Rare cheese cake and other oddities

Stephen's Japanese language review

The other day we were having lunch with friends and one of them brought us some Camembert Rare Cheese Cake for dessert.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The name was written in English, not Japanese, and we wondered what was rare about this dessert. Camembert, even from Hokkaido as this was, isn’t rare, so what did it mean?

It turns out that in this case the Japanese-English word meant uncooked like rare roast beef. A bit unnecessary really since cheesecake is normally uncooked unless it is baked cheesecake.

We guess that someone had looked for a word for uncooked, found rare, and used it without checking if this was correct usage.

It reminds me of some other odd transpositions of foreign words into Japanese like arubaito (アルバイト) from the German arbeit. In German, this is simply work, but in Japanese it is only part-time work

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と: Adding soy makes food salty

Stephen's Japanese language review

If you are learning Japanese, you will know the very useful conjunction to と.

You will know that it is used to mean “and” and “with”. For example, ハムと卵 (hamu to tamago), ham and eggs, or ともだちと, (tomodachi to), with friends.

But I’ve just been learning how to use と to say that an action has a result. OK, that’s a bit vague so here are some examples.

  • Adding soy (sauce) makes (the food) salty
  • Eating something sweet will make you less tired

So how do we write that?

The pattern is this: Verb in the dictionary – or short – form + to + verb describing the effect.

Here are the two examples I gave, first in romaji and then in hiragana:

  • shouyu wo kakeru to shoppai desu.
    • しょうゆをかけるとしょっぱいです。
  • amai mono wo taberu to tsukare ga toreru rashii to.
    • あまいものをたべるとつかれがとれるらしいよ。

So that’s my grammar point revised and now you…

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Stephen's Japanese language review

Japanese grammar – my semi-random review!

This morning I decided that I needed to be more systematic about reviewing my Japanese learning – and grammar in particular. But how to do it? I could write notes here and there but I might not find them again.

Notes in my course book would have the same problem. Then I thought, why not blog about what I’ve been learning?

So here goes!

Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.

PS: my learning progress is due to the wonderful teachers at IPE Academy in Nagoya; all the mistakes are mine alone!

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Learning to read

I’m learning to read. Talk about a second childhood; some 60 years after first learning to read, I’m now learning to read again!

Sixty years ago it was English and an alphabet consisting of 26 characters. Now it’s Japanese with two alphabets (syllabaries, strictly speaking, but we can think of them as alphabets for comparison purposes) of 46 basic characters each plus combinations and modifiers (dakuten), and thousands of Chinese characters. The Chinese characters are called Kanji and the average Japanese person knows about 3000. We foreigners can probably get by on about 2000 in order to read newspapers and books. Only 2000 – easy, right?

For fun, I’ve included tables of the Hiragana and Katakana syllabaries with pronunciations at the end of this post.

All Japanese could be written in Hiragana alone…

By the way, both Hiragana and Katakana are simplified Kanji and duplicate each other completely. In other words, only one of these is necessary to write everything you might want to write. In fact, all Japanese could be written in Hiragana alone; Kanji are also now redundant, occasionally simpler than the equivalent Hiragana or Katakana but usually much more complicated! Children learn Hiragana first, and use it exclusively for reading and writing until they know enough Kanji.

Katakana are used for words and names imported from foreign languages, and for italics and speech in manga.

Here are a few Kanji. You will see that each one has multiple pronunciations (and meanings). And some pronunciations have multiple kanji; “ka”, “kai” and “ki”, for example, in the table below. In addition, combinations of kanji often bear no resemblance in their pronunciation to the Kanji of which they are made up.

(English is the same by the way; think of “ough” preceded by “th”, “b”, “thr”, “sl”, “pl”, “c”, “d” etc.)

In between, I did learn the Greek and Russian/Cyrillic alphabets (24 and 32 characters respectively, with considerable similarities) and a few words of both Greek and Russian. I can still decipher most Russian and Greek words, too, though this doesn’t really count as reading, does it?

Learning Japanese, however, is another thing entirely. It’s like learning the Russian and Greek alphabets at the same time plus Chinese characters and then trying to read sentences (with no spaces between words) made up of all three of these.

To help you get a feel for it, here’s a sentence using the English, Greek and Cyrillic alphabets.

Weshallheartheάγγελοι, weshallseetheskysparklingwithdiamonds. – Чехов

Could you read it? Not too difficult apart from the Greek and Cyrillic – unless you happen to know these of course. Even the lack of spaces is not a problem because we know the English words already and our brains can split them up appropriately. Even so, you may have found yourself reading “We shall heart he” instead of “We shall hear the” at first.

Learning Japanese, is like learning the Russian and Greek alphabets at the same time plus Chinese characters and then trying to read sentences made up of all three of these!

Do the same in French and it may be more difficult:


Did you get it? If so, maybe it’s because you speak and read French.

It’s Descartes’ famous saying: I think therefore I amJe pense, donc je suis

Finally, here’s a bit of Japanese containing Hiragana (mostly), Kanji (too many!) and Katakana (only on the last line for the author’s name):

ヨハネの福音書 3:16 JCB

Now you see why I’m not only learning a language I’m also learning to read!

Wish me success and perseverance!


  1. In the first sentence, the Greek word was “angels” and the author (in Cyrillic) was Chekhov.
  2. The Japanese above is a famous verse from John’s gospel: John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
  3. I started learning Japanese in September 2016 using romaji, which is Japanese written in roman characters. But now I’m getting serious and abandoning the romaji except for writing my homework if I’m in a hurry!
  4. According to Google translate, the verse above in romaji reads like this: Jitsuni kami wa, hitori-ko o sae oshimazu ataeru hodo ni, kono sekai o aishite kudasaimashita. Sore wa, kami no miko o shinjiru mono ga, dare hitori horobizu, eien’noinochi o eru tamedesu. Yohane no fukuinsho 3: 16 JCB
    You see that even being able to read the characters does not guarantee understanding – just like any language!

Tsumago and Mino

Three weeks ago we welcomed our eldest daughter, Michaela, and her husband and children to Japan. I met them off the Shinkansen (they had travelled to Nagoya from Tokyo) and helped them find their accommodation, which was not far from our flat.

During that first week of October we visited two small towns: Tsumago and Mino.

We had Michaela and family to thank for these as we hadn’t heard of them but they had done some research before coming to Japan they looked worth visiting. So off we went together!


Tsumago is a frozen-in-time gem of a town with an old main street that the inhabitants have agreed to leave just as it has been for many, many years. They’ve also moved the ubiquitous overhead electricity and telephone cables to back streets. It’s a post town on the Nakasendō – one of the old routes between Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto.

The journey was a bit complicated and long, taking about two hours each way, but Japanese trains are comfortable so the time passed quickly enough.

FireShot Capture 051 - Chikusa Station to Nagiso Station - G_ - https___www.google.com_maps_dir_Ch

It was a beautiful day and we enjoyed a snack lunch (steamed buns of various kinds) as we walked from the old water wheel up to the other end of the town where we watched from a bridge as the river poured down a series of steps.

Our grandson bought a conical hat – something he’d wanted for a while – and we all enjoyed the scent of some lovely flowering trees (Osmanthus fragrans). There were “kaki” (persimmon) growing almost wild and dragonflies. We also watched two old ladies weaving the conical hats.

Before leaving we enjoyed some soft ice cream in a variety of flavours including chestnut – one of our favourites – and green tea.

One day we’ll return and walk from Tsumago to Magome, the next town on the Nakasendō. It’s about two and half hours, so it would have been a bit far for our youngest grandchildren – hopefully not too far for us!


Two days later we took more trains to Mino. This turned out to be less interesting than Tsumago but we did have the cultural experience of lunch in a Japanese restaurant where no one spoke English and the menus were all in Kanji!

FireShot Capture 052 - Chikusa Station to Mino Washi Lantern_ - https___www.google.com_maps_dir_Ch

We managed to order with our limited knowledge of the language and enjoyed a good meal cooked on the hot plate embedded in the table we were seated at.

Then we set off in search of the Washi lantern art gallery. According to Wikipedia, “Washi (和紙) is traditional Japanese paper. The word “washi” comes from wa meaning ‘Japanese’ and shi meaning ‘paper’. The term is used to describe paper that uses local fiber, processed by hand and made in the traditional manner.” The gallery was quite interesting and I especially enjoyed photographing the lanterns and lamps made from washi. We were, in one sense, a day early because there was about to be a washi lantern competition with lamps in the street after dark, but we hadn’t known about this and it would probably have been too late to stay for anyway.

Part of the town has been preserved in the style of the early Edo period, which started in 1603, but it wasn’t nearly as picturesque as Tsumago so I don’t think we’ll be going again.

A couple of days later we all set off for Tokyo where we would meet our youngest daughter and her husband – but that story will have to wait for my next post!

Handa revisited

We’ve now visited Handa two weeks running! But these were not our first trips; we’d been to Handa twice before with friends in previous years – for a visit to the Mizkan vinegar factory and museum, and to the Handa festival last October.

This year, our first trip was to Kamezaki which is next to Handa, and on an inlet from the sea. It was hot – but not too hot – and the sky was beautiful. First we looked for lunch and found a very small cafe where the lady prepared us fresh okonomiyaki! Delicious! Then we wandered along the coast where a grasshopper posed for us and visited a shrine before heading home again.

A week later we were back to see some three million red spider lilies – also known as cluster amaryllis – which were in full bloom along the Yakachi river, or Yakachigawa in Japanese.

As usual we looked for lunch first, intending to go to a restaurant we had visited with friends last year. We found it, but it was closed on Wednesdays. We were disappointed but set off in search of another one. With the aid of Google maps we found the B-Gate and were delighted to find Kabocha soup on the menu. Kabocha is Japanese pumpkin and we love it. It was served in a bread bowl and they also brought us two macadamia nuts with a nutcracker each! There was a small chicken salad with the soup, and onion rings, too, so we had a good lunch before setting off to see the spider lilies.

It was cloudy but didn’t rain until later so we were able to see a lot as we walked along the river bank. When finally it did rain too much to continue, we took shelter in a Komeda’s Coffee shop to dry out and warm up before taking the train back to Nagoya.


It was worth the trip and I’m sure we’ll be back next year – hopefully in sunshine!

Our next trip was to Tsumago on the Nakasendō post route and that will also be my next post!

Summer in the UK

We’ve been back in Japan for three weeks now, having spent the summer in the UK with the idea of simultaneously avoiding the heat and humidity of the Japanese summer and seeing friends and family.

The first part didn’t work out too well as the UK had the hottest summer since 1976 and it was 30 degrees C inside our flat in Maidenhead! We even bought an air conditioner which was extremely noisy but very effective.

Our other objective was met though, and we spent a pleasant week in Brussels at the end of June seeing many friends from work and church before taking the Eurostar to the UK and moving into the flat that we are still in the process of buying (it’s a long story!)

Over the summer we ordered a new fitted bedroom and had it installed, and ordered a new kitchen and bathroom, both of which will be installed before we return to the UK on 1 July 2019. Our daughter, Chiara, and her family live in the flat under ours and she is being wonderful about helping us not only with the legal side of the purchase but also by being the contact for the installation of the kitchen and bathroom.

At the beginning of August we travelled by rail to the Bluestone resort in Pembrokeshire (Wales) where the heatwave very soon ended. It was a bit cold but a great chance to see all our daughters and their families. There were 17 of us (!) in three cottages.


All 17 of us! I’m in red in the middle and my wife, Olwen, is at the left in blue.

We spent a day in Tenby and enjoyed Kurdish food in Narbeth (who knew there was a Kurdish restaurant in this little Welsh village!). Some of us also enjoyed paddling coracles round the lake at Bluestone and we all had a good meal in one of the restaurants.

Olwen prepared cocktails for us each evening and we took turns to cook the evening meal.

Of course, being near the sea we just had to have fish and chips!

Olwen also went to Lancaster to visit her mother twice over the summer, and I spent a day in London with my brother, Andrew, where we looked inside the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), ate pizza, and went to a Prom (promenade concert). Later, Olwen and I travelled to London together to spend a day with our youngest daughter, Raphaelle. We also visited the V&A and enjoyed a lovely Thai meal!

It was a very busy summer and soon enough it was time to return to Japan which we did at the very beginning of September, landing the day before the super-typhoon arrived in Nagoya. I’m happy to say that there was very little damage in Nagoya but we are very sad for the destruction in other parts of Japan, not to mention the earthquake in Hokkaido (the northernmost island and a long way from us) that razed many houses, caused some loss of life, and knocked out the power to the entire island for several days.

We’ve had one “day out” since we arrived and that was last Wednesday. We went to Kamezaki and that’s the subject of my next post!

Meiji-Mura – travelling back in time

Last Wednesday, 16 May, we went to Meiji-Mura for the day. We bought a combined ticket from our nearest Meitetsu station which gave us:

  • a return trip by train to Inuyama,
  • a return bus ride from there to Meiji-Mura,
  • entrance to the park/museum,
  • a ride on one of the three types of transportations in the park (steam train, tram and bus), and
  • a snack with a drink from one of the cafes.

We thought that at ¥3800 (about $38, €29, £25) each it was quite a good deal.

Meitetsu is one of the three train lines that compete for business in this area, the others being JR (Japan Rail) and Kintetsu. It’s different from Europe or the US (or perhaps anywhere else!) in that each of these railway companies has high-class hotels, department stores and buses as well as trains. Often the trains travel on the same routes but on their own track, and the price is usually different. Sometimes they share train stations (though each with its own platforms) and sometimes they have separate stations. The main Nagoya stations are separate but next to each other.

Meiji-mura is an open-air architectural museum/theme park in Inuyama, near Nagoya in Aichi prefecture, Japan. It was opened on March 18, 1965. The museum preserves historic buildings from Japan’s Meiji, Taisho, and early Shōwa periods.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Beautifully located on a hillside facing Lake Iruka, it occupies an area of
1,000,000 ­m² (nearly 250 acres), to which some sixty Meiji buildings have been brought and rebuilt. Meiji was a period in which Japan opened her doors to the outside world and laid the foundation for Modern Japan by absorbing and assimilating Western culture and technology. Along with the Aska-Nara period (553-793 A.D.) it is a very important era in the history of Japanese culture.

(Source: http://www.meijimura.com/english/about/index.html)

There’s so much to see there that, although we were there for about four and a half hours, we only saw perhaps one-third of the buildings and other exhibits!

On arrival, we picked up maps and guides in English to help us find our way round the park and set off.


It was very interesting and the weather was fine, though humid and there were lots of little flies buzzing around.

Unfortunately we were a bit too late for the spring flowers, but we’ll probably go back again. My Japanese teacher recommends going in autumn when all the trees will be showing their glorious colours.

Here’s some of what we saw.

Lake Iruka; flowers and leaves in the park
The Reception Hall of Marquis Tsugumichi Saigo House, Tokyo


St. John’s Church from Kyoto


This was our snack – an Oguradog – a soft hot-dog roll filled with ogura (red-bean paste) and topped with sweet whipped cream. A little too sweet for us, but look at the beautiful paper cups behind! We chose Calpis for our drink.
Iris pseudacorus (yellow flag, yellow iris, water flag) and roadside streams.
Renga-dori road


Inside the Uji-yamada Post Office, Toyokawa-chou Ise, Mie-pref., built in 1909


Kureha-za Theater, Osaka
Kyoto’s St. Francis Xavier Catholic Cathedral
Central Guard Station and Ward, Kanazawa Prison
The Imperial hotel in Tokyo was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the Maya Revival Style of architecture.
Steam Locomotive No. 12 was imported from Britain in 1874, and was one of the first steam locomotives in Japan. Steam Locomotive No. 9 was manufactured in 1912 in the United States. The third class passenger carriages were manufactured in 1908 and 1912.
At each end of the single track there was a turntable where the train crew turned the train for the return journey – by hand!


“Nagoya” station – but with the name in Japanese written from right to left, as was the custom on signs until about 70 years ago. Vertical writing is still written in columns from right to left, but horizontal writing is from left to right. The other end of the line was “Tokyo” station – about 5 minutes away!


The oldest street railway of Japan was born as the Fushimi Line of Kyoto Electric Railway in 1895. The route was later expanded, and the street railway in Kyoto served citizens and sightseers alike. The net on the front is for catching unwary pedestrians!


Golden week

Golden week in Japan is a week at the beginning of May when there are three national holidays, so, by adding just two days of your vacation, you can have a week off work. I suppose it’s a golden opportunity!

We had no classes to give or attend that week so it was a good opportunity for us to do some extra sightseeing – not to mention (which I will) a visit to the tax office!


On Monday, the last day of April, we went to Tsushima for the day with a group of friends, to see the wisteria in full bloom, but unfortunately the wisteria had been at its best a week before. We’ll go again next year, a bit earlier. This year, everything is early, because of the hot spring we’ve had. We had a picnic with some friends sitting on a wall, and Olwen went on a free walking tour around the village with them.

I stayed and took some photos and read a bit. Then we walked to the temple for a free koto and shamisen concert, but it seems that the information on the internet was out-of-date, so in fact, the temple was closed and there was no concert. That was disappointing, and the organiser of the group we went with was embarrassed and apologetic.

Nevertheless, we got some good photos and with a little post-processing in Lightroom all was not lost!


On Tuesday, I went to the tax office, with our friend Yuka as interpreter, to see if we need to pay tax. There had been some discussion the first time we went about charging us capital gains tax on the house we sold in Belgium! And of course income tax for the money we brought into Japan in 2017.

After a little wait Yuka and I met with the tax official dealing with my taxes. I had done some research which proved to my satisfaction that the sale of our house took place in July – when the sales agreement had been signed by both parties and well before we left Belgium – so there should be no tax payable here in Japan.

The first question the tax official asked was when did we sell our house. I said July and he said, that in that case there was nothing to pay. He didn’t question the fact that we had previously talked about the final registration of the sale (something like “completion” in the UK system) had taking place after we arrived in Japan.

Then we talked about income tax where, in the end, we agreed to assessment based on the lower of income and money transferred to Japan. The balance of the money transferred was to be considered savings, which of course it was.

Because we are NPR (non-permanent residents) we are not taxed on all income only the monies remitted to Japan. After doing some calculations, taking into account the tax deducted at source, they came to the amazing conclusion that they needed to pay me some $2000! It didn’t take them too long, however, to realise that this was ridiculous since we had never paid anything into the Japanese tax system and, after a further calculation, they concluded that we owed them … nothing!

All of this was a real answer to prayer, I have to say. As a bonus, they said I didn’t need to come back to the tax office to make a declaration this year – or any year – because I would always have had more tax deducted in Europe than they would want to charge, so the net tax would be zero. That was a great relief!

Dinner with friends

On Thursday of Golden Week, we met Yukie, whom we had known in Brussels, and her husband for dinner. We went to a restaurant we’d never been to before, and started out with one spicy chicken wing each. The wings are called tebasaki and are especially good they way they are prepared in Nagoya.

Then they bought out a gas-fired hot-plate to cook a kind of stew, with vegetables, soup and chicken offal in it. It’s called nabe. After eating the solid parts, we left the soupy bit in the bottom of the casserole, and the waiter came with steamed rice, parsley and cheese, which he stirred in, and we waited until the liquid was absorbed. It was a kind of risotto. That was good, but we felt absolutely stuffed afterwards!

Sadly, Yukie and her husband will be living in Yokohama, where his company has sent him, and not Nagoya as they and we had thought (they have just returned from Brussels) so we won’t be able to see very much of them.


On Friday 4th we went to Gamagori, south east of Nagoya on the coast. We travelled for about an hour by train, and then we walked towards the beach and found that hundreds is not thousands of people were being let onto the beach to dig for clams! The tide had just gone out, so the people could go on safely. All ages were there, and we can only think it must be something the grandparents did, and now the parents do it with their children, because they were out there with picnics, special rakes, buckets, sieves, and small clip-clap seats to perch on. Black Kites circled in the sky hoping for leftovers, we suppose.

It holds no enchantment for us, the sun was shining but the wind was cold, and I can’t imagine they found many clams. When people left the beach, they could take 2 kg of clams with them, and they had to pay about 10 euros or $13 for them (in advance!). It was an interesting cultural sight we didn’t expect to see.

We walked across the bridge to a very small island, taking lots of photos, then came back and bought a cone full of deep-fried karaage chicken, and 2 sausages from the stalls which lined the approach to the bridge. On the promenade are lots of deep stone steps, which people were sitting on, and leaving their goods to come back to later. (Nothing would get stolen of course; this is Japan!) We sat there eating and watching all the energetic diggers! The chicken is always great and the sausages were delicious too and full of pork.

After that, we walked to a big hotel which has a beautiful garden, crammed with azaleas and rhododendrons. However, once again, the spring beat us to it, so it was past its best. In full bloom the garden must just be a mass of colour. Next year!

Then we walked less than half an hour to visit the Fantasy Museum. We weren’t sure what it was going to be, but it was flower arrangements, undersea scenes, dragons, lovely fossils semi-precious stones, and little videos for children to watch on the way round. There were also special lighting effects. Fifty five million seashells were used to make the displays.

And at the end, we were given a fishing rod and told to fish for a keyring each with a shell, as a free souvenir. We sat for a while in the cafe, eating a musk-melon ice cream, which was very tasty, then continued our walk towards Mikawa miya station where we were going to be picked up by Chieko the secretary of the church we had also come to visit.

On the way to the station, we passed by chance a temple with carp streamers (koinobori) flying to celebrate boys’ day, on 5th May. Traditionally, at the beginning of May, the Japanese fly these tubular, brightly coloured streamers in the shape of fishes, from their houses and temples. We’d seen pictures, but had never seen it with our own eyes before. What a sight! It was wonderful, all those fish flying and flapping in the breeze. My brother later reminded me that our uncle had written a book called The Flying Fish, the title being a reference to these streamers. He was a missionary in Japan for about 40 years until the early 1980s. The book is still available on Amazon!

Then to the station, to be picked up by Chieko. Pastor Endo is the man who sponsored us for our 3-year visas so that we could come back to Japan, and Chieko is his secretary. She took us to the church, which is a really big pink and white building halfway up the mountain. On the second floor is the church guest house, where we’d been invited to stay. We expected a room with a fridge and a kettle, but it had a big lounge, proper kitchen, a bedroom, bathroom and shower room. And they’d provided sheets and towels, toiletries, and 6 kinds of tea-bags and coffee, milk and sugar. We were spoilt!

Gamagori - Olwen - P1740041

That night we were in bed by 10, with all the walking and sea air, and we didn’t wake up until 8.15!

We hadn’t seen Endo when we arrived, so when she was up and dressed (earlier than I!), Olwen went down to the church office to say hello and thank you, and give him some chocolates and biscuits from Thailand.

The church picnic which had been planned, was cancelled for some reason (the weather was perfect so it must have been something else), but they’d arranged a hike up the mountains instead, with a sing-song at the top, and prayer for the city. We decided not to do the hike, and in fact, heard later that it was quite a stiff hike, needing proper walking shoes, so were glad about our decision.

That meant we were free to do a bit of study, then walk down the mountain to the marina, the shopping centre and the promenade. We walked a long way, then stopped in a cafe about 2 o’clock for a lovely late lunch (crab-cakes with salad, soup and rice, and chicken teriyaki with salad, soup and rice.)

We crossed the car park outside the cafe to the supermarket to get an ice cream to eat on the return stroll, plus some fizzy water, yogurt, fruit and nuts for our evening meal.

We enjoyed the lazy day very much. What was really nice was, we could join in with what was happening, or not, there was no pressure, and the pastor just said, ‘Wind down.‘Relax while you’re here.’ They left us to our own devices, and didn’t try to entertain or fix meetings for us, which they might have done, thinking we were visitors. But this really suited us, and I think we did really wind down.

Sunday was a bit busier, because we joined in the main worship service at 10.30, and they’d asked Olwen to speak for 10 minutes or so, which was really scary, but she did it. After the meeting, Chieko drove us back to the station and soon we were back at our local food court enjoying a curry for lunch.

It had been a golden week!