Ten People Ten Colours

Ten People Ten Colours

One of the most exciting aspects of living in someone else’s country for a relatively prolonged period is that it opens up so many opportunities to learn something new – particularly perhaps in a country like Japan.

Globalisation means it is becoming increasingly difficult to gain an insight into what it really means to live in a ‘foreign’ country. Resort hotels are part of an international chain, city high streets are populated with those ubiquitous big brands and even if no one speaks your language there’s always Google Translate. In Japan it’s different. In Tokyo you may never be too far from your next Starbucks fix or your favourite chocolate bar but even in this cosmopolitan mega-city there will always be a bit of a Japanese twist. Sakura latte anyone?  Or a wasabi Kitkat? The fact is that, even if Ginza does bear a passing resemblance to Oxford Street or Orchard Road or Michigan Avenue, there’s always something to surprise and bamboozle you here, something new to share with your stay-at-home friends and family.

Recently, for example, I was fortunate enough to be able to spend a little time with a very welcoming host family on a short ‘home-stay’ in rural Miyazaki alongside some of our Y10 students. What an education! We all found ourselves on a pretty steep learning curve, often doing things we’d never done before and sometimes well out of our comfort zone. Have you ever made fresh soba (or miso) from scratch? Did you know that daikon (Japanese radish) are often thinly sliced and hung up to dry in the fields? Or that sowing shiitake mushrooms involves use of an electric drill and hammer? And I’m willing to bet you’ve never eaten… actually, I still don’t have a clue what it was, but it was very tasty – despite its unappetising look!

The point is that the further away from home you are the more likely you are to encounter the unfamiliar; and in my book, a little bit of what you’ve never come across before usually does you good (unless it’s poisonous!).

Daikon - Japanese radish

Even the language itself is a rich and often entertaining source of new ideas. I’m particularly fascinated by all those unique Japanese phrases and proverbs that so deftly paint striking pictures of the concepts they aim to convey. One of my favourites is shinrinyoku or forest-bathing, which refers to the practice of spending time among the trees (or by a lake, or out in the fields) to allow nature to soothe your stresses and anxieties. What a wonderful expression – all the more so because so many Tokyo-ites frequently take it to heart and seize every opportunity to head for the nearby woods and walking trails of Mount Takao or Kamakura.


Despite my fascination with these unusual expressions, I’m ashamed to say that my spoken Japanese after five years in this incredible country is still very much at basic tourist level. I can claim, however, to be able to recognise a reasonable number of kanji; essentially because I find them so intriguing rather than out of any real desire to be able to read the local newspaper.  Just a few days ago I discovered yojijukugo – or four character compound words. Many of you, I’m sure, will have heard of haikus, very concise and formal, 17-syllable Japanese poems; in a way some of these yojijukugo are even more concise little poems or proverbs in themselves. Take for example 異口同音 or iku doon. Literally, this means different mouth, same sound but it is usually used to describe a number of people expressing the same sentiment and is often translated as unanimous or unanimously. Then there’s 一進一退 or isshin ittai: one forward step, one backward step, suggesting a stalemate.

Another very well-known basic example has an equally familiar English counterpart: to kill two birds with one stone, 一石二鳥 (isseki nichō).  Because its kanji components – one, stone, two and bird – are included in the 240 basic characters always learned first in elementary school, this is perhaps the easiest of the proverbial yojijukugo to remember.

Ten People Ten Colours

One of the most interesting though, and another that’s easy to remember and particularly relevant to the world we live in today is 十人十色 (jūnin toiro). The individual kanji are very simple and, as with so many of these number-based compounds, the first and third are the same. Translated literally, it means ten people, ten colours and it seems to me to that this would make a brilliant motto for any multicultural international school – or a tag-line for a movement seeking to counter the rise of narrow-minded nationalism around the world. Succinctly and poetically, it conveys an appreciation and tolerance of diversity – everyone is different, to each their own.

As I said at the start of this piece, Japan always has something new for us to learn.  Sometimes it seems that every day, just around every corner there’s a surprise in store: ten people, ten colours – so much that’s different, so much to discover, so much to enjoy.

Ten People Ten Colours


A Little Idea Back In September…

Guest blogger Amy Carson (Y12) shares her thoughts on social enterprise and a very successful run in the latest Japan Finance Corporation Business Plan Grand Prix.

A Little Idea Back in September - Picture 1

According to a study carried out by Meiji University in 2015, Japan was placed second from the bottom amongst its fellow OECD-member countries in terms of Total Early-stage Entrepreneurial Activity, or TEA.  SME start-up percentages rest at around 5.2%, most likely attributing to the fact that the process of establishing a business in Japan is considered to be extremely costly and time-consuming.  In an attempt to lessen this barrier obstructing the way of many budding businessmen and women across the country, Prime Minister Abe addressed the issue at the New York Stock Exchange in 2013, declaring his intention to push Japan towards becoming a ‘corporal superpower, much like the USA’ and followed up with the publication of the 2014 Revitalisation Strategy for the nation.  In light of this, starting from 2013, the government’s Japan Finance Corporation began an annual competition aimed at high school students to devise, plan and organise legitimate business plans; encouraging a corporate-oriented mind-set from as young as the age of sixteen.  This year, I was lucky enough to have been a part of the fourth annual competition, with my friends Miya and Lia.

My friends at Shibuya Gakuen, Miya (formerly a BST student) and Lia, at Yokohama International School, had been working together since 2014 to organise voluntary trips to islands off the coast of Japan, where they would spend time at day-care centres to read English books to children who would not otherwise come into contact with a language other than Japanese. Using their holidays and long weekends, they would visit areas such as the Sado Islands and Okinoshima Island to independently contact local day-care centres, organise reading sessions and then take impromptu trips around the island to explore on their days off.  Unbeknownst to them, I too had begun taking an interest in similar voluntary work, most notably the opportunity to visit Dor School in Cambodia with BST for four days in the summer, following my IGCSE exams last year. It was from these experiences that we – Miya, Lia and I – were able to take inspiration for a potential business in September of 2016.

At the core of our plan was the hope to somehow implement the concept of voluntary work into a business strategy, here in Japan where charity work is still only a growing part of the curriculum in schools. Our focal point was to begin developing the use of – particularly listening to and speaking – English all around Japan, especially towards the target of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.  The only hurdle obstructing us from presenting these visits to local day care centres as a viable ‘business’, of course, was the fact that we were doing them out of our own pockets – not exactly a sustainable business strategy!

A Little Idea Back in September - Picture 2

Here, we decided that we would instead market ourselves essentially as a travel agency, offering trips for foreigners and Japanese people alike that would integrate volunteer work – reading to and teaching young students English – into trips around the beautifully scenic islands of Japan, breaking away from typical tourist destinations like Tokyo Skytree or the Robot Restaurant, as fun as they might be.  Local high schoolers would ideally benefit too from communicating with foreign speakers of a similar age range to overcome language barriers and gain confidence in conversing in English – something that many Japanese people are yet to become familiar with, despite schools teaching the subject from elementary onwards.  With this idea, we began working to finalise costs, income, salaries and profits to submit our application as a group and hope for the best.

Weeks later, we received notification that we had been chosen in the top hundred – then the top twenty – and then the top ten applicants out of 2662 groups from across the country.  Shocked, we worked quickly around conflicting schedules (coming from different schools) to prepare for the Grand Prix presentations at Tokyo University, where we would be assessed by a panel of eight judges (including a jury from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and another from the Keio University School of Commerce) for our ideas.  Among other finalists were ideas for a new navigation app, regional revitalisation programmes and even order-made picture books for new families – an incredibly wide variety of ideas were represented on the day, showing the potential and forward-thinking nature of many millennials in the country.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that a great majority of the teams that were selected showed good representation of young women – half of them being entirely female-led, including our own.  Unfortunately we weren’t awarded the top prize, but our team was placed third on this occasion.  Nonetheless we had lots to learn from the experience and received some invaluable advice, as well as words of encouragement and guidance towards future connections from the judges themselves after the competition.

To any senior students unsure of where their future will be taking them, I would honestly recommend reaching for as many different opportunities as possible until a potential field of interest is found.  Surrounding yourself with people who have like-minded goals is also of utmost importance – Miya and I had completely different approaches to the same problems, but a common purpose that helped us find the best solution.  As a barely-fluent Japanese speaker, it took a lot of convincing from my teammates to present in front of 400 guests, many from the press and business world, at one of the most prestigious universities in Japan (and indeed the world); but the lead-up to, and the experience itself proved every bit of my nerves worth it.  I now can say that I have begun networking with members of major NPO organisations and broadcasting companies in Japan, thanks to a little idea that began back in September last year.

Amy Carson

A Little Idea Back in September - Picture 3


Good Books For Cold, Dark Days

The books on my Christmas wish-list this year… a wide-ranging and very personal selection at the end of what has been a good year – at least for book-lovers.

Once upon a very long time ago when I was about 10 or 11 years old, one of my Primary School teachers chalked a saying on the blackboard (I told you it was a very long time ago) that I have never forgotten: Once you learn to read you will always be free. I think it stuck with me because I happened to be at that wonderful stage as a young reader when I was just beginning to understand how it was possible to lose yourself entirely in the pages of a good book. Fifty years later, even in the busiest periods of the school term, I still make time for a few minutes late at night or early in the morning to free myself from thoughts of work by escaping into someone else’s story. During the holidays, particularly when I am at home back in the UK for Christmas and the days are so short, the weather so dismal and the log fire so inviting, the opportunity to spend a little longer in another world is irresistible.

It is hardly surprising then that over the years books have become the go-to option for friends and family looking to tick me off on their Christmas shopping list. Here are some of the delights I’m hoping to find under the tree this year. I haven’t read any of them yet so the comments are taken from a range of reviews – perhaps I’ll be able to say more about some of my favourites in 2017.


My favourite books of the summer were Ian McEwan’s surprisingly credible ‘Nutshell’ and ‘The Essex Serpent’ by Sarah Perry.  In the past few months I’ve been reading quite a lot of Young Adult fiction so that I can chat to students about the books on this year’s Sakura Medal list and I’ve also spent a fair bit of time travelling so I’m pretty much up to date with the latest crime fiction – ideal for long plane journeys! Over the Christmas break it will be good to settle down with something a bit more satisfying again, and I’m looking forward to unwrapping one of these on Christmas morning.

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The High Mountains of Portugal, Yann Martell

Yann Martell has received some mixed reviews in the 15 years since his astonishing Life of Pi – which was turned into an equally astonishing film. This is his fourth novel and it looks set to win him more awards. Opening in Lisbon in 1904, The High Mountains of Portugal tells the story of Tomas, a young man who stumbles across an old journal hinting at a deep secret. Spanning four centuries and two continents, the novel weaves three different stories into a remarkable tapestry exploring the age-old themes of love and loss.

My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout

Long-listed for this year’s Man Booker Prize, the latest offering from Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Elizabeth Strout has already earned much critical acclaim. It recounts the story of an abusive and dysfunctional childhood and of the heart-warming reawakening of a relationship between mother and daughter. Set almost entirely in a hospital room and told over a five-day period during which memories and emotions both painful and beautiful gradually resurface, this looks destined to be one of the books of the year.

Autumn, Ali Smith

That was quick! The very first post-Brexit novel, this is apparently the opening instalment of a cyclical series of four inter-connected books all expected to be named after the seasons. Described as bold and brilliant, dealing with the body blow of Brexit to offer us hope, it seems that Ali Smith who won the 2015 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, has captured something of the essence of the sullen popular mood of the past twelve months and written a galloping symphony of the sold and discarded.



I’ve always enjoyed a good story and was fortunate enough to have teachers at school and at university who instilled in me a deep-seated love of literature but it took me a little longer to appreciate works of non-fiction, at least in terms of reading for pleasure.  These days, though, I find myself increasingly drawn to works that offer new insights and opportunities to learn. This could have been quite an extensive list, but in the end I’ve chosen two very different books to delve into this Christmas.

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Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Yuval Noah Harari

It’s more than two years since Harari’s Sapiens raced us through 150,000 years of human history in just 400 pages. It certainly made an impression, eliciting favourable reviews from such high-placed fans as Bill Gates and President Obama. Gates called it provocative, stimulating and engaging and gave it to his wife to read on holiday because he was so keen to talk to her about it, while Obama was no less fulsome in his appreciation:

It’s a sweeping history of the human race, from 40,000 feet. It talks about some core things that have allowed us to build this extraordinary civilization, that we take for granted. 

The last section of Sapiens turns to the future of mankind and the vision it offers is not a happy one; perhaps the age of Homo sapiens as we recognise it is coming to an end. Homo Deus looks more closely at what tomorrow might bring but it offers little in the way of certainty: In 1800 it was possible to think meaningfully about what the world of 1900 would be like and how we might fit in. That’s history: a sequence of events in which human beings play the leading part. But the world of 2100 is at present almost unimaginable. We have no idea where we’ll fit in, if at all. We may have built a world that has no place for us. I can’t wait to read it – and I will be gift-wrapping a copy or two for friends so that we can enjoy some good-natured festive arguments about what it has to say!

A Group Photograph, Andrew Tatham

The culmination of twenty one years of painstaking research and astonishing creativity based on a First World War group photograph, this beautiful book takes the opposite approach to the broad-brush grand sweep of Homo Deus. The lives of all 46 men in the photograph are told through artefacts, letters, poems, stories, an animated film, family tree drawings, photographs, photomontages, memorials, old stained glass windows, new stained glass windows, and a new group photograph. In telling their specific stories and making artwork based on them, Andrew Tatham hopes to share with us all something about the mysteries of life and death, about how we choose to deal with whatever life chooses for us, and about how we might be remembered. Something a bit different to explore and enjoy.



This has been quite a striking year for biographical and autobiographical writing. We’ve had Charles Foster’s weirdly original ‘Being a Beast’ and the thought-provoking account of the migration of Ian Buruma’s future grandparents as they seek ‘Their Promised Land’ in violently troubled times. There was also Olivia Laing’s well-received memoir, ‘The Lonely City’ which I have to confess I have yet to read. For my Christmas reading, however, I have chosen two very different books – John Le Carré’s ‘The Pigeon Tunnel’ and, by way of contrast, Bruce Springsteen’s inevitably titled, ‘Born to Run.’

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The Pigeon Tunnel, John Le Carré

In an enigmatic introduction le Carré writes: These are true stories told from memoryto which you are entitled to ask, what is truth, and what is memory to a creative writer in what we may delicately call the evening of his life? Le Carré – or David Cornwell, as he is really called – is now 84, and the message of his first work of autobiographical non-fiction is: You’ve waited this long to hear from me; what makes you think I can be trusted? He began writing novels when he was a spy and continued to explore that dark territory, though his official career in the secret service lasted no more than five years. (He resigned in 1964, after the publication of his first bestseller, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.) Ever since, people have assumed his work must have continued in some shadier capacity, but only, perhaps, because his novels were so convincing. As le Carré himself explains here, when he denies any continued employment as a spy, the inevitable response is: Well, you would say that, wouldn’t you? It should be an intriguing read!

Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen

Rarely has a performer told his own story with such force and sweep. Over the past seven years, Bruce Springsteen has privately devoted himself to writing the story of his life, bringing to the pages the same honesty, humour, and originality found in his songs. He describes growing up Catholic in Freehold, New Jersey, amid the poetry, danger, and darkness that fueled his imagination, leading up to the moment he refers to as The Big Bang: seeing Elvis Presley’s debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. He vividly recounts his relentless drive to become a musician, his early days as a bar band king in Asbury Park, and the rise of the E Street Band. With disarming candour, he also tells for the first time the story of the personal struggles that inspired his best work and shows us why the song Born to Run reveals more than we previously realized.


Natural History

This is a genre that I find increasingly fascinating, partly perhaps because so much of the natural world now finds itself under threat. Over the summer I thoroughly enjoyed reading John Lewis-Stempel’s ‘The Running Hare.’ It gets my vote as the natural history, or even the non-fiction, book of the year but it already sits on my bookshelves so here are two more that I’m looking forward to exploring in due course.

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Tide, Hugh Aldersey-Williams

Perhaps it’s because I’m an islander at heart that this has a particular appeal. Half of the world’s population lives in coastal regions lapped by tidal waters, yet most of us know so little about the tide – a key force on our planet that has altered the course of history and will transform our future. This story is punctuated here by notable tidal episodes in history, from Caesar’s thwarted invasion of Britain to the catastrophic flooding of Venice, and interwoven with a rich folklore that continues to inspire art and literature today. With Aldersey-Williams as our guide to the most feared and celebrated tidal features on the planet, from the original maelstrom in Scandinavia to the world’s highest tides in Nova Scotia to the crumbling coast of East Anglia, the importance of the tide, and the way it has shaped – and will continue to shape – our civilization, becomes startlingly clear.

The Making of the British Landscape, Nicholas Crane

Nicholas Crane is excellent at describing climate, geology and shifting shorelines, but is at his best when weaving together earth-shaping events with humankind and civilisation. At the very end of the 16th century, a young Scottish cartographer marked on his map that the most north-westerly part of mainland Britain was simply an area of Extreem Wilderness: it was the last wilderness left on an increasingly populated island. Crane writes: ‘…to care about a place, you must know its story.’ He has given us this story.


Sports Book

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For the Glory, Duncan Hamilton

The triumph of Duncan Hamilton’s moving, inspiring book is not just that it covers brilliantly an exhilarating, unlikely sporting career. His finer achievement is to give a sense of a good man. There are moments when Hamilton seems to protest gently that he struggles to find anything remotely negative to say about Liddell. The best of biographies normally need this grit to produce the perfect oyster. Hamilton is left with a subject who is universally praised as an athlete, lauded as a preacher and revered as an inmate in a Chinese camp under Japanese control in the Second World War. There is much of the saint in Liddell and it seems perverse for even the most cynical to deny it. This is a man who led friends, trainers and fellow prison inmates to name their sons after him. It is the most sincere of tributes.

Forever Young, Oliver Kay

This is a book by one of the country’s top football correspondents about an Ulster-born player, Adrian Doherty, who is known to virtually no one. Even so, the most knowledgeable managers and players in Britain have been keen to laud the skills of the Strabane youngster, who was once tipped to become one of the all-time greats at Manchester United, but who ended up dying an early and lonely death a long way from Co Tyrone, in Holland, where he fell into a canal. Oliver Kay’s magnificently researched and superbly crafted book, Forever Young: The Story of Adrian Doherty, Football’s Lost Genius, is part affectionate and uplifting profile, part heart-breaking tragedy wrought from a career that promised so much, but delivered so little. It is also a searing exploration and ultimately an indictment of how Adrian was let down by arguably the planet’s biggest football club.