Why I’m really looking forward to today (Part 2)

After writing Part 1 this morning, I went to wake my wife up and give her her anniversary present. As the 7th anniversary in the UK is wool, I decided to go with the American convention: copper and bought two tumblers for us both. Now that we are in April, I didn’t think my wife would appreciate a woolly jumper. 


My wife surprised me with a really nice brown leather bag, which my daughter helped her choose. I like brown leather and it will really go well with some of the other brown items I use or wear for work. 


After a fairly slow and leisurely morning, where I used rain as an excuse to not run, we went out at about 11:30.

We enjoyed a nice Japanese lunch at Aqua City in Odaiba and then took a look around a few of the shops.

By 2:30, we were ready for our main event and went to the fourth floor of Decks to get our picture drawn. 


As with every year, the artist was different again and so we looked forward to how it would come out.

I must be honest. When I first saw it, I wasn’t so thrilled. But that has happened many times – and after a while, I get used to it. Caricature is often like that and this time is no different. In fact, I’m already getting used to it. 


Our kids look sprightly with their rosy cheeks. They are both looking upwards in anticipation of something(?) while my wife and I look quite tired. 

I suppose it has been quite a demanding year, with lots of new things happening: a new job for me, and new schools for both kids. So it is probably a fair reflection. After all, an artist can only draw what they see, and a caricaturist’s job is to exaggerate what they see.

What I read from my kids’ expressions is that it is my job to help them learn and to navigate their new worlds. So it should be another exciting and probably stressful year ahead. I will continue to worry only about what I can control and not about what I cannot. 

The artist commented at one point that my hair looked green. Maybe I left some shampoo in my hair today. I had been more concerned about going grey. 

I would love to hear from you. What do you think of this year’s picture? How does it compare to previous years? Which is your favourite?

Why I’m really looking forward to today!

Today is my wife’s and my seventh wedding anniversary. I am really looking forward to it. 

Every year, we have our own little tradition that started on our first anniversary when our daughter was just two months old. 

You know when you go to tourist sights, you often see a line of artists: some drawing buildings, some doing portraits and others doing caricature? Well, I had always been an old stick-in-the-mud and avoided these like the plague – forever haunted by a comment outside Notre Dame in Paris in 1995: “Hey, big nose!” 

But finally on April 11th 2009 at Venus Fort in Odaiba, Tokyo with our daughter in tow, my wife persuaded me to take the plunge. Here’s the result:


I seem to have a little scowl on my face. I wasn’t scowling, I was just nervous how it might turn out! 

In fact, I was quite pleased with the result, though I did come out with a big nose. Don’t you think I look a bit French? Perhaps it was some secret pact between the Japanese artist, Hiro and the guy near Notre Dame fourteen years earlier. My wife and daughter came out well, don’t you think? 

 Year Two (2010)

The next year, we again had another drawing. We used the same company, Caricature Japan (which I can highly recommend). We always use them. They have several branches mainly in shopping malls around the Tokyo area – as well as in Kyoto and Osaka. We have been to their dedicated shops in Asakusa and Shibuya, but also to Odaiba (where there are a couple of booths) and Yokohama

The artist was different from the first one, as it has been each year since. This is all part of the fun and anticipation as we wonder how it’s going to turn out. 

2010 is one of my favourites as we are all actually smiling, and my daughter’s personality really shines through.

Excuse my photo of the drawing. I have cut off the artist’s name Shio and got a light reflection on the picture.

 Year Three (2011)

Exactly a month after the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, we went to the Aka Renga Soko in Yokohama for this drawing. At a time when everyone was in deep sadness and the nation was refusing to spend money in a mass act of self restraint, the red-brick shopping centre converted from an old port warehouse was almost deserted.

The artist (Shokoii) captures the hope that sakura cherry blossom (a sign of spring renewal) was bringing back to Japan. 

 Year Four (2012)

We also went to Aka Renga Soko in 2012 but to a different booth (they have two there). This was when our daughter still hadn’t lost her “puppy fat”. I didn’t like this picture so much at the time because it made me start to think that I wasn’t such a good parent for letting my daughter get too fat. 

Year Five (2013)

Our first Family of Four portrait. Our son was just three months old at the time – even at this very early age, you can see mischief waiting to break through! 🙂 This and the next one are another two of my personal favourites! 

 Year Six (2014)

This one was drawn last year. While some pictures take a while to grow on me, I loved this one as soon as I saw it!

And so today, we’re off to Odaiba again to have our picture drawn. I am really looking forward to seeing how it turns out!

Running around Westminster, London

On the evening of Tuesday, March 10th, I ran my 600th ever Runkeeper activity. It is fitting that for such a milestone, I was in London, where the distance for the modern marathon is said to have been formalized at 42.195km.

Staying on Belgrave Road in Pimlico, I was ideally placed to see some of the major sights of Westminster for free (at least from the outside).

Darkness is not so conducive to great photos when using an iPhone camera: apologies for any blurred images. I ran a slightly shorter version of the route in early evening light a couple of days later. Photos from both runs are included and the grey pins along each route represent the places where I stopped to take pictures.

From Runkeeper app
Tue, 10 Mar 2015
From Runkeeper app
Thu, 12 Mar 2015

I hope this article inspires visitors and residents of London to take a run or a walk around some of the major sights.

Buckingham Palace

This large and ornate palace has been the official London residence of the British monarchy since the 1830s. It is where the Queen stays when she is in London. Here are 40 facts about Buckingham Palace.

buckingham palace
Buckingham Palace by night
buckingham palace, london
In front of Buckingham Palace
buckingham palace, london
A good way to ruin a nice view!

Trafalgar Square

A short run up The Mall (not as interesting to American teenagers as the name might suggest), and we find ourselves at Trafalgar Square. The square is home to the National Portrait Gallery. Like all public museums and art galleries in the UK, it is free to enter, though I am not sure if the staff and patrons would appreciate a sweaty runner wandering around the exhibits.

The other famous sight in Trafalgar Square is Nelson’s Column (a tribute to a 19th Century naval war hero). And the square itself takes its name from a battle in 1805 won by Admiral Nelson.

Each year on New Year’s Eve, the square is filled by revelers awaiting the countdown.

The image of the tall statue on its column with buses or taxis passing by its foot is one of the iconic images of London and features on many a postcard. I tried to emulate this with my photos, though I will never make a career out of photography.

London, Trafalgar Square, black taxi, double decker bus
A running cliche: double decker and black Hackney cab in Trafalgar Square
London, Trafalgar Square, black taxi, double decker bus
Trafalgar Square: Early evening

Crossing the Thames

After leaving Trafalgar Square, for the first run, I passed Charing Cross station on the Strand and ran over Waterloo Bridge, stopping to take photos of the cityscape over the river. Being on the river bend, this is said to be the best spot to take photos of London at ground level. Unfortunately, only one of my photos came out. So you’ll have to go and see for yourself now…

London’s famous river is said to derive from Celtic origins and to mean ‘dark’. It is surprisingly similar to the Russian темно, which also means ‘dark’. 

London Eye
London Eye seen from Waterloo Bridge


For my second run, I took a slightly shorter route, cutting one kilometre off the overall distance and taking one of the Golden Jubilee footbridges that runs parallel to the Hungerford railway bridge. Likewise, I took a few pictures over the river.

London Eye, Houses of Parliament
London Eye and the Houses of Parliament

London Eye
London Eye from Golden Jubilee Bridge
London, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Bridge
Houses of Parliament and Westminster Bridge

London Eye

While I didn’t climb on the London Eye (the big Ferris Wheel on the banks of the Thames), I have been on there before and do recommend spending money on this for the wonderful views it affords visitors.

London Eye
Approaching the London Eye

Houses of Parliament

Coming up to the Houses of Parliament, I was presented with two choices:

(1) stay on the other side of the river to get a fuller shot of the building, or

(2) cross Westminster Bridge to get a closer view of the political seat, and also to pass alongside Westminster Abbey, where Prince William married Kate a few years ago.

I opted for the first choice because I didn’t feel like negotiating the tourists that dawdle along the road looking up at the buildings and taking photos. Don’t judge me for my double standards!

London, Houses of Parliament
Houses of Parliament in black and white
Westminster Bridge, London Eye
Westminster Bridge and London Eye

Along the river and over Vauxhall Bridge

The last part of the run was down along the river and back to Pimlico, crossing at Vauxhall Bridge. As I managed to sneak a little bit of Russian trivia in here earlier, I am now going to end on a segue into my very favourite piece of Russky general knowledge:

When Tsar Nicholas I visited London, he saw the sign “Vauxhall” as he was pulling into the station on the train. He thought it was the general English word for station and took the word into Russian when he adopted railways there. To this day, the Russian word for railway station is вокзал.

Sights around Kyoto Marathon (Part 5): 35 kilometres – Finish

The beautiful, historic city of Kyoto will host a marathon on February 15th. 

This series of posts will focus on the temples, shrines and other attractions dotted along the course. If you are visiting at the time of the marathon to support a friend or loved one, I hope that you will have a chance to visit some of these places! Do spare some time before or after the day of the race to visit some of the other wonderful places there are to see.

Read Part 1.

Read Part 2.

Read Part 3.

Read Part 4.

35KM — 42.195KM

Access: Kyoto Shiyakusho-mae Station, Subway Tozai Line, or Karasuma Oike Station, Subway Tozai Line or Karasuma Subway Line

There is a turning point just after 35 kilometres right outside the City Hall (京都市役所). Along with the Imperial Palace just a little further north, this is one of the best places to support towards the end of the race. Being here leaves enough time to jump on the Tozai (literally East-West) Line and be at the finish line ready for the last part of the race. You might not feel too inspired by the 1920s architecture in a city of true beauties. But if you happen to be from one of Kyoto’s many sister cities – Boston, Paris, Cologne, Kiev, Florence, Xian, Prague, Guadalajara, Jinju or Zagreb, you might want to go and take a picture of the plaques on the east side of the building.

Access: Higashiyama Station, Subway Tozai Line

After the runners turn around, they head out north and east towards another famous Kyoto temple (and my personal favourite because of its gardens). If you want to be at the finish line in time, you won’t be able go and support them in this area. But it would be remiss of me not to mention Ginkakuji (銀閣寺). No visit to Kyoto would be complete without taking in the sights of this wonderful temple. Its name is very similar to Kinkakuji which we passed in the 10-15km sector of the race. While Kinkakuji means Golden Pavilion Temple, Ginkakuji means Silver Pavilion Temple. The more ostentatious and certainly more photographed Kinkakuji is coated in gold, whereas the pavilion at Ginkakuji has never been covered in silver. It is said to take its name from the silver reflection of the light of the moon. This is definitely near the top of the list of places to visit on a different day of your trip along with a walk down the Philosopher’s Path (哲学の道) down to Nanzenji (南禅寺) and then beyond to Kiyomizudera (清水寺), the temple that stands on wooden stilts.

The runners themselves run up towards Ginkakuji and then turn back, completely avoiding the Philosopher’s Path and Nanzenji. Instead, they head back west and then south past Kyoto University (京都大学), Japan’s second most prestigious university at around 41 kilometres. Kyoto University is the workplace of Nobel Prize winner, Yamanaka Shinya. He and fellow stem cell researcher, John Gurdon from the UK were awarded in 2012. Yamanaka himself will apparently be running the race in 2015.

Kyoto University really will be the sign for runners that the end is nigh. They will squeeze the last ounces of energy out of their legs and fresh positive thoughts of “I can do it” will enter their minds again as they head towards the crowds waiting to greet them in the environs of Heian-jingu (平安神宮).

Now past the finish line, they will feel the relief and pride of having made it to the end of the Kyoto Marathon and will be thanking you for all the support you gave along the way!!!

My Recommendation to Supporters: Seven more kilometres… Six… Five… Four… Three… Two… One… At last, the runner is thinking, this race is coming to an end. These last few kilometres are the longest in the race. The runner is wondering whether they will make it over the line without collapsing, or whether their leg muscles will hold out, or how big is that blister that is really stinging my left foot… For some runners, these last kilometres will feel endless and their pace may slow to not much faster than walking. Many will even succumb to walking. Support at this stage of the race really does serve to push the runners over the line. Most supporters would really like to be at the finish line to congratulate their hero. This makes it difficult to look at places along the route in the last seven kilometres and then also be there at the finish straight. For this reason, I recommend saving the sights around this area for another day and focusing your efforts on cheering outside Heian-jingu. If you are around City Hall for the 35k turning point, you can jump on the train for a few stops to Higashiyama and then wait by the finish line. In the very least you can either take a quick look with all the other crowds at the beautiful red shrine while you wait. Alternatively, you could suggest taking a look with your runner friend right after the race if they feel up to it…

Thank you for reading through these entries about Kyoto Marathon The city really is full of wondrous temples and shrines, large and small – many in places where you’d least expect them. If you’re not visiting for the marathon in February 2015, I hope that you will come to one of the most beautiful cities in the world either as a tourist or a runner (or both) in the near future.

Sights around Kyoto Marathon (Part 4): 30 – 35 kilometres

The beautiful, historic city of Kyoto will host a marathon on February 15th. 

This series of posts will focus on the temples, shrines and other attractions dotted along the course. If you are visiting at the time of the marathon to support a friend or loved one, I hope that you will have a chance to visit some of these places! Do spare some time before or after the day of the race to visit some of the other wonderful places there are to see.

Read Part 1.

Read Part 2.

Read Part 3.

30KM — 35KM

Access: Kuramaguchi Station, Subway Karasuma Line

By the 30-kilometre mark, the athletes will have been running off the road, along the riverside for about two kilometres. Right as they reach the 30-k point, they will pass the ornate Shimogamo-jinja (下鴨神社) on their left (to the east over the other side of the Kamo River). Shimogamo is the sister to Kamigamo. Shimo literally means ‘lower’, while Kami is ‘higher’, and Gamo is simply taken from the river’s name but with a soft vowel as often happens when two words are merged in Japanese. Shimogamo-jinja was first built in the sixth century long before Kyoto became the capital of Japan. While its name might suggest it is the younger of the two sisters, it actually predates its sister Kamigamo-jinja by about a hundred years.

Access: Marutamachi Station, Subway Karasuma Line or Jingu-marutamachi, Keihan Main Line

The runners come off the riverside somewhere near 33 kilometres and turn right towards the Kyoto Imperial Palace (京都御所). Unlike its cousin in Tokyo which is inhabited by the current emperor, this palace is open to the public. However, you can only enter on a guided tour and you must book in advance. The park grounds that surround the palace are completely open to the public and are a really nice place for a stroll when the weather is good. The runners pass along the front of the Imperial Palace twice as they turn back on themselves and then turn right (south) towards the Kyoto City Hall just after the 35-km mark.

My Recommendation to Supporters: Due to its proximity to the finish line (not for the runners themselves who have to loop around and back on themselves) the area around the Imperial Palace and City Hall will be very popular with supporters. You can cheer your friends or loved ones twice as they turn just after the Imperial Palace and come back along the same road. Moreover, it is this section (30-35km) and arguably the previous one (25-30km) where the runners will be most thankful for the support as they fight the mental urge to throw in the towel.

Being very central, both of these places are very accessible via the subway lines. Once the runners have passed, spectators will either take the subway or walk to the finish line near Heian-jingu.

Part 5 (35 to 42.195 kilometres) will cover the last part of the race as the runners double back on themselves as they turn in front of City Hall, head out towards my personal favourite temple, Ginkakuji, past Kyoto University and towards the finish line right by Heian-jingu.

Sights around Kyoto Marathon (Part 3): 20 – 30 kilometres

The beautiful, historic city of Kyoto will host a marathon on February 15th.

This series of posts will focus on the temples, shrines and other attractions dotted along the course. If you are visiting at the time of the marathon to support a friend or loved one, I hope that you will have a chance to visit some of these places! Do spare some time before or after the day of the race to visit some of the other wonderful places there are to see.

Read Part 1.
Read Part 2.

20KM — 25KM

Access: Kitayama Station, Subway Karasuma Line

The runners head south after passing Kamigamo-jinja and make a left turn at Kitayama-dori to start heading east again.

Just before the halfway mark, the race passes the Kyoto Botanical Garden (京都府立植物園). The majority of people coming to Kyoto don’t come here for flora and fauna, but it is fairly large at 240,000 sq. m. with over 12,000 plant species. It is divided into a number of sections including a bamboo forest and bonsai. If you find yourself in need of a break from temples and shrines, this could be the place for you.

There are no major sights further along the road here, though of course Kyoto is never lacking the odd small or relatively unknown shrine and temple where you least expect it. The runners make their way out east until approximately 23k and then turn back along the same road.

My Recommendation to Supporters: This is the first part of the race since Arashiyama that is directly accessible by train (in this case the subway). If you are staying in the Kyoto Station or Shijo-Kawaramachi areas (most popular for hotels) you can simply take the Karasuma Line north. Depending on the pace of the runner you are supporting, you could take a quick look at the gardens in the 40-60 minutes between them passing for the first time and then passing again after the turning point in the course. Or come early if this is the first point along the course where you will be supporting. Combined with Kamigamo further back up the road, you can kill a few hours.

25KM — 30KM

Access: Kitayama, Kitaoji or Kuramaguchi Stations, Subway Karasuma Line

The runners spend a lot of time in a fairly contained area as they run two open loops — one by Kyoto Concert Hall (京都コンサートホール) and one through the gardens. So this makes the perfect spot to see your friends or loved ones.

If you prefer watching down by the river, the race runs down along the Kamo River from around the 27-kilometre mark.

My Recommendation to Supporters: Runners often hit the famous wall around 30k, though I have experienced it as early as 24-26k. While the main causes of the wall are physiological (due to a loss of glycogen in the body), there are also some psychological aspects to it. That little bit of extra support could just make the difference for someone starting to doubt their ability to finish the race.

Part 4 (30 to 35 kilometres) will cover the stretch from Shimogamo-jinja, along the river past the Imperial Palace and towards Kyoto City Hall.

Sights around Kyoto Marathon (Part 2): 10 – 20 kilometres

The beautiful, historic city of Kyoto will host a marathon on February 15th.

This series of posts will focus on the temples, shrines and other attractions dotted along the course. If you are visiting at the time of the marathon to support a friend or loved one, I hope that you will have a chance to visit some of these places! Do spare some time before or after the day of the race to visit some of the other wonderful places there are to see.

Read Part 1.

10KM — 15KM

The course reaches its highest point in this part of Kyoto. Many runners really appreciate support when the lungs are screaming and the legs are stinging. Not only is this a great place for cheering, but there are also a number of wonderful and very diverse temples all within walking distance of one another.

At around the 11km mark on the left-hand / north side of the road, the runners will first pass Ninna-ji (仁和寺). Ninna-ji is known for its five-storey pagoda. It is another World Heritage site – there are seventeen in total in the city – and dates back to 888.

About a kilometre further up the road, we pass Ryoan-ji (龍安寺). This temple is home to the best-known rock garden in Japan. You can spend ages musing at what it all means. Nobody knows, but that’s part of the fun!

The race passes Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺), the famous Golden Pavilion seen in every Japan guide book, just before it reaches the 15K point. Yet another reason to make it up to this part of Kyoto if you are there to support a runner.

My Recommendation to Supporters: With a number of famous temples along a five-kilometre stretch, this is a good place to offer your support. However, buses are the best way to reach this part of the city and are affected by the race. Might be worth visiting these temples on a different day.

15KM — 20KM

This stretch is the furthest north in the city that the race goes. The main sites it passes are Daitoku-ji (大徳寺), Imamiya-jinja (今宮神社) and Kamigamo-jinja (上賀茂神社).

Daitoku-ji has around twenty Zen sub-temples and a number of Zen gardens. The temple dates back to the fourteenth century.

Next up is Imamiya-jinga. Built in 1001 to protect against an epidemic in the Murasakino area, this is a very beautiful and ornate shrine.

Kamigamo-jinja is one of the oldest shrines in all Japan. It was built in 678. Along with its sister shrine, Shimogamo-jinja, it is said to protect Kyoto from evil influences.

My Recommendation to Supporters: Some very nice shrines and temples in this northern district of Kyoto. Like the area around Kinkaku-ji, this area is well served by buses, but these will be affected by the race.

After a diversion out to the east, Part 3 (20 to 30 kilometres) will cover the part of the course where the race turns back south towards the city centre. Runners and supporters are greeted by the botanical gardens, the concert hall, a nice stretch along the river and Kamigamo’s sister.

Sights around Kyoto Marathon (Part 1): Start – 10 kilometres

On February 15th, I will run the Kyoto Marathon. Kyoto brings me many wonderful memories as I think back on the hundreds of times I went there. First as a tourist: with friends, or showing my visiting relatives around; then as an English Language Teaching consultant helping schools and programme coordinators to decide on the right materials for their classes; but most of all the place where I got married. Kyoto is former capital of Japan and exemplifies the quintessence of of this country’s rich history and culture.

This series of posts will focus on the temples, shrines and other attractions dotted along the course. If you are visiting at the time of the marathon to support a friend or loved one, I hope that you will have a chance to visit some of these places! Do spare some time before or after the day of the race to visit some of the other wonderful places there are to see.


Start – 9:00am Nishikyogoku Stadium (西京極総陸上競技場). Access: Nishikyogoku Station, Hankyu Line
This is a large sporting complex with an athletic stadium at its centre. It is best-known throughout Japan as the start and finish for the All-Japan High Schools Ekiden. The girls’ athletic team from my former school Hanamaki Higashi were perennial qualifiers in the days when I was teaching there. The stadium is also the home of Kyoto Purple Sanga, the local J-League football team. Runners will pass two large shrines – Umenomiya Taisha (梅宮大社) [around 3km from start] and Matsu-no-o Taisha (松尾大社) [around 4km from start]

The start will be very crowded. 15,900 runners have entered the full marathon, plus about 200 “pair ekiden” entrants and 20 wheelchair athletes. Judging by other races, depending on where in the crowd you are, it could take quite a while to even cross the start line.

My Recommendation to Supporters: Save it for later! Unless you have a very prominent flag or costume, it is impossible to pick someone out of the crowd whether you are a spectator or you are a runner looking out for a friend or loved one, it may be better to steer clear of the start and choose a more picturesque part of Kyoto to wait for him/her to pass. Moreover, all runners are pumped on adrenalin at the start and don’t really need the extra kick that a cheer from a husband, wife or child provides. They will do later!

5KM — 10KM

Saga/Arashiyama District (嵯峨・嵐山). Access: Saga-Arashiyama Station, Sagano Line

Just as the runners are getting into their rhythm and the field begins to stretch out slightly, the marathon cuts right through the hilly Arashiyama and Saga, one of the most popular and beautiful districts of Kyoto. There are lots of places to see in this area. There is a fairly large hill after the runners pass Daikaku-ji, so for runners who need a little extra support before, during or just after, this may be a good place to stand with a flag!

Tenryu-ji (天龍寺) is a World Heritage Site and the first of Kyoto’s five great Zen temples. The temple dates back to the 14th Century though it has been rebuilt many times. The garden, which includes a pond, pine trees and a bamboo grove, remains in its original form. If you have travelled from overseas for this marathon, this temple is one of the must-see places. So you might want to reserve it for a rest day.

Among the many other sights in the area, Seiryo-ji (清凉寺) and Daikakuji (大覚寺) – both with a history of over 1000 years are well worth a visit.

My Recommendation to Supporters: This is a great setting for cheering and sightseeing at the same time. While the runners are getting changed and gearing up for the start, head out to Arashiyama and take a few pictures while staking out a cheering spot. Arashiyama is in the north-west of the city and is usually reached by the JR Sanin Line from Kyoto Station. A number of buses also serve the area, but these will be affected by the race.

Part 2 (10 to 20 kilometres) will take in the famous temples of Ninna-ji, Ryoan-ji and Kinkaku-ji as well as the shrines of Imamiya-jinja and Kamigamo-jinja.