per night is about 3,000 to 4,000 Yen, meaning that you can live/stay cheaper in Tokyo than you could in the rest of the country!

Firstly, you might want to see some pictures - so here goes. The first shot is an entire floor full of 'em. (The capsules are usually stacked 2 high).




Secondly, you'll want to see inside, so here you are:




Think of it as a bunk bed, but with privacy.

Each capsule usually contains:

a) A fan or aircon, to keep cool.
b) A TV
c) A clock
d) A radio.
e) A light.
f) Bedding.
g) A blind (that's your door).

Secondly, you'll need to know how to find one. They exist in most major cities as well as Tokyo and they're usually found near railway stations. They're usually the place to stay for drunken salarymen who don't want to go home to their wives. This means that many become a men-only environment, although a few take women. Drunken salarymen are harmless. Honest. They're good to talk to, as their curiosity takes over.

Most capsule hotels have big neon signs somewhere, which look a bit like this:

カプセルホテル

This literally says, "Capsule Hotel". Sometimes, you might just see the red bit, saying "Capsule".

Next, I'd better say this at all costs - take your shoes off as soon as you get in the door! All capsule hotels have a little locker to put your shoes in. Just bung 'em in, take a pair of the hotel slippers (sexy things, they are) and keep hold of the key.

Luckily, as most of Japan seems to run on vending machines, this makes your life easy, as you won't need to ask for anything. Just put your money in the vending machine, press a button (it will be obvious what the right button to press is) and out will come a ticket, which you give to the receptionist as proof that you've paid. Some do require a formal check-in at a reception, but these are a minority. They will give you a capsule/locker key. The key will probably be on a velcro strap (so you can keep it on your person - useful when bathing) and the strap will have a number on it.

Immediately after reception is usually the locker room. Your key will fit in a locker here. Put on your funky Japanese pyjamas, (which have a habit of making you look like an old man) and grab your towel - it's bath time!

Most baths are on the top floor. Bathing is another matter entirely, which has it's own protocol. I'm not going to go through that during this entry.

Anyway, once your bath is done, you can crash in your capsule. Most capsule hotels have more vending machines and occasionally an eatery, so you can top up on food/beer/whatever. Check out time is usually 10am. You simply do everything in reverse - i.e. go back to your locker, get dressed, hand your key back and grab your shoes from the diddy locker!

As for tips on which capsule hotels are good ones, well, there's a really good one at Asakasa (Tokyo), which also takes women. It's about 3,000 yen. If you want cheap, however, there's one in Ueno, but this is a very ropey establishment indeed and doesn't justify saving the 400 yen. (It's 2,600).

Feel free to contact me if you've got any questions....
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Well, that's that...

...another grading over. My pass was something of a surprise, as things didn't really go to plan. I actually graded on Sunday, but kept it to myself until today, when I found out the results. The grading was sprung on us - I graded 4 sessions (about a week and a half) early.

As usual, it's always a learning experience. What did I learn out of this one?

  • No matter how much you practice, it's never enough.
  • I'm more aggressive than I thought and I can actually knock the wind out of someone when I try.
  • Ultimately, fitness is the key - and you can never be too fit, as my self-defence session showed.

So, I'm a green (two tags), 5th Kyu and my next step is blue, but there's a snowflakes chance in hell that I'll be ready this year. The standard required goes up significantly again - and it took me three months of training from the point I finished the learning of the syllabus to get things to a satisfactory level. Plus, I doubt somehow that I'd be able to get sufficient time off work.

Time for a small celebratory beer nonetheless.
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Ow.

I have just four sessions left before I grade, but I hope they're not all like tonights, because after that, I hurt.

My arms hurt. My legs hurt.
My neck hurts. I have the infamous groin strain.
Even my bloody butt hurts. No, don't ask.

You might not be aware of this feeling, but I was close to being broken tonight. Being broken is an experience I've not yet had, but I got close tonight and to be frank, that's as close as I ever really want to get. It's a feeling you get when someone has thrown you into the ground so much, that you just start to ache. Sure, you landed fine and nothing broke. Sure, no joints were popped, but you just start to get a feeling through your body. All I can say is that the feeling is a bit like this:

OwWwWWw.

Not one specific part aches - it all does.

But you get back up and throw another punch - because that's what you've got to do.

I'll be glad when this grading is done, whatever the outcome. I'll need to give my body a rest at the end. The only problem is that I've volunteered myself for a tournament in Italy at the beginning of July, bloody idiot that I am. I should learn to keep my mouth shut.
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3 Weeks to grading...

I'm at a low in motivational levels at the moment, mainly because I feel like I've got the brains of a goldfish. The reason for this is that I have to learn approximately 25 new techniques in order to pass my next grading exam. There are 20 revolving around self defence, including knives, guns and pointy sticks. There are 2 involving elbows, (don't ask, although an elbow to the face isn't nice), there is one knife technique and a couple stances too.

The problem I've got is that of the 20 main self defence techniques, I'll usually forget one. When I remember the one I forgot, I forget something else. I have a brain that works on a teabag principle - lots of holes, which let things just go in and back out again - and it's irritating, because I can do it and I've got better fitness now, it's just remembering it all. I've now got to remember about 80 different techniques. How does anyone ever make it to a black belt?

"Sir, please stop - my brain is now full".

I just hope that sheer practice time will crack it - if you throw enough shit, something has to stick.
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おみくじ - Omikuji

When I was in Japan, I paid a visit to a few temples. Whist at one in Asakusa, I thought I'd indulge myself in getting an omikuji (fortune). Omikuji stalls/machines are just about everywhere that there's a temple and the protocol is pretty simple - you pay 100 yen, shake a box of sticks until one falls out, then find your fortune, which will be in a little draw and will match up with the characters on the stick.

Fortunes come in four varieties.


  • Blindingly good luck.
  • Good luck.
  • Not so good luck.
  • Wrist-slittingly bad luck.

It is considered that it's best to get a good luck fortune, as things can get better. However, if you get a blindingly good luck one, things can only get worse, but if you get a bad fortune, you tie it to a tree and let the wind blow it away - which is nice.

So as luck would have it, I got a good fortune. Some of it bore relevance at the time, but reflecting on it now, it becomes even more so. Here's my fortune:

Good Fortune.

"The moon rises in the sky and is gradually getting bright. You will get household goods and your life will be prosperous. Something you've left behind will be completed in the end - then you will be able to be successful.

Your wishes will be realised. A sick person will recover. The lost article will be found. The person you are waiting for will come. Building a new house and removal are good. Marriage and employment are all good. Making a trip is good."


One could be dismissive of this, just as I usually am when someone offers to read Russell Grant's stars to me, but I won't write it off yet. Let's see how this year pads out.

If you'd like an Omikuji for yourself, go here.. *clicky*
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Back...

My body clock it totally out of sync, but I'm sure I'll catch up soon. I've got 2GB of photos to wade through, along with a pile of movie stuff - keep your eyes peeled on the site for the good stuff getting published...
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Off!

Well, my bag is packed, my camera is ready and I'm off in a couple of hours - you'll see my next update on here on Thursday 6th April! Gasp)
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Japanese Resources

Well, 1 week to go and I'll be off to Hong Kong, followed by Japan. I'm getting all excited now, as dragging myself out of my pit has been hard work as of late and this holiday could not have come at a better time.

However, that's not the point of this post. The point of it is so that I can recommend some web resources to you, should you ever think of trying to study Japanese. It's not as hard as it initially seems. Honest!

Firstly, you'll probably want to learn how to read Hiragana and Katakana. Master that and you've mastered two of the three writing systems. Therefore, I couldn't recommend this link to you more highly (*clicky*). It's called the Ultimate Hiragana/Katakana Challenge and works on a very simple concept - all you do is click on each character as it floats around the screen in alphabetical order. I played this to death and found it a really good way of learning the order and recognising the characters, especially with Katakana, which is always viewed as a slightly more awkward set to learn.

Secondly, there's books. When I started learning, there weren't that many Japanese textbooks around, apart from the "Japanese For Busy People" series, but as time has gone on, there's a lot more about. In particular, you might want to have a look here. (*clicky*) They sell shedloads of good stuff, but more importantly, they also sell the past papers from the Japanese Language Proficiency Tests, which will be invaluable if you want practice.

Kanji will be the bane of your life. There's thousands of the little buggers. But to get to grips with the initial few hundred, you could do an awful lot worse than look at this book. (*clicky*) It presents them in a simple and easy to grasp manner, such that you might actually remember them!

Going back to the proficiency test, this (*clicky*) will also prove useful. It's a full vocabulary list for each of the levels, along with a dictionary. Then, there's the sushi test, which is an online version of the level four (easiest) test. (*clicky*) Unfortunately, though, it's really pedantic when trying to work on a Mac, so you might have to use a PC to do it.

The internet is pretty useful stuff when studying Japanese, as there's a whole load of good reference stuff out there, plus if you want to give forums a go and publicly air your language skills, there's loads of them. Here's such an example. (*clicky* )

Add a comment on if you've got any questions.... Gasp)
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Ache

Whilst yesterday was a pretty cacky day, things ended on a high when I was allowed the privilege to be Uke in somebody elses's grading. The Uke is the person who throws all the punches (and you are trying to genuinely hit the individual concerned) and during the self-defence section, there aren't many rules, apart from no grabbing. Punches and kicks have plain and simply got to hit the target.

There were two of us (the other Uke was a blue-belt) and I did feel for our target, as he had to endure a couple rounds of us throwing what we could at him. The poor chap did look totally knackered at the end.

Having done this, it's given me some insight as to what I'm letting myself into should I grade in May. However, I ache today. I really ache. My right arm is nigh-on useless (no comments, please), my legs ache and I think I've damaged one of my toes.

Would I do it again, though? You betcha.
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Hokutou Ryu

Not wanting to turn into a blob of lard whilst being up in sunny Sunderland, I trained this morning with Hokutou Ryu Jiu Jitsu group in Gateshead and it was a very different affair to what I usually do.

A work colleague came along and in total, there was just seven of us, which certainly made things a lot more personal. We trained on mats in the sports centre's squash court and some of the protocol/style was slightly different to my usual club. It felt very strange to be training somewhere else - it didn't feel like my usual dojo, but everyone was very friendly and I learnt some useful defences against bottle attacks. An interesting session.
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Audition

Since I've been studying the language, I've had an interest in Japanese film - so when I paid a visit to Truro recently and they had a cool Asian film section in the local SilverScreen branch, I couldn't resist buying a film or two.

One of the films I bought was Audition, a generally well respected movie, which had the notes inside the cover saying something along the lines of, "If you've not watched the film yet, don't read the notes...best watched cold", so I did.

I'm not going to post links to other reviews here, because I would advise you not to read up on it, either, should you decide to watch it.

I've awarded this film my own personal accolade, though - the first ever film that I've watched, where I was so twisted up when watching it, that I actually had to pause it and take a breather for a few minutes. I actually went clammy watching it with my better half. The director (Miike Takashi) has certainly gone to some great lengths to make you almost feel what's going on. I'm not ready to go back to it for a second time yet.

This makes it sound like a gorefest - it's not. The basis of the story is simple - a man, whose wife died several years in the past finally decides to sort out his single life by holding an audition to find his next bride. For the first hour or so, it's a love story.... after that, it's not. I'm giving nothing away.

This film is exceedingly good, but it's not enjoyable - if that makes any sense. You'll feel uncomfortable watching it, but that seems to be Takashi's forte. Watch it. There's enough crappy American films out there to fill a truck - go watch something that makes you feel something.
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This man...



... is Maestro Corrazza.

He's a black belt (5th Dan) and is a quite a high ranking honcho in Italian Jujitsu. He's also very tolerant too, because on Saturday at a Jujitsu workshop, I kicked him in the nuts. (Sorry 'bout that).

It is, however, consoling to know that a martial artist of such capability still has the same weak points, but it's probably not advisable to do this on a repeated basis if you ever want to see another birthday.
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Japanese Study / 2006 Trip

If you live where I do, trying to find places that you can study Japanese is hard work. Having done the GCSE, I'm now looking for something that takes me further, like an AS-Level. Problem is, courses are rarer than the proverbial excrement of the rocking horse - and this is looking at what's available in all of Devon and Cornwall.

So far, the options are looking pretty minimal:

1) Japanese Language Proficiency Test - This is a no-brainer and I'll be doing this, regardless. Can't decide whether to do level 1 or 2, though. One will be too easy, the other a bit too much. Hmmmmmm, decisions.
2) AS-Level Japanese in Tavistock School - As luck would have it, there's a site that runs the course, right on my doorstep! Only problem is, I'm in my 30's and the rest of the students aren't (they're 17). There's also the matter of when the course runs, the fees and whether I can squeeze it in with my current working arrangements.
3) The Foreign Language Centre - Exeter University. They're running a "post beginners" course (I'm trying to find out what whether that's a suitable progression from GCSE or not) and it'll cost about 320ukp.

I'll keep you updated if anything develops.

Meanwhile, I'm investigating my next trip to Japan. (I know, I'm going in Mar/Apr 2006, but like a kid, half the fun is in the planning). It's a bit early at the moment. I can't seem to find any flights for less than about 580ukp. I'm sure they'll get cheaper over time - I've not paid over 400ukp in the last couple years.....
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