The worst moment of my life… & the most important

An interview with Andy Barrow –GB Paralympic Rugby Captain

Andy Barrow Interview - photo 1

Three BST would-be journalists interview the remarkable Paralympian and GB Wheelchair Rugby Captain, Andy Barrow during his recent very well-received visit to the school.

Andy Barrow is a true inspiration to those who would like to succeed in life. His experiences have helped him grow into a wise individual who delivers advice fantastically. He spoke about his own inspirations and how he pushed through the hardest times of his life to make himself a successful sportsman.

From a young age, Andy Barrow was a very sporty person with the motivation to want to get better but he never intended to play sport professionally. Rugby was a very large part of his childhood, but he never thought he would have the privilege of representing his country.  Andy was injured aged 17, whilst playing in a rugby match, where a scrum left him paralysed from the chest down. The loss of all control of his legs and weakened muscles in his arms and hands put him in a wheelchair.

It was the worst moment of my life but also the most important. It made me realise you cannot change the past and if you take too much time worrying about the future you take your eye off what is happening in the present.

It was during his recovery time in hospital that Andy became aware of the sport wheelchair rugby also ominously known as Murderball.

He started off playing little by little and the stronger he became, the stronger his passion for the sport grew. He ended up finding a wheelchair rugby team in London not far away and it was here that his wheelchair rugby career kick-started.

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Andy overcame his injury and applied his belief that with A LOT of hard work anything can be achieved to play wheelchair rugby professionally. Andy’s ambition and determination led him to become Captain of the British team and led his team to three world championships, five European championships and three paralympic games. Andy’s team won 3 consecutive gold medals at the European championships. Andy commented that he enjoyed being Captain and learnt a lot from the experience. We asked Andy what he thinks it takes to be such a good captain and he said: You do not have to be the best player on the team to be the best leader of a team. You need to be able to recognise people’s strengths and weaknesses and bring the team together to work together effectively. You win together, you lose together. This was one of many of Andy’s great pieces of advice to those who would like to be leaders in the future.

Representing my country was a real honour but leading Great Britain was huge. Singing the national anthem in front of 12,000 people every time we played… And then to parade around London after the games in front of half a million people…

We asked Andy several questions based around the idea of inspiration. He said that no matter what obstacles come your way, push past them. Keep working hard and stay motivated, you never know who you might be inspiring. And finally, Andy said that he believes that life is a series of opportunities and you must take any opportunity that comes your way; you’ll only grow as a sportsman /woman or any other successful occupation, if you take what you can and use it.

Your life is a series of opportunities or chances, strung together by the choices and decisions you make. You are ultimately in charge of your own destiny. It is possible to triumph over adversity, and take positives from everything in life.

We certainly learnt a lot from our interview with Andy Barrow and hope to be as successful as he became one day.

Saori (Year 8), Harvey Hymas (Year 9) Riko Otsuka (Year 9)

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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.

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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!

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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

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