Moving on... 

March 29 [Thu], 2007, 17:20
Hello everyone.

You might have noticed that it's been pretty quiet on here for the last couple of weeks. That's because there are some big changes going on here at etown and I'm afraid we've been neglecting the blog. I will be leaving my position here to teach in a junior high school. It's been nice blogging for you all and I hope you've found it useful. There will be some new teachers joining etown in the next couple of weeks so, hopefully, one of them will continue blogging for you here once everything settles down.

In the meantime, you can can check out my new study blog here at

Join me for more English discussion,



Think of the children. 

February 14 [Wed], 2007, 19:58

Well, we’ve had some unseasonably warm weather here in Gunma recently, haven’t we? It’s been very strange. We haven’t had any snow except up in the mountains and although it’s a rainy Valentine’s Day today, the weather has generally been very pleasant. I’m glad I didn’t bother putting snow tyres on my car this year; it would have been a real waste of money.

An interesting report came out the other day. It’s from UNICEF and is about the quality of life of children living in developed countries. Click here to see the report. The report looked at a number of different factors which can influence the lives of children. Some of these were; poverty, education, health and also the relationships between children and their families and friends. The most interesting (and worrying) thing about the report is that the UK came last overall; with the United States second last.

One commenter said that the UK had a “dog eat dog” culture. This means that people are very competitive and don’t often work together as a team. UK children scored very poorly when talking about their relationship with their peers. Only 40% of UK children said that they found other people their age “kind and helpful”. In Switzerland 80% of children said they found their peers “kind and helpful”.

UK children were also more likely to be involved in dangerous or unhealthy behaviour involving alcohol, drugs or smoking, although the figures for health and safety were in the middle third of the nations.

So, this got me thinking… Why has the UK scored so poorly? The UK is one of the richest countries surveyed so it can’t be financial. Is it a problem with the way British people think about children? In the Victorian era there was a common saying that “children should be seen and not heard”. This meant that children should behave properly at all times and not disturb adults. Living in Japan it often seems to me that British children are expected to grow up very quickly. I often see Japanese high school students with Disney characters on their personal belongings. It would be pretty unusual to see the same thing with a British teenager.

Generally, I think British children are expected to act like adults from a much earlier age than children in other countries and it’s no surprise to me that they adopt bad as well as good adult behaviour. Drinking and smoking are good examples of this. These are both common signs of adulthood and if we pressure children into growing up earlier it seems obvious to me that they will also become aware of adult vices earlier.

So what about Japan? I looked online for some information from the report about Japan but could only find a couple of things. Most of the English news services are much more concerned with the low scores of the UK and US. Do you think children have a high quality of life in Japan? Why/Why not? What do you think are some common Japanese attitudes towards children? Are they useful attitudes or not?

Let me know what you think…

Gavin from Etown.

Useful English

Unseasonably Unusual for the season, like warm weather in winter or cold weather in summer.

Waste of money Something you spend money on but then never use.

Quality of life Standard of living. How good your life is.

Poverty When people do not have enough money for their basic needs.

Peers People in the same age group, social class or personal circumstances.

Victorian era The period of time between the mid 1830s and 1901, when Queen Victoria held the throne.

Properly In the correct way.

Vices Unhealthy or bad habits, such as drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco.

The Golden Globe Awards 

February 08 [Thu], 2007, 16:43
Hello again.

Last week I wrote about cars. This week I’m going to write about one of my other passions, movies. The Golden Globe awards were held recently in Hollywood. The Golden Globes are an important award ceremony for movies and television. They are voted for by the Hollywood Foreign Press association and are often used to try and predict who will win at the Academy Awards.

Awards are given in many different categories but some of the most important ones are: Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Film and Best Screenplay. This year one of my favourite directors, Martin Scorsese, won for his movie ‘The Departed’. Japan was quite well represented too as ‘Letters From Iwo Jima’ won Best Foreign Language Film and 'Babel', which stars Rinko Kikuchi and Koji Yashuko, won Best Film.

So, I’ve been thinking about the movies that I’ve watched in the past year and who I would give the awards to if it were up to me. I went to see ‘The Departed’ a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it. I thought the three main actors, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon were all excellent. I enjoyed the story and thought it was very well directed. Another movie from the last year that I really liked was ‘Children Of Men’, a science fiction film. It really succeeded in creating a realistic and believable future where everyone on Earth has become infertile. I also really enjoyed ‘Superman Returns’. I loved the original Superman movies when I was a kid so I really loved that the new movie kept to the same style.

On the other hand, I was a little disappointed with ‘X-Men 3’. It was OK, but the story wasn’t really that interesting and overall the movie just wasn’t that exciting. It was better than ‘Ultraviolet’. I fell asleep half way through this and missed the end.

So, here are my nominations for the award winners.

Best Film: ‘Children Of Men’

Best Actor: Leonardo Di Caprio ‘The Departed’

Best Actress: I can’t think of anyone for this right now. Helen Mirren won The Golden Globe for ‘The Queen’ but that movie hasn’t come out in Japan.

Best Director: Brian DePalma ‘The Black Dahlia

That’s all I can think of now. Who would you choose for the awards? As always, let me know in the comments.

See you later,

Gavin from Etown.

Useful English

Passion Passion can mean a very strong love for something or it can mean the thing you love. For example, I have a passion for cars. Or, Cars are one of my passions.

Press Journalists.

Predict To try to guess the future.

Science Fiction A movie about the future which may feature new technology.

Realistic Close to real life.

Believable Easy to believe.

Infertile Unable to have children.

Disappointed Unhappy. I was expecting ‘X Men 3’ to be really good but it wasn’t so I felt disappointed.

Half way through (something) In the middle of (something).

Nominations My ideas for the award winners.

Highway Star! 

February 01 [Thu], 2007, 16:25
Good morning/afternoon/evening,

I hope everyone out there in web land is fine today and thank you for reading the Etown blog. I hope you find it useful and interesting.

In a few months my car will be due to go through its government safety inspection, or shaken as it’s called in Japan. As my car is quite old (about 15yrs to be exact), I’m a little worried about the cost and have been thinking about replacing it before the shaken runs out. I live in Gunma prefecture, where owning a car is practically a necessity, so I don’t really want to go back to using trains all the time.

Unfortunately I’m a bit of a car freak, I guess you could say I’m a kuruma otaku so I won’t be happy with just any car. Even though I almost never have to drive outside of the city and it would be much cheaper and more practical to buy myself a cheap little compact, I’m afraid that just won’t make me happy. Nope, no K-car for me. Let me say it again, I LOVE cars. I always have, ever since I was a little kid. I inherited this from my Dad who is also hopelessly addicted to cars. So, keeping this in mind I’m going to have to find myself something a little bit special. There are quite a few different models of car that I would like to own and that fall into my price range, but the one that I’m most interested in is a Nissan Skyline GTR. You see, I’m from the UK and for some reason Nissan does not sell a lot of their more expensive cars there. The smaller, cheaper cars like the March (in the UK it’s called a Micra) and the Sunny are very common and you see them almost everywhere. The more up-market cars are quite unusual and if you do see a Skyline in the UK it’s a sure bet that it has not been imported by Nissan, but by a private owner or a specialist company. These kind of cars are called grey imports. This means that while I live in Japan I have an opportunity to own one of the most famous Japanese cars ever built and I’d really like to get myself one.

Of course, new Skylines are very expensive cars and I’m afraid English instructors don’t make enough money to spend six million yen on a car. This means that I’ll have to try to find an older car in good condition. Whenever you are looking to buy a used car there are a lot of things you have to think about. I’ll need to check the mileage and make sure that the engine runs well. Hopefully I’ll be able to find a car with a full service history. Because I’m looking at sporty cars, I’ll also have to check that the car has not been modified as that could cause all kinds of complications.

Anyway, please wish me luck in my search and hopefully I’ll find a bargain. That’s all from me this week. Sorry if it’s a little shorter than usual but I’m quite busy. Can anyone recommend any good cars that I should look at? What kind of car do you drive? Are you happy with it? Why/Why not? As usual, let me know…

Gavin from Etown.

Useful English

runs out finishes, stops or expires. E.g. I had to go to the store because I had run out of milk.

a necessity Something that you need for your daily life.

freak A strange or unusual person. E.g. A baseball freak is someone who likes baseball a lot more than most people.

practical Sensible and useful.

inherited When an item or a characteristic is passed from an older member of a family to a younger one. E.g. He inherited his good looks from his father (He is very handsome and his father is also very handsome.)

price range Budget. The money that you are able to pay for something.

up-market Expensive and/or high quality.

a sure bet Something that you don’t have to worry about. It will definitely be true.

grey imports Cars that are not imported officially by the manufacturer (Toyota, Nissan etc.) but are brought to a country by a private owner or a specialist company.

mileage The total distance that a car has travelled.

full service history A record of all work that has been completed on a car.

complications Difficulties or problems.

modified Changed or upgraded. Many young men in Japan modify their cars to make them faster.

bargain A good deal or a good price for something.

From Galactico to Galaxy. 

January 23 [Tue], 2007, 20:36
Hello again,

Sorry it’s been a wee while since my last entry but we’ve been pretty busy here at Etown for the last week and a half so I haven’t had a lot of time to update the blog. Hopefully I’ll be able to get things back on track now and keep everything up to date.

There was big news in the world of sport last week with the news that David Beckham is moving to Major League Soccer (MLS) in the United States for a huge amount of money. He’ll move to LA Galaxy in the summer in a deal reportedly worth $250,000,000. I’m not usually a big fan of Beckham and feel that he’s quite overrated as a player but I think this is a good move for him. It’ll be interesting to see if he can make a difference to the popularity of soccer in the US. If he can, I suspect that the US will produce some great players in the future. It could be the beginning of something big in world soccer. Of course, this isn’t the first time that this idea has been tried. Many famous players, including Pele and George Best moved to the US in the Seventies, with little lasting impact. Japan also tried its luck at this sort of thing by bringing over Gary Lineaker to play for Nagoya Grampus 8. I think he played about twice.

The move may yet cause trouble for Beckham both in Spain and in the US. Real Madrid are said to be very unhappy with his decision to turn down a new contract and announce his intention to leave so far in advance. Meanwhile, at least some of the other players at his new club have spoken of resentment among the current playing staff. All current MLS players are subject to a salary cap which prevents them from earning the sky-high wages that Beckham will pick up. MLS bosses have agreed to a rule change allowing teams to have a star player who can earn more than the salary cap. I’m sure all of this will blow over if Beckham manages to impress in the US. However, an unlucky injury could see a disaster of Titanic proportions.

I wonder if the same idea could be used in the J-League. Beckham would have been the perfect choice as he is incredibly famous here. Maybe Japan could look to bring over some of the high profile Brazilian players as they near the end of their careers. After all, they’ve already had Zico as national coach and I think Romario played over here for a short spell at the end of his career (although I could be wrong about that). With the sizeable Brazilian population already living and working in Japan it could be a good way to boost the profile of the club game here. I really think that Japan will struggle to produce a good national team until they can generate more interest in their domestic league. I meet so many people here who tell me that they love soccer but I can only think of one person who was a fan of a J-League club (she was a die-hard Thespa Kusatsu fan).

So, which players or managers would you like to see coming to Japan? Should the J-League support teams that want to spend a fortune to bring superstars to Japan?

As always, let me know what you think and I’ll get back to you.

Gavin from Etown.

Useful English.

a wee while A short period of time.

back on track On course or back to normal.

up to date Containing the latest information.

overrated Not as good as everyone seems to think.

with little lasting impact There was a lot of publicity at first but it went away after a short time.

tried its luck/ to try (one’s) luck To take a chance. To try doing something with hope for a positive outcome.

resentment Bad feeling or anger.

a salary cap An upper limit to the amount of money a person can make.

sky-high Very big.

a disaster of Titanic proportions A really big problem.

sizeable Big enough to be important.

profile Public image. How other people see you.

die-hard A very dedicated follower.

a fortune A large amount of money.

Important Annoncement re:Open Day 

January 18 [Thu], 2007, 15:39

Just a quick note to let everyone know that the open day scheduled for Sunday the 21st of January has been moved back one week. We will now have the open day on Sunday 28th of January.

Thanks for reading,


Are you an adult? 

January 09 [Tue], 2007, 17:14

Have you made any New Year’s Resolutions this year? People usually decide to do something to improve their lives at the beginning of a new year. They often give up something unhealthy, like smoking or eating junk food.

Monday was ‘Coming of Age Day’ here in Japan and the nation’s twenty year olds were celebrating becoming adults. Now they can drink and smoke and give themselves lots of reasons to make New Year’s Resolutions in the future. There’s quite a big difference between the age restrictions in Japan and the UK. While Japanese teenagers have to sneak around to get their booze and fags, British teenagers can legally enjoy a drink at eighteen and a smoke at sixteen. British people are also allowed to drive a car a year earlier than Japanese people as they can drive from the age of seventeen.

Another example of the difference between cultures and their attitudes towards adulthood is this story about Mel Gibson’s new movie Apocalypto. The movie has been given wildly different age ratings in different countries. In Russia anyone can see the movie, but in the UK only over eighteens can see it. Apparently there are some quite gory scenes in it.

But when can you call someone an adult? How do you decide? Traditionally the government will decide by setting a fairly arbitrary age limit. I’m not convinced that this is the best way. Some young teenagers display remarkable maturity and I’ve seen many people in their twenties (or even thirties) acting like big kids. So how about this idea? Before you can take advantage of any of the benefits of adulthood you have to pass a ‘maturity test’. We could get a group of human behaviour specialists together to devise some kind of test to once and for all decide if people can be trusted to get married, smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, vote for government or drive a car.

Of course, the only problem is that until you are an adult you don’t really have to worry about paying tax, so perhaps most people would try to fail the test.

What do you think of my idea?

Gavin at Etown.

Useful English

New Year’s Resolution - A tradition of making a decision to change something about your life at the beginning of the year.

Age restriction - The minimum or maximum age a person must be to do something. For example, you must be twenty years old to smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol in Japan.

Sneak around - To do something quietly so that other people don’t discover your actions.

Booze - A casual British English expression meaning any kind of alcoholic drink.

Fags - A casual British English expression meaning cigarettes.

Legally - Within the law, not illegally. For example, when you are eighteen you can legally drink alcohol in the UK but you cannot legally drink alcohol in the United States.

Drink - If you want to talk about drinking alcohol, you can simply talk about drinking and native speakers will know you mean alcohol from the situation. For example, I’m not drinking at tonight’s party because I have to drive.

Allowed - To have permission. For example, fifteen year olds are not allowed to drive cars.

Wildly different - When there are a lot of big differences in something and there is no clear pattern to the changes.

Age ratings - These are given to movies to tell people whether they are suitable for people of certain ages. A violent film may only be suitable for adults but a family comedy might be ok for people of all ages.

Apparently - I use this word if I want to talk about something that I have no personal experience of. I haven’t seen this movie so I can’t really tell you if there are any gory scenes, but I read a news report that said there were gory scenes. I used apparently to show you that this was not my own opinion.

Gory - If a movie or a book has a lot of killing or bloody scenes it is gory. Horror movies are usually pretty gory.

Arbitrary - Something that is difficult to justify. A decision made without any clear reasons to support it.

Remarkable - Unusual or surprising.

Christmas and New Year. 

December 18 [Mon], 2006, 13:12
Hello again!

Very soon it will be Christmas and then, not long after that, it will be New Year. This year I’m going to experience a traditional Japanese New Year, as I’ll be spending it with my girlfriend’s family. This week I thought I’d tell you about the way we celebrate New Year in Scotland.

In Scotland the New Year celebration is called Hogmanay. For most people Hogmanay starts on December 31st when they will go to some kind of party. This could be a party at a friend’s house, at a bar or at a large street party. The most famous street party is held in Princes Street in Edinburgh. I once heard that this is the biggest New Year party in the world but I’m not convinced that’s true. At the party, people will drink, listen to music and eat food, normal party stuff really. This lasts until midnight. At midnight the town clock bells will chime and this signals the beginning of the New Year. It’s after the bells that Hogmanay really begins. Once the bells have chimed and it’s officially January 1st people go to visit their friends' houses. We call this visit a first foot because we want to be the first foot inside our friend’s house that year. It’s also part of the tradition to bring a small gift for the house you are visiting (this is also called a first foot). After one or two drinks at one friend’s house, everybody moves on to a different house. It’s a bit like a moving party that stays in one house for an hour and then moves on to the next, and the next, and the next. This can last for days and most people need a lot of time to recover (and tidy up) afterwards. Another part of the tradition is that it’s considered good luck to be first footed by a tall, dark, handsome stranger at Hogmanay.

So now I’ve told you about New Year in Scotland. What do you think? What do you like to do for New Year? Leave a comment and let me know.

But for now, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,

Gavin from Etown.

Useful English

get stuck in to To start or begin doing something.

check (us) out To look at or find out about something.

celebrate A verb meaning to do something special on a special occasion. e.g. What did you do to celebrate your birthday this year?

some kind of... A general way to talk about things. e.g. We need some kind of food for the party, and some kind of music too.

convince/convinced To convince someone means to make them believe that something is true. If you are convinced it means that you believe them. If you are not convinced it means that you do not believe them.

stuff A very general word that is useful for talking about things that most people are familiar with. Most people have been to a party before so they already know what happens at one. If I talk about my soccer stuff, you can probably guess that I'm talking about my soccer boots, shirt and shorts.

chime This is what we call the sound that bells make.

It's a bit like... This is a useful expression for describing something. You can compare it to something similar. e.g. Wasabi is a bit like very spicy mustard.

tidy up To clean, like after a party when you have to tidy up the house!

Healthy Living. 

December 11 [Mon], 2006, 13:25
It’s not very often that a politician ‘puts his money where his mouth is’ so it’s pretty special when it does happen. That’s why I was really interested to read last weeks news story about two Japanese vice-ministers for health. Noritoshi Ishida and Keizo Takemi have decided that they should probably lose some weight. This may not be very unusual for two desk workers in their 50s but there’s more… Because the two men work for the Health Ministry of the Japanese government they have decided to keep a blog of their efforts. If you click here you can look at the blog or if you want to see the story in English click here. The two men have posted their measurements on the internet (which is quite brave really) and are going to give regular updates over the next six months. They hope to set an example of healthy living to slow down the increase of obesity in Japanese society.

I think this is a great idea and hope Mr Ishida and Mr Takemi are successful. I can’t really imagine the UK’s John Prescott (a politician famous for being fat) showing his waistline to the world.

This week’s blog is going to be about food and exercise. What do you think is a healthy diet? What kind of exercise do you like to do? How much exercise should you do?

Personally, I think the best way to have a healthy diet is to eat regular meals. I always try to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner and try to avoid snacking in between. I usually have some cereal with milk for breakfast, a salad and some fruit for lunch and a full meal like curry, pasta or soup for dinner. I always keep a lot of fruit handy so that if I do have a snack it’s a healthy snack.

As for exercise, I recently started jogging and I run for about an hour every night after work. At first it was quite tough, but now that I’ve been running for a couple of weeks I can really feel my fitness start to come back. My legs feel stronger and I have more energy. Now, I really enjoy going for a run and listening to some music on my ipod.

Anyway… That’s all for this week. Please leave a comment with your tips for healthy eating and exercise.

Bye for now,

Gavin from Etown.

Useful English

Put (his/her/your) money where (his/her/your) mouth is An idiom which means to prove what you say by your actions. Mr Ishida and Mr Takemi are going to be healthy themselves, not just tell other people to be healthy.

Lose some weight When you go on a diet to become thinner.

Desk workers People who don’t move a lot in their jobs because they sit at a desk all day.

Measurements Information about a person’s size, for example, height, weight etc…

Brave When a person does something that is scary they are brave.

To set an example This is when you do something good because you hope other people will copy you and do something good too.

Obesity When people are so overweight that it’s dangerous to their health.

Waistline The measurement around the top of your hips.

Snacking Eating food between meals (usually unhealthy food).

Handy Easy to use. Convenient.

Fitness The ability to do physical exercise. E.g. Professional athletes have a very high level of fitness.

Bond... James Bond... (007) 

December 04 [Mon], 2006, 14:29

Welcome to the new ETown blog. Every week we’ll put up a new post and highlight some of the useful English to help you study. Please feel free to respond via the comments forum and let us know what you think. If you want to check out our school, click here.

This week I’ll start by introducing myself. My name is Gavin Smith and I come from Scotland in the UK. I started working at ETown in March this year. I’ve been in Japan for over three years now and live in Takasaki.

I really enjoy watching movies and last weekend I went to see the new James Bond film, Casino Royale. I thought it was great. I really recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Bond or action movies in general.

The movie starts with a great chase sequence that nearly gave me vertigo, and keeps moving at a pretty fast pace all the way through. Daniel Craig, the latest actor to play Bond, is great and shows us the toughest James Bond since Sean Connery. This movie also moves away from unrealistic gadgets like invisible cars and instead focuses on much more realistic technology, such as a small portable defibrillator. If you like cars you’ll be happy to know that there are plenty of beautiful Jaguars and Aston Martins on display too.

If you liked The Bourne Identity or its sequel then you’ll enjoy this movie. See it at the cinema to really appreciate the opening chase.

I hope you find the language here useful and enjoy reading our Etown blog. If any of you readers have seen Casino Royale, post a comment and tell us what you thought.

Bye for now,


Useful Language

A fan - Someone who really likes something e.g. A James Bond fan or a NY Yankees fan.

A chase sequence - A part of a movie where one character tries to catch another.

Vertigo - When looking down from a high place makes you feel ill.

Pace - Speed.

A Gadget - New technology used in a clever way, e.g. an mp3 player or a satellite navigation system.

Invisible - Something you can't see.

Realistic - Easy to believe something could be possible in ‘real life’.

Portable - When something is easy to move from place to place.

Defibrillator - A machine used in hospitals to start a patient’s heartbeat using electricity.

Plenty of - A lot of or many.
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» The Golden Globe Awards (2007年02月12日)
» The Golden Globe Awards (2007年02月12日)
» Important Annoncement re:Open Day (2007年02月09日)
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