I Did A Presentation At An English Club In Tokyo

The Kiyose International Club is a volunteer group that hosts events and parties for foreigners and neighbouring guests as well as also having Japanese classes, a choir and conferences for foreigners. One of my students is in charge of organising these events and often asks me in class to check posters and speeches for English mistakes. Inevitably, she got round to asking me to be a presenter at one of these events such is their desperation for native English speakers at these things!! Though not so keen at first I eventually agreed to do it as I was happy with the topic and having bored her this last year with tales  from my trips she knew I was a seasoned traveller with a few anecdotes up my sleeve to keep an audience awake!

Furthermore, I saw it as a challenge and an opportunity to do something different and see if I could actually entertain to any level beyond doing farting noises with a few five year olds!! It’s been a while since I did any kind of presentation. Ages in fact, as the last time was at University over 15 years ago when I had to regularly do them as part of my course.

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My Travel Memories‘ was the theme for the one today (17th November) with the “My” referring to each attendee as well as the guest speakers. Having informed the organiser  that I wanted to do it about my trip to Tunisia in 2009 she thankfully gave it the green light and so my plan began to tell the story of travelling around a country in what was at the time for me an untouched continent. Oh and of course it gave me the chance to incorporate a bit of Star Wars stuff into the proceedings too!

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This was certainly not a Star Wars convention so I had to keep that part to a minimum and so instead focused on the other parts of the country (above) which often get forgotten about (especially by me!). My presentation was supposed to last about seven minutes but was more like 11 minutes with the first segment focusing on the nightmare of my birthday travelling between Tunis in the north and Tozeur in the south.

In the days preceding this event I spent a fair bit of time putting together some notes, remarks and photos together into a flashy Google Drive document but once I’d realised I would need wi-fi to go ahead with that I changed it to a more simplified iPhoto slide show. I needn’t have bothered though as on my arrival at the Naka-Kiyoto Area Civic Center we soon realised that there wasn’t the right cable to connect my laptop to the giant projector screen. I was a bit peeved with that not that I was ever really confident of such a thing ever working smoothly. Time for plan B!!

The event started at 2pm with my student giving the opening remarks followed by a few more speeches before the session leader David introduced us presenters and the foreigners present including people from Afghanistan, Korea, Philippines, Zambia and  Thailand. Following a short discussion on our tables an elderly Japanese guy Matsumoto-san (below left) kicked things off with his presentation about his time in Egypt with the main focus being the tipping culture differences.

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A summary of my speech was given in Japanese beforehand (above right) which I thought a bit strange as it’s kind of a spoiler but I guess it has to be done to prepare the non-native speakers for what was about to come. Despite not being able to use the big screen for my presentation I decided to use my computer still though many would have needed binoculars to see what was on screen! I did have some larger copies of some of my pictures which I could hand to my student to show to the watching audience of fairly well-travelled people.

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The speech seemed to go on for far longer than in my rehearsals but that didn’t matter. My voice just about managed to hold up for the duration and I got through everything I wanted to. The set-up wasn’t quite how I envisaged it but I muddled through and was just about able to juggle holding the mic in one hand, cue cards in the other whilst also having to do some technical wizardry on the computer (hit a button a dozen times or so!) which was facing the audience rather than me.

It was a shame I couldn’t use the big screen to display stuff as that meant I had to rely more than ever on my scripted “ad-libs” working better than they should have had to. I soldiered on though and thankfully there were a few questions at the end (about tipping, food & health, misunderstandings and something else which I forget) rather than silence!

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Once I had done my presentation I could relax far more and really enjoyed talking in our groups about our own travels not that I added any further by way of my other experiences. The final presentation was by a Filipino lady called Rosevel (below) who gave a very entertaining and passionate speech on the cultural gap between her homeland and Japan. She put me to shame in terms of not showing her nerves so much but I guess she was performing on home turf whilst I was in unknown waters.

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Overall, I had a lovely afternoon and it was nice to do something a bit different for once and I left with a very positive image of all those present who were very nice and welcoming to me and, though I thought I was a bit nervous at times, the feedback I got was all positive…not that you’d expect anyone to come up and say it was rubbish!!

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Top 5……Italy Filming Locations

The promised land of Italy is a magnet for attracting hordes of tourists from all over the world who of course head for the wonderful landscapes in Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan and so on but the country also delivers big time when it comes to being shown on the silver screen. Of course there have been countless number of movies shot in Italy and whilst many have been shot in and around major sights like the Colosseum, Pantheon and  Fontana di Trevi this Tokyo Fox top 5 list includes slightly less famous sights which have almost become more famous for the movies filmed on location.

1. Villa del Balbianello, Como – A double-dose of movies were made at this villa in the last decade. First, ‘Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones‘ (2002) used the place as the Naboo lakeside retreat and then ‘Casino Royale‘ (2006) gave the 007 franchise a kick up the ass with Bond resting-up here at the end of the film. More details here

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2. Caserta Palace, Caserta – Located just north of Naples this palace has featured in a few movies now. These include ‘Mission Impossible III‘ (2006), ‘Angels & Demons‘ (2009) and ‘Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace‘ (1999) with the main staircase being seen in the latter two. It portrayed the Vatican City in the former two and was the setting for Queen Amidala’s Royal Palace on Naboo in Star Wars. More details here

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3. Hotel Danielli, Venice – This hotel first came to prominence (movie-wise!) in the 1979 007 film ‘Moonraker’ starring Roger Moore as the secret agent. It would be featured 31 years later in the less memorable ‘The Tourist‘ starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie and also featuring Moore’s successor Timothy Dalton. How’s that for a slightly tenuous link! More details here

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4. Bocca della Verita, Rome – Providing the most famous scene in ‘Roman Holiday‘ (1954) where Joe pulled his hand out of the ‘mouth of truth’ with his hand up his sleeve astonishing Ann. Be aware that the line’s for the photo opportunity can be very long so it’s worth getting there early. More details here

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5. Chiesa di San Barnaba, Venice – Located in the midst of the maze that is Venice streets and canal’s you may get lost trying to locate this one but if you’re a fan of  ’Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade‘ (1989) then it’s worth it. Indy and co walk across a nearby bridge and then enter the church which is a library in the film. Indy goes inside (probably not paying the expensive entrance fee!) and finds an important clue relating to the numeral ‘X’. More details here

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Jawa Power At Halloween (Plus A Lot Of Batman!)

Almost as soon as I had wrapped up last year’s Halloween festivities, thoughts turned to what to wear for this years kids party and night out. 2012 saw the return of Darth Maulto the Clone Wars animated series and became my outfit too but this year I went back to the original Star Wars movie for my choice of costume.

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The desert planet of Tatooine is a place very dear to my heart having tracked down the many filming locations in southern Tunisia and Death Valley in California. One of the inhabitants of the planet are the Jawas; a pygmy rodent-like race who work as scavengers that pick up discarded and broken machinery and fix it up ready for sale. Most notably they were on the scene when Luke Skywalker and his Uncle Owen bought C3PO and R2D2 in ‘A New Hope‘ (1977). They also appeared briefly during the Mos Espa Podrace in ‘The Phantom Menace‘ (1999) and one was to be found in Jabba’s Palace in ‘Return Of The Jedi‘ (1983).

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The evening started at 82 bar in Shibuya at 7pm with a load of workmates and ended up at scramble crossing some 10 hours later!

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That bar is nice for a private party or a quiet drink but wanting to sample the Halloween spirit a bit more, Dave, Neil (Batman) and I set off to the other side of the station which is the far more exciting side. I’ve been to this famous crossing hundreds and hundreds of times but I’ve never experienced anything like what lay ahead of us!

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It was absolutely mental with thousands of cosplayers packed into the streets of Center Gai and the streets that runs parallel to it as well as the worlds busiest crossing itself. Once Dave had done his disappearing act, Batman and I set off in the direction of a bar at the other end of the street but we didn’t get more than about 20 metres down the road in one hour before we gave up on that idea! The reason was not just the crowds but the never ending amount of photos we (and particularly Batman!) stopped to pose for as well as doing a few of our own.

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In fact, at times, I was pretty much Batman’s official photographer which is why there are so many of him in this montage of pictures.

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Now, Halloween in Japan is quite different to the western world as its less about scary and spooky things and is more about dressing up in any kind of costume which may explain the randomness of some of the outfits. The list of costumes seen was endless but some of them included witches, spider-man, Darth Vader, maids, schoolgirls, nurses, police officers, Princess Leia, iPhone 5S, The Joker, Super Mario, Luigi, bumble bees, cats, mummies, playgirl bunnies, prisoners, M&M’s, pirates and so on. It seems the trend is for Japanese girls, who put so much effort into their regular daily appearance, to tart themselves up even more on October 31st with a bit of fake blood slapped on for good measure to justify some sort of vague Halloween theme!

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It wasn’t long before Batman and I realised we had no chance of getting to our intended bar and instead opted for the classy option of street beers from a convenience store. The streets were the bar or party arena for the night and as we progressed through the crowds we decided to give up on getting the last train. Halloween is only once a year so we wanted to experience as much of it as possible.

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No idea what time but we later met up with colleague Joseph in a convenience store and hung around with him and his friends for most of the remainder of the night before finally catching the first train home.

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What a Knight!! Bring on more of the same for Halloween 2014!!

The Star Wars Saga Continues But Does It Really Need To?

“He’s my brother” says Leia to which Han Solo replies with a simple “Oh” and with that one syllable word the Star Wars saga came to an end in terms of spoken words. Of course there was a scene or two more but that was basically ‘The End’ ……….. until the LucasFilm company was sold to Disney on October 30th last year for $4.05 billion.

When that news broke I was having a rare lie-in and woke to many mails telling me the news which is quite rare in this era where one gets most news from Twitter! My feeling that morning was one of surprise that’s for sure and when I was asked a while back to pen my thoughts on the return of this mammoth franchise I declined the opportunity.

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Why would I do that I hear you say when I’ve spent fortunes travelling Earth in search of finding the filming locations. Well, for me, I just can’t get into the idea of there being a storyline that goes beyond ‘Episode VI: Return of the Jedi‘ where the story came to a perfect conclusion and rounded off the saga.

I’m certainly no huge EU (Expanded Universe) fan but I did read Timothy Zahn’s 1991 book ‘Heir to the Throne‘ and whilst I certainly didn’t hate it I just couldn’t get into it. Hearing about the children of the characters we all love just didn’t appeal. Of course, they’re not necessarily gonna follow any of the events that have happened in EU books after ROTJ but it does seem like Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford will be back in some way for the sake of continuity before their kids and/or other new characters help move the story along to wherever its going. I guess, in a way, thats quite nice as there’s no finality like there was when the prequels were made so anything really can happen.

Of course I am following all the news and rumours (and there are many!) on RebelForce Radio and The ForceCast and I have to say that I am enjoying all the speculation, rumours and gossip which the hosts of those podcasts sure do analyse in comprehensive detail. I’m not gonna worry about which characters will appear or more importantly re-appear, or where it will be set and filmed because likelihood is that it will all be done in the studio like ‘Revenge Of The Sith‘ (2005) was.

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I have no doubt that by the time the film comes out in 2015 I’ll lap it all up and hopefully change my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I want to like it and I’m confident, having seen his work on the Star Trek films, that JJ Abrams will not disappoint but that doesn’t mean I’m not a little bit worried about how Star Wars will fare in the hands of someone other than George Lucas.

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Far more of interest to me has been the recently wrapped up ‘Clone Wars‘ TV series which filled in the gaps and a lot, lot more between Episodes II and III. With there being a new animated series ‘Star Wars Rebels‘ on the horizon set between episodes III and IV.

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I think I’m probably in the minority when I say that I don’t mind the axe falling on my favourite shows and in a way actually like it as I firmly believe that you can have too much of a good thing and its better to go out whilst you’re on top before story-lines inevitably get more ridiculous and desperate as the years roll by. ‘Clone Wars‘ didn’t finish off every story but that’s not always the way. However, with the fate of Ahsoka finally known, it did come to a fitting end with such a dramatic and deeply moving conclusion………….just like ‘Return Of The Jedi‘ did 30 years ago.

 

Feel The Force: Star Wars x Glico Products

I got a tip-off the other day that some Convenience Stores had just become stocked full of snacks and drinks with some kind of Star Wars tie-in. Now, of course this sort of thing is nothing new for just about every product has had the Star Wars logo slapped on it at some point during the last thirty-five years.

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This time Japanese confectionary company Glico have teamed up with Star Wars to emblazon their products with such famous characters like Darth Vader, Yoda, R2D2, C3P0, a Stormtrooper, Obi-Wan Kenobi (prequel version) and Luke Skywalker.

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Products include:

Pocky – chocolate-coated pretzel sticks.

Pretz – pretzel sticks.

Karujaga – potato sticks with a hollow middle, giving it extra crunch.

Caplico – frosting-dipped waffle biscuits in the shape of ice cream cones that come in either chocolate or strawberry flavour.

Almond Peak – chocolate covered almonds.

Cecil – Milk Chocolate.

Dororich – Coffee and Matcha green tea jelly flavours.

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I’m not sure how long these products will be around for but they’re pretty cool particularly the Pocky ones which are supposedly intended to look like Vader’s lightsaber. I guess with Episode VII on the horizon (released in 2015) there will be plenty more products on the shelves of Japanese shops featuring the Star Wars logo.

Star Wars Fan Museum In Tokyo

I recently came across this little-known Star Wars fan museum in Tokyo which is a small, but sizeable exhibition belonging to a collector. Among the exhibits on display are a wide range of figures, a lightsaber, toys, masks, trainers, t-shirts, pens, magnets, collectibles, framed pictures, DVD’s, books, magazines and so on.

There were also some much sought-after Japan exclusives like the traditional Japanese hand print tenegui (thin hand towel made of cotton), Japanese chirashi movie posters/flyers, an R2D2 Mount Fuji poster, lightsaber chopsticks and ‘Star Wars Celebration Japan‘ items, some of which can be seen in the photo below left.

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The photo above right shows the section focusing on some other Japanese memorabilia such as the local releases of the 1980′s cartoon shows ‘Ewoks‘, ‘Droids‘ as well as the original ‘Clone Wars‘ series. One other notable exhibit is a programme for the ‘George Lucas’ Super Live Adventure’ which was some rare 1993 show blending the likes of Indiana Jones, Willow, Tucker, American Graffiti and of course Star Wars into one performance of something or another.

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Amongst the other stuff is the Vader collection (above left), Star Wars shooting locations books (above right) and magnets (below left) and a replica of Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber (or is technically Anakin Skywalker’s as Obi-Wan gave it to Luke in ‘A New Hope‘ (1977) which you can have a quick play with.

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Star Wars: The Clone Wars – The Fate Of Ahsoka

The fifth (and final?) season of ‘Star Wars The Clone Wars‘ came to a dramatic and deeply moving conclusion last weekend when, after years and years of speculation, the fate of heroine Ahsoka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein) was finally known.

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Episode 20′s ‘The Wrong Jedi‘ brought about the end of a quadrilogy arc of episodes which saw Ahsoka framed for a list of murders and crimes she didn’t commit. To cut a long story short she was eventually acquitted but having not been fully supported by the Jedi order she hoped to become a major part of, she walked away.

There is talk of whether she was just being invited to re-join as Anakin’s padawan back in the Jedi order or whether she would now have made the step up to become a true Jedi but she didn’t feel she could do it when the likes of Yoda, Obi-Wan, Mace Windu, Plo Koon and co had failed to support her in her trial before the Senate. Anakin (Matt Lanter) did stand by her but in those chilling final moments she said it wasn’t about him and that she couldn’t stay there any longer.

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I couldn’t even remember my original reaction to Ahsoka when I saw her burst on the screen in the 2008 Clone Wars movie which preceded the first season. Having just re-read that quickly cobbled-together review I have to say that I am actually quite relieved to see that I liked her from the off and the banter between her and Anakin was something that I enjoyed. Perhaps fitting that, like the season 1 and season 3 finale’s, Ahsoka’s touching final scene was with her master.

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For me this scene wasn’t just one of Clone Wars best ones but also one of Star Wars’ finest moments. I was so caught up in the moment with my neck hairs standing on end that I didn’t even notice that when Ahsoka said “I know” in response to Anakin’s comment about sometimes wanting to walk away from the order she used a classic Han Solo line from ‘The Empire Strikes Back‘ albeit very different in tone. Had she long known of his other life outside of the Jedi regarding his secret marriage to Padme?

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He may be no John Williams but Kevin Kiner’s mournful music accompanying Ahsoka walking away deserves a lot of praise and really added a touch of solemnity to a powerful ending where the traditional ending music made way for ‘Ahsoka’s Theme‘ in the kind of fashion often used by British and Australian soap opera’s when a much-loved character exits the show.

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This emotional exit scene beetween the pair may also help explain why Anakin was a different man in ‘Revenge of the Sith‘ at times frustrated by the Jedi order which would eventually lead to him turning to the dark side and becoming Darth Vader. Now, of course Ahsoka hasn’t died which could even leave open the possibility of her appearing in the forthcoming films scheduled for release from 2015 onwards. Her life as a Jedi may be over but there is still a glimmer of hope that her story has some legs left in it but in a way I hope that that is the end. I am actually a fan of shows or characters going out in style whilst they are popular rather than limping on. Just because one of the main characters has left it doesn’t mean that its the end of the show but given that its definitely ended on the Cartoon Network and with no word of it being recomissioned on the Disney channel it could well be a fitting end to a truly remarkable story of a young girl’s journey throughout the clone wars era.