I Tried to Speak Japanese Every Day for a Month (Without Being in Japan)

 I Tried to Speak Japanese Every Day for a Month (Without Being in Japan)

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.

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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:

Afternoon Tea at Café an-an for World Vegan Day

I lasted about two weeks in Japan as a vegetarian. Then I swiftly abandoned half a lifetime of vegetarianism in favour of late-night ramen and fish for breakfast.

That's not to say being vegetarian - or vegan - in Japan is impossible. It just wasn't for me.

But did you know that lots of wagashi (Japanese sweets) are naturally vegan?

I hadn't really thought about it, until I saw that Cafe an-an in Portslade was running an Afternoon Tea event for World Vegan Day on 1st November.

Here are some pictures of the tasty food I managed to take - before I ate it all.

I got there super early, partly because I got the bus, and partly because I was trying to run on "Japan time", i.e., if you're not early, you're late.

Cafe an-an is run by the lovely Noriko-san, who you can see selling Japanese sweets at lots of events around Brighton.

I meant to get a picture with Noriko too, but she was very busy cooking! Next time...

Anyway, we arrived and were presented with this cute handwritten menu.

Today's reading practice for you!↓

We started the Afternoon Tea with a little soy milk and pumpkin soup.

Then chestnut rice, nasu dengaku (glazed aubergine), and ganmodoki (tofu fritters) with lotus root.

You can see from the picture how small the aubergine is. It's  a proper tiny Japanese one - sweet and delicious.

I haven't had aubergine that good in a long time...

Next, the sweet bit!

Tsukimi dango ("moon-viewing dumplings"), and steamed chestnut yōkan (a jellied sweet made with agar) - that's the purple triangle.

And pumpkin kintsuba - that's the orange slice that looks a bit like a piece of brie. 

Kintsuba is another type of Japanese sweet, popular with people who like their sweets a bit less sweet.

The last little course was i-no-ko mochi ("baby boar rice cake"). Tasty, and of course it doesn't contain any boar...baby or otherwise.

And an awesome little maple leaf shaped sweet. Isn't it pretty?

Finally, my little rabbit manjuu (steamed bun) filled with anko (red bean paste).

He was almost too cute to eat, but I ate him head first.

I felt pretty sorry for the cute bunny. But at least he's vegan! Unlike me...

You can find out more about Cafe an-an on their website.

Or pop in and chat some Japanese with Noriko-san while you buy your sweets. She's always very welcoming :)