Hiking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage Trail in 2018 - A Round-Up

Hiking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage Trail in 2018 - A Round-Up

The week I spent last spring walking the first leg of the Shikoku 88 pilgrimage trail was peaceful, thought-provoking, and challenging - often all at once.

Here’s all my writing about that trip in one place.

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Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 8) - O-settai, or, "I'll treasure this tissue case"

Walking the Shikoku 88 Pilgrimage (Part 8) - O-settai, or, "I'll treasure this tissue case"

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 ...

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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.

How Do You Say "Nice to Meet You" in Japanese?

How Do You Say "Nice to Meet You" in Japanese?

Hurray! You've met another Japanese-speaking person. Time to introduce yourself.

But how do you say "It's really nice to meet you" in Japanese? The first phrase you'll want is:

はじめまして。

Hajimemashite.

"Nice to meet you"

Hajimemashite (almost literally) means "we are meeting for the first time". So you can only use it the first time you meet someone.

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Summer Barbecue! Or, "Everybody Loves Corn"



Summer can feel kind of long.

For me, the summer break is when I get to reflect on the year gone and think "big picture" thoughts about what we're going to do in the next year.

But I know that the summer break can feel long for my students. I wanted to have an event in the holidays so we could spend time together, catch up on how everyone's summer has been, and hopefully speak some Japanese too.

I also just really wanted to have a barbecue. Everyone likes a barbecue, right?


I brought corn. Everyone else brought corn too. It was great.




An impressive selection of veggie and definitely-not-veggie food. 

David tending the corn.



Phil brought mochi! ありがとうフィルさん!



Delicious Japanese-y desserts. ニックさん、ありがとう!


After the BBQ, Paul and Will of Sussex Aikido treated us to a mini Aikido demonstration.




There's a little video of this on the Step Up Japanese Facebook page too.



Old and new faces. みなさん来てくれてありがとう!


As usual I was having too much fun (and tending the BBQ too much) to remember to take an actual group photo...








The question is, what shall we bring to eat next year?

Just kidding, I'll definitely bring more corn again!


It was really good to see everyone again, and hearing everyone's news - and speaking some Japanese, of course.

Did you know the Japanese word for corn is... コーン ("kōn")? 🌽🌽🌽



What's the Difference Between Mina and Minna (And Why Does It Matter Anyway?)


皆さん、こんにちは。

Hello everybody!

If you watch Japanese tv or anime (or are paying attention in class) you've probably come across the Japanese word 皆さん (mina-san) meaning "all" or "everybody".

But what's the difference between みな and みんな? What's みなさま all about? And ... does it actually matter?

皆さん Mina-san


Mina means "everybody", and it's commonly used with "-san" on the end (the same suffix you put on people's names to be polite).

みなさん is often used when addressing a group of people, especially when they don't know either other too well or the situation calls for a slightly more formal greeting.

I find myself using みなさん a bunch at the beginning of term when welcoming students back and/or trying to get you all to listen to me.

As you might expect, YouTubers say みなさんこんにちは a lot too ("HI EVERYONE").

Check out the first five seconds of this video from Ari Keita:

↓ はい、みなさんこんにちはありけいたです!



These example sentences from jisho.org should give you a good idea of the kinds of situation when みなさん is used:


みんな Minna


Also common is みんな which is just a spoken form of みな. Some people will tell you minna is more casual than mina and technically they're right.

Examples from jisho seem to show us that people also use minna when they talk about everyone:



みんなさん Minna-san


You can't mix them up and use みんなさん though. That's technically incorrect.

Probably no one will mind or notice in a casual situation, but if you're trying to be polite, stick with みなさん.

Or you can even go more polite with...

皆様 Mina-sama


In more formal situations, the -san suffix is switched up to the more polite/formal -sama.

Mina-sama functions a lot like "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN", and is used in writing, and in announcements:


Why does this matter? Well really, which word you use is going to depend on the situation.

Mina-sama is super formal and it would sound weird if you use it with your friends. Likewise, minna is pretty casual and might not be appropriate in a business setting.

A lot of gaining fluency in a language is about choosing the right word for the right situation.

Mina-san, if you'd like to learn more Japanese with me, click here to check out my new Japanese language courses in Brighton!