It's been another busy weekend, working on my second job
on Saturday (learned a new skill there too - it's always fun
to keep trying new things!), and had to have a quick trip into
Hull today. However, I had forgotten it would be so busy, with everyone rushing to the retail parks to stock up for Christmas,
so it wound up being quite a hectic afternoon. But how could
I forget about Christmas shopping? Well, I'm in quite a
fortunate position this year, as my lovely fiancee Louise
started up an online craft shop recently (shameless plug alert!: http://www.folksy.com/shops/catfaceandpancakes)
so we're uniquely placed to stock up on gifts.

Hello, my name is Conker the Red Panda!
I was made by Louise, who blogs here

On the road into Hull there's a big garden centre, all under glass, that has the best display of Christmas decorations and lights that I've ever seen. Every year I know it's time to start looking forward to Christmas when I see their lights on as I drive past. Fortunately it's not on a corner, or I'm sure it'd be an accident blackspot from the end of October 'til the New Year!

The rest of the weekend has been spent preparing for a craft fair in Bridlington next Saturday. We're selling some of Louise's items there, and we're going for a festive display. This has meant we've had to get the decorations down early, and we spent last night going through them all. As they're all wrapped up in newspaper it's like opening presents early.

We've been hitting Billy Idol's Happy Holidays and Bob Dylan's Christmas In The Heart albums pretty hard too.

And it's not even December yet...

Happy Winter!

I mentioned recently that I've been busy at work, and here's why. At least, the first of a long line of reasons...

My weekday job basically involves making TV listings, and so in the run-up to Christmas, when the papers and TV networks have their big rush to get the festive schedules out, we have to do some pretty crazy shifts. This was the first of our special editions, which we did for the Daily Mirror. It was on-sale on Wednesday, and came out looking pretty good I think - which has given me a lot of confidence about the rest of the products we have to get out over the next month. It's still a daunting task though!

I also continue to find it tremendously satisfying to see the end product in the newsagents the morning after a late shift, even after doing it for so long (I'm on my ninth Christmas in this job!).

In a fitting celebration, Louise and I picked up a bottle of something nice this evening... We're neither of us particularly big drinkers but we both fancied a drop of whisky, and our local supermarket has the Yamazaki by Suntory on special offer. Besides, it'll keep while Christmas (or most of it will), so it's an investment! I'd never had a Japanese whisky before but I'm very partial to a Scottish single malt, and I'd heard they're very similar in style. After my first taste I must say I'm very impressed. Puts me in mind of a sweet Speyside malt like Glen Moray, only better finished. Certainly much easier-going than most.

So, 'til next time, Kanpai!
In my line of work, Christmas preparations begin early. This means I've spent the past week being rushed off my feet and doing overtime, which has left me little time to keep up my Japanese lessons. I'm still finding time to play the odd game on my trusty DS so I don't forget what I've already learned, But still, I feel as though I've ground oddly to a halt. Similarly, my progress on the language-based mobile phone adventure Survive Japanese has stalled, as I've reached a point where I need to know kanji for the colours to move to the next level. And kanji and me don't seem to be getting on... Is there a trick to learning kanji of which I'm not aware?

However, having nothing new to report gives me the chance to do one of the things I've wanted to do since beginning my blog - a trip down memory lane to my Japan holiday last year. I quite like the idea of occasionally revisiting that holiday, a day at a time, here.

Back in October 2008, me and Louise (my decidedly better half) finally got the chance to go on our dream trip to Tokyo. It would be the first time that I'd ever set foot on a plane, and so I was slightly nervous - after all, if I didn't like it, a 15 hour flight was not the time to discover the fact! I think Louise was a bit worried I'd turn out to be scared of flying or airsick, too. Although we needn't have worried - as soon as our little 'City Hopper' to Amsterdam took off, I was enraptured by the whole experience. Yeah, it was kinda cramped (ok - really cramped! I'm well over six foot...), but the vistas and the feeling thrilled me. Louise still laughs at how, even after changing at Amsterdam and spending the best part of a day in the air, I was still beaming out of the window at the views of clouds...

Arriving at Narita was something of a blur. Never having been on a plane before means never having been through customs before either. To be honest I still don't know what really happened and why, I just sleepily allowed myself to be herded about until eventually it felt like we were free to explore the country. We got the limousine bus to Shinjuku, and enjoyed the scenery on the way. As we got closer, we could see Tokyo growing and growing on the horizon, but nothing prepared us for the sheer scale of the place when we actually got there.

Finding the hotel proved tricky. I realised that reading how to say, for instance, "where is the hotel?" in a foreign language is one thing; actually trusting my pronunciation, and understanding the response, was quite another. I think it was these early difficulties that made me all the more determined to keep up my studies.

When we got there, we were immediately blown away by the view. Then, we were blown away by the room itself. And then by the futuristic toilet (it doesn't take much to impress a hick like me)... And then by the view again!

We slept fitfully for a while. Jetlag won over excitement, but only just. Every time I woke up, I just wanted to look out of the window some more. We were both really excited about getting out there after a rest and exploring. And explore we did - but that will wait 'til another blog...

Thanks for reading!
I'm currently sitting in my car in rainy Hull, waiting for 6pm when i can do my last job of the day, and listening to some rather good electro music (Ladytron - underrated).
Eerily, as i sit, and the windows begin to mist up as the rain pours, some ghostly Japanese characters are forming all around me. Now I know that this is just because Louise & I like to practice our hiragana when we're stuck in traffic and the glass makes a good temporary (or so I thought) surface for this. But nevertheless I feel as though I'm in a creepy scene from a J-Horror film of some description...
As Gary Numan sang, "you can lock all your doors, in cars" - but am I locking things out, or locking something in...?
So although I'm feeling quite freaked out, I thought I'd take the opportunity to try out the new blogging app for my phone. If the formatting & casing's a bit off, that's why.
If it's not been fixed by tomorrow, that'll be because I've been eaten by the Grudge...

(Edit: I got out alive - hurray!)

Living near Hull may not sound too glamorous (Hull has something of a bad rep in the UK) but it has its advantages. Chief among which are the two excellent theatres - Hull Truck and Hull New Theatre. Hull Truck has the history and the reputation - John Godber is artistic director, and its productions often tour the country - and it was to Hull Truck that we went tonight for a Friday 13th performance of Macbeth.
I was really impressed. I was concerned to begin with as it was a modern-dress production, and the last Shakespeare play I saw in modern dress missed the mark in my view (Lear at the Sheffield Crucible). They either keep the original dialogue, in which case it seems anachronistic, or they update it, in which case it's just not Shakespeare. But Hull Truck managed to keep it neat and other-worldly without conveying a specific era, so it tied in nicely.
Impressively, the minimalist effects included scented smoke that was evocative of musty Highland castles, the sound was fantastic, and - most importantly - the whole thing was acted impeccably (it strikes me that many actors find it hard to deliver Shakespeare's lines convincingly as they're too busy focusing on how it sounds, rather than what it means).

And it's a brave theatre that puts on the famously cursed play on Friday 13th...
I've been thinking today about our trip last year to Ueno Zoo in Tokyo. Asides from being a brilliant day out, and a great zoo with well looked-after animals, it also holds a special place in my memory because it was the first time I successfully ordered something in Japanese without relying on pointing, gesturing, and speaking English. I'm sure my grammar was poor, and pronunciation a bit off, but I got what I wanted without flailing about or speaking in that irritating slloooww, LOOUUD English that English people think makes foreigners understand them.

Another big milestone for me came some time later - I was at home, watching something (probably The Simpsons!) on Channel 4, when their Tokyo-set ident came on. For the past few weeks I had been trying to drum Hiragana into my thick skull and thought I was getting nowhere, when I suddenly realised I could read one of the signs! There, on the right, in big bold Hiragana and clear as day - Tonkatsu!

It's great to have moments like these two; they really show you you're on the right track. I doubt either one is particularly impressive in the grand scheme of things, but they demonstrate that inspiration, and motivation, can come up on you from nowhere.

My Japanese learning tends to come in two forms - I tend to think of them as 'formal' and 'informal' lessons. The textbook approach is great but doesn't give you any idea of actual everyday usage. I therefore find blogs and online lessons really useful, in particular these.

In my regular studies I've been learning I (watashi/boku), you (anata), he (kare) and she (kanojo) and placing them in sentences as we would in English. Today I learned that's wrong. Well, not wrong wrong but not really the done thing either. It seems that the word "you" can be considered impolite and impersonal, while "he/she" are actually taken to mean "boyfriend/girlfriend" in Japanese.

So what this has left me wondering is: are there any other such quirks out there, waiting to trip me up? Part of me hopes so - it's the quirky nature of English that keeps me fascinated with my mothertongue even after 28 years, and why would a foriegn language be any more straightforward?

I've recently finished rewatching Twin Peaks season two - Louise hadn't seen it before so I begged/borrowed/stole (ok I didn't actually steal...) the various DVDs from friends and family. Thirty brilliant episodes later (well, maybe 28.5 brilliant episodes - some of Ben Horne's storylines were a little weak!) and now I'm left with a renewed sense of opportunities lost, and questions unanswered. It was so very good, yet I get the impression the studio limited David Lynch so much with what he could or couldn't do, and with the time in which he had to do it.

After the first half of series two heralded a conclusion to the original whodunnit mystery, many people thought it went a bit off the boil. But I wonder whether it was more a case of having a vast story arc to bring to a conclusion, while knowing it's unlikely that you'll get picked up for a third series.

The film helped a little, but again it was a case of too much to say in such a short length of time. I heard rumours that Lynch may be working on a new series or another film pre/sequel, and I'm holding my breath...

In other news, I have scribbled down my recipe for tonkatsu, one of my favourite Japanese dishes. Now I should probably mention that this is not a 'proper' recipe as such - just something I figured out, half from watching a cookery show with the sound off in the hotel in Tokyo, and half from experimenting. I also use five-spice and cayenne in the breadcrumbs, which neither of which are very Japanese, but I think the flavour works really well. Finally, I believe this would normally be deep-fried but for health's sake I figured out how to roast it instead. Hope it works out for you!

2 x pork cuts (flattened tenderloin works great, or loin/chop/etc)
1 slice stale bread
pinch cayenne
1 tsp five-spice
2tbs cornflour
2tbs soy sauce
2tbs mirin
toasted sesame oil (in a spray if possible)

Mix the cornflour with the soy & mirin until it's entirely liquid. Make breadcrumbs from the bread and mix in the spices. Prepare the pork as required, and soak it in the cornflour mix. Remove, and coat fully with breadcrumbs. Put on a baking sheet and lightly spray with sesame oil. Cook at about 200c for about 25mins (longer if you're using a big cut of meat - trust your judgment!).

Cut into slices and serve atop a bed of shredded sweetheart cabbage, with a bowl of rice.

Hmn, my first-ever recipe - let me know how you get on, and please feel free to give me any tweaks/improvements!
I've just had a lovely Autumnal afternoon, involving putting the fire on, and some sandalwood incense (we have a gas fire but I miss the log-fire smells), while listening to a fantastic CD Louise recently got me - Bob Dylan's Christmas In The Heart. Yup, the folk legend has released a Christmas album! It takes pride of place with Billy Idol's Happy Holidays (another unlikely but great Yuletide gem), and it's really getting me in the mood for that most wonderful time of the year now.

Unfortunately in my line of work Christmas heralds the busiest time of year, and we've started working overtime in preparation for it already. The nights are drawing in and the shifts are getting later - and there's another six or seven weeks of that to go before the main event itself. Sigh... Still, it'll be worth it in the end - all said, it really is my favourite time of year!

Here's hoping for a white Christmas!

Yesterday I downloaded an app for my phone from the Android Market called Survive Japanese. It's a fantastic game by iStudyCampus which has given me a new dimension to my learning. It's a text-based RPG in which you save hiragana and kanji puzzles to progress. I'm really excited about maybe learning some kanji, and I can't believe it only cost about 90p!

I've pretty much learned hiragana, and I'm beginning to get to grips with katakana, but kanji is a complete mystery to me. Let's hope this game can help! If you have an Android-based phone I really recommend it. There's a free trial version out there too but to be honest, for under a quid (it's $1.50) you can't really go wrong.

Now, this being the weekend after Bonfire Night, we went next door to Louise's mum & dad's for a fireworks party (we live next door to my future in-laws, which is great as it saves on taxis!). Fortunately for our cat, four rabbits and two hamsters there were no really loud ones. I've always enjoyed fireworks, and once or twice in my youth I even made my own... I guess fireworks are another very Japanese pastime - I wonder whether I like these things because they're Japanese, or whether I love Japan because of these things?

Over the next few days I hope to get a few Japanese recipes on here - tonkatsu, pork ramen and yakisoba noodles to name a few. Think I'd better keep my firework recipes to myself though, for everyone's sake!

Welcome to my blog, I am going to share my Japanese experiences and practice my language here.

My name's Rob, and I'm a Shogakusha!

It was back in October 2006 when I first saw Spirited Away with my lovely fiancee, Louise. Little did I know this would be the first step down a one-way street of obsession with all things Japanese...

The rest of Studio Ghibli's films soon followed, and when Louise jokingly suggested we visit the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Japan, I may have taken her a little too seriously...

One year later we were lucky enough to get the chance to actually go to Tokyo for 10 days. It really was the holiday of our dreams, and one of the many things I really enjoyed on our trip was using the language. We'd learned a few phrases before setting off, and I decided it would be fun to keep up my progress after we got back.

I'm primarily using the Nintendo DS programme My Japanese Coach, and supplementing this with websites, phrasebooks and the Nihongo Quick Lesson programmes on the fantastic NHK (Sky 516).

We resolved to go back for our honeymoon (we're marrying in September 2010), this time for 16 days. By then I aim to have at least a conversational grasp of the language. Ultimately I'd love to get a job there, and ship myself, Louise and our menagerie of animals (more on them later) over there for good!

Shogakusa: n. Beginner, beginning student

I'm relatively new to my hobby of learning Japanese, and even newer to my hobby of blogging. Why don't you follow my progress and tell me about yours?