Coto Language Academy Activities, Tokyo Japan

September 2017

Coto Language Academy offers various Japanese classes for foreigners. I spent 4 weeks in an intensive course (level Beginner 2) in September of 2017 to learn enough Japanese to make traveling in Japan both easier and more fun. (See the previous post for a review of the school.)

The school also offers a weekly activity that highlights an aspect of Japanese culture. Over all I found these activities well run, enjoyable and a great way to meet other students and practice Japanese.

Evening at the Twinkle Races

Tokyo Twinkle Races

Twinkle Races is the name of Tokyo’s nighttime horse races located at the Tokyo City Keiba track off the monorail line to the Haneda Airport. 10 to 12 students participated in this event. We met at the school and took the 40 minutes train ride to the track.

Tokyo Twinkle Races

The school’s assistants provided written information on how to place a bet and then at the track demonstrated how to fill out the form and enter it in the automated machine to get your betting ticket. They gave us each two 100 yen coins to place our own bets.

Tokyo Twinkle Races

The races and betting work pretty much like they do at other race tracks.

Tokyo Twinkle Races

You have a chance to see the horses before the race, place your bets, and then watch the race. It’s about 35 minutes between races. There is also food and drinks available at the track.

Tokyo Twinkle Races

Surprisingly, the stands were quite full on a Wednesday evening.

Tokyo Twinkle Races

Unfortunately I bet on #5

Cooking Class – Shikaimaki

Cooking Class - Shikaimaki

Shikaimaki is a kind of sushi roll with cucumber and egg. While the flavors are not really that interesting – cooked egg, cucumber and rice – the final design is quite spectacular and relatively easy to achieve.

Cooking Class - ShikaimakiCooking Class - Shikaimaki

The staff made this activity very easy having everything planned out and precut. We had to color the rice and let it cool and then put the roll together through a series of rolling, cutting and combining. I won’t go into the details but they made it easy, explaining each step in both Japanese and English.

Cooking Class - ShikaimakiCooking Class - Shikaimaki

I was surprised how easy it was and that everyone was very successful in creating a nice looking roll. It was a perfect task for an hour long cooking class.

Calligraphy Class

Caligraphy Class

Again the staff was well prepared. The instructor for this event was accompanied by a translator so that instructions were given in both Japanese and English. It’s a very visual activity so that you really don’t need to know much if any Japanese to participate and enjoy the class.

Calligraphy Class

The instructor demonstrated the sitting posture, how you put ink on the brush and the proper way to hold the brush before demonstrating the actual brush strokes.

Caligraphy Class

It’s a simple process but difficult to perfect. You certainly won’t master calligraphy in an hour class but you can practice and create a work of your own. The instructor demonstrated 3 characters for us to practice, first on tissue paper then at the end of the class on a clean board for our final masterpiece.

Festival and Omikoshi


Through the school you have the opportunity to participate in an Omikoshi, the carrying of a Shinto shrine through a neighborhood.


While donning a rented happi jacket and helping the locals carry the incredibly heavy shrine through the streets may seem underwhelming, this neighborhood event has an energy that needs to be experienced to be understood.


The locals dress in crisp team happi jackets, proudly representing their local business.


As they carry the shrine through the neighborhood they bounce it up and down to a chant while the lead guy does everything he can to hold them back.



Women’s Omikoshi

The heat, sweat, weight of the shrine, and the rhythm of the chanting create a dynamism and strength in community.


The school’s assistants do a great job of giving the students ample opportunity to participate as well as fetching the well-deserved beer and snacks at break time. If you will be at the language school in September I highly recommend you sign up for this event.


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Review of Coto Language Academy, Tokyo, Japan

Coto Language Academy offers various Japanese classes for foreigners. I spent 4 weeks in an intensive course (level Beginner 2) in September of 2017 in order to learn some Japanese to make traveling in Japan both easier and more fun.

There are many things I like about this school and learning Japanese in general. First, as an older language leaner it’s great to be in a school where the average age is closer to 35 than 20. Being around other students that are living in Tokyo and have had various life experiences is far more interesting than the 20-somethings I usually meet in Europe and South America.

Our class was just 4 students the first 2 weeks, 6 the third week and 5 the last week. Students can join the class on any Monday. That didn’t disrupt the class and all the students seemed about the same level. In fact, as far as the other students were concerned it was one of the more enjoyable learning environments I’ve ever experienced.

The school is well run and well organized. Classes were three hours a day, actually three 50 minute sessions with a 10 minute break in between. We had three teachers, teacher A on Monday and Thursday, teacher B on Tuesdays and Fridays and teacher C on Wednesdays.

The first 40 minutes of each day is spent on kanji (Chinese characters). For me this was the least interesting and least useful part of the day. Writing kanji is something that can be learned on your own should you want to learn it. You don’t need a teacher to tell you how to trace letters and then drill you on them.

The next lesson focuses on one or two grammar structures or verb conjugations. For the most part I found the grammar explanations too analytical and more complicated than need be.

There seems to be a preference for teaching and drilling pure grammar structures rather than focusing on the usage of the structure in context. For example, they drill mas form to te form, dictionary form to mas form instead of using open ended exercises where students make requests using the te form.

While some students may like this kind of drill, I find that in the long run it really isn’t very useful for achieving fluency. Fluency is achieved when you practice grammar in context and it is connected to real meaning that can be internalized and used in daily life.

There is also a lot of choral repetition (the class as a whole repeats words or phrases after the teacher) which is not useful and generally only necessary when classes are so large that other methods just aren’t possible. In small classes it’s a waste of time.

Over the four weeks we did more pair work and more open ended conversation exercises in the later weeks. Not surprisingly, we were not very good at it despite the endless drilling in the previous weeks.

Between the three teachers there is definitely variation in the use of communicative teaching methods. Some preferred dated choral repetition while others found ways to teach and practice grammar in context, especially in the later weeks.

I talked to someone in administration about the school’s teaching methodology. I explained that I was surprised that the classes focused on grammar structures when their website clearly states that they focus on conversational skills. Although she did not say this directly I got the impression that they believe that this kind of drilling improves speaking skills.

They have part-time classes that specifically train students using drills. They also have part-time classes that may be more communicative in that they start with a grammar structure and work up to a role play activity. She gave me the opportunity to sit in on one of these classes but unfortunately I didn’t have time to take her up on her offer.

Tests given every Friday are heavily kanji vocabulary and grammar based. In my opinion these tests are not very useful in that it is more of test of how slowly I write in kanji than a true test of what I can say or understand in Japanese. If the focus of the class is oral communication the exam should test oral communication.

This is my first experience with a Japanese school so I don’t know if this style of teaching is typical. My fear is that it is. For those seeking a school to work on grammar structures Coto Language Academy isn’t bad.  For me, who came to Japan to work on oral communication – I can learn grammar structures on my own – this school did not meet my needs.

If I were to do it again I would either do one-on-one instruction or a combination of one-on-one with a group class in order to ensure that more of the lesson time was focused on oral communication skills.

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Coto Language Academy, First Impressions, Tokyo, Japan

Coto Language Academy offers various Japanese classes for foreigners. I spent 4 weeks in an intensive course (level Beginner 2) in September of 2017 in order to learn some Japanese to make traveling in Japan both easier and more fun. This post discusses my first impressions of the school followed by a full review in the next post.


I had high hopes for the Coto Language Academy as I  enthusiastically embrace the teaching approach stated on their website.

“Our courses are designed for students from beginner to advanced who want to rapidly improve their Japanese speaking ability.”

“Our full time course focuses on conversation within a friendly environment.”

“Improve Your Japanese Speaking & Listening In Just 4 Weeks!”

Although, I’m generally skeptical of of promises to learn language quickly, putting it in the same category as losing 30 pounds in 30 days and earning $10,000 month following our easy program, I was encouraged that their focus was on oral communications skills.

I was further encouraged by their chosen textbook, Genki, as it teaches and practices grammar structures in context with the goal of using the structures in open ended conversation.

First day of class

I was pleased to find myself in a class with only 3 other students, all men and all of them working age as opposed to college students. This was all looking quite good.

My heart sank when the teacher presented the daily schedule and I found we would begin each day with kanji (Chinese characters) practice. OK I thought, not the most useful for me who is just trying to learn enough to get by, but it’s just one section of the class.

The class, however, only went downhill from there. Grammar structures were taught completely out of context and practiced either in written exercises or as a whole class drill, a very outdated Asian style of teaching. There was no one-on-one teacher student activities or pair work. It’s as if she was teaching to class of 50, not four.

As a result, after three hours of instruction the only meaningful Japanese I’d had a chance to speak was a very short self-introduction at the beginning of the class – name, nationality, occupation and what I like to do. I can’t think of a worse start in all my years of language classes. Let’s hope tomorrow goes better.

Second day

What a difference a teacher can make! Although we still started the morning with kanji practice – both writing the character using the proper stroke order – you can’t just write it any old way – and the meaning, the morning otherwise was spent on practicing grammar structures, both forming what is called the t forms of the verb and then using them in context for making requests.

Practice still tended to be controlled with no real conversation practice. The textbook actually does give more open ended exercises for practicing the forms, but so far the teachers haven’t used any of them. This second teacher also used far less English but was much easier to understand. She spoke clearly and used gestures and examples to explain the meaning rather than quickly reverting to English.

First exam day

Fridays are devoted entirely to review and assessment, starting of course with kanji. As a class we reviewed kanji flashcards, both the individual characters and then in sentences, going around the room with each student taking a turn.

The test was 9 sentences, first with the kanji characters underlined for which we had to provide the hiragana (Japanese phonetic alphabet) and then with the hiragana underlined for which we had to provide the kanji character. A rather silly way to present a test as it is entirely unnecessary to read the sentence in order to translate the kanji to hiragana and vice-versa.

We then reviewed for the grammar test, going over the grammar structures studied that week. Most of the review focused on action flashcards for which we had to provide the verb in the proper form. The test, however, was 6 sentences which we had to translate from English into hiragana, followed by a fill-in table of conjugation forms. The third section was vocabulary words, 5 English to be translated into hiragana and 5 hiragana for which you had to provide the English word. All in all this was a very non-communicative test. Secondly, the test did not assess what they had you practice in class.

For both tests, the fact that I write hiragana very slowly created a time constraint. When I study I mostly focus on oral structures. In class, too, we focused on oral structures, so a written test of this nature does not match the goals of the class.

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Learning the Transit System, Tokyo, Japan

August 30, 2017

Tokyo Train

While the Tokyo interlocking network of trains and subway lines may feel overwhelming at first, the system is not difficult figure out. There are plenty of maps and signs in English as well as electronic diagrams on-board the cars that indicate the stops in both English and Japanese. With a little persistence and the help of a good app, Google Maps works quite well, you can negotiate the system fairly easily.

I did make a mistake on my first attempt to find the language school using Google. It had me transfer at a station that was only connected by a rapid train which skipped the station nearest the school. My heart skipped a few beats when I realized the mistake, but, descending at the next station I was able to take a local train back to the station I needed.

Buying Tickets

Many of the ticket machines are in both Japanese and English. Because I was staying a month a Japanese friend suggested I buy a commuter pass which gives you unlimited trips along a selected route. You can then add money to the Suica card for trips outside your chosen route. You can also buy Suica cards for general use on the train and subway lines instead of buying individual tickets every time you board.

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Bathing at a Japanese Homestay, Tokyo, Japan

August 29, 2017

Homestay Bathing Guide

Before my arrival in Japan I was sent a guidebook on how to conduct yourself at a homestay. One subject, bathing, had quite specific instructions. You were not to wash in the bathtub, as the same bath water is used for the entire family. You were to wash up outside the tub and then simply soak in the tub.

Seemed simple enough except that when I was shown the bathroom there was no mention of soaking in the tub and it seemed there was no place to really shower. There was a bar with a hand-held wand on the wall, but if you used this to shower you would flood the small bathroom which was two-thirds taken up by the tub. So I opted to sit in the tub and use the hand held wand to wash, thus minimizing the mess.

This turned out to be a mistake (the bathtub must be sacred or something) and I was informed that I should shower outside the tub. I tried this approach but as I expected made a big mess with water all over the mirror and shelf with the bathing products located just below the showerhead. The next evening I was informed that it would be OK for me to wash-up in the bathtub. I guess she really didn’t like my mess.

It finally occurred to me that there must be a different way of showering, so I tried sitting on the tiny stool, about 8 inches off the ground, to wash-up, holding the wand rather than using it like a true shower. This greatly minimized the mess but what an inconvenient way to bathe, all scrunched up trying to hold a wand in one hand and wash with the other. I’ve never appreciated more the simplicity and genius of a wall mounted shower head leaving you the luxury of having your hands free to wash your hair.

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Immersion Program Homestay, Tokyo, Japan

August 27, 2017

For this last collection of Japan posts I will back track to my arrival in Japan and experience studying Japanese for a month in Tokyo.


What do you do when you come home to your host family with filthy feet after a day of sightseeing in Kamakura, including a walk to the sea in dirty sand? Just the day before my host mother taught me the proper way to use the vestibule area. Your clean bare feet are never to touch the tiled vestibule floor and your dirty shoes are never to touch the inner faux wood floor. Now, my shoes are filthy, both inside and out.

The understanding host mother mimics that I should tip toe down the hall to the bathroom to wash my feet, which I do with zeal. Then she watches over me as I clean my shoes with the damp rag she has provided, ensuring that I have gotten every speck of sand out of the shoes. After a few tries she is finally satisfied that the shoes are clean enough.

This is only tad more anal than the other night at dinner when I was reminded several times that I hadn’t eaten all my rice. They mean every last grain, seriously? I have to admit the house is super clean. Not a speck of grit on the floors. A pleasure to walk in on bare foot, which I rarely do, nearly always wearing socks just in case I do pick up a bit of dirt and accidently transfer it to the clean sheets. All these precautions were outlined in the Homestay Guidebook I was sent the week before my trip to Japan.

One might wonder why a 50 something year old woman would ever want to subject herself to such rules. I’ve been wondering that myself these last 48 hours since I’ve arrived in Tokyo. In the past I’ve always believed that staying with a host family is a great way to get to know the culture and practice the language.

I’m studying Japanese for the next month in preparation for a three week trip with Don. My plan is to learn enough to make travel in the more remote regions a little easier. I’m beginning to wonder if that, too, may be unrealistic. I’ve been studying on my own for the last 5 months using the Genki series used by the language school Coto Language Academy, and by Pimsleur which I find is great for learning practical phrases. But, really, there is no substitute for meaningful conversation practice, using the language to solve real everyday problems. So that’s why I’m here in the small apartment of a middle aged Japanese couple fastidiously trying to keep my feet clean.


My room is small, tiny really, but clean and comfortable with a twin Western mattress and small writing desk. They also provide a computer, which I haven’t used as I brought my own laptop. The closet is big enough to accommodate the contents of a suitcase and a small shelving unit holds the rest of my belongings. In the shared bathroom I’m allowed space for my toothbrush and toothpaste next to the sink and shampoo and soap next to the bathtub.

Upon arrival, after 20 hours in transit with no sleep, I was greeted by this kind couple carrying a rules sheet written in both English and Japanese, I assume provided by the housing agency. We spend the first hour negotiating meal times, how late I can stay out and whether I get a key (I don’t). I guess there is always supposed to be someone here to let me in. That didn’t work so well for me in India where I ended up having to spend the night in a nearby hotel because I could wake the house boy who was passed out on the living room floor, but that is a different story. They’ve done this before so I imagine they have a system that works for them.

Also on the schedule is what time I can use the bathroom to wash. It’s not really a shower so to speak. You sit in the bathtub and sort of wash up with a hand held shower. (This turned out to be very wrong. See the following post.) Not the most convenient or pleasant way to bath for those used to a real shower. And by the way, the Homestay Guidebook specifies that you are required to bathe every day.

On a brighter note, the meals have been quite good so far, prepared by the husband with more care than at most host family situations I’ve stayed in. The couple eats with me and tries to make simple conversation. My Japanese is quite basic so many questions are too complicated for me to answer with my limited vocabulary and grammar structures. Why do I want to go to the school by myself on a Saturday when the husband will go with me on Monday? I want to try to negotiate the train system myself on a day that is less crowded, and I’ll remember better if I figure out the way myself rather than following someone else. All of this is far too complicated to explain and I just leave the host father thinking I’m crazy or stubborn or something.

Looking back on the month with the Japanese couple I realize it was one of the most interesting cultural experiences I’ve had. While the restrictions, i.e. having to be home at a certain time and meals and bathing on a fixed schedule, can feel overwhelming, there is also a greater care taken concerning your wellbeing and comfort. For example, the host mother knew that I would be traveling after my stay with them and asked if wanted her to wash the remainder of my laundry the afternoon before I left. Normally she only did laundry in the morning.



The food continued to be the best I’ve ever had in a homestay situation, generally four- five dishes carefully prepared for both breakfast and dinner.



If I was home at lunch time on the weekends they invited me to lunch with them, which was not required according to my meal plan. If you like Japanese food it’s a great deal.

All in all, I would do it again; in fact I plan to. If you have a flexible attitude most living situation are tolerable for a month and it remains a great opportunity to practice the language and learn about the culture.

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Sleeping and Dining in Tokyo, Japan

October 9-11, 2017

Remm Hibiya

Hibiya Park

Hibiya Park

This reasonably priced modern hotel, located directly across the street from the Imperial Palace Hotel, has easy access to many of Tokyo’s top sights and neighborhoods, including the Ginza shopping district directly to the east and the Imperial Palace and Gardens a short walk to the northwest. The Tsukiji market is about a 20 minute walk through Ginza or a short subway ride.

Remm Hotel

The very small rooms are modern with the general Japanese amenities, including a toothbrush and water boiler.  A massaging chair is an extra bonus. The bed, something larger than double but smaller than a queen, is against the wall that divides the room and the bathroom, making it a little tricky for two people to get in and out of bed.

The small bathroom with very little counter space has a large picture window to make your space feel bigger when the shade is up, but then you are looking into your bathroom. Despite the small size the room is comfortable and I would stay here again.

A note on pricing, I reserved a room here on 3 separate occasions and got very different pricing each time. The last time in October was under $100 US a night.


Dinner at Kurumaya in Shinjiku. This upscale Japanese establishment is a nice way to end a trip. The understated upstairs dining room is classically Japanese with minimal decoration but open enough to casually observe other patrons, most of whom were Japanese at quiet business dinners or special occasions. Service is formal but they are quite friendly to picture taking tourists and speak enough English, aided by an English language menu, to make a pleasant evening.

Kurumaya - Sukiyaki

Sukiyaki is one of their specialties. The richly marbled beef (get Wagyu for the ultimate experience) is cooked table side

Kurumaya - SukiyakiKurumaya - Sukiyaki

with onions and mushrooms in a sweet, salty sukiyaki sauce. A fresh egg is beaten for you to dip the meat in before eating.

Kurumaya - Sukiyaki

Kurumaya - Sukiyaki

Noodles and tofu cooked after the meat

A luscious extravagant treat! We shared one order of sukiyaki along with an order of

Kurumaya - Tempura

tempura – shrimp, fish and vegies –

Kurumaya - Grilled Black Cod

and an exquisite grilled black cod. Everything was beautifully done. Probably not the way the Japanese would order a meal but for us it was perfect.

Dinner at one of the many restaurants along the train tracks south of Yurakucho Station. This small plate yakatori is just one of many places along the tracks. Although not much English is spoken they have an English menu with pictures. These small plate establishments are a nice way to sample a variety of dishes or have a lighter meal.

Yakitori south of YurakuchoYakitori south of YurakuchoYakitori south of Yurakucho

We ordered a few chicken skewers, shishito peppers, cucumber salad, and a super yummy super spicy chicken leg all washed down with a cold beer and sake.

Dean and Deluca for breakfast. Located at the south end of the Yurakucho Station this Dean and Deluca is an easy alternative to the lines at the Starbucks up the street. A large latte is a bargain at 450 yen.

Dean and Deluca - Breakfast

The cinnamon roll with pecans, raisins and a burnt sugar crust is a taste of home. The egg on toast, however, was runny by Western standards.

For our last meal in Japan we headed back to our street of many restaurants next to our hotel. i.e. along the west side of the tracks south of Yurakucho Station. We wanted ramen and found an unassuming spot Kimaru that looked like they served up good noodles. No English was spoken to us, but none was needed.

Ramen at Kimaru

Pictures on the vending machine allowed us to order two bowls of noodle soup

Gyoza and Kimaru

and a plate of gyoza (dumplings). Most ramen dishes are pork and the reddish ones are spicy. Once you order and pay at the vending machine give the tickets to a server and take a seat. A few minutes later they bring you a steaming bowl of noodles. A great ending to a great trip.

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