What to Write in Japanese New Year's Cards

What to Write in Japanese New Year's Cards

Every year, Japanese households send and receive New Year’s postcards called nengajō (年賀状). The cards are sent to friends and family, as well as to people you have work connections with.

If you post your cards in Japan before the cut-off date in late December, the postal service guarantees to deliver them on January 1st.

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Fun and games at the Brighton & Hove Japanese Club Open Day


If you have children while living abroad, or you move with your kids to a country where a different language is spoken, how do you expose them to your native language?

One option is to join a club of people in the same situation. (Or, if there isn't a club, to start one!)

The Brighton & Hove Japanese Club runs a Saturday school for children from Japanese-speaking and bilingual families. The club exists to promote cultural exchange between Japan and the UK.

Every year they have a well-attended Open Day to celebrate the school's successes, and welcome visitors in to see what the club has to offer. And there's a LOT on offer.

I went along this year with my students again. Here's what we got up to!

The open day has two parts - workshops in the classrooms, and demonstrations and performances on the stage. The club makes really good use of the space, with lots to see and do.

We started with a calligraphy lesson, having a go at writing 春 (haru), the kanji for Spring:


Diligent students!


Dan likes a challenge, so he wrote the most difficult kanji he could think of: 鬱 (utsu).


This character means depression, or "low spirits", which is also how you might feel after trying to write a kanji with 29 strokes!


James showing off his handiwork:


Also, this is what I look like after half an hour doing calligraphy:

Excellent GIF by David.

Local calligraphy artist Takako Higgs was there too, with a stall of Japanese goods.


When she's not doing large-scale calligraphy demonstrations or teaching calligraphy, Takako sells beautiful Japanese goods, personalised with your name in Japanese.


Next, we headed into the main hall to see some of the shows.

It was jam packed!

The organisers had to get an extra pole so their video camera could see over the crowd.


Usually my favourite bit is the second-hand book stall where I pick up something I want to read (often pretending to myself I'll use it in class...)

But I was knew I was going to Japan the following week so I didn't buy any books this year.

I did however get this adorable Anpanman cookie!

I sat on him later and squashed him, but he still tasted great.

I also got some melon pan from this cute bakery stand.

("Gu choki pan ya" is the name of the bakery from the Ghibli film Kiki's Delivery Service).

And I bought some Japanese sweets to take home from the Cafe an-an stall.

(No photo of An-an's stall I'm afraid, I was too busy chatting to Noriko, the owner, to remember to take a picture).

While eating some of the sweet Japanese treats I'd bought, we watched the manga drawing contest.

The contestants were given the name of a manga character and had to draw them. The kids could peek at the screen, but the adults had to draw from memory.

Two of the adults participating are professional manga artists, so that was fun too.

The event is presented in English and in Japanese, with speakers switching between languages.

This compere did a great job and was very funny, especially when doing the "big reveal" and having the contestants show their pictures.



We also watched a koto (Japanese harp) performance by Sakie Plunkett.


And some students had their portraits drawn by manga artists Inko and Chie Kutsuwada.

Here Inko hard at work:


 And the finished result!

 As is tradition, we went for a quick half of ビール (beer) and/or コーラ (cola) in the パブ (pub) afterwards, to show off everything we'd made, bought and eaten.
It was a relaxed, nice day out.

I always meet someone new and interesting at the Open Day, and the organisers are very friendly and welcoming.

Why don't you come along next year?

Find out more about the Brighton & Hove Japanese Club on their website (click here).

More links:



End-of-term Sushi Night! Easter 2018


When I started teaching Japanese, I thought it would primarily be an academic endeavour. 

I didn't think we'd go out for sushi, and do calligraphy workshops, and all kinds of other exciting things. 

It's good to get out of the classroom sometimes, spend time in a different environment (and of course eat Japanese food).

Here are some photos from the end-of-term sushi night this Easter. 








Thanks for coming!

Where shall we go for our next (non-academic) event?

Three Reasons Why Language Learning is Just Like Skateboarding


I bought a skateboard. And not just so I can start calling myself "the skateboarding Japanese teacher".

I've wanted to learn to skate for a long time. I'm turning 30 this year and I thought I should probably get on with it.

You know that Chinese proverb, "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now"?

Well, I should probably have started skateboarding 20 years ago, because it turns out skateboarding is really hard. I didn't start when I was nine though, so now will have to do.

I'm not very good yet. In fact, I'm very bad.

I know I can do it though. It's just like learning Japanese! (Hear me out, ok...?)

1. You need to fall over a lot


You're going to fall off a skateboard, and make mistakes, and mess things up. It's going to hurt.

Sound familiar? 

Learning to speak a language is a process of making constant mistakes, and gradually getting better.  If you don't make any mistakes when you're speaking a foreign language, you're not learning anything.

The only way to learn how to be good at something, is to first be very bad at it. 

(I tell myself this constantly as I wobble around town on my little skateboard).

Image source: Verity Lane / Tofugu

2. It takes discipline


Learning any new skill takes considerable time and effort. You have to practice, even when you don't feel like it or when something else seems more appealing.

In a way, it's easy to be motivated, i.e. to want to do something. It's much more difficult to be disciplined - to do something even when you don't want to.

Taking your skateboard out on Saturday, even when it looks a bit windy, and you're not any good yet, and there are builders on the corner of the street who might laugh at you - that's discipline.

Studying a little bit of Japanese every day, even when you just feel like watching TV instead - that's discipline too.

Nothing that's worth doing can be learned overnight. (Unfortunately.)

3. You might feel like a bit of an idiot


One of my students wrote this on his class feedback form last year:
"...while I feel terrible and clumsy while doing it, the speaking practice afforded by the class is something that is very difficult to get anywhere else."
I was a bit taken aback by this, because he doesn't sound terrible or clumsy when he speaks Japanese.

But a lot of people feel this way about doing something new, especially in front of other people. I certainly do.

Making mistakes can make us feel embarrassed or awkward.

(As a teacher, there's an added dynamic: I don't want my students to feel uncomfortable. But I do want to stretch them, and help them to push out of their comfort zone. It's a difficult balance, sometimes.)

I feel like a right prat on my skateboard. Sometimes you've just got to push through it, I think, and focus on the goal.

"Think how good you'll feel when you can casually skateboard to work", I tell myself. For me, it's the same feeling as:

"Think how good you'll feel when you can read a whole book in Japanese. Or have a ten-minute conversation. Or 30 minutes. Or a whole day!"

What do you think?


P.S. Don't forget to get your ticket to see me this Sunday 10th March at Women in Language, a brilliant new online event. I'll be talking about running an offline language school in an online world. There'll be skateboarding references, too ... Click here to find out more.

What is Community Interpreting and Why Does it Matter?


The dentist talked for a long time, in Japanese I didn't understand, pointing and waving his hands at the X-ray on the wall. I was completely lost.

After he'd talked for about five minutes, my Japanese boss translated for me: "He says you need to fix this tooth."

That's it? I thought. The dentist had been talking for ages. He can't possibly have only said "you need to fix this tooth".

The first year I was in Japan I had a lot of dental work done.

I broke a tooth (ouch!) and then it kept breaking. It was unpleasant.

I'm very grateful that my Japanese boss came to these appointments with me. And when he couldn't come, his mum would come with me. It was really kind of them.

But I usually didn't really understand what was going on. Imagine if I'd had access to a professional interpreter instead?

I often have interpreting on the brain. My "other job" (i.e. what I do when I don't have my Step Up Japanese hat on) is working in the offices of a community interpreting service here in Brighton.

So what is Community Interpreting?

Interpreting is listening to what is said in one language, and communicating the meaning in another language. And Community Interpreting (as opposed to conference interpreting, or interpreting in business meetings etc) basically exists to enable people to access public services.

Community Interpreters attend medical, legal and housing appointments with people who have limited English, helping them to understand fully what's going on.

Using a professional interpreter guarantees that interpreting is accurate and unbiased.

The interpreter's job is to remain impartial in a three-way conversation between the person with the language need (in Japan, that was me), and the professional they're seeing (the dentist).

Ah yes, my Japanese dentist.

After a while I could understand enough to attend the appointments by myself. Sometimes, I could tell the dentist was using simple language, to ensure I understood. That was kind of him.

But some medical messages are too important to be said in simple language.

So how would my experiences in Japan have been different if I'd had access to a professional interpreter?

It would have been empowering to make decisions about my medical care, without having to ask my boss's mum. I'm sure I would have felt a little less scared of the dentist waving his hands around, too.

If you'd like to learn more about Community Interpreting from a global perspective, you should check out Madeline Vadkerty's talk "Making the World a Better Place As an Interpreter" at next week's Women in Language event.

I'm really looking forward to hearing Madeline speak about her experiences as a Community Interpreter, helping asylum seekers and survivors of torture to rebuild their lives.

(I'll be speaking too - eek!)

Your ticket for Women in Language gets you access to the entire 4-day event with over 25 awesome women speaking. Click here to get your ticket before the event begins on Thursday 8th March.


I quit my day job! (sort of...)


Don't worry mum - I haven't quit my day job. Not as such. I recently went from full time to 3 days a week though.

It's great.

One of my students mentioned this week in passing that I must be busy, working full time somewhere else, and also running Japanese courses. I realised that I haven't told a lot of my students that I no longer have a full time day job.


I now work three days a week in the offices of a community interpreting agency, here in sunny Brighton.

And I teach Japanese three nights a week, to lovely people with language-related goals and dreams. I get to share in my students' successes and triumphs, and hopefully help them through the tough bits too.

Life is more balanced now that I don't work elsewhere full time. I'm less "bad-busy" and more "good-busy".

And I get to feel part of two things - the interpreting charity, and my own little language school. That sense of community is really important to me.

Do you have a day job, and do something else on the side? If you have more than one job, how do you balance your time? I'd love to know what tips you can share. Let me know in the comments 😃


P.S. If you'd like to know more about how I started Step Up Japanese (and how you can open a language school!) I'll be giving a talk at Women in Language, a brilliant new online event March 8th-11th. Click here to find out more.

P.P.S.  Calligraphers of Instagram will be back in March. Why not read Part 1Part 1-and-a-half, and Part 2 while you wait?