The spring cleaning blues of a keeper

2012年 03月 08日 インストラクターブログ

For almost as long as there have been chickens and eggs, there have been throwers and keepers. It’s what makes the world go ‘round. If you happily discard all the things you aren’t currently using every time spring cleaning comes around, you’re probably a thrower. If, on the other hand, spring cleaning turns into a walk down memory lane just from looking at the stub of an old movie ticket and you end up getting rid of next to nothing, a keeper you are.

I, for one, am definitely a keeper. And, take my word for it, it’s more a curse than a blessing. For one thing, the keepsakes I have gathered over the years end up taking up a lot of space. Besides, if on top of being a keeper, you’re as disorganized as I am, your place will soon be so crowded with boxes, piles of papers and various knick-knacks that you will be too embarrassed to have your friends over for dinner.

I have also been unlucky enough to always find myself living with a thrower, be it a relative or a roommate. Throwers can be quite heartless – that is, if you ask a keeper. Thus, I got my heart broken more than once when I discovered that my live-in thrower had overnight got rid of my most precious possessions. My mother “accidentally” throwing away my coin collection certainly takes the cake.

I wish I could change but so far all my attempts have failed. I wonder if it’s because the whole thing is genetically determined. The one thing I know for sure is that I’m not looking forward to the impending spring cleaning!





物を捨てられない自分を変えようとしても、そうそう変えられるものではありません。たぶん遺伝でそう決まっているんじゃないかと思います。 ただ一つ言えるのは、春の大掃除が憂鬱だということです!


La galette des Rois

2012年 01月 26日 インストラクターブログ

Today, I’d like to write about a little-known Christmas-related tradition: the king cake – la galette des Rois in French.

La galette des Rois is usually eaten during the first fortnight of January to celebrate the end of the journey undertaken by the biblical three kings to honor the Christ Child. Despite its religious origins, it is now part of the pagan folklore.

The cake comes in different shapes and styles, but the one I always eat back home is made with puff pastry and frangipane (a kind of sweet almond-based paste). Hidden inside is a little plastic, porcelain or metal trinket representing anything from a Baby Jesus to an Eiffel Tower.

Eating the cake – or drawing the kings as we call it – follows a well-established procedure. The cake is divided in as many shares as guests. The youngest guest goes under the table before the cutting begins so that he or she can’t see where the trinket is in case it is accidentally discovered during the cutting process. The person in charge of the service randomly chooses a slice and calls, “Who is this one for?” The person under the table indicates who the slice should be given to.

When all the shares have been distributed, it’s time to start eating. The guest who gets the trinket– if he or she doesn’t need to be taken to the ER for a broken tooth or choking – receives a golden paper crown and is then king or queen for the day.

So, if you’re sad that the year-end festivities are already over, why don’t you adopt this convivial tradition and bake a cake for your friends? Just don’t forget to put the trinket in and to warn your guests about it!









2011 in review

2011年 12月 23日 インストラクターブログ

Well, 2011 is drawing to close and thus ends a very forgettable year for all living in Japan: with the tsunami disaster and aftermath, radiation scares and power shortages it has been tough for all. From a global point of view, we can add to this the European Financial Crisis, trouble in the Middle-east, ongoing war in Afghanistan and the likelihood of more problems in North Korea with the death of Kim Jong-Il.

To lift the somber mood a little, let’s have a look at some of the happier moments from 2011:

1. One of the most feel-good stories from 2011 was the royal marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton in April. For a Britain in which the royal family is becoming increasingly seen as irrelevant, the marriage brought back memories of Princess Diana’s marriage to Prince Charles 30 years ago.

2. Here in Japan, there was little to beat the Soccer World Cup win by the women’s team. Who could forget the excitement of the final against the US that went first into extra-time and then to a penalty goal shootout? Now if only the men’s team could have only performed a little better at the Rugby World Cup later in the year . . .

3. Perhaps the weirdest fad of 2011 was planking. Planking is having your photo taken while laying prostrate on any object that happens to be at hand; the stranger, the better. Social media, such as facebook, really helped this fad spread: although it didn’t seem to catch on here in Japan.
Check it out here:  http://youtu.be/pPH6pleCKj0     The best 60 planks

4. Last of all, the “kiss”! During a violent street riot in Vancouver after the local team was beaten in the final of Ice Hockey’s Stanley Cup, a young Australian man comforted his distressed girlfriend with a kiss . . . and became a media celebrity in the process. Was it a real kiss or just a media set up . . . I’ll let you decide.


Royal Kiss!



1. 2011年にもっとも心温まった話といえば、4月に執り行われたウィリアム王子とケイト・ミドルトンさんのロイヤルウェディングでしょう。王室の意義が薄れつつあるイギリスで、30年前のダイアナ姫とチャールズ皇太子の結婚式を思い出させてくれました。

2. 日本では、女子サッカーチームがワールドカップで優勝を果たしました。アメリカとの決勝戦では、延長戦で先行したアメリカチームに対して、ペナルティーゴールを決めて、私たちを興奮させてくれました。 これで、もし男子ラグビーチームがラグビーのワールドカップで、もう少しでも活躍してくれていたらもっと良かったのですが。。

3. おそらく2011年で流行った一番奇妙なことは、“プランキング”でしょう。プランキングとは、身近にあるものの上で棒のように真っ直ぐになった状態を写真に撮る、というものです。それがヘンテコな写真であればあるほど、良いプランキングということになります。FacebookのようなSNSのおかげで、このブームは世界中に広がりました。でも日本では、そんなに流行っていないみたいですね。
Check it out here:  http://youtu.be/pPH6pleCKj0     The best 60 planks

4. 暴動の最中のキス!アイスホッケーのスタンレーリーグの決勝戦に地元のチーム負けた後、バンクーバーでは市民による暴動が発生しました。家に帰る途中にこの暴動に巻き込まれ、そうとは知らない警官に盾で小突き回されて道に倒れた彼女を彼がキスで落ち着かせているシーンとのこと・・・ これで二人は時の人となりました。


Tohoku Earthquake & Tsunami Relief

2011年 03月 30日 インストラクターブログ

We’ve all seen the terrible footage coming out of Sendai and neighboring areas, and I’m sure many of us want to do our best to help.

However, just like with the recent Haiti earthquake and the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia, times of crisis also present easy opportunities for the many unscrupulous people who would seek to take advantage of your goodwill. Not only are there many individuals out there looking to make a fast buck, but cyberspace is full of attention-seekers looking to appropriate the suffering of the people in the Tohoku region for their own selfish purposes.

It can be difficult to sift the legitimate charities and organizations from those you should avoid, so I’ve put together a few tips with regard to donating:

Give To An Established Charity. Not only do established charities, such as Relief International (www.ri.org) or the Japanese Red Cross (www.jrc.or.jp), have the necessary infrastructure in place to deal with large-scale relief operations, the fact remains that many new organizations, however well-meaning, do not always have the personnel or knowledge to efficiently maximize your gift. In addition, new charities often face large overheads during setup, which can seriously limit the proportion of funds actually used for relief.

Check the program ratio. The proportion of your donation actually used in relief programs is called the “program ratio”. I recommend you check the organization’s website for information on program ratio prior to giving, or use a site like www.give.org or www.charitynavigator.org to do a little independent research.

Beware of social networking appeals. Social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook provide fantastic platforms through which to encourage donations; however, they are also easily abused by the less scrupulous. Please be sure to do some checking before you donate to ensure you are dealing with a legitimate nonprofit organization.

Finally, just let me offer my appreciation to everyone who has got involved in the relief effort. For anyone thinking of organizing a charity event to support the tsunami relief effort in the near future, let me also recommend the Center for International Disaster Information website (www.cidi.org), which contains a lot of useful information for those wanting to get involved.





Relief International (www.ri.org)や日本赤十字社など、公認された寄付等を行っているだけでなく、



Center for International Disaster Informationのサイト (www.cidi.org)をチェックしてみてください。


Meeting people at the Sapporo Snow Festival

2011年 01月 29日 インストラクターブログ

January is nearly over and that means the Sapporo Snow Festival is almost upon us, with the 62nd festival beginning on February 7th. To be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of the Snow Festival. I can’t help it but if you’ve seen one big lump of snow, you’ve just about seen them all. However, in recent years the addition of various food and drink stalls have added to the atmosphere in the Odori site and made it a lot more fun.

Another fun aspect is that the Snow Festival brings tourists from all over Japan and the world, and with this influx of tourists comes the opportunity to meet some interesting new people. I remember my favorite Snow Festival was the time 3 Swedish friends flew to Japan for the occasion. Showing my guests around Sapporo and the Snow Festival allowed me see the things through a different perspective . . . and the big “lumps of snow” seemed a lot more interesting than they had previously.

However, for those of you who are a little worried about cross-cultural communication, let me give you a tip: no one really wants to be used as a language practice partner. So while you may really want to chat with foreigners, you need to consider their feelings as well.

The best way to overcome this problem when meeting new people at the festival is simply to smile and say “Hi!” This is the very best conversational opener EVER! It gives the chance for the other person to respond without too many expectations. If they stop and talk, chances are you’ve made a new friend. If they aren’t interested, they can just smile and pass on by – no harm done.

Of course, if you really want to make the acquaintance of people from overseas, you could always volunteer . . . and these sites may be a good place to start:

札幌コンベンションセンター 外国語ボランティア

Anyway, I hope you’ll enjoy the Snow Festival, and if you smile and say “Hi!” it might just be even more enjoyable.





ただにっこりとほほ笑んで、“Hi !”と挨拶することです。
興味がなければ、微笑み返して通り過ぎていくでしょう。 なんてことはありません。

札幌コンベンションセンター 外国語ボランティア

そして笑って “Hi” と言えばもっと楽しめるでしょう!


New experiences for a new year . . .

2011年 01月 10日 インストラクターブログ

Well, the New Year is here and I’m feeling another year older. It’s common in many countries to make a resolution for the New Year, usually something like losing weight or giving up smoking; however, this year, I’ve decided to become a little more adventurous.

There are a plethora of weird and wonderful sights to see around this world of ours, and I’ve decided that 2011 is the year for me to see a few more of them. I’ve chosen 3 events that appeal to me, and if possible I want to visit the following events this year.

The first is the Hindu festival of Holi that takes place on March 19 across India. Originally Holi was a spring fertility and harvest festival, but now it is a colourful celebration of life, with people smearing each other with brightly-coloured paint, and throwing coloured water and dye over everything and everyone. I’ve always been a fan of Indian food, so I might be able to kill two birds with one stone.

Next on my list is the wonderfully English Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling Festival held around May 30 each year. You might need to be a bit crazy, but the idea of running (or rolling) down a steep 180m hill chasing a piece of cheese sounds too good to pass up. The event has been held for over 200 years, but maybe not for much longer due to concerns about injuries, so this might be my last chance.

La TominaIn August, I figure the La Tomatina tomato fight in Buñol near Valencia, Spain, might be the place to be. The main event of the festival is a tomato fight in which up to 30,000 people use 100,000 kg of fresh tomatoes as weapons to throw at and over each other. The fight only lasts an hour, which is probably a lot less time than the cleaning up afterwards.

So that is my resolution for 2011, and I really plan to visit these places. However, like most resolutions, I’ll probably just give up on my plans after a few days and stay home as usual. Why don’t you let me know what you resolve to do this year, maybe we can encourage each other to stick to our resolutions!





次は、毎年5月30日頃に開催されるイギリス グローチェスターのチーズ転がし祭りです。

8月には、スペイン バレンシア近郊のブニョルで開催されるトマト祭りに参加していると思います。



Christmas with a German flavour

2010年 11月 19日 インストラクターブログ

December is almost here again, and if, like me, you are tired of the commercialism that appears to be taking over the holiday period, I suggest you go check out the “German Christmas Market in Sapporo” for a taste of a traditional European Christmas.

I visit the market without fail every winter and my favorite thing is to taste Glühwein, German hot mulled wine, a great ally against the cold. Almost all the food stalls at the market sell it but it can vary from sweet to spicy or bitter depending on the stall: I suggest you try a couple of different kinds to find the one that best suits your taste. Foodwise, every visitor ought to indulge themselves in the deliciously sweet gebrannte Mandeln (candied, toasted almonds), and you should definitely pay a visit to Markus Bos for a plate of his famous beef stew or, for those with a sweet tooth, you can try one of his yummy Apfelpancakes (or both!).

There are plenty of other things for children and adults to enjoy: admire the colorful displays of handmade Christmas decorations, get your picture taken with Santa Claus, discover the tradition of the Advent calendar, and listen to live performances of Christmas carols and gospel music. One show I certainly won’t miss is that by the Bright Sapporo choir. To find out about all the events, check out the “German Christmas Market in Sapporo” website at www.city.sapporo.jp/christmas-market/

Seasons greetings!


ヨーロッパの伝統的なクリスマスを体験することができる“ミュンヘン・クリスマス市 in Sapporo”に行ってみてはどうでしょう。

子供も大人も楽しめることが沢山あります。私はBright Sapporo 聖歌隊のショーは、必ず見に行っています。

“ミュンヘン・クリスマス市 in Sapporo”のイベント情報は、こちらのサイトで確認できます。



Coffee oases in Central Sapporo: Kita Jizo

2010年 11月 06日 インストラクターブログ
Coffee Oases In Central Sapporo Kita Jizo

Kita Jizo was the first coffee shop I ever visited in Japan. When I first visited here almost 20 years ago, I stopped in for coffee and was pleasantly surprised by the great service and pleasant atmosphere. With flowers on the tables and subdued lighting, it reminded me very much of my favourite coffee/tea shop outside my college in England.

Years later when I came back to Sapporo, I was glad to see little had changed. The staff had changed, but the new waitresses were equally as friendly and equally as charming.

Now after 20 years, I still visit Kita Jizo for coffee or cocoa and a light snack. It is still a great place to sit and chat, or read a book, and the new staff are still just as friendly.

Located just behind the tokeidai, it is in a great position for people in the city to drop in, but beware of the bathroom. On opening the first of two doors you will find yourself in a pitch black anteroom, and it can be a bit unnerving for first time users. But trust to fortune and you’ll be fine! I hope to see you there one day soon!








Coffee oases in Central Sapporo: The World Books & Café

2010年 09月 26日 インストラクターブログ

World Books Cafe, SapporoSo this unusually long, hot summer has come to a close at last, and chilly autumn mornings and long, snowy winter evenings that I associate with life in Sapporo, are on their way again, providing the perfect opportunity for a coffee fan like me to find refuge in a one of the many excellent coffee shops that dot the Sapporo landscape. Over the next few weeks I would like to introduce some of my favourite city coffee shops: great places in which to hide from your boss and spend a relaxing hour with friends or a good book…

The first café I’d like to introduce is a relatively new one: The World Books & Café.

Located on the 5th floor of the Ohsawa Building (South 1 West 1), the World Café is, in some ways, still a work in progress.

From its name, you would expect a bookish atmosphere, but World Café goes well beyond the expected, offering a huge collection of books – mostly travel themed. The only drawback (though understandable), is that you can’t take them to your table to look at over a cup of coffee.

The staff is very friendly and service is what you would expect from a city café. The first night I visited I had risotto and seafood pasta with a basil sauce, and the staff at the bar made a Cinzano rosso and dry ginger ale just as I asked, though it wasn’t on the menu. To my thinking, the food was just a little salty, but otherwise it was tasty and there was plenty of it.

A final thing in its favor is space!  Unlike many other coffee shops in which you almost sit on your neighbor’s lap, Word Café offers plenty of room and a nice choice of table size.

So if you’re looking for a quiet place to spend an hour, give The World Books and Café a try…you might even see me there!


Website: http://www.world-spirallife.com/

World Books Cafe, Sapporoめずらしく長かった夏もやっと終わりに近づき、ひんやりする秋の朝と長い間雪が降る冬の夜がこちらに向かっています。私のようなコーヒー好きにとっては、札幌市内にたくさん点在する素敵なカフェに避難することができます。これから数週に渡って、私のお気に入りのカフェを紹介していきたいと思います。

1回目は比較的最近できたばかりの“The World Books & Café”を紹介します。

それどころかWorld Caféには、それを超えた本のコレクションがあります。


Word Caféはゆったりとした空間とテーブルでくつろぐことができます。

もし、静かでゆっくりと過ごせる場所を探しているのなら、The World Books and Caféに行ってみてください。


Sapporo City Jazz: A night with “Beijing”!

2010年 08月 07日 インストラクターブログ

Do you ever get tired of listening to Johann-Sebastian Bach and Metallica? I sometimes do. Luckily, every summer in the heart of Sapporo, we get the chance to experience a different flavor of music at the Sapporo City Jazz Festival.

I don’t think I need to tell anyone what jazz is. Everybody has heard at least once in their lives Louis Armstrong’s syncopations or Ella Fitzgerald’s scat improvisations. Yet a little known fact about jazz is that while it’s probably the most popular of music genres, it’s also the least well understood. You don’t believe me? Try asking your friends: “Do you like jazz?” I’m sure 90% of them will tell you they do – just because it’s uncool not to. Then try asking them what artists they like and what their favorite recordings are and you’ll get a very evasive answer, if any at all. By the way, I’m one of those guys.

To help me remedy this, I took my very good friend Tomoko, a long-time jazz enthusiast, to the Sapporo City Jazz Festival under the white marquee  in Odori Park (West 2).

The Sapporo City Jazz organizers put together a wonderful array of talent each year, and it was difficult to choose who to see. A number of Japanese and foreign artists appealed, but we finally hit upon the Chinese all-female group, “Beijing”: the girls don’t offer a traditional jazz sound, rather they are part of the movement to “sex up” classical music that started with Vanessa Mae and which has spawned a string of girl groups across the globe.

The string-based quintet (they seem to have left 2 of their 7 members behind) strutted and posed their way through selections from a range of genres; the Hollywood standard “My Favorite Things” to Carol King to Japanese pop tunes to Vivaldi. Interspersed with these were a selection of original pieces that included the soaring anthem (used as the campaign theme song for the 2008 Beijing Olympics) “2008飛翔” and the delightful “Start”.

Fashionable and hi-tech, the girls presented a slick, well-produced show that pleased both the ear and the eye, and none of the girls would seem out of place on the cover of a fashion magazine. The one fault, according to Tomoko’s practiced ear, was that the nuance of their music was sometimes lost behind poor song choices and the over-powering synthesized accompaniment. Personally, I think the group could stick to what they do best a little more, and not play quite so much to pre-conceived audience tastes. It was their original work that was the highlight of the evening for me and, truth be told, I found some of the other material a touch disappointing.  Nevertheless, it was a great evening and if you have the chance next year, you should definitely give it a try!

Let me also take a moment to praise the event in general. The White Rock Stage was excellent, and though it doesn’t have the acoustics of a concert hall like Kitara, on a hot sultry evening it was cool and pleasant to feed on Jambalaya and Chicken Gumbo, and wash it down with a glass of white wine.

The organizers should be applauded for making Jazz, in its many styles, accessible to the people of Sapporo and I look forward to the 2011 version of the festival, where maybe I can re-acquaint myself with the girls from “Beijing”. Hope to see you there!


でも、札幌の中心部では “札幌シティジャズ フェスティバル”というのが毎年夏に開催されていて、そこで色々な種類の音楽を楽しめるんです。

そんなことないって? じゃあ、友達にジャズが好き?って聞いてみてください。


彼女たちの音楽は、伝統的なジャズというよりはヴァネッサ・メイを始めとするようなクラシック音楽をもっと面白くしようという動きの中から生まれたみたいです。弦楽器を中心に構成されていたその5人組は(7人メンバーのうち2人が来ていなかった)、ハリウッドの名曲“My Favorite Things”から日本のポップソング、そしてヴィヴァルディまで色々なジャンルの曲に乗ってカッコ良く歩いたり、ポーズを取っていました。