Monday, 11 November 2013

Cold comes to Nagano

First night of the year where it was proper cold yesterday, down as low as one degree centigrade. It won't be long before we start seeing frost in the mornings. I do love this time of year, I have to say.

Over the mountains from us in the ski resort of Hakuba, it's already started to snow. You can see pics of it here. None here in Nagano yet, but soon, soon, soon ...

Chris Ward
November 12th 2013

Thursday, 7 November 2013

The ultimate cat-sessory?

Spotted this monstrous thing in a shop in Shinagawa station in Tokyo last weekend.

Cat-shaped lipstick ...

Chris Ward
November 7th 2013

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to the All-Japan speech contest we go ...

We won!

For the fourth time in three years, my school won one of the Nagano-ken Commericial High School English Speech Contest trophies.

Two years ago we won the Speech division, while last year we won both Speech and Recital. This year my student Sayuri retained the Recital trophy that she won last year. My other students finished 6th and 10th in the Recital, while in the Speech we were unlucky to finish 4th.

I'm a bit of a speech contest coaching demon, with four 1sts and two 2nds over the last five years, but at the end of they day I can only coach if I have good students to coach, and as always they busted ass to do well. I'm very proud of all of them.

Here's me holding the two trophies we won last year, after cleaning them up ready to take them back.

In an ideal world, I would like to win 1st, 2nd, 3rd in both Speech and Recital divisions, but it wasn't to be. Maybe next year ...

Here's the winners and the judges and all that. My students are front third from left, and back fourth, fifth and sixth from left.

Well done all!

Chris Ward
November 5th 2013

Monday, 4 November 2013

Alps view

Just a nice view shot today. This is looking over at the Northern Japanese Alps from Kinasa, a kind of mountain village area about half an hour from my house.

Chris Ward
November 4th 2013

Sunday, 3 November 2013


Readers of this blog will know that the wife and I already have one cat, Miffy, a four-year-old female who is the light of our life. We now have half of a second cat, Kiki.

We first spotted Kiki back in July, hanging around with Miffy in the wild field next to our house. Miffy generally hates all other cats so for Miffy to accept another cat was pretty unusual. Since Miffy didn't mind him being around, I decdied to tame him.

At first you couldn't get within ten feet of him. He would run whenever you tried to approach him, but like most stray cats he was keen for a bit of food. Over several weeks I fed him every day, gradually getting closer while he was eating. In order to get him used to being touched, I used a cloth glove and draped it over him while he was eating. Yeah, the first few times he ran, then he just started getting annoyed, swiping at it with his claws, but eventually he got used to it. Once I wasn't worried about getting ripped to shreds, I graduated to using my hand.

Now, three months later, he's basically a big baby. He wants all the attention he can get, and will whine like hell for it. He's even begun to get a little fussy over his food, when at first he would eat anything.

He's still mostly an outdoor cat, because while some nights he sleeps inside he's still pretty skittish and seems to prefer being outside. I took him to the vet (what a nightmare that was, haha) and he got his vaccinations done. He also had a blood test and he's free of any diseases and also worms, which was good to know. In short, he's extremely healthy. I'm planning to get him neutered in the next couple of weeks, and hopefully after that we can teach him to use the cat flap. Miffy still isn't too happy when he's in the house (my house is tiny) so on the nights he comes in I keep them in separate rooms. He's completely docile though, oblivious to Miffy's hissing and snarling, although outside she's quite happy to treat him like a big brother.

When we first started feeding him he was really thin and his fur was a bit patchy. Now he's a big fat lump of cuteness.

His name, incidentally, came about because when we first started to feed him he would growl at us, and it sounded like kee-kee, so Kiki kind of stuck.

Chris Ward
3rd November 2013

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Repairing the shed roof

So, for those of you who don't know, the wife and me recently picked up a pretty old house which we're in the process of doing up. It needs a lot of work done on it, but today I took a break from the insides to get to something I've been meaning to do for ages, repairing the roof of the shed.

Basically, when we moved in, the shed only had half a roof, was full of sodden junk inside and had these pieces of corrugated iron lying around which I assumed had at some point fallen off the roof.

Not being one for heights, it was quite a sketchy experience having to climb up on to the roof of the house in order to reach across and nail the things back down. Needless to say, I survived, and hopefully if the rain stays out I can put my snowboards and cricket stuff in there. The shed, funnily enough, is about the same size as my first apartment in Nagano.

Anyway, here's some pics.

One piece of the corrugated iron was particularly rusted through, so I used a few plastic bags to improvise a waterproofing layer. Not sure if it'll work, but we'll see ...

The bit I had to do was the nearer two pieces. I actually turned them over because they were all bent and warped and it was easier to push them under the bit in the middle. 

The other side.

Looking down on the shed and its repair job from the roof.

And a few pictures of the view from the roof of my house. The building on the right is Nagano Commercial High School, where I currently work. Nice and close! In the background is Suga Daira, a mountainous highland area which is good for hiking and skiing.

The tree with the orange fruit is a persimmon tree. Not a big fan myself. The kind of red coloured building in the middle is a nice onsen (hot spring).

My neighbour's garden. They have a really nice carp pond, but I can only see it from the roof!

Chris Ward
October 26th 2013

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Nice car ...

Saw this beauty outside my local 7Eleven this morning ...

I'd say that's most of the cast of Anpanman, a kid's cartoon. The driver was a middle-aged office worker who gave me a sour look when she saw me photographing her car.

Come on, let those cuddly little bread-men cheer you up ...

Chris Ward
Sept 25th 2013

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Munchin' the Bugs ...

Another day, another bizarre happening here in Japan. We had a little festival in our part of town yesterday, so pre festivities we went over to a neighbour's house for a bit. There, I was plied with beer, and once suitable drunk, I was required to eat "inago".

Inago are deep-fried locusts.

Yum ....

About to enter the mouth ...
In it goes ...

And the reaction!

They don't actually taste that bad. Pretty much like deep-fried anything. The most annoying part is that the legs get stuck in your teeth. I was still pulling them out an hour later.

Here's a few shots of the festival to show how we party round my way. To be fair, the fireworks were pretty impressive.

Chris Ward
24th September 2013

Friday, 20 September 2013

Construction a-go-go part 1

Next to my modest little house there used to be an overgrown wasteground area that my cat loved to hunt in. A few months back it was sold off and now it's being turned into a construction site. I'm rather sad about this but it has been fascination to watch it all change from trees, flowers and weeds into concrete and mud.

Here are a few pictures of the change so far.

 In this first picture you can see how it was before, looking from my house. All the houses in the background have now been torn down.

 And a sprint picture from a similar angle. That white house is to the left of the line of four in the first picture. All this (except the white house) is now soil and concrete.

 My cat, Miffy, might not appear too disgruntled, but I can assure you she is.

 The trees and vegetation has all been scrapped away and now they're preparing the land to put in big lumps of concrete. That little house with the red roof is where I live. Neither writing nor teaching are making me, the wife and the cat rich, but I enjoy both. It belongs to my school.

The digger shows up.

And the destruction begins. All these houses are coming down so they can build an access road. No idea where all the tenants went.

That line of four houses is now gone. The fifth, detached, one on the right is still there, although the tenants are gone and its been gutted. I assume at some point they'll pull it down too.

And the current state of play. The houses are gone and they're putting in drainage ditches or whatever they're called.

They're making a ton of noise outside as I write this. I'll post some more pictures in a few days.

Chris Ward
21st Sept 2013

Sunrise over Tokyo

Just got back from a little holiday in the UK and these are a couple of pictures of the sunrise over Tokyo, taken around 6am from the Haneda Airport monorail. Got back to Nagano to find that it's around 30 degrees still, quite a shock after getting to the mid teens and the endless rain back in the UK.

I guess it's nice to be back. I always get the usual longing to go home again (long term) straight after a trip home, but I think that's more to do with missing the family. Still, hopefully it won't be too long before I can get over again. Need to sell some books ...!

Chris Ward
20th September 2013

Monday, 6 May 2013

My desk at work

An exclusive look at where I work! This is my desk at the high school where I work three days a week (Tues and Thurs I go to my "visit" school).

I'm an assistant English teacher. At the moment this pic was taken I was writing letters to a group of kids up at mountain school which is connected to my visit school. Piled up on the left is a bunch of stuff I was preparing for a talk on England.

If you look carefully you can see a pic of me two two kids in animal costumes, taken at our school's festival, while beside the computer is the "fear" mug, which has a picture of me and the wife at Fuji-ku Highland. The pic was taken while we were zooming down the third tallest rollercoaster in the world, and is so named because of the expression on my face ...

Chris Ward
May 6th 2013

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Growing Rice - Part 1

My father-in-law is an amateur rice farmer, and every year I help him out with various parts of the process. Today we were putting the rice seeds into trays, which in a few weeks will be planted in the rice fields themselves once they've grown into little seedlings.

Here are the trays all stacked up outside. At the moment they have a bottom layer of a kind of sponge, which is then soaked. We made 200, which is about another for six or seven rice fields.

In these bags are rice seeds. We planted three different types. One is regular rice, used for, um, eating. Then there is another kind which is used to make "mochi", a Japanese mashed rice cake, and then there's a third kind which we used to make Japanese "sake", or rice wine.

These are bags of soil grains which will go on top of the rice.

We use this machine to add the seeds and the soil. It's pretty simple really. The seed trays are loaded on to one end, then you turn a handle and they move along a kind of conveyer beneath first the seeds and then the soil. When they come out the other end we stack them up by type.

It's pretty hard work because the machine is worked by hand, by turning a handle at the back. The hardest part is all the bending to pick up the trays. After a couple of hours of bending and lifting it starts to hurt!

Here's some completed trays. A day or two after they will be taken to the rice fields and left to grow for a couple of weeks. When the seedlings reach about 10cm it's planting time!

Look out for part two in a couple of weeks!

Chris Ward
3rd May 2013

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Today's Japanese lesson

A short Japanese lesson for you today, and its an important one! Those four big red characters read no-mi-ho-dai, which means "all you can drink".

Japanese is usually read from right to left and top to bottom. The first character on the top right means "drink'. On it's own it's read "no". The second character below it is a hiragana character (used to make tenses, etc) and is read "mi". The one on the top left is read "ho" and the one below it is "dai", together meaning "all you can" or "as much as you want".

The white ones mean "no reservation necessary". The number is the price, 1500 yen, or about $15. That's pretty good value ...

Chris Ward
30th April 2013

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Spring is (supposed to be) in the air ...

Sunday 21st this year was Nagano Marathon, and for the sixth time in eight years I slept through it (of the other times, once I was helping out with some charity stuff while in 2010 I actually ran it!) but when I woke up and looked outside to see the snow(!) I kind of felt sorry for the poor people slogging round Nagano's streets for five hours. It's very, very rare to have snow this late into spring. Once in twenty years, a co-worker said.

It did a great job of crushing my daffodils too, although it had melted off by the afternoon.

Still, you know it's spring in Japan when the bugs start to appear in the hardware stores! Won't be purchasing one again this year ... the cat would probably just eat it! Found out one of my co-workers actually breeds the things, which is interesting. Apparently if they top 8cm they're worth a fortune. His best he told me was about 7.4cm. Don't give up ...

Chris Ward
April 25th 2013

Saturday, 20 April 2013

A perfect combination?

Spotted this interesting little combo in a bar in Matsumoto this week. Hmmm...

English Day in Fuetsu High School, Iida

Today, despite being Saturday, I went down to Iida in south Nagano to help out at Fuetsu High School's English Day. There were six foreign teachers in total and we had to do a variety of activities with a total of around 40 students.

Due to Iida being in the butt end of nowhere, I stayed over at a mate's house the night before and we made our way down together. Still, it required a 5am start. We were on the road at 5.50am, and while the sunrise was nice and all, I'd have much rather been asleep!

Fuetsu High School is set in a really pretty location halfway up a hill from the main part of Iida town.

For my special "world culture" activity, I taught the students how to make English tea. There were six groups of students, and because the first couple went pretty heavy on the milk I had to water it down to make it last. The last couple of groups had some pretty strong tea!

They seemed to enjoy it well enough, though.

 After lunch my base group had to listen to me "lecture" them for ten minutes and then make a presentation based on my talk. I told them all about the history of the words "Britain", "England", "Great Britain" and "the UK", and then about hte origins of the British flag. Surprisingly none of them fell asleep.

 Here they are discussing what to talk about.

And here's my group doing their presentation. They did it completely ad-lib without writing a script like all the other groups did, and while it was interesting, and one point there was a two-minute period of giggling and whispering. Slightly un-pro but they did a good job anyway!

Overall, lots of fun was had by all and the kids really enjoyed it. I caught the direct bus back to Nagano (three long hours) and found it rather surprising that it was still snowing up in the highland areas. It's late April!

Chris Ward
20th April 2013