Monthly Archives: May 2012

Picture Perfect: Marshmallow Sensei is looking for artists

Dear Readers,

This blog has always been rather lacking when it comes to the visual. I guess it comes down to a personal bias really. I’ve simply never felt like photography, specifically my attempts at photography, captured what it was I saw and felt at that moment in time. It never did justice to the memory I held. I just felt like it couldn’t capture the totality of what I experienced because that’s the limit of photography. It is able to capture a moment but not necessarily the feelings with that moment for me is imbued with.

That was always the point of this blog. It was never supposed to be an objective view of Japan. It was always my personal view. Nothing more, nothing less.

There are more than enough blogs out there claiming to tell the truth about Japan. I sincerely hope that if you read this blog that you don’t feel I have done the same. My niche in blogging is sadly, just little old me trying to work out what on earth I think is going on half the time and whether it’s funny enough, amusing enough or just about interesting enough to devote some energy to digitally scribbling it down.

However, none of this means I’m not aware of the power a picture holds. Two of my favourite blogs include artwork from a good friend of mine. Without his efforts Mind the Flash and Gokiburi: On Madness and Mushi wouldn’t be half as fun, or half as read for that matter. More importantly though, I enjoyed the collaboration. I loved seeing my words re-imagined, reinterpreted though the eyes of a reader. It reminded me of what I loved about writing in the first place; that once those words are printed they’re out of the author’s hands. They belong to the reader now and if as a writer you do a half decent job, then the reader can taker pleasure in filling in gaps, dreaming up a whole world to flesh out the skeletal framework you first built.

On a side note, there’s also my awesome Twitter profile picture by Sarah Adams aka @speckledwords.  

So, here’s the point.

The blog has been about for about two years now. In that time I’ve written about fifty posts of wildly varying quality and popularity. I’ve received requests for help, fan mail (Thank you Switzerland!) and even had someone impersonate me on facebook (creepy). A couple stories have even been translated into German and Japanese for online newspapers.

Now, they’d always been a plan of sort, long before I came to Japan even, to write for a living if at all possible. Eventually it just became to write at all.

Now, as much as I enjoy blogging, the form is limited. So I want to put together an E-book; me and every other blogger in the world, I know.

However, if I do this I want it to be more than a couple new chapters and some extended essays and articles built from the foundations of well-read blog articles. I want that feeling of collaboration again.

So here it is, if you’re an artist, a designer, an illustrator etc. and you’d like to add your stamp to the book get in touch. Have a ramble through the blog’s archives and when (or if) you find a subject you can work with create something! You’ve read my opinions, my perspective and I’d love to see what you can come up with by working with the words on the webpage.

The deadline for these entries is July 31st because that’s when I’ll be getting started with my work holidays and my intent is that the additional material will hopefully, in part be inspired by the work I receive.

If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,



Shifting Gears

In the course of my working life, particularly when teaching children, the issue of bilingualism crops up fairly often. There are more than enough parents out there who despite their own language difficulties are dead set on producing bilingual offspring. It may be more common in cosmopolitan cities like New York, but there are plenty of people here in small-ish town Japan who see bilingualism as something of a holy grail, something to be pursued but largely unobtainable.

Now, if you happen to be a multi-lingual set of parents with two native tongues between you and have the opportunity to immerse your children in two languages then good for you, you honestly should be aiming for that goal. Culturally it’s an obvious boon and from what regular pieces in newspapers suggest it may indeed have long-term health benefits.

More importantly you can go about that education in a positive and enjoyable way because it’s more than an extra tool, another line on the resume and all that for your child; it’s access. Access to another culture, another way of thinking and the chance to widen your child’s horizons so that whatever they may choose to be in the future, the world you came from is a possibility for them.

For those of us born with just the one native tongue at hand it’s usually a rather more expensive matter. Particularly so here in Japan; parents spend an absolute fortune over a child’s lifetime putting them through endless cram schools and English conversation schools with disturbingly little to show for their efforts much of the time.

However, I don’t want to get bogged down in where the industry lets people down and where students let themselves down. Been there already. I’d rather focus on the most popular question.


How do you do it. That thing. Switching between languages like flicking channels on a TV screen. What is the reality of being bilingual (even in my rather limited fashion)?

Speaking to Japanese people, in particular English teachers, who speak a fluent or close enough level of English I generally get an answer that is akin to my own feelings. We shift gears.

In a land of automatic cars the metaphor doesn’t work quite as well as you’d hope but I can’t think of anything else that really comes close to encapsulating the nature and process of becoming bilingual quite like it.

When you first start to drive a manual you’re pretty much praying you’re in the right gear, the gear box isn’t making any unwanted noises, no screeching, grinding and churning of teeth. You inevitably stall the engine, curse yourself and angrily, and rather uncouthly shift the gear into the correct position with an unceremonious ‘geeeerunnk.’

Slowly you begin to get the feeling that this driving lark isn’t so tough after all. The gears change more smoothly, you no longer crawl up a too steep hill, race briefly and then sharply break before hitting a tree. Eventually you move on to an automatic car. On those simple long straight roads and run of the mill intersections where marks on the road, flashing lights and a line of other cars can direct you within the herd you suddenly find some pleasure in the activity (unless you’re in a traffic jam). Then, just as you relax a boy racer screeches past, all high-speed maneuvers, fast turns and necessary pinpoint accuracy in the manual shift.

You look on and smile, if only I could manage that… safely.

Well… maybe.

The truth is slightly less fun to write. I grew up and learned (very slowly) to drive in Yorkshire. The whole county, unlike Japan, is an endless stream of winding roads, endless roundabouts and utterly random inclines and cambers. I’m sure a decent automatic car can handle it but most people learn to drive manual, simply because people generally respond faster than automatic gearboxes to the lay of the land.

I can’t do that yet. I can’t play with language. I can’t see an odd turn in the road coming a mile off, I can’t adjust naturally to sharp bends in the conversation and an unusual camber might send my car rolling off the road and down the mountainside.

With proper guidance I can choose the right phrase but in the absence of signposts and road markings I lose my way. It’s certain I’ll never go off road in Japanese, but if I’m honest I’ll happily settle for automatic (cruise control too if it’s available); until Google invents the self-driving language at least.