Summer Fun on the Tama River

The water was fast flowing and icy cold, the round stones on the river bed clearly visible. Tiny fish swam freely below the surface while ducks paddled by above them. On either side of the river, lush greenery overflowed the banks and the dense forest created the illusion that the rest of the world was very far away.

Then suddenly, straight down the middle of the river, cutting into this serene, natural setting, came boat loads of adventurers! As we navigated the rapids, we cheered and splashed each other. Our guide shouted out instructions and we tried our best to work together, alternating from forward to reverse stroke, moving to the left or ride side of the raft to steer around small rocks, and diving to the floor when we were about to bump into a boulder.

Half way down the river, we stopped at a flat area and traded the paddles for some water activities like balancing games, wrestling on top of the boats and cliff jumping. Then towards the end of the ride, we jumped out again but this time to float on our backs to the end goal. Despite being the middle of summer, the water was freezing, and I’m glad I listened to the instructors and wore a wet suit! Still, it was so nice and relaxing. When we finally got out of the water, we were rewarded with some hot tea and cookies provided by the rafting company. And that wrapped up an extremely fun day!

The Tama River is one of many rivers that flow into Tokyo Bay. The mouth of the river is surrounded by concrete and industrial buildings – honestly I wouldn’t ‘hang out’ there, let alone actually get in the water. But if you follow these rivers upstream, it’s a completely different story. Okutama is an area about 2 hours west of central Tokyo, or about 70km upstream. I go hiking in this area a lot, and it’s a popular place to go camping, too. It’s a great place if you’re craving some outdoor adventures!

Final note:
There are many companies to choose from, but if you’re interested, we were very happy with ours called Okutama Rafting.

Fun and Games in Junior High

As you may or may not know, I work at a combined junior high/senior high school here in Tokyo. Even though I’ve been in Japan for a few years now, it’s still fascinating for me to learn about school life here! It seems so different to what I was used to in Australia. The subjects offered are more or less the same, though the classes here are more lecture style and the students live a life of ‘study study study’. But it’s what goes on outside of class that is really where you see the kids enjoying themselves!

As soon as the end-of-homeroom bell sounds at 3:30pm, the atmosphere completely changes; the school becomes a hive of activity. Everyone is out the door quicker than you can say “see you tomorrow!”, and headed straight for their school club activities – baseball, volleyball, kendo, table tennis, cheerleading, horse riding, biology, calligraphy, flower arranging… basically anything you can think of, there’s a club for.

Aside from the regular clubs, every year there are several ‘highlight’ events. No doubt for most students, the school festival, where all year levels are involved, is the most memorable event. Some other year book-worthy occasions are the year-level school trips, the choir contest, the ski trip…

and, the sports festival!

I don’t know about other countries, but in Australia, sports day is kind of a big deal. I remember at my high school, we had events like the 100m sprint, relay race, long jump, javelin, discus… basically a mini olympics. Track and field was my forte so I loved getting into it.

School sports day in Japan is more about fun and games than serious competition. It’s a day they can let loose and forget about the books, that homework they haven’t finished, or that test they need to study for! There are some very interesting and humorous events like these below…

Classes compete to capture the other team’s hats. Each team has 4 hats, one of which is the ‘leader’. The first team to grab the opposing team leader’s hat is the winner. It’s all about tactics!

As a class, the students have to keep a giant ball afloat all the way around the circuit. Anytime the ball is dropped, they have to restart from that spot. Each class is timed and the fastest class is the winner.

The school clubs have their own special relay race. It’s judged not only on who’s the quickest, but the performance they give as they run each lap! The brass band played a tune while they walked, the soccer club kicked a ball as they ran, the kendo club stopped to have a demonstration every 10 metres, the computer club carried a laptop as their batton, the biology club took real animals around the track! The crowd of onlookers – students, teachers, parents – were cheering and laughing!

Our school is an agricultural one and the official symbol is a radish. So, we have a radish relay race! There’s only one rule: the entire radish has to cross the finish line, no matter how many parts it ends up in!

We were lucky to have great weather, although it was a little hot. Summer has arrived and soon the rainy season will start, so many schools have their outdoor events around this time. There’s one more month til the end of term 1, then it’s summer break. The next major event on the school calendar will be the school festival in September. Looking forward to it!

Batter Up!

Any baseball fans out there?! I’ll admit I don’t know much about the game, but it’s the adopted national sport of Japan and well, when in Rome…!


My home country, Australia, is huge on sports. If you don’t play a sport yourself, you at least have a favourite team you cheer for. I don’t know how the sporting culture became so important… maybe it’s the camaraderie that’s formed when you play on a team, or maybe we are just plain competitive!

The first team sport I joined was softball when I was 9. I was hopeless at it. I think the only way I ever made it to the first base was when the pitcher bowled too many fouls and I was able to ‘walk’! Still, it must have been a good experience because it’s stuck in my memory all these years. After softball, I played many different sports through high school, university and as a working adult, basically up until I moved to Japan.


As well as playing sports, I loved being a spectator. I remember as a kid going with my dad to my brothers’ cricket and rugby league games on the weekend. One time I was given the honour of sounding the end-of-game siren at a local rugby game. I didn’t realise I had to turn it off as well! It went for about 5 seconds too long before the guy came rushing over to step in. Oops!

Being from North Queensland, naturally, I followed the most popular sport in that part of the country: NRL (national rugby league). When I moved to Melbourne for university, I loved going to the Melbourne Storm games and they quickly became my favourite team – and still are to this day!

So when I came to Japan, I had every intention of taking up a sport and going to sports matches. The trouble was, I found that the Japanese were not as keen on sports as I had imagined. It took 4 years before I finally found some friends who were just as curious about baseball as I was.

On a warm May day, we joined thousands of fans at Tokyo Dome to see the Giants take on the Swallows…


After scoring a run, the home crowd goes wild, swinging their orange towels above their heads like helicopters! I didn’t get the memo about the orange towel, dammit! I have to admit though, the away team’s supporters were doing a much better job at cheering and chanting. They even had a swing band busting out tunes throughout the game.


The cheerleaders got the crowd hyped up while the Giants’ main supporters waved their giant flag.


The drink girls were probably the stars of the show! They carried kegs on their backs and scurried up and down the steep stairs for the whole game selling cups of beer, coke and mixed spirits. You can see how she holds onto cash between her fingers – it makes for a quick transaction.


When I think of baseball canteens in the U.S., I think of hot dogs, French fries and pizza. But in Japan, it’s more like curry, rice, and noodles!

The final verdict: it was so much fun! I loved how each player has a different chant so that when they step up to the batting plate, the crowd gets behind that player and not just the whole team. I gotta figure out what they’re saying in those chants! In the meantime, I’ll just be yelling: GO GIANTS!

Currently in… Hokkaido!

I’m so excited to be in Hokkaido – it’s my first time to be up in the northernmost island of Japan! I have traded the first few days of cherry blossoms in Tokyo for the small ski resort of Kiroro, about 75 minutes west of Sapporo.

It’s my third snowboarding trip in as many years, and I love it. Since I’m still technically a ‘beginner’, and having heard plenty of horror stories of things going wrong on the mountains, I admit it’s kind of scary! But the thrill of cruising down a run is not like anything else I’ve done. It’s an exciting sport both to do and watch!

Kiroro is a fairly unknown ski resort near Otaru city. It’s pretty small compared to the other resorts I’ve been to in Nagano. I didn’t really know this before coming as my friend was the organiser so I was a bit bummed at first. But actually as it turns out, the lack of crowds has meant lots of runs all for ourselves and I don’t have to worry about accidentally running into anyone! This is a very good thing. I’d say 90% of the visitors are Japanese which is a nice change from places like Hakuba which are basically an extension of Australia! The only down side to the trip has been that the famed dry ‘powder’ snow hasn’t shown itself. It hasn’t snowed in at least a week and the snowfall has been generally lower than the usual 13 metres per season. The ski season lasts until May in Hokkaido but it’s been very warm, spring-like weather, which is very rare and not what I wanted! Anyway, it just means I’ll have to come back again next year!