A major disappointment turned into an exciting and spontaneous adventure for us last night in Osaka!
Initially, we had planned to see The Killers in concert this week. This doubled as both an early birthday present for me (September 29th!) and as a “push present” from Josh as we await the arrival of our baby next month (October!). I was so excited- I would finally be able to see my favorite band in person! However, due to severe typhoon damage at the Kansai International Airport, the concert was cancelled at the last minute. I sadly had to send the tickets back to the distributor in a hurry and hope for a full refund…
To make up for our loss, we decided to make a date in Osaka anyway. No solid plans, just a little fun in the big city together. We stopped by for a late lunch of fish n’ chips at Hub Pub (with plenty of malt vinegar!) and then explored the lovely Namba Parks (which you may have seen featured on Reddit for its amazing “forest in the middle of a concrete city” aesthetic). We chilled on the rooftop and caught some nice Pokemon while deciding what to do next.
Josh and I have recently been playing a lot of “Monster Hunter World” since I started maternity leave, and it’s been so fun going on hunts and quests together! I’ve always wanted to visit a limited themed cafe during my time in Japan, but by the time I hear about them, they are already closed (or in far-off Tokyo)! As the Capcom headquarters is stationed in Osaka and Monster Hunter World was only recently released for the PC, I idly wondered if there was some sort of themed cafe lurking about in the city.
My character Vaelyon and her trusty Palico, Tiramisu!
To my delight, I discovered that an official “Mon Hun Bar” opened just last month right near us in Tennoji! I showed Josh some pictures of the menu and he was all for it. There was just one small problem…I had to reserve our place…by phone…in Japanese! I was shaking in my Birks as I dialed the number and tried to boost my confidence by mentally replaying my recent success with booking both a parenting class and dental appointment over the phone.
“Is 7pm available?”
“One more time, please”
“Sorry, I’m a foreigner.”
Somehow, I got through it and reserved our seats! We were guaranteed commemorative coasters as well as a special snack at our table. We had an hour or so to kill so we stopped by McDonald’s for some of their new Matcha menu selections (quite good, by the way!).
The time finally arrived and we made our way towards the Bali Tower right outside of Osaka Abenobashi station! A themed diorama was placed in the lobby with directions to the cafe. As we walked up the staircase we encountered lots of framed concept artwork from the game and heard that signature music coming from inside the closed off room. The anticipation was building!
After a sizeable crowd had gathered a man dressed as a human Meowscular Chef checked our reservations and brought us in to the cafe area. Huge armor and weapon replicas were featured on the walls, as well as a complete four-player gaming station! I loved the giant Palico looking over our table.
As for the interior, it was gorgeous! We really felt like we had stepped into the world of Monster Hunter and were ready to settle down for a meal at the Canteen. We admired our coasters and themed candy popcorn as we browsed the menu ordering system by iPad.
“I think there are Grimalkynes nearby, meowster!”
We started with drinks- thankfully there was a plentiful “mocktail” menu for me that was just as decorative and fun as the alcohol options! Each drink was whimsically graced with names like “Legiana Chocolate Banana Milk”, “Grimalkyne Maple Latte”, or the one I was so close to getting, the “Malfestio Float” with blue raspberry syrup, vanilla ice cream, and gold flakes!
Josh ordered the “Huntsman Highball” whisky soda, and I got the “Pilot Hare Peach Drink”!
The Huntsman/Sword Master
The Hunstman Highball!
The Pink Pilot Hare…I am still trying to catch this rare pet!
The Pink Hare Peach Drink!
For our main course, Josh got the “Teostra Spicy Katsu Curry”, which was truly spicy and delicious! I got the “Amatsu Cheese Risotto” featuring shrimp and basil with fried rice paper!
The fearsome Elder Dragon Teostra
The delicious Teostra Katsu Curry!
Tasty Amatsu Cheese Risotto!
We finished things off with another round of drinks and a split dessert. Josh got the humorous “Paolumu Cassis Cocktail” and I ordered the massive “Deviljho” muscat tea soda (a Mon Hun Bar West exclusive)! Lastly, we enjoyed the “Kirin Parfait”, an electrifying chocolate syrup, vanilla ice cream, and whipped cream treat.
The “love to hate” Paolumu
This hilariously adorable Paolumu Cassis Cocktail
We laughed for a good three minutes over this!
The big ole Deviljho that I am not looking forward to facing
The massive “Deviljho” soda!
The Kirin is one of my favorite monsters
The “Kirin Parfait” was aptly named!
We couldn’t end the night without scoring some exclusive swag, and score we did! Along with our coasters, we got an awesome “Quest Cleared” keychain and three exclusive Capcom x B-Side Label stickers! We also got stamps on our “Guild Cards” along with a 100 zenny coupon for our next visit (this was a spontaneous special occasion, but we ended up having so much fun we want to go back again!)
We got stamps on our Guild Cards!
Overall, it was a memorable, magical night and a precious memory for the two of us before our own little hunter arrives in October. We may not be able to visit again before they close for their limited run, but I highly recommend you experience it at least once in either Osaka or Tokyo if you’re a fan of the series!
Let me preface this post with a disclaimer before we jump into the fun: this lesson requires a lot of preparation and care to create, but after it’s done it works like a well-oiled machine and can easily be adapted for different grade levels by swapping out a few puzzles later on. Also, if it seems like there are a lot of steps here, that’s because this lesson is designed to take up a full 45 minutes of class time. Feel free to use the whole idea or trim it down for a fun warm-up!
Okay, let’s begin!
I love mysteries, and I like to center a lot of my classes on solving a mystery of some sort. I find that presenting some kind of interactive problem that needs an answer keeps students interested, and most importantly, gets them communicating and thinking in English (with a few incentives and/or penalties built in to keep up the good work). I was inspired to create an ESL escape room after thinking back to my own experiences with thrilling escape or puzzle games, and seeing similar ideas for native English classrooms online.
A lot of my students are afraid of making mistakes in English. Because of this, I wanted to create something they could really wrestle with, since struggling and making mistakes actually increases learning! (https://www.youcubed.org/think-it-up/mistakes-grow-brain/)
This was gonna be a challenge for me. How could I simultaneously get all 40 students to work together without finishing early, cheating, or just plain giving up? More importantly, how could I explain how the game even worked without confusing them?
I looked through my desk files in search of inspiration, and found a deck of playing cards, illustrated synonym and antonym cards, and instructions for a few English logic puzzles left over from past ALTs. I also had some white cardboard sheets at my disposal. Of course here, you can use whatever you’d like. It doesn’t affect the concept. I just like to utilize what I have on hand to create something new.
I chose a Secret Agent theme with the playing card symbols tying it all together. Then I created the other facets of the game during my free time at work (if I recall, this was during a break so I didn’t have a lot to do in the office otherwise, and I have a strict “don’t bring work home” policy for myself. However, I broke that rule just a lil’ bit later on when I asked my husband for help. It was completely unnecessary but super cool and worth it- you’ll see why later on haha.).
A visible timer is set to 45 minutes, just to increase the pressure a bit. 😉
I got permission from my JTEs to use the Active Learning room at our school, which is a bit more spacious and has rounded tables. Of course a regular classroom is fine, but this was perfect because I divided the students into 8 different groups for this lesson, and needed a bit of space to lay out the puzzle materials and my laptop.
This is what they see when they enter the room:
The best way to describe how the lesson works is to explain it from the students’ perspective. So here we go!
First, students enter the room and see all the stuff laid out. I have a little bit of quiet background music playing (I really recommend the “Winter Soul” chillstep mix on Youtube. There are no words and it gradually alternates between low and high tempo, which created a cool atmosphere for the Escape Room). I don’t explain anything yet, but each group gets a piece of scratch paper with some helpful English phrases on it.
Each group gets one of these worksheets.
I start the timer as soon as the bell rings. I explain that the students will need these worksheets in order to survive and pause dramatically (they get a little curious at this point). They can write any notes at the bottom and if they need help, they must ask in English (otherwise no hints). Then we jump right in. I make a big show of the lock (which is quite large already), then attach it to the door with a “chain” ribbon and magnets.
If you didn’t already know this, I’m dramatic. At this point I let out one of those fake villain cackles and explain my evil plan to make them study English forever in this locked classroom. “You’ll never escape unless you can solve my English puzzles! Ahaha!”
Okay, so after we are done laughing, I explain that there are three levels. Level three holds the keys, and you need four keys to unlock the door (as you might guess, that means 2 teams end up working together at the end to get 1 key. Each team progresses through the levels at their own pace. Some teams are inevitably faster to solve puzzles than others, so when that happens they are assigned to help another team. This is good because the more experienced kids can teach the others what they know, and everyone stays busy throughout the class.).
The keys attach to the Final Lock with magnets. All four are needed to unlock the door!
Then I announce that each team will start at Level 1 by taking a small packet from the marked “CLASSIFIED” envelopes. I don’t give them any further instructions besides that to begin. As seen above, there are 4 CLASSIFIED envelopes marked with the 4 playing card symbols. Each folder contains 2 packets, so there are 8 packets total (1 for each team). Each team can freely pick whichever packet they like, and the corresponding symbol will now be their team symbol (heart, spade, club/clover, and diamond). Each packet contains important instructions for progressing to the next level (this lesson doubles as an activity for reading and following instructions correctly).
The scrambled sentence reveals a secret code!
Each packet in level 1 contains a scrambled sentence that utilizes some grammar they have learned recently. These should be a challenge so that the teams don’t solve them right off the bat. I made each sentence about 12-13 words long. Each word has a random number or letter written behind it. If the sentence is correct, the correct secret code will be unveiled! If students are completely lost I get them on the right track (if they ask in English first, of course), but for the most part I want them to make a lot of mistakes. Notice that the instructions call for typing the secret code in a computer. This is the fun part I mentioned at the beginning. If you don’t have a computer available for your classes, you can just manually check their “code”, but this allows students to check themselves multiple times (and learn from their mistakes) in a cool way. It also doesn’t require the internet and anyone can use or share it!
“Hacking” into the Computer
I was telling Josh about my escape room plan one evening and how it would be cool to have some kind of system for students to automatically check themselves and get a real sense of accomplishment when they got it right. I envisioned a simple interface that gave the impression of hacking into a secret file on someone’s computer. To my surprise Josh said “why not?” and whipped up a sweet lil’ program with his coding skills. Despite his claims that something like this was ridiculously simple to code, I was over the moon! Lemme show you how it works!
Check out the interface here! Looks quite secret agent, no? The tab says “classified” at the top and a black screen says “Access Terminal: Enter Key Card Code”. Students type in the secret code they gleaned from the scrambled sentence and hit Enter.
Buh-buhn! If they enter the wrong code, a red bar appears that says “ACCESS DENIED”. Try again! They can try as many times as they like to get the right answer. Each team has a completely separate code, so “cheating” the system isn’t an issue.
Yatta! If the correct code is entered, a green bar appears that says “TERMINAL UNLOCKED”. Level 1 has been cleared! Time to move on to Level 2!
Once they pass Level 1, I give them the corresponding file for Level 2.
Level 2 consists of 8 assorted English puzzles. 4 of them are pretty difficult, 4 of them are regular difficulty. If a team finishes level 1 really fast I give them a “difficult” one to even out the speed of the class, and to make sure everyone is equally challenged. These can be any kind of puzzles you like. I’ll show you a few of the ones I used.
Matching synonyms and antonyms. This can be easy or hard depending on the vocabulary you use. I had a mix of normal and flowery vocabulary so that students would have to use their dictionaries to complete the puzzle.
There are about ten different options for each puzzle to amp up the difficulty, but only 4 correct ones. Each answer card has a playing card taped to the back which doubles as a secret code.
Logic puzzles- these are a bit more difficult. Students use the enclosed clues (or disregard unrelated trick clues) to line up answers correctly and get the secret code.
Straight up Grammar Puzzles- I based these off of actual sample language test questions. These were the most difficult for my classes, but I figured they needed practice with it. After all, these are my least favorite kind of questions on Japanese tests too!
Each puzzle results in a four digit code- if students don’t read the instructions carefully, they will try to type that code into the computer again to no avail. This time the team must search for the matching number code and symbol in a glass jar on the table. There’s only one correct answer for each puzzle, and lots of incorrect answers are stuffed into the jar to throw them off. If they can find the correct number slip in the glass jar, then it’s on to level three!
Once a team passes level 2 and has their number slip in hand, I direct them to the level 3 station and let them read the instructions. Notice the labels on the box “vaults” that contain the keys (for example “Heart”+”Diamond”=?). Here they realize that they will need another team with them to unlock the vault- if the required team is still stuck on a puzzle, they will help them. Once two teams have a number slip, they add them together with the calculator and show me the result. I am the vault guard, so I have all the correct sums written down under the index cards. If their sum matches my number, the vault is unlocked and they get the key (usually to a bit of cheering)! If it doesn’t match it, one of the teams got the wrong answer and should check their puzzle again!
This continues until all four keys are found. I announce to the class that my plans are foiled and they have successfully escaped the classroom! Everyone usually finishes with about 1-3 minutes left to spare (one time we finished with 5 seconds to spare- that was by far the most thrilling class haha), so use that time for classroom cleanup and have students return all of their puzzles (you don’t want to have anything come up missing in the next class!). If you have more time than that, you can start up a quick free talk activity or invite students to try out different puzzles. I was happy to see some of the teams eager to try another puzzle!
Sometimes, despite your help, students will run out of time and miss the last key. That’s okay too- but you should definitely laugh maniacally and tell them they will have to learn English forever now.
I hope you enjoyed hearing about my convoluted lesson plan! Like I said earlier, it’s a lot of work upfront but it’s self-sufficient in class! If you were inspired by this at all, I’d love to hear what you come up with! Oh, and if you’d like a copy of Josh’s nifty little “hacking” program, let me know!
Let me preface this review with a bit of backstory: I love everything about matcha. The bitterness, the color, the texture- it’s all wonderful. This love is also linked to my fascination with the Japanese tea ceremony and the philosophy behind it. To me, drinking a cup of matcha is like experiencing a small taste of wabi sabi. Anyways, I’m sure you get my point already. I like matcha.
So when I caught wind of all the new matcha-flavored treats arriving to Japan this spring, I was overjoyed. I was especially excited to try the new Matcha Azuki Krusher from KFC. Matcha AND Red Bean in one delicious milkshake? I’m in heaven! Unfortunately, one thing I’ve noticed since I’ve come to Japan is that just because something says “matcha” on it, doesn’t mean it’s going to taste like a good ole cup of tea ceremony matcha. I don’t mind if it’s a bit sweet (even though I prefer bitter with a splash of milk), but some varieties have tasted like not much more than green sugar syrup (on this note, Glica Matcha Lattes are wayy too sweet, but Lipton Matcha Lattes are pretty nice). For those who have never tried matcha, the best comparison I can think of is encountering that horrible fake banana taste when you were expecting real banana instead. It’s truly a heartbreaking experience! So I was understandably a bit hesitant to try this one.
FIRST IMPRESSION: It looked a bit lighter than in the picture, and there was no dollop of red beans on top, but I’m not picky about things like that. I was looking forward to the taste! You can also get a premium version with whipped cream and what looked like a dusting of kinako on top, but I opted for the cheaper 350 yen version.
TEXTURE: Cold and creamy, but sadly not like soft serve (which is what I was quietly hoping for, dangit). It was kind of thin. The chunks of red bean are nice and soft, until you encounter some sort of hard crunchy sugar particles clinging near it. I really didn’t like that, mostly because of the flavor (see below).
TASTE: Well, I am sorry to say it, folks. It wasn’t super matcha-y, and was extremely sweet. Some people might like that, though! The very first sip was tasty and mixed well with the red bean (though the red bean tasted like it was saturated to the brink with sugar), until I encountered a bizarre chunk of crispy spearmint flavor. I don’t know if this is just my American tastebuds, but my mind was really rejecting that combo. Every time I encountered a red bean, I seemed to crunch a strong spearmint thing with it. This alone made it difficult to enjoyably finish the otherwise fine shake.
IF I MADE IT MYSELF: I would use a matcha vanilla twist soft serve base (like the bitter kind you can get in Kyoto or other special vendors). Then put some not-too-sweet azuki on top rather than mix it through out, so that the customer could choose to blend it or not later (it also looks pretty). Lastly, by the maker, I would leave those minty things out. Haha.
FINAL IMPRESSIONS: I won’t be trying this one again. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t very enjoyable either. At 350 yen, I think I would get more refreshment from a vending machine.
How about you guys? Have you tried any fantastic matcha sweets lately? I’m planning to try the McDonald’s Matcha McFlurry next. 😀
We already have plenty of “Western” songs that reference the big cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka either in the title itself or the lyrics, but I was surprised to find songs inspired by our beloved Nara prefecture, the birthplace of Japan! Here’s a small collection of what I’ve found so far, but as for any other obscure songs that happen to mention Nara in the lyrics, I’ll have to keep treasure hunting!
First up is Nara by E.S. Posthumus, recommended to me by one of my best friends, Ethan! I love this band, and had already heard the song back in the States, but somehow didn’t make the Nara connection until he mentioned it to me! I think the sound perfectly captures the surreal feeling I had walking amongst the Temples and Shrines of Nara Park for the first time and imagining what life must have been like for ancient people. If I had to choose one moment to match this song, however, it would be the breath-taking moment I saw the Daibutsu, the World’s Largest Buddha, in Todaiji Temple.
The World’s Largest Buddha at Todaiji Temple
The boys of Alt-J, bless their hearts, were so impressed with Nara that they dedicated an entire three songs on their album This is All Yours. While E.S. Posthumus draws from Nara’s ancient past, this particular trio of songs seem to reflect the Nara of here and now- personal reflections of love and existential heartbreak in a city that precariously balances tradition, nature, and modernity.
Last up is Nara Dreamland by Nicole Dollanganger. I’ll go ahead and say that I really don’t care for her baby-doll voice, even if I appreciate the creep-aesthetic she’s shooting for. I remember looking out the window of my job orientation in Nara city and seeing something that conspicuously looked like a fake mountain amidst real mountains. Little did I know at the time that it was a part of Nara Dreamland, Japan’s last abandoned theme park. Despite shutting down in 2006, it was never demolished. Many people say it’s hhhaaaaunteeeddd. Apparently you can still sneak in if you slip through walls of barbed wire, and avoid security guards. That’s not something I plan on doing, so I included a skurry video of the park filmed by a faithful deviant!
This isn’t exactly a “Nara” song as much as it is just a “Japan” song, but I didn’t want to leave this post on a disturbing note, haha. Cherry blossom (sakura) season is in full swing here in Japan, and I always find this familiar folk song comforting. Plus, Yoshino (in southern Nara) is the hanami (sakura viewing) capital of Japan!
Babymetal fans will also recognize the spot lifted for Megitsune (another awesome song by the way).
I hope you enjoyed these little gems, and if you happen to find other songs about Nara city or Nara Prefecture, leave me a comment!