Did you know that Japan has its own numbering system for the years? As well as the Gregorian calendar (the same calendar used in the west, the one that says it's 2019 now), Japan uses another system which names years after the reign of the emperor.
(The western calendar is commonly used too - and the two systems can be used interchangeably.)
Many people believe you need to live abroad to get speaking practice in a foreign language, but this isn’t true.
Similarly, people often assume that if you in Japan, like I did, you’ll pick up the language easily. But that’s not necessarily true either.
If you speak English, it’s possible - indeed easy - to live in another country for years and not become fluent in the language.
I didn't make any year-long New Years’ Resolutions this year. Instead, I decided to set myself some monthly language-related challenges. I’ll decide them as the year goes on, and I’ll probably do one every other month.
In January, I decided to speak Japanese every day for a month.
I’m not a particularly loud person, but some parts of my Japanese classes are quite loud. We sing and dance, talk and play games. We’ve even been asked to keep the noise down before by a group in the next room who were having a meeting (sorry about that!)
But in summer 2018, I ran a very quiet course. Students worked alone, in a comfortable silence.
And I was the teacher, but I mostly sat reading a hand-stapled book, looking up only to check that students were happily entertaining themselves.
This was Tadoku - a reading class with a difference.
Near Kumadani-ji, temple number 8, we had stopped in front of some glorious cherry blossom, and I got chatting to two older gentlemen who were walking the trail. One told me he had never spoken to a gaijin-san, foreigner, before.
(The cynic in me wonders if that’s really true, or if by “foreigner” he meant “white person”…)
We took some pictures in front of the cherry blossom, and walked up the hill together.
Further up the road, a lady came out of her house and gave us some hard-boiled sweets ...