Snow Hiking Season

スミス英会話大津 滋賀県の山上り Snow Hiking in ShigaOpen-window season is over. Heaters have been turned on. Winter storms are starting. Hot cocoa and nabe (hot pot) are the best things for staying warm. To me, this season is the most beautiful season for hiking. Fortunately I live in Shiga, home to some wonderful hiking course. To the east of Lake Biwa is the Suzuka mountain range. To the west of Lake Biwa is the Hira mountain range. Many of the mountains in these ranges offer panorama views from the peaks. Most of them get snow in winter. All of them have well maintained hiking courses. Last year, I climbed Mount Watamuki and Mount Ryouzensan, both in the Suzuka mountain range. From the peaks we could see into Mie prefecture and Aichi prefecture. From the top of Mount Watamuki, we could even see the sea! This season I want to climb Mount Hira, which is not far from Ohmimaiko in northern Otsu. Less than an hour from Smith’s school of English Otsu by car and I can be in the woods enjoying the fresh air and crisp snow! Who wants to join me? FYI- The picture on the right is from the top of Mount Wakamuki, looking to the north-east over the Suzuka mountains.


IMG_6107There are many things here in this beautiful country of Japan that bring back memories for me.  Sometimes before or after class, I like to go to Coms Gardens; it’s a two minute walk from Smith’s Eikaiwa Kyobashi.  I like to go there and watch the airplanes as they fly low overhead. Seeing them reminds me of when I was a child in my original country of Barbados. My father used to take me to the airport to watch planes takeoff and land. I remember wondering at the time where the people on them came from or where they were going.

When I sit now in Coms Gardens, I still wonder who the people are and where they came from.  But I also wonder if some of them are Japanese travelers returning home and whether or not they used English while they were abroad. Some of my long term students love traveling and use what they have learned in class on their trips…hmm, I wonder if they are on that plane.

Luminarie Construction Kobe Dec 4 – 15

A big heads up for everyone !!  Luminarie starts today in Kobe.  This picture shows the construction crews up the other day and the event is scheduled to begin tonight, December 4.

It’s so nice that the rain is expected to stop around dinner time tonight, maybe 18:00 or so, and because of this I would expect extremely daunting crowds!!  But that shouldn’t matter because it’s just wonderful to have a little Christmas cheer already so early in the month.

My wife Yoko and I are dedicated festival goers, and although my work with all the conversation students at the Smith’s School of English in Kotoen is more important, we will be making the journey down Luminarie Lane as soon as we can get an evening free.  As far as tonight and tomorrow night go, we strongly recommend not attempting to drive anywhere near Sannomiya or Motomachi after 17:00 for the next two weeks, and this is especially true for the weekends.  In addition, planning to enter a café or restaurant within a block or two of the event will be met with extensive line-ups, long waits, messy tables and tired staff, so if you have a plan in mind that involves a romantic date or a handful of children, I would book something well in advance.

This is a sight that is not commonly seen:  a picture of Luminarie before the event even begins.  Probably it will be on by the time you read this, so get over to Motomachi as soon as you can and enjoy, take your time, don’t be in much of a hurry and take lots of smiling selfies for your facebook pages!

Martin Werner Zandernice Smith's logo

Smith’s School of English in Kotoen, Real Monthly Tuition English Conversation School


Presentation in English

Students at SSE Katsura(スミス英会話 桂) sometimes talk about Kyoto and Japan. A英会話桂 Student's Presentations a foreigner living here, I enjoy these conversations very much. Last week I was given a chance to learn something new again.

I found out that the first elementary school in Japan was opened in Kyoto. Not only that, 64 elementary schools were opened here between 1868 and 1869. And how do I know that?

For her Man-to-Man lesson my student Hisako prepared a presentation called: ‘The First Elementary School in Japan’. I was really impressed by her effort. Before she started I was told: “If you have any questions, please just ask”. I had many questions and Hisako answered and explained all I wanted to know. Wow!

She spoke in English for over 20 minutes. Talked about the beginnings of education in Japan and interesting historical facts. She also explained all main ideas and important people behind the big project. I was amazed how well prepared Hisako was.

All I had to do was to enjoy the story, look at prepared historical drawings and ask questions when I wanted to know little more. She was the teacher and I was the student. And what an amazing lesson it was.

At the end of the presentation we had a short discussion, went through some difficult English vocabulary and practiced pronunciation.

Thank you for your big effort Hisako. I enjoyed it so much and I’m looking forward to our next lesson. I know it will be fun.

Christmas in Japan and Smith’s School of English Tsukaguchi Starting to Use Digital Curriculum in Lessons

Time flies, doesn’t it? It’s already December and yet another year will soon be coming to an end. It’ll soon be Christmas and here in Japan, that means eating Christmas cake by many Japanese with families and gift giving by some too. This year I’ll be spending Christmas here in Japan with family.

At Smith’s School of English Tsukaguchi I recently started using our Smith’s digital curriculum in lessons. The response from students has been positive. I am enjoying that and helping in the development of new digital lesson material.

I wish you all a great year end. (^.^)


Mt Fuji from the Bullet Train

スミス英会話大津校 富士山 Mt FujiLast weekend we enjoyed a short vacation in Tokyo. Thanks to the long weekend and our wonderful support staff we could spend 3 nights in Shinagawa. On the way to Tokyo the weather was sparklingly clear and I could enjoy the view of Mt Fuji from the train for the first time in 8 years! Most of my friends who visit Japan have seen Mt Fuji, many have even climbed it. After 8 years living in beautiful Shiga it was my first time to actually see Mt Fuji (which is about 300 km east of Otsu, where we live). Every other time I have gone to Tokyo it was either raining or at night and I couldn’t see it. Combine the great weather with the gorgeous autumn colours and it was quite a marvellous trip on the train. We enjoyed a live show in Otsuka, an aquarium in Shinagawa and a seafood buffet in Yokohama. On the trip back to Kyoto, it was raining so once again, I couldn’t see Fuji-san! I was fortunately able to capture a few great pictures and the entire experience was quite magical. All of the other passengers on the train were oooh-ing and awww-ing and my son was pointing excitedly at the great white peak. Lovely Fuji!

Kei Nishikori is GREAT!

KeiKei Nishikori, born in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture on 29 December 1989 is now (Nov. 2014) ranked no. 5 among all professional tennis players in the world. At this time he is the only Japanese man in history to rise to the top 10 in the world. But he is not just great on a Japanese scale. He is great on a world scale and has all the tools to challenge any world class tennis player and win! He has powerful forehand and backhand strokes and can challenge his opponent from anywhere on the court with his aggressive style of play.

He’s been playing tennis since the age of 5 and now lives in Bradenton, Florida U.S.A.  This week he advanced to the quarter-final round of the Barclay’s ATP Tour Finals Tournament in London but was beaten by the world no. 1 player, Novak Djokavic 2 sets to 1. Still his play was admirable and he is playing better and better, having finished second in September 2014 at the U.S. Open. This year his record is 52 wins and 12 losses and he has won over $4.4 million. In his professional career, which began when he was 17 years old, he has won 7 titles and been runner up 4 times.

Many of my students were impressed with his English interview skills which he demonstrated well after reaching the semifinal round of the U.S. Open in September 2014 by defeating Novak Djokavic. Unfortunately, he lost to Djokavic this time in London. Interview after the game with Djokavic in London.

Kei Nishikori is extremely popular even outside Japan and he is a new kind of Japanese athlete. I really believe he is capable of beating any world ranked player on one of his good days and he can easily talk about it well without an interpreter after the game.  Kei is coached by the previous world no. 2 ranked Michael Chang and Dante Bottini of IMG Academy in Florida. Watch his interview after the semifinal game against Novak Djokavic here: Kei Nishikori at the 2014 U.S. Open.

I’d like to hold a “Support Kei Nishikori” Party soon. Is there anyone interested? Drop by and say “Hi” at my school if you are.

Al Bartle (Owner and main teacher at Smith’s School of English – Okamoto)

Life is an Adventure and Language is a Tool to Deepen the Experience!

yellowstone-national-park-mammoth-hot-springs-kevin-mcnealLife is an adventure! Language is a tool that allows you to experience that adventure more deeply and to interact with a lot more people. That is the real power of learning a language.

When you learn to use another language, you learn so much more about yourself, your own country and its culture and you can share it with so many more people! I have noticed this in myself. I began to learn Japanese 36 years ago and, although my active study was only for about 1 year, it is an ongoing process to this day. What I have noticed is that even as I teach English I also learn more Japanese and the more I learn, the more I am able to share information about America, American pop culture, history and interesting places and people. And gradually students also become able to take in this information through English and to share their country, its culture and history through English too!

So if you want to feel the real power of learning a language, get started, don’t give up and seek chances to use what you learn every day. You will be amazed how your life will change!

Enjoy the adventure of life and deepen it by learning and using a new language!

Smith’s School of English, Okamoto

2014 Smith’s School of English Tsukaguchi / Kawanishi Halloween Party

I hold events to offer students of my English schools a chance to hear and speak English outside the classroom. It also offers them a chance to meet other students they may not have met before. Lastly, it’s FUN! On October 26, 2014 I held a Halloween potluck party at my house in Tsukaguchi, Amagasaki and we had lots of FUN!

I met my students and some other guests at Hankyu Tsukaguchi Station and we walked to my house. We put the food and drinks we’d brought on tables. Next we had lunch. There were various tasty dishes to choose from. For dessert my wife and I offered pumpkin pie I’d bought at Amagasaki’s COSTCO to everybody as well as tea or coffee to have with it. I made Starbucks coffee for those who wanted coffee. While doing that I explained what Halloween and jack-o’-lanterns were all about in English.

After we finished lunch I read an English kids book to everybody. Why, you may ask? Well you see, my daughter’s international school was holding “Book Week” during which English books were being read to people (by the students or their parents) in exchange for money donations for charities in Japan and abroad. I thought it was a great idea and decided to read to my guests at the Halloween party in English. I chose a kids book from my daughter’s school which taught useful verbs and had cute pictures of a beaver character doing the verb actions. It was an English lesson for both the kids and adults and at the same time we helped humanity by donating money to charities which will be used to help people in need. I thank all for their donations. Read More »

The Open Window Season

スミス英会話大津校 Fall is Fabulous & FunAfter many years of living in this wonderful country I have come to understand the change of seasons quite well. People proudly state that Japan has four seasons and I must say that I agree with this. But what does this mean, for a place to have four seasons? Aren’t there four seasons everywhere? Yes and no. Canada has them, but the balance is slightly in favour of winter- winter in Canada is very long, spring and autumn are average in length. Summer however, is a little shorter than in more southern countries. We definitely have summer in Canada- my mother swims in the ocean every day throughout the summer, which she says is from the 1st of July til the 31st of August. On the flip-side, most people are stuck in their houses for the snowy season, which lasts from December through March. So in Canada, winter is 4 months, summer is 2. Spring and autumn are the usual 3. In Japan, we truly have balance. Cold winter is about 3 months, sunny spring is about 3 months, hot & humid summer likewise, and autumn too.

I, however, would like to add a newly defined season which occurs twice a year, in spring and in fall. I call this the “open window season“, that perfect time when neither air conditioner nor heater is needed, and we can keep the windows open for most of the day. At our house in Ishiyama and at Read More »

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