To Japan and back

I have written this blog post to give readers (and possibly even myself) an idea of who I (Tom Orsman) am, of how I ended up in Japan, and finally of why in 2014 I started Shimaguni school teaching Japanese in Brighton.

The post was meant to be less than 200 words, but I got a little carried away.

Right, here goes….

I grew up in a small Devon village. Both the village and the area are beautiful. It was a great place to grow up, but there weren’t – and still aren’t – many jobs around, certainly not conventional jobs anyway.

When I returned to Devon from University, the first job I could find was as a tram driver on the local tourist tramway. After that I took a job as a grater at a nearby cheese factory. After a year of this, I decided I needed to escape.

So at 22, I went to Australia on a 1 year working holiday. Via 3 month stints working as a kitchen hand in both Melbourne and Sydney, I found a seasonal job as an apple picker on a farm outside Perth.

The advert for the job had been taped to the wall of a phone box. Seeing that advert would change the rest of my life.

The farm I stayed at for 3 months had a separate building for accommodating all the seasonal fruit pickers. Almost all the pickers were on the same overseas 1-year travel visa that I was.

Most of the fruit pickers were young, energetic Europeans and North Americans. The only exception was a large group of Japanese people.

I did not speak to any of the Japanese at first: I was far too shy, but I was very curious about them. They seemed so quiet and gentle compared with the sometimes loud and brash Europeans and North Americans on the farm.

The obvious cultural differences between the 2 groups was astonishing. The Europeans seemed to show a different way of living; the Japanese seemed to show a different way of being.

One man either didn’t notice or didn’t care about the differences. He was a very friendly, likeable, curly-haired New Zealander called Casey.

He regularly spoke with one of the Japanese in the group while we picked apples together. I always listened in, fascinated to hear stories of a world beyond my imagination.

Casey later told me he was applying for a job teaching English in Japan. He told me I should try applying too. I had never really thought about teaching as a career up to that point, not for lack of interest in the job but more because I did not believe I knew anything worth teaching. But if the job is good enough for Casey I thought, it is good enough for me. So I began the application straightaway.

After Casey left the farm, I finally plucked up the courage to speak to some of the Japanese on the farm myself. Some I realised were even shier than I had been. I ended up becoming friendly with some of them, so much so that thanks to the new craze of that time called e-mail, we were able to keep in touch and meet up again in Japan.

On my return to the UK, I travelled up to London for an interview for a Japan-wide chain of English Conversation Schools. A few months later at 24, I found myself moving to Nagoya, Japan’s 4th largest city to teach English.

At this point I had never eaten sushi, did not know what anime or geishas were, and I certainly did not speak any Japanese.

The only thing I really knew for sure about Japan and the Japanese people was that I had really enjoyed picking apples with them. And at that stage, that was enough.


Coming to our Summer Sushi Workshop?

I am flying back to Brighton next week from Fukuoka. I will be sad to leave Japan, especially as I wasn’t able to see as many people as I had planned this time, but the consolation is there is so much to look forward to in Brighton this summer.

First of all, on June 9th we have the summer Sushi Workshop. This is a repeat of a popular event we have run a few times in the past. Our teacher will be Hide-san, the manager of Kantenya, the Japanese food store near Brighton station.

Sushi is a perfect food for a British summer, when hopefully it is hot, and attendees will appreciate most the cool rice. Cucumber could be the most popular topping.

But on an online poll of favourite sushi toppings we are running, natto (fermented soybeans) is a surprising leader. Have you tried natto before? If not, you can buy it at Kantenya!

The workshop is a great chance to learn a new skill, meet new people, and make yourself a healthy and tasty lunch. If you enjoy it enough, you’ll have the skills to run your own sushi party in the future.

We hope to see you there.

If you would like more details on signing up to this event, please email , or join the event online through our Brighton Japan Club Meetup group.

病気!A week in a Japanese hospital

Last week I was leading a 10 day walking tour along Shikoku’s famous 88 Temple Pilgrimage Circuit. On a seaside walk, on the way to the remote Muroto Peninsula, we stopped at a cliff top rest-house for a bento lunch. Mine was sushi, bought from the roadside Michi No Eki.

A few hours later I started getting strong stomach pains. It must have been some dodgy sushi I thought, and I tried to carry on with the tour. I was wrong. It wasn’t the sushi that was the problem. 48 hours later an ambulance was racing me across the island for an emergency appendix removal.

Now a week later, I am still in Tokushima Hospital, but a few kilos and an appendix lighter.  Looking back, the 1 hour ambulance ride sirens blazing, the rushed phone-calls to colleagues and all the doctors and nurses crowding around my trolley, all seem like they happened to someone else. Perhaps in some senses they did. The events were certainly enough to make me reassess a few things, and the moments of morphine-induced semi-enlightenment quite suitable for a Buddhist-themed tour.

I was very lucky. The doctors were incredibly professional and efficient. The nurses have also been both attentive and sensitive, constantly asking me いける. This question confused me at first as they seemed to be asking if I was able to go somewhere. At that point I was still attached to a drip, had a white tube up my nose and a yellow tube sticking out of my stomach. Surely they didn’t want me to leave already? Were the beds filling up? But they were actually just asking if I was alright. In this case, いける is KANSAI-BEN (the KANSAI region dialect) and means 大丈夫「だいじょうぶ」 (OK/alright).

The view from my bed on the 9th floor of Tokushima Hospital

On the way to an X-ray, a chatty nurse told me the hospital was built by an architect who used to design hotels. This made sense. At times it has even felt like a Japanese ryokan (traditional inn). I can lounge around all day in a turquoise yukata logged onto my portable Wi-fi with on call staff at a push of a button.  Food and drinks gets served to our rooms (beds). We even get checked on at night, an indescribable thrill I haven’t experienced in over 30 years.

And like a ryokan stay, the option to roll into bed anytime is irresistibly tempting, and utterly guilt free. じゃ、ちょっとよこになるね。(Right, I’m just going to lie down for a bit)

Woodingdean, Ovingdean, Rottingdean – The Great 3 Deans Journey

Recently I attended a walk with the Brighton Japan Club across the 3 Deans outside of Brighton. This was better know as Woodingdean, Ovingdean and Rottingdean. It was a great day for a walk it was sunny with temperatures floating near 20 degrees Celsius.

It was the second time I had done this walk and it was one of my favourites as the last time I did this walk I struck up some surprising strong friendships which I still hold dearly to this day.

If your looking for a wonderful day out with this club and firm friendships, you know where to come.

Firstly you may ask what is Brighton Japan Club?

For those that don’t know Brighton Japan Club is a club set up by Tom Orsman who is a language teacher from Shinmaguni Language School who specialises in teaching Japanese to beginners all the way to advance learners.

This club was created for people in the Sussex area whom have an interest in Japan (and it’s okay if you don’t speak Japanese) and would like to go on fun meetings and trips with others that share a similar interest and are looking to make friends.

The Adventure begins

It started of with all of us waiting at Bus Stop H, where we all gathered and waited for the bus. We had about 8 minutes before it arrived at 11.08am in the Morning.

It was a good opportunity to introduce ourselves to one another as there were a lot of new attendees and of course catch up with some old friends that I made over a year ago and a from Japanese yoga classes that I had done previously.

The bus trip was fun as the Japan Club got the entire top floor which was good and the bus ride from Churchill Square to the Woodingdean Downs Hotel allowed us to chat with one another and discuss our interests with one another and learn where Japanese attendees to the Club were from and what they were studying and learn more about life in Japan.

Once we arrived at the Woodingdean Downs Hotel it was a case of crossing a busy road where we then followed a flat track to Ovingdean. On the journey we stopped to try Blackberries. I don’t think they were ripe yet.

We also spotted some rare butterflies which were endangered in the UK.

Once we arrived in Ovingdean we spotted a lot of red cars on a small road that had to be shared with Pedestrians like us too. It was also a case of spot the Japanese car as the first one we saw was a Mazda.

Shortly we arrived at a Church called St. Wulfran’s Church and stood in awe of a old yew tree.

Japan Club was here 🙂

St Wulfran’s Church is a interesting place as it was dedicated to the 7th-century French archbishop Wulfran of Sens, is an Anglican church in Ovingdean, a rural village now within the English city of Brighton and Hove. Parts of the structure date from the early 12th century, and the church is listed at Grade I, a designation used for buildings “of outstanding architectural or historic interest”. It had a interesting ceiling and before we left Tom signed the visitor book on behalf of Brighton Japan Club.

After exploring the grounds for a bit we headed out for a walk 1-2km uphill past a windmill with views of the sea and Brighton. This land was now protected and used for conservation whereas a few years ago it was a golf course. Glad to know its protected now.

A lovely group photo

After some photos at the windmill we walked down to explore the old village of Rottingdean stopping at the esteemed Kipling Gardens and visiting the art gallery.

Some of use went to the pub, others to the beach in Rottingdean for lunch and had interesting talks about a variety of things such as Seaweed and its uses and Gordon Ramsey.

Afterwards for some it was a nice walk back to Brighton along the undercliff.

Walking Like Heros back to Brighton

If you like the sound of this, why not join us a Brighton Japan Club for an adventure, there are a variety of different activities to join so feel free to choose anyone you want to attend. And if your interested in learning more about the language, why not contact Shimaguni Language School for more information on lessons.

Brighton Japan Club Adventure to Devil’s Dyke

Recently I attended a walk with the Brighton Japan Club to a wonderful place in the countryside called the Devils Dyke which is just outside of Brighton on the South Downs. I had a wonderful day out with this club and thought I would write about this particular adventure.

Firstly you may ask what is Brighton Japan Club?

Brighton Japan Club is a club set up by Tom Orsman who is a language teacher from Shimaguni Language School who specialises in teaching Japanese to beginners all the way to advanced learners.

This club was created for people in the Sussex area who have an interest in Japan (and it’s ok if you don’t speak Japanese) and would like to go on fun meetings and trips with others that share a similar interest and are looking to make friends.

Tell me more about Devils Dyke.

The View of Devils Dyke is Beautiful

Devils Dyke is a what I would describe has Brighton’s very own grand canyon, its a deep 100m/300ft valley based in the South Downs and continues to be a great tourist attraction and excellent place to walk.

The name is often associated with folklore with regards to the valley being the work of the devil, there is a legend that the devil was digging a trench to allow the sea to flood the many churches in the Weald of Sussex. Supposedly the Devil was disturbed and was unable to complete his task and fled living the trench unfinished

In recent years though around the Victorian era there had been a single track railway, a cable car and a steep grade railway had been present there however by now there is only concrete remains and some exposed rail tracks.

So what was the Day like?

The day started of with all the Japan Club members signed up for this walk meeting at Bus Stop E near Brighton station where we all promptly introduced ourselves and discussed whether we had been there before. For myself and Tom we had been there before.

Once the bus had arrived we seated ourselves for the journey there.
Often I quite enjoy the journey to our destination, it gives a good opportunity for you to chat to other members to see what their interest in Japan is and of course for Japanese members to learn about where they are from, what they are doing in the UK and learn more about Japanese culture.

Once we arrived there we explored the local area which has the Devils Dyke Pub but also so beautiful views with explanations of what we could see.

A Short trek to the Woods to Devils Dyke

Afterwards we took a trek through the woods till we came out on the side of a hill where we were exposed to a lot of plant life and butterflies.

We were joined by another member of Japan Club called Richard whom was a bit of a expert in traversing this land and so followed him and Tom across the hills and through some forest.

During this walk we continued to share stories with each other about, interests, languages the UK and Japan and even Lord of the Rings, we basically figured out we were the Fellowship has we even had the right number.

After a long walk we ended up in the valley and made a short walk where we rested around an area that looked like a campfire had been there.
This rest had been brief has we then made haste and walked to the end of Devils Dyke where we stopped for lunch and allowed us to have further discussions.

This is something that I think is uniquely wonderful to this club is that though we have language exchanges, it can also happen when your out and about. The fact there is varied activities organised by various members adds to the appeal and makes every outing fascinating and an adventure.

To my surprise we continued our adventure in the opposite direction from Devils Dyke to a little place called Fulking which was quite a fair walk away but it was worth it, especially for the scenery and for the pub that was waiting for us at the end. It was well worth the reward.

Bonding at the Pub

This was followed by more opportunities to bond again, though unfortunately after 2 hours of resting we had to make a move to catch the last bus back.

The trek back was tiring especially when most of it was uphill and when we reached the bus stop we all sat down for a rest as we arrived with ample time to spare. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.

Has a bonus some of us couldn’t resist one more trip to the pub.

If you like the sound of this, why not join us a Brighton Japan Club for an adventure, there are a variety of different activities to join so feel free to choose anyone you want to attend. And if your interested in learning more about the language, why not contact Shimaguni Language School for more information on lessons.