Yes, I’m pleased to report I’ve snapped out of my post-pilgrimage reverie just in time to get back to work. And I’m surprisingly happy to be back at the workplace after such a long break. I doubt I’ll be saying that three months from now and just a handful of lessons in, I’ve clearly got my work cut out for me if sentences such as: “As for me, the stomach has not caused the drip by the sweet one either.” or “HAKKA is one of the hating food.” are anything to go by. However, I’m fairly confident that the worst of my students’ English is better than my Japanese. I therefore promise to post only the most amusing of my students’ errors and hope they never find my blog.

But it hasn’t been all about preparing for the new school year. In fact it’s been very little to do with the new school year, as I’m happy to announce that the bulk of the snow in Sapporo has melted and the roads are clear again for cycling. I’ve made the most of this by going for a few rides around Ishikari, the municipality to the north. Here are some photos from our ride last weekend:

If you squint, you can see Kazuko.

Kazuko held back for the first part of the ride, so she could shred us all up the biggest climb. I had to work hard to catch up with her:

She's pretending to be taking it easy.

It’s pretty spectacular riding through these snowy mountains. It was nice and sunny and wouldn’t have been cold except that the wind had an icy bite to it. I had an icy bite, too. I didn’t realise teeth could get so cold. Also riding with us was perennial blogorollo character, Mr Kon, who unfortunately wasn’t able to come to Shikoku but seems to have been putting in plenty of secret winter training:

Mr Kon is looking lean and fast for the pending season.

Mr Kon and I have entered a 200km audax ride, which will be on May 4, which is a public holiday Tuesday. I’m quite looking forward to it. I’ve even put one of my Brooks saddles on to my road bike in preparation. And in stark contrast to that ride, I have the first race of the season the next Sunday, which is a very short criterium. For some reason I’ve been demoted to fourth grade this year after I did one race last year in second grade on a day-licence and my only way to get promoted is to win. The fourth-grade criterium is a mere 12km so I think I’m just going to have to put my head down and imitate Fabian Cancellara but from the start line.

But finally, for this mainly pictorial blog entry, I’ll recap my last few days in Osaka. Richard and I visited Universal Studios, which was both very cold and crowded. We didn’t go on any rides because the waiting times were all more than one hour long but we did watch a few of the performances. Actually, we did go on one “ride” which had something to do with the movie Backdraft. We waited 40 minutes before we had to walk into a room and get a talking to from Richie Cunningham in Japanese, then into another room where some other actor told us all about being a fireman, again in Japanese and finally we walked into a room where everything caught fire and shook. I recommend visiting Universal Studios when it’s not school holidays. The highlight was the end-of-the-night parade through the streets of the town where we were able to wave cheerfully at all of the foreign performers on the floats. Some of them even waved back.

The next day was a visit to the world heritage-listed castle in the town of Himeji. Here’s the castle trying to hide behind a tree:

And the tree's in blossom.

Sadly, we didn’t go in as the line just to get tickets was one hour long. This was possibly because of school holidays but also because the castle was going to be closed soon after for renovations and it was the last chance to visit for quite a while. So instead, Richard, Akane and I went for a stroll around the castle grounds. Walking along near the river, I was impressed with the quality of graffiti:

algeffiti!

Please feel free to post the possible values for x and y in the comments section.

The next day we headed out to Osaka’s famous aquarium to see the whale sharks but at the connecting train station, we heard the queue there was also an hour to get in, so we changed our minds. Curse the school holidays – I would love to see a tank large enough to comfortably hold a pair of whale sharks. Instead, we went for a stroll through the grounds of Osaka Castle and to the Osaka history museum. The cherry blossoms were just coming out so there were groups of people out cherry blossom viewing, which is code for having a barbecue and getting drunk in the park.

Here's part of the castle wall.

And here's Richard and Akane looking quite unworried about the prospect of all their toilet paper being used.

The cherry blossom picnics were picking up pace at about noon.

But who invited the shamisen players?

The history museum is next to the Japanese national public broadcaster’s building in Osaka, so we had a look to see if there was anything interesting and they did have some opportunities to be on TV. Richard tried his hand at being a newsreader:

... and in news just to hand, food and beer supplies are down.

Whereas I thought I might be better suited to children’s television:

Me and my dancing team.

The history museum was also quite good and thankfully not crowded. And that was the end of my time in Osaka. Thanks very much for having me, Richard and Akane.

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