Using Music Effectively In English Lessons

At a recent teachers meeting there seemed to be a fair bit of interest in how I use music in my English lessons. I have written on here before about using songs in adult English lessons which is very much a part of learning whereas this is more about fun, entertainment and creating a relaxed atmosphere.

My use of music in lessons dates back to about 2006 when I thought it might be fun to use the ‘Theme From Mission Impossible‘ during a ‘hunt the flashcard’ kids activity not that they really had any idea what the accompanying soundtrack was! However, it seemed to work and the length of both track and activity inadvertently ended up finishing together at the same time.

As a result I looked at ways of incorporating other classic pieces of music into my lessons. The ‘20th Century Fox Fanfare‘ was first up and at 21 seconds was the ideal length for getting the students in the room and seated. ‘Extreme Ways‘ by Moby features at the end of the Bourne movies and has been a staple end theme to my lessons and that’s often preceded by a clip of Arnold Schwarzenegger saying “I’ll be back” which, to my surprise, still gets laughs more often that not.

Other tunes regularly used by me include themes from Thomas & Friends (kids lessons only!), Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, Terminator, Champions League, Back To The Future, Curb Your Enthusiasm, 5 Live Sports Report, James Bond, Jeopardy as well as Dance Of The Knights and loads, loads more. All very well but how do you use them in lessons I hear you ask!

Students walking into my classroom early is something I dislike so until I’ve played the starting theme they shouldn’t make their way into the room. My students are all fairly well trained to enter the room and usually file in to the lesson when they hear the music blasting out! It also alerts the receptionist that its lesson time and they can tell the students in Japanese (who may be otherwise engaged) that its time to study English!

Of course, I’m not going to kid you (or myself) that music is used for anything more than adding a bit of razzmatazz to proceedings but the tunes really do have other uses. One such example is timing. With most tunes clocking in at between 3-4 minutes they are ideal in length to time pair-work and bookwork activities.

When I did my Tesol course back in 2009 one of the first things I was complimented on in my initial lesson was the use of music throughout. Even back then I was so at home with using famous movie soundtracks as background music that I had never really thought of a trainer thinking it a good thing. It was just what I did and I guess its become something of a trademark. With silence being uncomfortable for many of us foreigners it is quite a nice idea to have some music playing gently in the background whilst the students do an exercise or two from the book or take part in a pair work activity. Of course the music should never be played at a volume which interferes or affects the students concentration.

I guess I’m a bit of a frustrated DJ in the classroom so having a CD or two at hand with many classic TV and film soundtracks on it (as well as the odd sound effect!) can “entertain” the student(s) when used at the right time such as when there’s any reference to that particular movie or whatever whether it be in the textbook or just in conversation. It also makes for a great warmer by way of a ‘Guess the Theme’ game when the topic of movies is in the book.

The music is only used when appropriate so it’s not used in all lessons but when it does appear it usually puts a smile on peoples face, relaxes them and helps welcome them into a comfortable atmosphere.

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Tokyo Daytripper: Kiyosumi Gardens

I’d forgotten all about these gardens until they featured in a cooking segment on the recent ‘Hairy Bikers Asian Adventure‘ BBC TV series. I do remember visiting them about eight years ago with my mate Gideon, and I did actually write a short piece about them which I ended up deleting only a few months ago as it had no photos, was very short and a bit boring (“That’s never stopped you before Tokyo Fox” I hear you cry!).

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Hoping to see them during the cherry blossom season, I went there on a flying visit during a break the other week. It was actually on the same day as I went to Rikugien in Komagome and that experience should’ve taught me that these gardens are not exactly full of weeping cherry trees. In fact, Kiyosumi only has one cherry tree but it was a very pleasant one and with it being late afternoon I had the near-deserted place to myself.

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This little spot is on the east side of the Sumida-gawa river and it consists of a an artificial pond, hill and river built during the Meiji period to entertain employees and guests of the Mitsubishi Corporation. Entry is just 150 yen and the highlight for me was not the cherry tree but the exquisite stepping stones (below) and varied rocks brought from all over Japan.

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The teahouse sticks out into the pond and was originally built in order to entertain a British guest in 1909 so its perhaps quite apt that this architecture was where the Hairy Bikers made California rolls in episode four of their most recent TV series.

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As ever with many things in Japan, Kiyosumi has inevitably had comprehensive repairs despite surviving the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 and war damage. In fact, the gardens were used as an area of refuge and saved many lives during the bombing of Tokyo in March 1945.

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The best things in life are free is an overly-used phrase and one that I usually take with a pinch of salt but maybe there’s something in it after all as the sakura just down the road (below) from the gardens entrance/exit were actually far more of a spectacle.

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How to get there: Take the Toei Oedo or Hanzomon lines to Kiyosumi-shirakawa station. It’s then a 3 minute walk from the A3 exit

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Cycling The Wolverine Tokyo Trail…In One Day!

The idea of this cycling venture then was to ride the route (supposedly) taken in ‘The Wolverine‘ (2013) which tends to zig-zag its way across the capital without too much respect for distance and time. For Tokyo residents the geography in this sixth film of the X-Men franchise is quite bewildering at times as the film edit makes it seem like such a vast city is easily walkable when in reality the distance between places is quite far. In its defence, geography has rarely ever been a strong point in movies. What do those who criticise it really expect? A painstakingly long scene shot in real time?!! Of course Wolverine/Logan could have used public transport to get around but that doesn’t seem to exist in the X-Men universe! To follow in the footsteps of the Wolverine meant taking in seven places with one of them repeated and yes I really did go there twice.

Themed cycling tours of Tokyo have taken a bit of a backseat in recent times on this site so it was nice to get back in the saddle for a few hours on a nice warm Spring day. The first Tokyo location appears 19 minutes in and thankfully it’s only a five minute ride away from the Tokyo Fox Global Operations Centre! It’s the classic shot of Yasukuni dori in Shinjuku which has featured in so many movies and TV programmes over the years and I guess it’s become the classic shot (alongside Shibuya crossing) of the neon lights of Tokyo really hitting the foreigner visiting these shores. I get to travel under the same bridge half a dozen times a week so I probably take it for granted. The photo’s below show the screenshots, the ones taken on the day of this tour and a bonus couple taken only the night before to show how it looks at night.

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After that I cycled on to Zojoji temple (below) in the Shiba neighbourhood of Minato-ku which is about 8km away and a route I’ve taken a few times now not that stops me from ever doing it smoothly! The funeral procession takes place at this temple on 35 minutes; locations which Tokyo Fox premiered back in April 2013 following the release of the trailer. However, not all the funeral scenes took place at Zojoji as pretty soon the action moves to the Chinese Garden of Friendship in Sydney which previously featured in ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert‘ (1994). The real action scenes were filmed at this Australian location as the two places are blended together. There are no ponds or water features at Zojoji so it’s the Sydney gardens which you see prominently around the 37 minute mark. Posing as the Wolverine with three chopsticks poking out from between my fingers was pretty embarrassing and they’re not even that visible in the pictures!

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Tokyo Tower does loom large over Zojoji temple and is in the background of a selection of the screenshots and my pictures. In ‘The Wolverine‘ though this tower seems to be prominent quite a lot whereas in reality it can hardly be seen at the best of times in Tokyo due to the many skyscrapers in the city.

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During the funeral at Zojoji, Yakuza gangsters attempt to kidnap Mariko but Logan helps her to escape which is done in reality is done in a very roundabout way taking in Darling Harbour (Sydney!) and Zojoji itself with a chase going on through the two-storied sanmon (below) which was originally built in 1605 and is a rare example of early Edo-period architecture in Tokyo. 

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Within seconds the action is in Takadanobaba (below) which is about 10km away! We only get to see the briefest of rooftop chases and arrow shots outside this station which  also appeared in the Jackie Chan movie ‘The Shinjuku Incident‘ (2009). Takadanobaba is on the Yamanote, Tozai and Seibu Shinjuku lines. Sadly I was unable to get on the rooftop of an eikiawa to get an identical match to that seen on 44 minutes.

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The action quickly moves on to Akihabara on 45 minutes where they take a brief respite in Big Apple Slot & Pachinko parlour (1-16-1 Soto-kanda) opposite Sega Gigo

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Photography is forbidden in panchinko parlours but mobile phone camera’s always allow for a sneaky one! After exiting this place Logan and Mariko walk across the bridge over the Kanda River in the direction of Mansei Akihabara Youshoku (2-21-4F Kanda-Sudacho). If they had any sense they would’ve stopped for one of their famous delicious katsu-sando as I did on a previous themed cycling trip.

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JR Ueno Station is the next location and this is easy and quick to get to as it’s just down the road from Akihabara. It appears after 46 minutes and is where Mariko and Logan take the Shinkansen (Bullet train) to “Nagasaki” even though these super-fast trains only go north from Ueno. If they had wanted to go south then they may as well have just gone a bit further south to Tokyo station which probably wouldn’t have been too much of a problem for them and no doubt they’d have ran or walked it!

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The station has many exits but its outside the Central exit on Jewellery Bridge where Mariko thanks Logan for saving her, says she’s fine (twice) meaning that she doesn’t need his help and then advises him to see a doctor before walking off to catch her train.

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I then had to cycle back the way I’d just came and so passed through Akihabara again (as well as the subsequent stop in Ginza) as I returned to Zojoji temple for a second time. In the film it’s a brief return to the temple on 47 minutes as one of the baddies gives an impromptu interview to the waiting media and paparazzi. Yukio is still there and looks on at the interview before Mariko’s father asks her where her gaijin friend is. Quite a bit of set dressing was added by the production team when they were filming at this temple which explains why some of the match-ups may not be so easy to notice as being the same!

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I was pretty much sick of the sight of this temple by the time I returned and I didn’t hang about for too long. Having been here only a week prior for the cherry blossoms I knew the angles I needed and was happy that the place was quite empty.

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On 52 minutes Logan and Mariko disembark from the Shinkansen and are in Fukuyama for a few seconds before it switches back to Ginza where the Nakagin Capsule Tower (8-10-6 Ginza) appears as a love hotel which they check into. In reality this place is not a place for couples to get it on but is home to many unmarried salarymen wanting to stay in a small place. The interior of these tiny apartments could be seen in episode four of the BBC documentary ‘Journeys Into The Ring Of Fire‘ (2006). The building is a fine example of Tokyo modern architecture and was one of my favourite examples of architecture in this article from July 2012. I can only assume that digital wizardry was used for this scene as the road they are seen walking down is not the one that’s actually next to the building. IMDb says that this street was Brisbane Street, Surry Hills in Sydney!

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So that was it for my day of following in the footsteps of the Wolverine. I managed to avoid getting hit or wounded but the 53.59km ride did no favours for my left knee which I smashed a few days earlier. For the record I paused the Runkeeper app at each of the seven locations (yes, I really did go to Zojoji twice!) so my time of 3 hours 38 minutes, give or take a short stop here and there, is pure riding time.

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C*ck A Load Of This – Kanamara Matsuri 2014

Delighted to wake to news of Leicester‘s promotion back to the Premier League (after an absence of ten years) last Sunday morning there was no better way to celebrate than making my return to the Kanamara matsuri a.k.a. the penis festival! This was the 4th time for Tokyo Fox to attend this internationally renowned festival and quite possibly the last! The event is always fun to attend with friends but the novelty is starting to wear off…which in truth it probably had on my previous visit four years ago! 

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The location is only a fairly small shrine close to Kawasaki-daishi station and on the day of the festival it is always overflowing with spectators keen to see what this unique event is all about. From Shinagawa onwards the trains were just packed with Japanese and foreigners alike heading in the direction of Kawasaki in Kanagawa. Very rare to see so many ‘gaikokujin‘ in one place and perhaps we were even the majority this year! It has to be said that the police do manage to control things very well though why they don’t just close off the road outside the shrine I don’t know! Boy Scouts are even on hand to play a part in the control and organisation of the day. Now, I was in the scouts for many, many years but never ever got to help out at a p*nis festival!!

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My girlfriend really must wonder about me at times as only a few months ago did I leave her behind in the hotel to go and seek out a p*nis shrine in Bangkok and then I told her I was going to this festival two days ago! This time I concentrated more on the parade which I watched (in part) with my friend Finlay and his mates from across the road. In fact the streets were lined with people waiting in the wrong places and it seemed only I knew which course the procession would take. All in all the parade features three very heavy phallic shaped omikuji (portable shrines) which need about 14 people to carry them. I sadly missed last years when Karl Pilkington was in town to record a segment of ‘The Moaning Of Life‘ which aired on Sky One last year. In that he helped out with the lifting of the giant c*cks!

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Not long after the parade started, the heavens opened up. Thankfully the showers didn’t last too long and the sun did come out again but it was far more windy and the ground, which was already muddy and wet in many places, became even worse. Still, its always fun to watch a few silly overdressed Japanese girls trying to navigate their way round the shrines grounds in their high heels!

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For those still wondering what this event is all about its basically a prosperity and fertility festival which also raises awareness and funds for AIDS prevention and research….which is what I’m all about and is my main reason for attending!! As well as the aforementioned procession of omikoshi (portable shrines) there is live music, transvestites, cherry blossom trees, penis lollies (as well as ones of the ladies front bottom too!), snack foods and most importantly….alcohol!!

Back home in the UK, the local daily newspaper; the Leicester Mercury (well its twitter feed!) got wind of my tweet about celebrating the foxes achieving promotion at this weird event and before retweeting it they set it up by saying to “stand by for a mystifying retweet!” The campaign to get a similar event in Leicester in the future starts here!!

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You can read my previous articles on this quirky ‘only in Japan’ festival, as well as see some much more interesting and better photos, by clicking on the links below…

2006          2008          2010

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Tokyo Daytripper: Rikugien Gardens (Komagome)

On looking through the Tokyo Fox archive it’s quite apparent that I’ve never really written much about these gardens in Komagome. Rikugien has had brief mentions when I cycled Tokyo’s top 25 sights…in one day and when my friend Hugo visited (both in 2010) but despite going there half a dozen times it’s never had an entry all to itself…..until now!

This pleasant traditional Japanese garden is actually open during the cherry blossom season until 9pm offering visitors the chance to see the sakura illuminated with floodlights. My girlfriend and I did this a few years ago but I wasn’t that bothered by yozakura (night sakura) instead preferring the place in daylight.

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With other commitments and haphazard weather, the window of opportunity for seeing sakura this year has been very limited so I had to venture on up to Komagome last Wednesday before work. On entering the garden (300 yen) you encounter a weeping cherry tree and I was expecting much more from there on in but was a tad disappointed to realise that beyond that initial tree, the sakura was fairly scarce! I can only guess that it looks at its very best during the koyo (Autumn leave) season.

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However, there’s far more to Rikugien than its brief flirtation with sakura for it is very much a beautiful and tranquil place to wander and collect your thoughts without too much exterior traffic noise. The tallest hill in the garden is called Fujishiro-toge and its a whopping 35 metres high! The views from the top really are quite wonderful.

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For the record, it was laid out in 1695 though nothing too much seemed to happen for a couple of centuries before it was properly created in 1938.

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The name rikugien is taken from the six principles of waka poetry and the landscaping is inspired by Japanese and Chinese poetic references which of course I know nothing whatsoever about! Six is usually read as ‘roku‘ but the ‘riku‘ part of the name is derived from the Chinese pronunciation of the word.

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It should be noted that these gardens may look quite natural in appearance but they are actually artificial. It is supposedly typical of an Edo-period garden and it features a large central pond surrounded by hills, open lawns, forested areas and a teahouse or three. All of these are connected by a network of trails and it takes about an hour to stroll around.

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Hiroshima 2014 Pt II – Onomichi

From time to time I tear interesting travel articles out of magazines and keep them in a file on the off chance that I may one day visit the place in question. Most of the time they are just forgotten about and the file just collects dust but by chance I found an old cutting the other week featuring something called Onomichi temple trails which captured my interest. I relayed this information to my other half and her parents, and it was decided that we’d visit Onomichi on our second and final full day in Hiroshima.

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Now, I had no idea where Onomichi was and didn’t realise that it was actually two hours away albeit still within the boundaries of Hiroshima prefecture. Senkoji Park rests atop a mountain overlooking the city, and was our first destination and with it being a lovely Spring day (albeit in the pre-cherry blossom phase sadly!) it was nice to walk around the meandering paths which took us by the graves of many famous literati people…not that I knew of any of them! There is an observation deck providing 360 degree panoramic views of the area and there is a ropeway to take you down the mountain if you want it but we didn’t do that and just followed the trail down to the historic Senkoji Temple.

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The temple is the symbol of Onomichi and said to have been founded in 806 and its bell tower is famous for its chimes on New Year’s Eve. The name means “temple of a thousand lights” and is not only interesting for its views but also for many of its little intricacies such as the the stuff related to star signs. Of course I’m sceptical of horoscope-related stuff but I’m told it’s lucky that the star signs of both my girlfriend and I are side by side in this place.

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We then drove over to see it from the other side in Mukaijima. This side of the sea gave us some lovely views of all the little islands and it was easy to see why Einstein (no, not the dog from ‘Back To The Future‘ but some other guy who was a famous theoretical physicist!) said it was the most beautiful lake he’d ever seen not realising that it was actually the sea!

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I think its fair to say that the Japanese are food-obsessed and ramen (chinese soup noodles) is one such dish which really gets their taste buds working overtime. Naturally, there is something called Onomichi ramen and the plan was to try and find a place which my girlfriend’s father remembered from over 30 years ago. It would have made for a nice story but inevitably it had long gone. Though different to my usual favoured tonkotsu flavoured preference Onomichi ramen really really nice and I sucked up those delicious noodles in no time.

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After our late lunch we headed back to Hiroshima city. Whilst I was a bit sad to not walk the temple trail I felt very lucky to have gone off the tourist trail and been able to see the views I did. I’m sure it won’t be too long before we return to Hiroshima and maybe we can return to Onomichi one day to actually do walk which I assume is similar to that of Kita-Kamakura in Kanagawa prefecture.

As we got closer to home, by miraculous fortune, I spotted the WoodEgg Okonomiyaki Museum building and we stopped to get a picture of the interesting architectural design.

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Dinner was a spread of many, many Japanese dishes cooked by my girlfriends mum and delightful they all were. They included chirashi-zushi (scattered sushi)roast beef, hotaruika (some kind of squid), fish head, itawasa (fish cakes) and some other stuff which I now forget.

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A short trip but a good one although it could have inadvertently been longer as we only just managed to make our flight on Tuesday morning by the skin of our teeth. Our flight was at 9am and we arrived at the airport at 8.45am and was able to board the plane just seconds before they were to close the gate. That rush to the airport was as close as I’ll ever get to recreating something from out of a film and I hope I never have to experience such a thing again!

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Hiroshima 2014 Pt I – Gokurakujiyama & Shukkei-en Garden

Obviously the two main sights to see when in Hiroshima are the Peace Memorial Park &  Museum and Miyajima but having done them both on each of my previous two visits in 2005 and 2013 I was wondering what else we could do this time. Luckily my girlfriend’s father was born and raised in the area and knows many places and so the plan was to go to Gokurakujiyama which roughly translates as heaven temple mountain.

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Following a few navigation problems we made it to Gokurakujiyama and was impressed by the tranquility and peacefulness of the area with hardly a soul in sight as we walked around the serene lake. Our poor sense of direction continued as we ended up taking the wrong path resulting in us missing the peak we were aiming for!

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Thankfully we decided to turn back and ascend the steps taking us to the temple at the top which offered some impressive views of the city not that the photos really do it too much justice!

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Once we were back in the city we stopped off to visit Shukkei-en Garden (below) which is actually right next to Hiroshima-jo castle where we went last May. Entry is only 250 yen and the place actually dates from 1620 but was severely damaged by the atomic bomb in 1945.

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This was a nice little place to have a quick walk around although we were a little too early to see the much celebrated cherry blossoms. It’s bridge is one of the most appealing features with its reflected gaze making it appear like its a 360 degree hole or something thats round!

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Across the road from the Peace Memorial Park & Museum are the Gates of Peace (below) which I was unaware of from previous visits so we made a quick photo stop there before heading back to the apartment. Each nine metre high gate is covered with the word “peace” in 49 different languages.

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We spent three nights in total in Hiroshima and for the one in the middle my girlfriends parents treated us to a night in the rentable room on the top floor of their apartment block. Terrific views from the 28th floor (below) and a sauna and jacuzzi thrown into the bargain too. My first experience of both for the first time since I was a kid!

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To round off the day we had the dish which Hiroshima is most famous for and thats okonomiyaki (above right) and kaki (oysters). We had both at a local restaurant and the former was huge in size but not a problem for me to finish off and washed down with a couple of ice cold beers this was dining at its simple and most effective.

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