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  • Writer's pictureNigel

Toast and butter - Tōsuto to batā

Updated: Dec 29, 2022

2022 年 12 月 23 日

Japan 日本

The contrast could not have been greater. コントラストはこれ以上大きくなることはありませんでした. In the rural farming community where I had spent the last 10 days the highest building may have been the belfry of Shonenji temple. Now in Kumamoto my airb&b was right next to this: The Shinkansen (bullet train) line 新幹線 . But 🚄shinkansens are actually very quiet, so I hardly noticed when they whizzed by, riding over the rooftops on their way down south to Kagoshima.

On arrival the first thing I had to do was to go shopping. No, not smart clothes shopping. Food shopping. I was in a self-catering appartment. At first I only found a 7/11 store around the corner. Here I held out my shopping list, which the girl mopping the floor found hilarious.😂 Butter? I had to repeat the word about three times before she understood - バター. "Bata_". In the end I was the proud owner of a little box of "Bata_". She then followed me around the shop helping me to find things.

When I unpacked the Bata_ I found that it was already cut up into handy little slices...小さなスライス.....little slices of Hokkaido. How convenient! なんて都合のいい!

Later on in my stay I discovered a huge supermarket, and stocked up on essentials in life like beer and coffee...😉....ビールとコーヒー…

Luckily this was already in the flat. But why it was "tiny" is one of those questions which I have learned not to ask....(because I will never get the answer I am looking for 😂) なぜ「小さい」?


I have to accept the fact that being in Japan means being barely literate. 日本では私はほとんど読み書きができません. This is because I am not a child sitting in a school learning my 3000 kanji, or however many they have to learn. So it becomes critical, for example, when you have this urge to have toast for breakfast, and the grill is hidden in a high-tech Hitachi cooker........Luckily my travel agent aka teacher, was already up............I sent her a pathetic message......Kumamoto.....📢.....calling Osaka...

.....well, she told me that I had pressed the "automatic" button by chance, and had hit 3, which was "high". So about 5 mins later I was able to send her back this triumphant photo.......🤣......おめでとうナイジェル!

Toast! (Sliced white bread is practically the only bread which you will find in Japan. It's not high on the culinary priorities 🤨). Whilst waiting for the toast I had switched on the TV. There seemed to be a lot of totally incomprehensible chat shows. 意味不明なチャットショーがあったかもしれません Hosts wearing outlandish jackets with pink hair. At least I could follow the weather forecast. Kumamoto (熊本) still looked warm (16°c -24°c sounds fine to me) but rather cloudy.

The presenter bowed at the end.....

Feeling more confident after the toast challenge, I made my way to the local railway station to go into town. As there were only two directions......北か南しかできない

finding the right platform was no problem. I swiped my Suica card at the gateway. (By the way, Nishi-Kumamoto just means Kumamoto-West). This was the scene on the platform.....

Pretty quiet 静かな駅 (I assume all the office workers were at their desks by now). It only took 10 mins into central Kumamoto, where I boarded this curious tram to reach the centre.....Now to be honest I'm not sure if these trams still run out of quaint historical interest, or out of necessity. They clang and whirr and shudder, but are great fun all the same....😄....これらの古い路面電車は楽しいです.

It is all rather confusing, それはすべてかなり混乱しています, because the tram driver adds her own commentary, despite there being a recorded announcement aswell! (and why is it that bus and tram drivers the world over always sound so bored? 😆).

The tram deposited me opposite this smart-looking shopping mall - the Sakuramachi, which was filled with beautiful clothes shops, beautiful eating places and beautiful people. Here's a photo taken when I returned in the evening...美しい衣料品店、美しい食事場所、美しい人々。

I'm serious about the "beautiful people" comment. People seem to dress so comfortably here. I'm no fashion expert (ask my daughter!) 人々はここでとても快適に服を着ているようです. 私はファッションの専門家ではありません (娘に聞いてください!) but I know good taste when I see it. Loose-fitting pullovers, long wavy dresses, cool-looking sweat shirts, baggy trousers, comfortable shoes.....mostly in natural colours. I have to mention this because it was simply so striking. Indeed, everybody was so tastefully dressed I felt like going back home and ironing my shirt. But I was hungry (as always), and after some wanderings through the endless eateries I found a sushi bar. Here I was totally dependant on what Japanese I could muster. The menu was only in Japanese, and if you don't know your kanji characters things can go seriously wrong. Especially as everything was electronic (each table had its own tablet). But hunger prevailed. So after some help from a young member of the serving staff I soon had some delicious sushi.....おいしい寿司....😋

followed by a tasty mushroom soup.....

Kinoko きのこ soup......mmmmm 😋. All very reasonably priced - the Euro being much stronger than the Yen.


* During my four days in Kumamoto I saw two other Europeans. Fact. "you live here? English teacher, yes? ", I am simply a tourist..." "American?"...."no, English..."....."ah, so desu ne..." (is that so..."). "You speak very good Japanese..." (which is a polite way of're not doing too badly as a foreigner....give it a few more years and I might understand you......😂)


When I first googled Kumamoto I saw that it had an impressive garden, a huge castle and lots of shops. What the tourist blurb avoided was views like this.... 😕.....くまもとは ぜんぶが きれいな わけじゃない

Well, it is at least clean, though you learn to turn a blind eye here and concentrate on the nice views. Like at Suizenji garden. I stood at the entrance to this paradise and could not believe my eyes: I could actually read the kanji characters on the wall.....

(sui "water")(zen "in front, before") (tera or ji - temple).

Despite the rather bumpy tram ride to the edge of town, Suizenji Garden was worth the effort. It is a glorious landscaped garden with a meandering path around a lake. That's the point. To meander, to take time, to soak in the view.......and feed the carp...

Built by the Hosokawa family in the 17th century, the garden reproduces the 53 post stations of the Tokaido, the vital road which connected Edo (later Tokyo) with Kyoto during the Edo period. I can't say I identified all the 53 post stations. However, the miniature Mt. Fuji was unmistakeable.......富士山!

Here are some more vistas......

including some finely shaped trees....what tranquility and peace beyond the urban bustle...


Stepping stones crossing the lake.....

There was even a row of red Tori gates similar to those in Kyoto....

Being a weekend, families and friends were enjoying a day out in the warm sunshine.........and having their photo taken by a professional photographer......"...Chīzu!...🧀......."😁. 週末ということもあり、暖かい日差しの中で家族や友人が一日を楽しんでいました。

.......some Korean girls had dressed up in kimonos for a photo shoot....韓国の女の子

Hot and thirsty after all this sightseeing, I grabbed a drink from one of those ubiquitous vending machines - the wonderfully named 自動販売機 (Jidō hanbaiki). But where to drink it? You can't just walk along the street in Japan swigging a coke in one hand. There is etiquette エチケット (Echiketto). Some may find Echiketto tiresome. It doesn't bother me at all. Especially in trains and smelly fast food being munched in crinkly paper bags. Nobody talking on their smartphones either. And no casual eating or drinking on the streets. Eating is serious. You do it in restaurants and bars. Or at least sitting down somewhere.

I found a bench near the castle, pulled back the can opener, took a swig and examined the writing. Yet another little vocab test .......別の日本語テスト 📖

  1. タブをおこす tabu o okosu...."tab (ie ring), pick up

  2. タブをもどす tabu o modosu...."tab (ie ring), put back/restore/defrost/vomit)

Well, I chose "put back" in this case...(!). The words which dictionaries suggest, honestly, you have to watch it....

Several things had caught my eye on the way to said bench. A nice little utility cover in the pavement....which said shikiriben 仕切弁 on it, which, as everyone knows, means "valve".....(oh yeah?)....I sent this picture to a friend of mine who is an expert in early medieval manusripts at Göttingen University, hoping that it will appear in some paper in the

What's this? A church? これは何ですか? 教会?I had to cross the busy street to find out, Turns out it was a disused café. Not very romantic.

..........another unusual tram.......Kumamoto seems to specialise in them....

Quite fun really 😎.


I mentioned TV chat-shows a while back. In the evening there was a well-filmed concert from Tokyo....東京からのコンサート....

playing Brahms.....ブラームス

At least I didn't have to read any kanji for this!

But the evening was too balmy to stay inside watching TV. So I took a little stroll around the neighbourhood. 近所を少し散歩しました. I sometimes get this odd feeling walking through strange towns at night. Nobody can see that you are a foreigner, and it all feels so intimate. I remember a balmy summer night walking through an old town in Italy. All the windows were open. You could smell the evening meal, hear the chatter around the TV.......Here in this very ordinary residential part of Kumamoto young students, laughing, concentrating, were practising baseball under floodlights; a cat looked at me suspiciously then disappeared under a parked car.....cicadas chirped in the bushes.........a cyclist passed by - without lights (the rider obviously knew the road). Then a nearby level-crossing suddenly sprang into action......

No war here. ここに戦争はない No retreating into basements as cruise missiles destroy your town.


The next morning I actually found a cicada on the ground 地面に蝉を見つけた outside my appartment. It was huge - about 10cm long. Not the prettiest of insects, but strange. Antediluvian. Prehistoric. " 先史時代 "The tracery in its wings was delicate and perfect. Gold. I placed it on a railing to take this shot.



Nippon Connection, the Japanese film festival based in Frankfurt, have just made a small selection of films available until the end of December for a small charge of €5.00 per streaming. (only available in Germany - sorry! 🙇‍♂️) I have just watched one of them. An extraordinary film called "Just The Two of Us" by Keita Fujimoto. It tells the story of a blind care worker who takes care of a paralysed man. It speaks to the humanity in all of us. "we are just ordinary people" says the care worker "you can't move your body, I'm just blind". This is really quality film making. Inspiring and thoughtful.


Thanks for taking time to read through this! I send out this blog pretty randomly to whoever I think might be interested. Some of you have subscribed (if you are on your mobile then open the menu at the start), which means you get a deluxe notification via email. Thank you! If you don't want to be sent this blog, don't hesitate to tell me and I shall take you off the list (well, there is no list as such!). No problem.

この投稿を読んでいただきありがとうございます。 新しい投稿のお知らせを受け取りたい場合は、上部の購読フォームに記入してください。 ありがとう!Nigel.😊


Merry Christmas!



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