Cherry Blossoms in the UK.


The United Kingdom hopes to emulate Japan with cherry blossom tourism plans.
Tourists have long travelled to Japan to see its famous cherry blossom in spring.
But the UK could soon have its own industry as the increasing number of the trees in the country draw large crowds each year when in bloom.
The spring bank holiday is expected to see large numbers of visitors from home and abroad heading to cherry blossom spots, with recent weather conditions creating a bumper year for the trees.
Battersea park in London draws many people to take pictures under the blooming row of cherry blossom trees.

The National Trust has vowed to plant 4 million blossoming trees across England, Wales and Northern Ireland by 2030 as part of its wider tree-planting mission, as well as its Blossom Watch campaign, which encourages people to embrace the fleeting beauty of the trees each year.

The UK National Trust has taken inspiration from the hanami festivals in Japan where there are blossom trees on a huge scale. The National Trust in Birmingham has experienced lots of tourists coming to take photos of the blossoms and share them.

The Birmingham National Trust’s Blossom programme, will see 600 blossom trees planted along the city’s number 11 bus route in January to create a “ring of blossom” around the city.

The project is a reference to Birmingham’s botanical history when it was once known as a “town ringed by blossom” due to being surrounded by gardens and orchards in the mid-18th century.

The Trust says that it wants the trees to blossom each year and for people to enjoy them and remember the process behind it.

The Birmingham tree-planting is the latest instalment in the trust’s legacy programme planting blossom trees in major UK cities.

The London Blossom Garden in east London opened in May 2021 to commemorate those that lost their lives to the coronavirus pandemic, and blossom trees have also been planted in cities including Plymouth, Nottingham and Newcastle.

It has also concentrated its blossom tree-planting in urban areas where people have less access to nature and green spaces.


Sayings with GOLDEN


With Golden Week here, it is an opportune time to look at some common English sayings that use the word ‘golden’.

a golden opportunity: An excellent opportunity that is not likely to be repeated.

  • During Golden Week, John had a golden opportunity to do what he wanted because he was off work, but his wife had to work.


the golden rule: This refers to a saying of Jesus’ found in the Bible (Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31). “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It tells us that we should treat others the way we would like to be treated.

  • Our Golden Week road trip was great because we all followed the golden rule.


silence is golden: A proverb that says silence is often good or desirable.

  • For Golden Week we were able to get out of the city and enjoy some peace and quiet in the mountains. The silence was golden.


golden oldies: A song that was very popular in the past and is still enjoyed by many people.

  • We had a lot of fun listening to golden oldies while we were driving to our relatives’ house during Golden Week.


the golden years: The years following one’s retirement (generally after the age of 65).

  • Now that he has reached the golden years, he doesn’t need to take a vacation and fight the crowds during Golden Week.


the golden age of something: The golden age of a particular field of activity is a period of time during which it was very successful or of a very high quality.

  • The golden age of overseas travel during Golden Week was in the late 1980s.


Azaleas or Cherry Blossoms


It’s time for the great debate. Which do you prefer, the azalea or the cherry blossom? Here are some interesting facts about both to help you make your decision.


  • They are grown as a bush of shrub.
  • Their blooms last several weeks.
  • Start blooming in the spring usually around April.
  • Can live 50-100 years.
  • They need sun but like shade under the trees.
  • Come in different colors mainly white and pink, but also orange and red.
  • They are usually .5 to 2 meters high.
  • There are 1,000 different varieties.
  • They are poisonous if consumed.
  • They are ornamental.

Cherry blossoms

  • The cherry blossom capital of the world is not in Japan but in Macon, Georgia with 300,000-350,000 Yoshino cherry blossom trees.
  • Cherry blossom petals are edible.
  • They only bloom for a week.
  • There are over 100 varieties of cherry blossom trees. The most common variety is the Somei-yoshino cherry tree.
  • Cherry blossom trees are ornamental.
  • They only last about 16-20 years.
  • They average 4-10 meters tall.
  • The flowers can range in color from pale pink to bright pink as well as white and ivory.



Hot spring in the spring


Do you like onsens?

Do you like caves?

Would you like to try onsen in a cave?


Well, then why not head to the enchanting Miskolctapolca Cave Bath in Hungary?


Nestled in the charming town of Miskolctapolca in Hungary, lies a hidden gem waiting to be discovered – the Miskolctapolca Cave Bath.

The first mentions of this hot spring dates back to 1743. Then it was reconstructed in 1837 and once again in the 1920s. Today’s facilities were put in place from 1998 to 2005.

This unique underground thermal cave system offers visitors a one-of-a-kind bathing experience amidst natural limestone formations and mineral-rich thermal waters, temperatures up to 35C.

As you descend into the caves, a sense of tranquility envelopes you, creating the perfect ambiance for relaxation and rejuvenation. The warm waters soothe your body and mind, melting away the stresses of everyday life.

The cave’s mystical atmosphere, coupled with the healing properties of the thermal waters, make this a must-visit destination for those seeking a blend of wellness and adventure. Whether you’re looking to unwind after a day of exploration or simply immerse yourself in the therapeutic benefits of the mineral-rich waters, the Miskolctapolca Cave Bath offers a truly immersive experience like no other.

So, dive into this subterranean oasis and let the magic of Miskolctapolca Cave Bath transport you to a world of relaxation and serenity.

Don’t forget your bathing suit though, for it is a coed bathing experience.                          


Cuckoo- English spring has arrived!


It is almost impossible to think of spring without images of bouncing lambs, fuzzy ducklings and charming calves. April offers all of this, but perhaps a less expected animal icon of the English spring is the cuckoo. First published in the early 1900s, The Cuckoo Song by English novelist Rudyard Kipling captures the emotions of Heathfield Fair. Also known as Heffle Cuckoo Fair, a cuckoo would be released to celebrate the beginning of the season. Spot these birds as they arrive in England from Africa in late April and early May. Cuckoos only spend a few short months in Europe, laying their eggs in the nests of other birds, before returning to the warmer climate of Africa in the summer.

From cuckoos back to the better-known symbols of spring, baby farm life. While these adorable signs of new life can be delightful, ensure you are not interacting in a way that will harm the animal. Just like humans, mother sheep, cows and birds can all be protective of their young. Enjoy these amazing animals from a distance, and close any gates behind you while walking in the countryside.

“March has searched and April tried
T’isn’t long to May now.
Not so far to Whitsuntide
And Cuckoo’s come to stay now!”

– The Cuckoo Song by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)          Richard

Gardening and Growing Your English


Spring is here, and with that comes the insatiable desire for many to grow something. Whether it is flowers, vegetables, herbs or all of the above, gardening is a great activity not only for the enjoyment that it brings but also because it can improve your English. Gardening involves a number of words that are both nouns and verbs. When a noun can be used as a verb, it is called “verbing” and English is full of them. Have you ever used a comb to comb your hair? So, let’s look at 10 gardening words that are both nouns and verbs.

1) Garden: Her beautiful garden shows she loves to garden.

2) Plant: He plants different seasonal plants every year.

3) Shovel: Get the shovel and shovel some dirt in the hole.

4) Rake: She used the rake to rake the leaves into a pile.

5) Mulch: It’s important to mulch your garden with good mulch.

6) Seed: They will seed their garden with seeds from last year’s plants.

7) Water: When you water your garden, the right amount of water is important.

8) Weed: A gardener needs to weed regularly since weeds grow so freely.

9) Flower: It is nice to have a variety of flowers so they don’t all flower at the same time.

10) Harvest: She harvested many vegetables, so she shared her harvest with her friends.


St. Patrick’s Day


St. Patrick’s Day is on March 17th. It is celebrated all over the U.S. In my home town of Savannah, Georgia we dress in green, have a parade, people drink beer, and even dye the Savannah River green. Common associations include the shamrock, leprechauns, and gold at the end of the rainbow.


St. Patrick’s Day dates back more than 1,500 years from the country of Ireland. The earliest known celebrations were held in the 17th century on March 17, marking the anniversary of the death of St. Patrick in the 5th century. Here are some not so known facts about this holiday.


  • The Real St. Patrick Was Born in Britain
  • There Were No Snakes Around for St. Patrick to Expel from Ireland
  • Leprechauns Are Likely Based on Celtic Fairies
  • The Shamrock Was Considered a Blessed Plant
  • The First St. Patrick’s Day Parade Was Held in America
  • The Irish Were Once Despised in America

Corned Beef and Cabbage Was an American Origination





Easter. – It’s bunny time again.

The holiday that’s basically a rabbit-themed excuse to eat too much chocolate.

Another year, another egg hunt. It’s the time of year when we all gather ’round to celebrate by painting hard-boiled eggs and pretending a giant bunny hops around hiding them for us.

How delightful it is to participate in a tradition that perfectly captures the true essence of… chocolate eggs and pastel-colored decorations!  Let’s not forget the excitement of searching for plastic grass in our Easter baskets. And who can resist attending a parade where we commemorate a zombie-like figure rising from the dead? Oh, Easter, the pinnacle of logical holiday observances. So, grab your bonnets and your baskets, folks, and let’s revel in the absurdity of the commercialized, bunnified, egg-centric extravaganza that is Easter.

Because nothing says “holy resurrection” like a sugar-induced coma from all that candy!

So Hallelujah and pass the chocolate bunny!                                                                         Alex

Why do British people put milk in tea?


Tea is basically made of the same plant no matter where in the world you drink it, but tea preparations vary from country to country.

While the Chinese and Japanese generally prefer their hot tea without any dairy, a splash of milk in your afternoon “cuppa” is quintessentially British. 



Britons may take milk in their tea for the flavour today, but that wasn’t the original intention.

According to Reader’s Digest, the first people to add milk to their tea were more concerned about their drinking vessels than the tea itself. In the early days, and of course today too, the British sipped tea out of delicate china cups, which were prone to cracking under intense heat of the boiling water. This was especially true of cheaper china, which was all that most people could afford. Instead of serving tea at a temperature cooler than steaming hot, they used milk to mellow it. The cold milk went into the cup first, followed by the boiling liquid, which immediately cooled down to a less-destructive state.

If you’ve ever wondered about the best way to pour your tea, adding the milk first is historically accurate. Science backs up this method as well. If you add cold milk to a hot cup of tea, the dairy will heat unevenly, which can cause the proteins to denature and clump together. This results in an unappetizing film on top of the beverage that’s likely to ruin your teatime.

Not everyone agrees that pouring milk first and tea second is the correct way to go. And of course, many tea-drinkers would not put any milk in the drink to begin with. However, at the end of the day, it is up to you!




Enjoy Yourselves!                                           Richard



Everything You Should Know About March


“March” is named for the Roman god of war, Mars. However, we think of it as the beginning of spring, as March brings the vernal equinox, the Full Worm Moon and the return of Daylight Saving Time! Here are important dates, folklore and other tips to celebrate the start of spring.

The Month of March

“March” is named for the Roman god of war, Mars. This was the time of year to resume military campaigns that had been interrupted by winter.

In the early Roman calendar, March (or Martius) was the first month of the calendar year. As March brought the first day of spring with the vernal equinox, it was the start of new beginnings.

March became the third month when January and February, which were added to the end of the Roman calendar around 700 BCE, instead became the first and second months around 450 BCE

March Calendar

  • March 8 isInternational Women’s Day, which is a day that not only celebrates the achievements of women and the progress made toward women’s rights but also brings attention to ongoing struggles for equality around the world.
  • March 10 is the start of Daylight Saving Time, which begins at 2:00 A.M. that day. If your area observes it, don’t forget to “spring forward” and set the clocks one hour ahead, or you may find yourself an hour late to everything!
  • March 10also marks the start of Ramadan, which begins at sundown. In Islam, Ramadan is considered a holy month when a month-long, sunrise-to-sunset fast is observed.
  • March 15 is the Ides of March! Legend surrounds this ill-fated day. Beware the Ides of March!
  • March 17is  Patrick’s Day. According to folklore, folks wear a shamrock on St. Patrick’s Day because the saint used its three leaves to explain the Trinity.
  • March 19 brings about the March equinox—also called the vernalor spring equinox in the Northern Hemisphere—marking the beginning of spring. In the Southern Hemisphere, this date marks the autumnal equinox and the beginning of fall. On this day, the Sun stands directly over Earth’s equator.
  • March 24is Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter and the last Sunday of Lent.
  • March 29-31 are known as the Borrowing DaysAccording to lore, the last three days of March have a reputation for being stormy.
  • March 29is Good Friday.
  • March 31 is Easter Sunday. (May 5 is Orthodox Easter.)


Folklore for the Season

  • A wet spring, a dry harvest.
  • On St. Patrick’s Day, the warm side of a stone turns up, and the broad-back goose begins to lay. 
  • March comes in with adders’ heads and goes out with peacocks’ tails.
  • Thunder in spring, Cold will bring.
  • So many mists in March you see, So many frosts in May will be.
  • In beginning or in end, March its gifts will send.
  • Bleak winds assault us all around;
    Dances aloft, or skims the ground:
    See the school-boy—his hat in hand,
    While on the path he scarce can stand

March’s birth flower is the daffodil or jonquil. The daffodil signifies regard or unrequited love. The jonquil means “I desire a return of affection.”

March’s birthstone is the aquamarine. This gem is a type of beryl; its color can be pale to dark blue, greenish-blue, or blue-green; deep, intense blue versions are more valuable.


What Season Do You Like the Best?


Based on the earth’s movement around the sun, the year is divided into four seasons: spring, summer, fall/autumn and winter. Of course, depending where you find yourself on the earth, there may be more or less of certain seasons. But are there really only four seasons? Have you ever heard of the rainy season, the Christmas season, the baseball season or the strawberry season? In addition to the usual four seasons, the word ‘season’ can be used in many different situations.

People often use season to talk about the time of year that has certain weather conditions such as the dry season or the typhoon season. Season is also used to refer to the time of year when something is available or at it is best. With bamboo shoots soon to sprout here in Japan, we could say takenoko season is coming soon. Another usage of season is for the time of year when there are certain activities or conditions. The ski season is just about over, but the cherry blossom season is just around the corner. Additionally, season is used to talk about the days surrounding a special occasion or holiday such as the Easter season. So, with the numerous options available, what season do you like the best?

Try this season quiz. Look at the pictures. What season do you think it is? The answers are below written backwards.                       Erik


gnipamc season                 euqebarb season               pilut season                   yrreb season



America’s most watched sporting event is the Super Bowl. It is what Japanese call “American Football”, but to us native Americans, just football. Over 100,000,000 fans will watch the Super Bowl this year. Some will watch for the game itself, others for the halftime show which this year will feature Usher (an iconic pop/soul singer and dancer), and still others for the entertaining commercials (my favorite was the Budweiser ad from the 80’s which had three frogs saying, “Bud…Weis…Er”). This year a 30 second commercial will cost a company about seven million dollars. The two teams playing this year come from San Francisco and Kansas City. Both are viable teams and it should be classic showdown. One interesting titbit is the story the media is all up in the arms about. One of the Kansas City players (tight end Travis Kelce) is dating (wait for it, drum roll, boom, boom, boom): Taylor Swift. Swift has been seen at numerous games cheering and dancing for her man. There has been more media coverage of this than the actual game this year. Oh, well! I just want to sit and watch a good close game. Maybe, San Fran 34 and KC 31.




orest Spirits!


Do you believe in them?         You should for they are real. 😊    If you don’t believe me just go to southern Hungary right about now and you will see them come out of the forest scaring the locals.                    There is a festival in Southern Hungary dating back to the 1700’s where people dressed into really scary customs reenact the chasing out of the occupying Turkish forces from a nearby town called Mohács. The Turks occupied part of Southern Hungary including the city of Mohács and the inhabitants escaped into the nearby forests and marshes. Then one day a forest spirit came and told them that they can drive out the enemy by scaring them to death. So, the Hungarian people who were really tired of the Turkish oppression, dressed in scary, blood-stained wooden masks and sheepskin, crossed the Danube river in boats under the cover of night – and, using self-made noise-making devices, scared the Turks so terribly that they fled the city of Mohács in a panic, terrified by the scary masqueraders. Ever since this festival, called Busójárás, is held at the beginning of February and it is quite a tourist attraction.                      Alex

UK hit with winter weather


And now, the weather report. Temperatures fell to -13C (8.6F) overnight, making it the coldest night of the winter, as waves of Arctic air continue to move across the UK.

Forecasters said it has been the coldest January night for 14 years.

Bitter conditions and significant snowfall have already forced schools to shut in Scotland and northern England, and sparked travel disruption.

Yellow warnings for ice and snow are in force in all four UK nations.

The bitter weather is expected to ease at the end of the week, before possible stormy weather this weekend.

By the end of Friday, more than 40cm of snow may be seen on high ground in north-west Scotland, as wintry weather continues, the Met Office (Meteorological Office) has forecast.

Snow, sleet and rain are expected to continue blanketing northern parts of the UK, though there will be some sunshine.

Heavy frosts and freezing conditions are likely across virtually the entire country, with experts warning of treacherous pavements and roads.

In January 2010, -22.3C (-8.14F) was recorded in the Scottish Highlands.

When the weather gets extremely cold, especially below freezing for a week or so, households that receive government benefits, in certain parts of the UK receive an automatic £25(¥4700) payment to help towards fuel bills.

Snow around the UK this week.                        Richard


Leap Year Superstitions


Our everyday calendar is an artificial medium that has been juggled with through the centuries in an effort to make it more accurate and more useful. The time it takes for the earth to rotate is 365 ¼ days but the calendar year is 365 days, hence once every four years to balance this, we have a leap year and an extra day, February 29th.

Because such years are rarer than normal years, they have become lucky omens. The 29th February itself is an especially important day. Anything started on this day is sure of success.

February 29th in the leap year of 1504 was very successful for one Christopher Columbus. The famous explorer had been marooned for several months on the small island of Jamaica. Though the island natives had initially offered food and provisions, Columbus’ arrogant and overbearing attitude had so annoyed the natives that they stopped this altogether.

Facing starvation, Columbus came up with an inspired plan. Consulting a shipboard almanac and finding that a lunar eclipse was due, he called together the native chiefs and announced to them that God would punish them if they did not supply his crew with food. And as an omen of God’s intent to punish them, there would be a sign in the sky: God would darken the Moon.

Right on cue, the lunar eclipse started. Columbus dramatically disappeared into his cabin as the natives began to panic and begged him to restore the Moon. After more than an hour, Columbus emerged from his cabin and announced that God was prepared to withdraw his punishment if the natives agreed to supply him and his crew with everything they needed. The native chiefs immediately agreed, and within minutes the Moon started emerging from shadow, leaving the natives in awe of Columbus’ power. Columbus continued to receive food and supplies until he was rescued in June 1504.

For women, February 29th can also be a very successful day, as once every four years on the 29th February they have the “right” to propose to a man.

The right of every women to propose on 29th February each leap year goes back hundreds of years when the leap year day had no recognition in English law (the day was ‘leapt over’ and ignored, hence the term ‘leap year’). It was decided that the day had no legal status, meaning that a break in tradition on this day was acceptable.

So, on this day, women can take advantage of this anomaly and propose to the man they wish to marry.

In Scotland however, to ensure success they should also wear a red petticoat under their dress – and make sure that it is partly visible to the man when they propose.

For those wishing to take advantage of this ancient tradition, 29th February is your day!


Winter English


For most people, winter is the season in which they spend the most time indoors. If this is you, what better way to use your time than expanding your understanding of English. So, pull up a chair and take some time as this blog will introduce some often-used winter/cold related idioms/expressions that will help your English knowledge grow.


the winter blues: a feeling of sadness or depression during the winter months

ex: Takeshi’s first winter in Hokkaido after moving there from Okinawa was really hard. He had the winter blues for a couple months, but now he loves winter in Hokkaido



winter wonderland: a picturesque winter scene

ex: Shirakawa-go becomes a winter wonderland whenever it snows. It is so beautiful.


to be snowed under: to be overwhelmed with things to do at work, school, etc.

ex: Sachiko really wanted to hang out with her friends over the weekend, but she couldn’t as she was snowed under with homework.




to break the ice: to create a friendlier and more relaxed atmosphere by saying or doing something at a party, meeting or in a new situation

ex: Daisuke is great at breaking the ice. He always knows what to say to people especially when he first meets them.



to give someone the cold shoulder: to treat someone in an unfriendly way or to intentionally ignore them

ex: Sumire’s friend gave her the cold shoulder at school. She said, “Hi” to him, but he didn’t talk to her at all. She didn’t know why he was doing it.




as snug as a bug in a rug: to be very warm and comfortable

ex: Mana was as sung as a bug in a rug as she laid under the kotatsu with her dog Cinnamon.



to bundle up: to dress in warm clothes

ex: Ren and Masaki’s mother made sure they bundled up before they went out to play in the snow.




Listen for these phrases in conversations and as you watch shows or movies in English, and try to use them as this is what will really help them become part of your English.







Love Your Neighbor


Well 2024 sure started off with a bang. On January 1st, as I was looking at the sports news on my phone an earthquake alert sounded off causing me to jump off the sofa. I turned on the news to find a tsunami warning for the Ishikawa area. I started praying that things would turn out to be ok as my mind drifted back to March 11, 2011 to the Great East Earthquake here in Chiba.  The next day I turned on the news to see what was happening in Ishikawa only to see footage of an airplane bursting into flames as it landed at Haneda airport. Again, I prayed and hoped that things would be alright.

As I watched the news this past week I heard stories of courage, bravery, and unselfishness displayed by Japanese in these two situations. I was amazed at how chaotic the situation was inside the airplane, yet how calm the flight attendants and passengers reacted. They really helped each other to get off a plane that was engulfed with flames. I was also amazed at the help volunteers and neighbors displayed in the earthquake hit areas. Neighbors sharing generators, kerosene, blankets, water, and food with each other as if that is how things are supposed to be. I was really moved by the kindness and generosity. It reminds of  Mark 12:31, which says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This is a great example of how we should treat others.




Winter blues


The cold weather gets you down?
Days are too short and too dark?
You don’t wanna go out, it’s freezing?
Try this one on for size: -55Celsius! Daytime! Now that is cold! If you live in Yakutsk, Siberia, Russia you can experience it all day, every day in winter. It is so cold they have heated bus stops where you can sit inside while waiting for your next ride. It is so cold they have blankets for cars. And auto-start systems installed that starts the car’s engine when the temperature inside the car drops to -5C. Outside the city they don’t have running water in the houses, waterpipes in the ground would freeze, so they do their toilet business in “outhouses”. Unheated outhouses! In Japan you have heated seats on the toilets. In Yakutsk the toilets are outside (in the countryside that is)!
Can you imagine? And yet there are people who take a bath, in that cold temperature, outdoors, in ice cold water. Now that is just crazy! So next time you think that +2C is too cold, just look at these pictures and thank your lucky stars that you live in Chiba not in Siberia. Alex

A typical Christmas Day in England


According to tradition, Christmas in England is a family event. Many people get up early, because during the night Father Christmas (or Santa Claus) has left presents for children. In Britain, Father Christmas comes into the house through the chimney and leaves his little presents in big socks (“Christmas stockings”) which children hang up on Christmas Eve, beside the fire, at the end of the bed or around the tree.


For those who respect the traditional ritual of Christmas Day, after breakfast people put on their best clothes and go to a morning service at church. After church it’s back home to eat Christmas dinner or Christmas lunch, which is eaten around 1 p.m. The two essential elements of Christmas lunch are stuffed turkey and Christmas pudding.



Christmas presents are usually unwrapped either in the morning or after lunch.

A traditional feature of Christmas afternoon is the King’s Christmas Message. At three o’clock in the afternoon, the King gives his Christmas Message to the nation which is broadcast on the radio and television.

These days, while many of the essential traditions are still very much alive and well (Christmas stockings, turkey, pudding, presents), Christmas church services attract fewer people, and new traditions have grown up. For example, watching a movie with family, going to friends or relatives’ houses, or going for a drive or a walk in the park or countryside.

Enjoy Yourselves!


The Christmas Pudding


The Tradition of the Christmas Pudding

Christmas (or Plum) Pudding is the traditional end to the British Christmas dinner. But what we think of as Christmas Pudding, is not what it was originally like!
Christmas pudding originated as a 14th century porridge called ‘frumenty’ that was made of beef and mutton with raisins, currants, prunes, wines and spices. This would often be more like soup and was eaten as a fasting meal in preparation for the Christmas festivities.
By 1595, frumenty was slowly changing into a ‘plum pudding’, having been thickened with eggs, breadcrumbs, dried fruit and given more flavor with the addition of beer and spirits. (The word ‘plum’ could also then mean dried plums like prunes and other dried fruit.) It became the customary Christmas dessert around 1650, but in 1664 the Puritans banned it as a bad custom.
In 1714, King George I re-established it as part of the Christmas meal, having tasted and enjoyed Plum Pudding. By Victorian times, Christmas Puddings had changed into something similar to the ones that are eaten today.


Christmas Puddings Superstitions and Traditions

Over the years, many superstitions have surrounded Christmas Puddings. One superstition says that the pudding should be made with 13 ingredients to represent Jesus and His Disciples and that every member of the family should take turns to stir the pudding with a wooden spoon from east to west, in honour of the Wise Men.

Although Christmas Puddings are eaten at Christmas, some customs associated with the pudding are about Easter! The decorative sprig of holly on the top of the pudding is a reminder of Jesus’ Crown of Thorns that he wore when he was killed. Brandy or another alcoholic drink is sometimes poured over the pudding and lit at the table to make a spectacular display. This is said to represent Jesus’ love and power.

In the Middle Ages, holly was also thought to bring good luck and to have healing powers. It was often planted near houses in the belief that it protected the inhabitants.

During Victorian times, puddings in big and rich houses were often cooked in fancy moulds (like jelly ones). These were often in the shapes of towers or castles. Normal people just had puddings in the shape of balls. If the pudding was a bit eavy, they were called cannonballs!      Grant


Merry Christmas


The Christmas season is upon us, and amidst the hustle and bustle of this time of year, let’s take this opportunity to remember what this season celebrates. Christmas, Christ’s mass or Christ’s festival, is the celebration of the birth of Jesus that took place a little over 2,000 years ago. Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem in Israel to common people and grew up in the rural town of Nazareth. He never went to college, never wrote a book, never traveled far from his home and never held a political office. Yet, he changed history resulting in more songs being sung to him, more books being written about him, more art featuring him and more people following him than any other person in history. At his birth, an angel declared, “I bring you good news, the most joyous news the world has ever heard! It is for everyone everywhere! For today in Bethlehem the Savior – yes, the Christ, the Lord – has been born for you.” The Bible tells us Jesus came into this world for numerous reasons which include, bringing us joy, giving us eternal life, saving us from our sins, showing us God’s love and dying for us. Here is a modern Christmas song that sings all about this, He Came with Love. While the reason for this season often gets lost, taking some time to ponder what it really is all about can give us a renewed appreciation for what we celebrate on December 25th. Merry Christmas. Erik

Hammerin’ Hank


Well, it’s time to say goodbye to the long baseball season, as the Texas Rangers and Hanshin Tigers were crowned champions in their perspective leagues. It may be also time for Shotime to say sayonara to Los Angeles as he looks for a new contract, and Yoshinobu Yamamoto to say farewell to Nippon as he makes a new start in the MLB. This season had a lot of good and bad memories (as my beloved Braves didn’t quite reach their ultimate goal of winning a championship). Probably the most iconic player in Braves history was Henry “Hank” Aaron. On April 8, 1974 he hit his 715th homerun to break the record of most homers set by Babe Ruth. There was a lot of pressure on him that year as many did not want to see him break Ruth’s record. He received numerous racist and even death threats. But he remembered as a young boy in Alabama hitting bottle caps and crushed cans with a broomstick as he didn’t have a bat and ball. “When I look back on my life, I can see that all through my childhood I was being prepared to play baseball,” he said. “Hammerin’ Hank,” swung hard, that night and hit the ball over the fence for a home run. It was the 715th homer of his career, making him baseball’s all-time homerun king. “I was in my own little world at the time,” Aaron said when circling the bases. “It was like I was running in a bubble and I could see all these people jumping up and down and waving their arms in slow motion. . . . I was told I had a big smile on my face as I came around third. I purposely never smiled as I ran the bases after a home run, but I suppose I couldn’t help it that time.” This was a memory that as an 11-year-old I will never forget. Without question, he was one of the greatest players in the history of the Atlanta Braves.


*Quotes taken from the book, Atlanta Braves by Brian Howell

Christmas Tree


Do you have one? If so which one, a green one full of colorful lights and decorations, an elegant white one with everything in similar shade or a funky, wild pink one?

Whichever is your choice, it is nice to know a bit about its history. Apparently, it originated from Germany in the 16th century when people started bringing decorated trees into their homes. Legend has it that the first lighted candle was added by Martin Luther himself, a Protestant reformer. Then it has spread slowly until in 1846 when Queen Victoria and her husband were sketched in a London newspaper standing around their tree with their children. From then on it has spread far and wide, although European trees tended to be smaller while in America they reached from floor to ceiling. Decorations varied from home ornaments in the US to apples, nuts and marzipan cookies in Germany. The wide usage of electricity also meant Christmas lights were added to trees making them glow for days on end. Of course, real trees are better than fake ones, they smell really nice, but if you can only get a fake one in Japan that’s fine too. So, spend some time decorating one with the kids, you don’t even have to believe in fairytales, and enjoy drinking eggnog, with rum if you so desire, it’d make a nice family time.                                                Alex

Part 2 of 2. Norfolk Common and Grey seals


Whether you come to Norfolk to see the seals with their pups in the winter months, or watch them basking in the sun in the summer months, this spectacle in Norfolk is an all year round activity to enjoy.





For several years now, the colonies of Common and Grey seals in Norfolk have been growing rapidly. This is very exciting, and it also means visitors have a fantastic chance to see this incredible sight for much of the year.  And whether you’ve got children with you or not, you can guarantee that you’ll love these adorable looking mammals!





But always remember to respect animals and nature!

Enjoy Yourselves!


Guy Fawkes Night Celebrations (November 5th)


Every year on November 5, skies across England, Scotland and Wales are illuminated by fireworks as Brits head out into the night to enjoy Guy Fawkes Night celebrations.
Also called Fireworks Night or Bonfire Night, this autumn tradition has been a staple of the British calendar for the past 400 years.
Kids in English schools grew up reciting the nursery rhyme “Remember, remember / The fifth of November / Gunpowder, treason and plot.” But for those outside the UK, this rather unusual holiday’s rather unusual origin story may be a bit of a mystery.
Who was Guy Fawkes?

An illustration of Guy Fawkes and the other men behind the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

Guy Fawkes, sometimes known as Guido Fawkes, was one of several men arrested for attempting to blow up London’s Houses of Parliament on November 5, 1605. Fawkes and company were Catholics and hoped this act of terrorism would spark a Catholic revolution in Protestant England.
England had been a Catholic country until Tudor King Henry VIII founded the Church of England. In the aftermath, Catholics were forced to practice their faith in secret.
While Fawkes became the face of Bonfire Night, it was another plotter, Robert Catesby, who masterminded the idea. But Fawkes was an explosives expert, and he was the one who got caught under the Houses of Parliament next to the stash of gunpowder, hence his notoriety.
Catesby, Fawkes and their co-conspirators were imprisoned in the Tower of London and subsequently tortured and killed publicly.
Following the thwarted plot, Londoners lit bonfires in celebration, and then-King James I passed an act of law designating November 5 a day of national remembrance.
As the century rolled on, people started burning effigies of the pope on bonfires on November 5. In time, effigies of Fawkes replaced the pope.

From the late 19th century onward, the religious overtones of November 5 dampened, and the act of law designating it a day of remembrance was repealed.
Still, bonfires and celebrations continued. It became a common sight to see kids trawling English streets with their homemade Guy Fawkes effigy, knocking on doors and asking for a “penny for the guy,” a kind of Bonfire Night-themed trick-or-treat.


Thanksgiving Day


The fourth Thursday in November, Thanksgiving Day, is a national holiday in the United States. The origin of Thanksgiving Day is said to have been in 1621 when the Plymouth Colony settlers and the Wampanoag native Americans shared a meal celebrating the harvest.

While George Washington, the first president of the United States, said in 1789 that there should be “a day of public thanksgiving and thanks,” it wasn’t until 1863 in the midst of the Civil War that Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday. He said the day should be, “A day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union.”

While Thanksgiving Day is celebrated once a year, it is good for us to always be thankful as when we are thankful, complaining, dissatisfaction and unhappiness disappear. It is good for our souls. So, what are you thankful for?                                                                                                         Erik

Altamaha-ha – Serpent of the Altamaha River in Georgia


We probably all know of the story about Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster. But did you know there is also a Southern folklore about another reclusive creature? It is found along the Altamaha River in southeastern Georgia in the U.S. This river is made up of many islands, marshes, channels, canals, ponds, and old rice fields which all make for good hiding places. The Altamaha-ha is said to have a long slender body, lack of scales, and five rows of bony plates running the length of the body, including a bony ridge on its top. With front flippers and no back limbs, it swims like a dolphin and has the nose of a crocodile, with large, bulging eyes and large sharp teeth. Its coloring is said to be gray or green. Reports indicate that it is 20-30 feet long. There have many sightings by local fishermen, hunters, Boy Scouts, residents, and even a ship’s captain through the years. The creature is said to be shy but did rock a few boats when surprised. There have been a few fuzzy photos taken but so far no one has been able to catch it. So, if you are ever in Georgia near the Altamaha River, keep a look out, you just might be surprised.





The ultimate freedom to go anywhere, anytime you desire.  Whether you are in a mighty German super sedan or in a Japanese econobox, it’s a fantastic feeling to take to the open road and explore the countryside. At this time of the year it’s probably best to visit the mountains where fall colors can be fully appreciated. Changing of the leaves is a beautiful sight to see whether you are in an Ultimate Driving Machine (BMW), a The Best or Nothing (Mercedes Benz) or in a There is No Substitute (Porsche). Ideally, you would pick a ride with a manual transmission to fully enjoy those twisty mountain roads and hairpins that zig-zag the Japanese countryside. If you happened to be in a Kei-car, well it’s not that bad either as long as you have a decent stereo to play some catchy tunes to mask the sound of the overworked engine.

So, dust off that driver’s license, rent a car if you have to, and enjoy some fresh air and colorful foliage this long weekend.  Take some pictures while you are at it.Which car would you choose? I know my pick….

Of course, if you can’t afford one of the Germans, you can always don a t-shirt with their logo.


Norfolk Common and Grey seals. Part 1 of 2.


Norfolk, on the east coast of England, in autumn has the most amazing wildlife, but a real draw to this county, is the seals and their pups.

The Common and Grey seals are without a doubt an incredible sight and one that you must see when you are in Norfolk.

The seals don’t really start pupping until the winter months (November to February), however, they do start to come onto the beaches before that (the blobs in the photo above are seals on the beach!).  There are two places in Norfolk where you can see these incredible creatures.  One is on the North Norfolk Coast at Blakeney Point, the other is at Horsey.


During September and October, you are, of course, free to walk on the beach at Horsey, but from November onwards there are restrictions where you are allowed to go. However, there is a viewing area put in place so that you can view the seals without disturbing them.


To be continued…


A short history of Halloween


Halloween is a holiday celebrated each year on October 31, and Halloween 2023 will occur on Tuesday, October 31. The tradition originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints. Soon, All Saints Day incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween. Over time, Halloween evolved into a day of activities like trick-or-treating, carving jack-o-lanterns, festive gatherings, donning costumes and eating treats.                                                                                                                                       Grant

Why Is October Not the 8th Month?


What do October, octopus and octagon have in common? They all begin with “octo(a)” meaning “8” in Latin and Greek.

While an octagon is an eight-sided shape, and an octopus has eight arms, October is the tenth month. Why is it not the eighth month? To find the answer we must journey back to the ancient Roman Empire. At that time, the Roman calendar had 10 months. The months were Martius (March), Aprilis (April), Maius (May), Lunius (June), Quintilis (5th month), Sextilis (6th month), September (7th month), October (8th month), November (9th month) and December (10th month). While the first four months were named for Roman gods, the last six simply had the number in the name. With more understanding of the solar year, the calendar was adjusted with two months, Ianuarius (January) and Februarius (February), being added to the beginning of the year resulting in October becoming the tenth month.

Additionally, Quintilis, now the 7th month, was renamed Julius (July) in honor of Julius Caesar and Sextilis, now the 8th month, was renamed Augustus (August) in honor of Emperor Augustus).

A note to help increase your understating of English, when you see the prefixes “quint” or “penta’ meaning 5, “sext” or “hexa” meaning 6, “sept” or “hepta” meaning 7, “octo” meaning 8, “nona” meaning 9, or “deca” or (deci) meaning 10 at the beginning of a word, it could be telling you that word is associated with that number. Woman gives birth to septuplets in a first known case in Iraq.


Here Comes the Boom


The college football season in the US is now in full effect. Of course, being from Savannah, Georgia I am a huge University of Georgia fan. Georgia has one of the most iconic mascots in all of college sports. It is a white English bulldog. The current line of bulldogs started in 1956. The first bulldog was given to Sonny Seiler as a wedding present. Since then there have been eleven bulldogs who have served as the official mascot. The bulldog’s  name is UGA (pronounced uh-gah). UGA is present at all home games, many away games and even some bowl games. UGA even has his own air-conditioned doghouse. He wears a spiked collar and red sweater with the letter G on it. This years UGA is new (his name before becoming the official UGA was Boom) and he will be there at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia to “bark on” the DAWGS to victory. On a sad note UGA’s owner Sonny Seiler died in August 2023 at the age of 90. He will be remembered as a “Good Dawg”.


Wine – the drink of gods.


Autumn is here and so is grape harvesting, the first step in the process that produces a drink that is fit for the gods: wine. Do you know how grape turns into wine? It’s not that complicated actually however one needs a lot of experience to get it right. The (very) basic process is as follows: you start with picking the grapes, then you crush them to release their juice (see pic on the right, doing it the old-fashioned way). Next store the grape juice, it’s actually called stum at this point, in a suitable container, ideally oak barrels or stainless-steel containers. Then you wait until most of the sugar present in the grape juice turns into alcohol via natural fermentation. You may add yeast to aid the process. Then you bottle it and there you have it, new wine. Of course, there are an infinite number of small steps that will affect the taste of the final product, such as the actual pressing process, controlling the stum (grape juice after pressing), adding of sugar or sulfur, filtering the wine, storing temperature, etc, etc. Nevertheless, if it’s done right you’ll have a wonderful drink that, in small quantities, is actually good for health.

“Never trust a man who doesn’t drink because he’s usually afraid of something deep down inside, either that he is a coward or a fool or mean and violent.” — James Crumley


National Teddy Bear Day


Teddy Bear Day is celebrated on the 9th September every year. This is a day to appreciate the companionship that your Teddy Bear gives you. So, bring out your beloved bear and give it a hug.

The teddy bear is one of the most popular toys for children, and holds a special place in many adults’ hearts, too. This lovable stuffed animal has a day all of its own, National Teddy Bear Day.

This day is an ideal time to get together with others for a teddy bear’s favorite activity, having a picnic, as immortalized in the classic song, ‘Teddy Bear’s Picnic.’ This was written in 1907, shortly after teddy bears were first manufactured in Europe and America.

The American toy bears were named Teddy, in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt, who had refused to shoot a small captured bear on a hunting trip.

Many teddy bears have become famous over the years, including Paddington Bear, which is my favourite, Rupert Bear, Pudsey Bear and, of course, Winnie the Pooh.



Can you name any famous bears?


The first day of fall marks the autumn equinox, which is different from a solstice


Information from Ayana Archie

Fall starts on a day officially known as the autumn equinox.
Both equinoxes and solstices only happen twice a year — the first days of fall and spring are equinoxes, while the first days of summer and winter are solstices.
How are they different?

What is an equinox?
On the day of an equinox, the Earth is tilting neither toward or away from the sun, and therefore receives almost an equal amount of daylight and darkness, according to the National Weather Service.
At places along the equator, the sun is directly overhead at about noon on these days. Day and night appear to be equal due to the bending of the sun’s rays, which makes the sun appear above the horizon when it is actually below it.
During an equinox, days are slightly longer in places with higher latitudes. At the equator, daylight may last for about 12 hours and seven minutes. But at a place with 60 degrees of latitude, such as Alaska’s Kayak Island, a day is about 12 hours and 16 minutes.

What is a solstice?
On the day of a solstice, the Earth is at its maximum tilt, 23.5 degrees, either toward or away from the sun.
During a summer solstice, the sun is directly above the Tropic of Cancer in the Northern Hemisphere and is tilting toward the sun, causing the longest day of the year. It is winter in the Southern Hemisphere, where the Earth is tilting away from the sun.
Likewise, a winter solstice happens in the Northern Hemisphere when the hemisphere is tilting away from the sun, making it the day with the least amount of sunlight. The sun is above the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere, making it summer there.


Changed My Mind


When I was growing up sometimes for dinner my mom served Brussels sprouts. I hated them. They were a small bitter slimy cabbage like vegetable. I refused to eat them. I tried to give them to the dog, but he just walked away. My mom being smarter than my six-year self, suggested that if I ate them I could  get to watch thirty extra minutes of cartoons that night.  “I changed my mind”, as I grudgingly gobbled them down and drinking two full glasses of milk in the process.

In todays world there are a lot of things going wrong. The weather, economy and many other things are all bad according to the media. But how about if we just changed our minds. A lot recently has been talked about “mental health”. But sometimes this has become negative as it focuses on selfishness and what I feel. How about just focusing on the positives like being thankful for the things in our lives, and thinking of others. I was taught to reflect on love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.  We can transform ourselves by the renewing of our minds to do what is good.


Festive Summer Traditions From Around The World


The Best Summer Celebrations Across The Planet


In Fairbanks, Alaska, which is far enough north that it experiences a period of complete daylight during the summer, you can experience the Midnight Sun Game, a late-night baseball game that’s been held for more than a century. The tradition began in 1906 as a bet between two bars following a big fire that ravaged downtown Fairbanks.



Australia might be the country that’s most famous for its barbecue culture (or should we say: barbie), but Aussies have a thing for picnics during the summer — so much so that the first Monday of August has become a government-sanctioned picnic holiday in Northern Australia. This day was first designated to celebrate the emancipation of Chinese railway workers in Australia.



Various towns throughout Spain observe midsummer with bonfires and fireworks, but the most famous and idiosyncratic of Spain’s summer celebrations is La Tomatina, which is when people in the town of Buñol get a little rowdy and pelt each other with tomatoes. Held in August, La Tomatina often attracts tens of thousands of participants who are willing to wear the season’s juiciest produce literally on their sleeves.



Are You Speaking English?


Did you know that English speakers sometimes have difficulty understanding each other? Having worked with and gotten to know people from different English-speaking countries while living here in Japan, I have been exposed to a few of the many English dialects. English dialects differ between countries and also regions within countries just like in Japan. English dialects differ in pronunciation, word usage, grammar and spelling. To those not accustomed to a certain dialect, it can seem like the other person is not speaking correct English or in some cases, English at all. This happened to me when I took my first trip out of the U.S. I went to the U.K. with my family to visit some relatives who live near London. At the airport in London, an airport worker asked me, “Are you here on holiday?” To this I answered, “No, I’m here on vacation.” The airport worker chuckled, and my father quickly informed me that “holiday” meant “vacation” in the U.K. So, what caused the confusion? It was a different understanding of the word “holiday”. Below is a chart that explains the differences.                                                                                         Erik


                                   What to use? Holiday or Vacation

 Holiday in the USA                                                 Holiday in the UK

 A single day when banks, schools                            A time when we do not go to school

 and offices are closed.                                            or work, and can travel or relax.

The holidays                                                           Vacation in the UK

The time that includes Christmas,                             A period of the year when universities

Hanukkah and the New Year.                                    are officially closed for the students.

 Vacation in the USA

 A time when we do not go to school

 or work and can travel or relax

A sport for summer


Water polo. Have you heard of it?Hopefully you have as it’s a great game for summer and it was one of the sports played in Fukuoka during the World Aquatics Championships last month. Water, swimming, a ball and fun. You could call it team-handball in a pool, I suppose. On a professional level it is extremely demanding as it is played in a pool that’s about 2 meter-deep, so the players’ feet never touch the bottom. The players are strong, powerful, great swimmers with exceptional endurance as the game is played over four quarters, each lasting 8 minutes. It doesn’t sound too long until you realize that they constantly thread water to stay afloat, while swimming, shooting, passing and fighting off opponents. Japan is getting better at it, both the men’s and the women’s team. The men’s team moved from 14th in 2008 to 9th in 2023 and the women rose from 17th in 2008 to 8th in 2023 in world ranking. No small feat when playing against the best teams in the world, such as Hungary, Spain, and Serbia on the men’s side and Hungary, the US and Spain on the women’s side  (current world ranking). Why don’t you watch some games the Japanese teams played, on Youtube for instance, and see if it something that would interest you. And if you can, try to watch underwater footage to see the incredible, and often very painful, action that goes on below the surface.                                    Alex

Summer in England. Norfolk beaches.


Norfolk, on the east coast of England, is a great place to enjoy the long and sometimes hot days of the great British summer. The gentle undulating ground is very fertile and therefore rich in plant and wildlife. You will see many wild flowers, ancient woodland and some rare species of butterfly and birds.

Norfolk’s beaches are a great place at any time of the year, but especially in summer. There are miles upon miles of golden sandy beaches for you to discover. In fact, it’s one of the few places in England, that you can still find a quiet secluded beach, even in August!

Norfolk has some of the best and most beautiful beaches in England and are little known about. Here are some hidden gems.


Titchwell, which is actually best known as a RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) nature reserve.

Scolt Head Island, is a National Nature Reserve. An island of this type is called a sandbar. It’s 4 miles long and near mud flats, wide sandy beaches, salt marshes and sear grass.


Snettisham, is a beach that is very near to King Charles III summer house in Sandringham. You can have beautiful walks along this beach.

Cart Gap, a quiet beach but with great facilities.

Weybourne Hope, this is a pebble beach so there is no sand. However, you can still have a nice experience walking along the beach and on the clifftops. It is a very peaceful beach. Fishing is popular here, especially you can see fisherman bringing in mackerel.

Other beaches along England’s Norfolk coast.


Watermelon Culture Shock


Whenever we encounter a new culture, there is the possibility that we may have some culture shock. Culture shock is the feeling of confusion, disappointment, or surprise about something when someone visits a country or place that they do not know. When I first came to Japan, I had a number of culture shock moments, but there is one that comes to my mind whenever I think about buying a watermelon.

In the summer of my first year in Japan, I was invited to a barbeque and was asked to either bring drinks, a watermelon or paper plates, napkins, chopsticks, etc. I thought it would be easiest to get the watermelon, so I volunteer to pick one up. On the day of the barbeque, I went to the supermarket and found myself wishing I had not volunteered to buy one. I was having culture shock. The watermelon I needed to buy was ¥3,000 (this was in 1998). I couldn’t believe it. ¥3,000 for a watermelon! Watermelons are supposed to be cheap. I was expecting to pay around ¥500 as they were less than $5 in my hometown in the U.S. at that time. Despite not wanting to, I bought the watermelon. The barbeque was a lot of fun, but in the back of my mind, I was still having culture shock over how much I spent on that watermelon.                                    Erik




Grab your flip-flops, a towel and a bottle of sunscreen  and head out to the beach. You don’t need much more to enjoy the best beaches on the East Coast; they’re some of the best beaches in America. Just keep an eye on the kids and let them build sandcastles while you throw out a line to fish or lounge under your hat with the latest bestseller. While these Atlantic beaches are family-friendly, they also have lots of adult appeal. Some offer galleries and eateries to explore, others shopping at high-end shops and enjoying fine dining. According to these are the 10 most beautiful east coast beaches:

10 Flagler Beach, Florida

9 Surfside Beach, Nantucket, Massachusetts

8 Huntington Beach, South Carolina

7 Ocean City Beach, Maryland.

6 Race Point Beach In Cape Cod, Massachusetts

5 Ocracoke Lifeguard Beach, North Carolina

4 Siesta Beach, Florida

3 Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

2 Bethany Beach, Delaware

1 Cape May Beach, New Jersey

But I don’t think any of them match to the beauty of Tybee Island, Georgia where I lived for a couple of summers during high school. Remember, life’s too short to not enjoy the beach.




Grand Living


Grand Living.

It must be nice to be a king. Or a queen.

Would you like to try? You can and you don’t even need to be “blue blood”.

All you need is a couple of free days and a ticket to “Old-Europe” to feel like a royal, even if only for a day or two. East-European country-sides are dotted with nobles’ castles converted into hotels where the experience is luxurious yet charming, elegant and historic at the same time. You can truly enjoy beautiful architecture, antique furnishings and feasts fit for a king or queen. And if you are really lucky you might even meet with one of the pervious owners’ ghost in the corridors after midnight There are many styles from baroque to renaissance, from hunting castle to elegant palace. So, save up a bit of money, choose a style of your liking and you can experience what must have been a truly grand living all those centuries ago.

Yes, these are all hotels, which do you fancy?

As for me, I’m going to stay in the castle in the top left corner this summer. Do you envy me?      Alex

Why not take a trip on the Norfolk Broads this summer?


The lakes, known as The Norfolk Broads, in the east of England (East Anglia) were formed by the flooding of peat workings many years ago. The area is 303 square kilometres (117 square miles), most of which is in Norfolk, with over 200 kilometres (120 miles) of navigable waterways. There are seven rivers and 63 broads, mostly less than 4 metres (13 feet) deep. Thirteen broads are generally open to navigation, with a further three having navigable channels. Some broads have navigation restrictions imposed on them in autumn and winter.

The area attracts all kinds of visitors, including ramblers, artists, anglers, and birdwatchers as well as people “messing about in boats”. There are a number of companies hiring boats for leisure use, including both yachts and motor launches. The Norfolk wherry, the traditional cargo craft of the area, can still be seen on the Broads as some specimens have been preserved and restored. The Norfolk Broads are a hive of natural wildlife



The Norfolk Broads…………enjoy yourselves!!!                 Richard

British Folklore


Windsor Castle



Hector Bolitho, writing in 1943, reported sightings of two royal ghosts in Windsor Castle, the first being Elizabeth I:

As recently as a quarter of a century ago (c. 1918), a Guards officer was reading quietly in the Castle library one evening, near the part which survived from Elizabeth’s gallery, and he claimed afterwards that he had seen her ghost passing quietly before him. He did not know until afterwards that this was one of the few parts of the Castle which she had built and decorated.


The second story concerns George III, who during the years of his ‘madness’ spent some time confined to a suite of rooms in the castle and used to enjoy looking from the windows towards the Thames. Whenever sentries patrolling the terrace below looked up and saw him there, they would salute, and the king would raise his hand in acknowledgement.


Long after George III died, the sentry on the terrace looked up at the window one evening and saw a hand parting the curtains. The ghost of George III looked down at the soldier, and a pale hand was raised to the salute. The curtains fell back and the terrified soldier ran to his companion on the East Terrace. Soldiers came to hate their vigil on the North Terrace, for the ghost appeared again and again, until the death of William IV when the Hanoverian regime ended and the ghost apparently retired into tranquillity.



A Flower Teaches English


A Flower Teaches English

While most people do not enjoy the rainy season, the hydrangea that bloom this time of year are truly something to look forward to. With Sogosando Temple and Tako Town having impressive displays, these wet weather loving plants can easily be enjoyed locally.

Aside from being beautiful, hydrangea can also teach English. Looking at the word ‘hydrangea’, we see that it starts with ‘hydra’ which is a variation of ‘hydro’ which means ‘water’ in Ancient Greek. Knowing this, anytime we see a word that has ‘hydra’ or ‘hydro’ we understand that it has something to do with water. Have you ever taken a hydrofoil from Tokyo to Oshima? Have you ever visited the hydropower plant at Kurobe Dam? How often do you drink something to keep yourself hydrated? Thanks to hydrangea, we now have a greater understanding of English.            Erik

Summer Camp


One of my favorite things about summer was working at summer camp while I was in college. I enjoyed sleeping in a tent all summer and enjoying all the activities that I got to do with the kids and teens. I enjoyed swimming, zip-lining, canoeing, and hiking. It was great to see God’s creation away from the real world. The stars were so bright outside the city and I loved the summer sounds of frogs croaking and crickets singing. My favorite summer camp was Haluwasa (Halleluiah What A Savior) which is in southern New Jersey. I worked there about 7 years in various roles. I sometimes wish I could go back and enjoy another summer away from the hustle and bustle of the real world. Here are a couple of photos to get you interested in summer camp at Haluwasa.


One cube.


One cube.

43,252,003,274,489,856,000 possibilities.

One solution.

Can you solve it? It’s been almost exactly 50 years since Hungarian professor of architecture Ernő Rubik invented the puzzle, in 1974, that captured the imagination of millions of people around the world. To date about 450 million of the colorful little cube has been sold and it is as popular as ever. Have you ever tried to solve it? It’s a deceptively simple object yet it can be frustratingly difficult to solve. According to his own admission it takes Mr. Rubik about a minute to do. The current world record is 3.67 seconds! That is just incredible! My time is embarrassingly slow, no need to put in writing.  If you don’t have it why don’t you buy one so you can be part of the millions of people who enjoy playing with it. I first learned to solve it in high school but still find myself playing with it when I am bored or stressed. I suggest you give it a swirl.            Alex

Sandringham in Bloom, Norfolk, England.


Sandringham Estate in North Norfolk remains the private summer house and country retreat to Their Majesties King Charles III and The Queen Consort.

This year it is hosting a new event, “Sandringham in Bloom,” which will showcase all things flora and fauna. The celebrations will take place in all areas of the House, Gardens, and facilities at the Courtyard for nine days in June.



There will be live music, expert advice from gardeners, and a gin bar in the Gardens on weekends. As part of this event, the Queen Elizabeth II Floral Coronation Robe will be on display at Sandringham House. The Queen Elizabeth II Floral Coronation Robe from Salisbury Cathedral will form part of the displays inside Sandringham House. Made by a team of 24 floral arrangers the Robe is a combination of Pampas Grass, Ruscus Leaves, Ferns and Helichrysum Flowers.


Sandringham in Bloom

Enjoy Yourselves!                            Richard

English May Day Celebrations


Morris Dancing

Morris dancing is a traditional English form of folk dance which is also performed in other English-speaking countries such as the USA and Australia. The roots of Morris dancing seem to be very old, probably dating back to the Middle Ages. From around April and through the green summer months troupes of Morris Dancers adorned with ribbons will be seen in market towns and on village greens up and down the land. You are especially likely to see them performing their medieval dances to the click clack of their sticks and the sound of bells, pipes, and drums, around the month of May.

In the dance men dress up in costumes with hats and ribbons and bells around their ankles. They dance through the streets and one man often carries an inflated pig’s bladder on the end of a stick. He will run up to young women in the street and hit them over the head with the pig’s bladder, this is supposed to be lucky!


What Did I Just Eat?


One of the great things about traveling is the new experiences you get to have. However, some of these experiences can leave you greatly surprised, and I had such an experience my very first morning in Japan.

I awoke to a new world and went in search of breakfast. No supermarkets were open, and I had not yet learned how convenient convenience stores are in this country. Near where I was staying was a bakery/donut shop, so I went inside and found a wide range of baked goods. I picked out a sausage roll, an egg sandwich and a donut. Usually, when I have something sweet with a meal, I eat the sweet item last. I finished the first two items and took a bite of the donut expecting sweetness but received a shock when I tasted something completely unexpected. It was curry bread not the sweet jam filled donut I was expecting. While I enjoy curry bread now, at that moment, it was not tasty at all.

In English there are a couple of sayings for this situation, “Looks can be deceiving,” and “Never judge a book by its cover.” These can be used when talking about something or someone being different from what you first thought.                                                                                                         Erik

The Curious Case Of Sidd Finch


The WBC and spring training are finished (and what a great WBC it was for Otani and Samurai Japan), so it is now time to play ball for MLB. Growing up in Georgia it was always the Atlanta Braves who interested the fans down South. I remember in the 1980’s rooting for Dale Murphy, Bob Horner, and the great Phil “Knucksie” Niekro who was known for his famous knuckleball pitch. There was a story that came out on April 1, 1985 from the New York Mets training camp that was written in Sports Illustrated about a rather peculiar pitcher. His name was Sid Finch, and legend was that he could throw a ball 158 mph (270 kph). He was said to have spent time in Tibetan monastery  learning how focus and learn his inner chi.  He would spend hours doing yoga and playing the French horn. He was very reclusive and would practice in secret away from his teammates. One afternoon he gave an audition to his manager and a couple of players. He came out of the dugout with his hat turned backwards, wearing a heavy work boot on one foot, and the other one was barefoot. He threw straight-armed looking like a catapult. The radar gun said 158 mph as the catcher yelped in pain. Everyone was astonished by what they saw and the rumors spread throughout the club. It seemed too good to be true. And in reality, it was. This story was simply an April Fool’s joke gone well.


The Black Shuck. Part 3 of 3.



Apparently, sightings of The Black Shuck have been reported ever since that first lightning crack. The first being written down in 1850.Such as people describe having seen a massive black shaggy dog, with fiery red eyes and who visits churchyards at midnight.

It is said, that seeing The Black Shuck could be an omen of death or, some people say that it is, a sociable and friendly beast.

The most recent sighting occurring in 1945.


So,if your travels ever take you to Suffolk in East Anglia……………, WATCH OUT for storms!!!










The final frontier.

Beautiful, isn’t it? When you look up in the dark sky and see those beautiful twinkling lights, do you ever wonder what’s it like to be up there, all alone, just you and the millions of stars? Well, some people have experienced that feeling, they are called cosmonauts. And not only humans, animals did too. The first animal that went into space and into orbit around the Earth was Laika, a dog. It was followed by the first man, Yuri Gagarin, he was only 27 years old. Next, the first and youngest woman on a solo mission was Valentina Tereshkova. She was even younger than Gagarin, only 26 when she blasted off. Do you know what all three of them have in common…? They were all Russians.

In fact, the first man-made object in space was also Russian, called Sputnik, (or Companion). And the first man-made object landing on, more like crashing into, the moon was also Russian made, Luna 2. So sometime in the far future, when humans will have colonized the galaxy, they can thank those brave Russians who risked their lives for all of humanity’s future.



The differences between British and American spelling



Generally speaking, most English words are spelt the same in American and British English. However, there are some notable spelling differences.

Listed below are just some examples of spelling differences you may encounter:

-our (British) vs. -or (American) 

  • Examples: colour vs. color, armour vs. armor, flavour vs. flavor


-ise or -ize (British) vs. only -ize (American)

  • Examples: apologise vs. apologize, fantasise vs. fantasize, idolise vs. idolize


-yse (British) vs. –yze (American)

  • Examples: analyse vs. analyze, paralyse vs. paralyze


Doubling the L in a verb conjugation (British) vs. keeping the single L (American)

  • Examples:travelled vs. traveled, labelling vs. labeling


AE (British) vs. E (American)

  • Examples:leukaemia vs. leukemia, paediatrics vs. pediatrics


-ence (British) vs. -ense (American)

  • Examples: defence vs. defense, licence vs. license


only -ogue (British) vs. -og or -ogue (American)

  • Examples:catalogue vs. catalog, dialogue vs. dialog


-re (British) vs. -er (American)

  • Examples:metre vs. meter, centre vs. center


-t (British) vs. -ed (American)

  • Examples:burnt vs. burned, dreamt vs. dreamed, leapt vs. leaped


In addition, some specific words are spelt differently in American and British English. Some examples include airplane (American) and aeroplane (British), gray (American) and grey (British), and tire (American) and tyre (British).  



Did You Know the Date of Easter Changes Every Year?


Easter this year is on April 9, but last year it fell on April 17, and next year it will be on March 31. So, why does Easter’s date change every year? It is because the date of Easter is dependent on two things. The first is that Easter always come after the Vernal Equinox which is usually March 20, 21 or 22. The other is the full moon. So, to figure out the date of Easter, just remember that Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox. That is why the date changes every year.

For many people, Easter is a time of cute rabbits, eggs and flowers as the new life of spring is celebrated. For many others, it is a time when the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is celebrated. In many churches around the world, the pastor says on Easter Sunday morning, “Jesus is risen,” and the people say, “He is risen indeed.” This fact has changed many lives, including mine, as we have found the new life and the peace that comes in personally knowing Jesus Christ.      Erik

The Masters


Spring is in the air. It is getting warmer and the flowers are blooming. Spring was my favorite season when I was growing up. Probably the main reason is my birthday is in March. Growing up in Augusta, Georgia the Masters Golf Tournament was always a favorite event in the spring. With the lush green fairways and the pastels of the azalea and dogwood blossoms, Augusta National is always a remainder of how colorful spring is. I remember watching with my dad when I was a kid, as Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson would battle it out for the coveted “green jacket”. Hideki Matsuyama was the champion in 2021, becoming the first Japanese player to win a major on the PGA tour. Who will win this year? Tune in to TBS TV to find out.   Rick

The City of Canals


Have you ever wondered why people would build a city over a bunch of islands?

118 islands to be exact?

Well, one good reason would be to escape an army of horseman led by the Scourge of God himself aka (also known as) Attila the Hun.

Perhaps you have heard of him in your history class. His ancient Hunnic empire stretched from central Asia all the way across to modern-day France with its headquarters in Pannonia, in today’s Hungary.

He had such a terrible reputation in most of Europe, especially in the Roman Empire, that when he invaded modern day Italy from the north in the year of 452 people from cities in his army’s path fled into the marshes to escape the attack and this has led to the founding of modern-day Venice, also called The City of Canals.

So, the next time you have the good fortune of visiting this beautiful city you might want to remember this little tidbit.

I did and told this story to my son when we were standing on the Rialto Bridge in Venice.

His name is Attila.



The Black Shuck. Part 2 of 3.


The Black Shuck according to legend, first appeared in the summer of 1577 when a horrible storm shook the town of Bungay, Suffolk.

The locals people took refuge in the church, when, suddenly a massive crack of lightning caused the doors of the church to burst open, and, in the middle of the church…. a massive ghostly black dog appeared.

It had flaming red eyes like the devil. It attacked anyone who crossed its path. Before it disappeared and moved on to a nearby town, where it began all over again.


To be continued………



“Little Molly”, The Pig Born With Wings


(Actual photo of “Little Molly”) Image courtesy of www.


Don’t believe that pigs can fly? Well think again.

According to Mark Miller, who is a journalist, humorist and author on, thanks to genetic modification, pigs can fly.

In a groundbreaking development at the Veterinary Sciences Division at Queens University Belfast, Ireland, research specialist Dr. Kevin O’Farrell has successfully combined the DNA of a pig and an eagle to create a flying pig, or a “peagle,” as O’Farrell has dubbed the new critter.

O’Farrell was jubilant as “the little porker, Molly, began flapping her wings and straight away flew out of the laboratory, down the hallway and out the front door!”

Belfast citizens were shocked. “I couldn’t believe my eyes,” exclaims waitress Catherine Cassidy. “That white and brown pig passed right overhead, and fast, too, making both pig and eagle sounds! I nearly wet myself!”

Shoe repair store owner, Gilbert Fitzpatrick, was just leaving his shop when “both pig and bird poop fell from above to the street in front of me. I looked up, saw a small pig with wings flying overhead, and made a vow right then and there to give up drinking!” Fortunately, an Irish Air Corps jet was able to intercept and safely capture the peagle, and then return it safely to O’Farrell.



Is There Such a Thing as Bad Weather?


All of us have experienced some plan being disrupted by bad weather. We were planning to go out, but it rained, so we stayed at home. We were out, but then the weather was too cold, so we went inside. Bad weather is a nuisance, but what if there was no bad weather? How wonderful that would be! Our plans would never be ruined by the weather.

In the Scandinavian countries of Sweden and Norway, the people don’t let the bad weather ruin their plans. In fact, for these people there is no such thing as bad weather. That’s right! Swedes and Norwegians say, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” In Swedish and Norwegian, the words for “weather” rhyme with the words for “clothes” giving this saying a singsong feel.

So, the next time the weather looks like it might disrupt your plans, just remember, the weather is not the problem, the problem is your clothes.


Climbing a mountain.



Have you ever climbed a mountain?

Why would you want to, you ask? But of course, because it’s there! So, why not give it a try? Mt. Fuji is right there, ready for the taking. Just strap on a pair of hiking boots, grab some rain gear, just in case, and off you go. Pick a sunny, mid-summer day and enjoy the great outdoors.

It is exactly what Yuchiro Miura did, however his mountain of choice was not Mt. Fuji, rather the highest mountain in the world, Mt. Everest! And the man wasn’t some wide-eyed teenager either, the last time he climbed Mt. Everest, the last time because he had reached the summit not once, not twice but three times!, he was at the ripe age of 80 years and 224 days. Which makes him the oldest person to have ever climbed the mountain. The first time he reached the summit he was 70, the second time he did it he was 75 and the last time he climbed, in 2013, he was over 80! That is an achievement probably never to be bested.  So, the next time you are facing some difficulty and are ready to give up just think of Mr. Miura, let him be your guiding example of grit, will and perseverance.



The Black Shuck. Part 1 of 3


With it being Setsubun season in Japan and the time to keep evil spirits away; I will share with you a tail of evil that existed (or still exists) near my hometown in England a long long time ago.

This is the story, myth or even legend of folklore……… of The Black Shuck.

The Black Shuck, is said to roam the coastline and countryside of East Anglia.

The Black Shuck is the name given to a ghostly mysterious shape with fiery eyes and of immense size, and who visits churchyards at midnight.

To be continued…………


Love Is In the Air


                                                                         In the land where people give chocolates to everyone (spouses, family, co-workers, and even teachers) Valentine’s Day can be very confusing in Japan. In the US couples usually give flowers, a nice box of chocolates, or even jewelry to their sweetheart. Children give a card and candy hearts to each other in kindergarten or elementary school. I recall my first year in Japan when a co-worker gave me some chocolates and I was thinking, “does she like me?” It took a little a research to understand it was just an appreciation gift. But what is love? Some people say it is a feeling. I believe it has more to do with uncompromising acceptance of another person. I believe, “ Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.” Happy Valentine’s Day!!


What is Boxing Day and where is it celebrated?


クリスマス翌日のボクシング・デーとは? 歴史や背景など | DMM ...

The name “Boxing Day” came from the boxes placed in churches for the collection of donations for those in need. On December 26, clergy members of the church would take these boxes and give the donations and food to the poor in honour of the feast of St. Stephen, a Christian martyr known for kindness and charitable acts. St. Stephen holds so much significance that in Ireland, Boxing Day is referred to as St. Stephen Day. Boxing Day is associated with the United Kingdom. Other countries that celebrate it are part of the commonwealth, the nations that used to be British colonies. So, residents from the United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand widely observe the holiday.


Happy New Year!


Happy New Year! Miffy and My Melody fans must be happy as it is the year of the rabbit here in Japan. With long ears, cute tails and faces and a gentle hop, rabbits are a well-liked animal around the word. Yet, did you know that there is a rabbit that has horns? That’s right. In the western part of the USA there is a rabbit that has horns. It is called a Jackalope. Jack comes from ‘jackrabbit’, and ‘alope’ is from antelope. Rarely seen, this most unusual rabbit can run at over 100 kilometers per hour, mimic a human voice and sing songs. If you ever get the chance to visit the Western USA, keep your eyes peeled for the Jackalope. You never know when you might see one, but if you don’t, you can always visit the city of Douglas in the state of Wyoming and take your picture with a 2.4-meter-tall statue  of this amazing animal.