The City I Live In: Otsu

プリンスホテルからの大津市I moved to Otsu city in 2007 and just now realized I haven’t written a blog about it. Otsu city is the capital of Shiga prefecture, which is located pretty much dead centre on Honshu (the main island of the Japanese archipelago). Though bordering Kyoto city, Otsu has a completely different atmosphere and it’s own very unique qualities. The first thing most people talk about is the lake, Lake Biwa, biggest in Japan. Otsu city’s coastline follows approximately a quarter of the lake, about 50km of the western shoreline falls within Otsu city, plus a few kilometres on the south-east corner. To the west are some smaller mountains which grow into the Hira mountain range, which creates the natural border between Shiga prefecture and Kyoto prefecture. The result is a long, narrow city, squished between the mountains to the west and the lake to the east. I believe these geographical features make Otsu citizens want to get oudoors and enjoy the natural beauty of the area. Some of the most popular sports here are cycling, hiking, fishing, yachting, bird-watching, and camping. Any day of the year, if you go down to the lakeside you will see many or (more commonly) all of these activities taking place around you. The photo on the left was taken from the 30th floor of the Prince Hotel, the lone lakeside tower in Otsu, standing an impressive 35 floors, top to bottom glass! This photo shows Otsu city’s core areas: Zeze, Ishiyama and Seta. On the left we can see the southern-tip of Lake Biwa, as it funnels down to Read More »

Masahi’s Take on Sushi

2008758202My student, Masahi went to Minnesota, USA on a three month business trip recently. He is an engineer with good English skills. Minnesota is located in the north-central part of the USA, so finding good Japanese food is a bit difficult. Japanese restaurants advertise “fresh sashimi and sushi,” but he found it differently, in fact very disappointing. He told me that the sushi was “terrible.”  He was not near a big city. Generally the Japanese food is okay on the West or East Coast of the USA, but he was stuck in the middle where nothing is fresh. When he returned to Japan, he soon went to one of the cheap places for sushi, a conveyor belt, pick it up as it comes by sushi place, which is considered “cheap sushi” in Japan, but he told me it was “the best sushi he had had in a long time.”  He obviously appreciated his home country’s cuisine, because the “conveyor belt” sushi is not the best, compared to sitting in a real sushi restaurant having a professional chef serving piece by piece. The price is right on this kind of sushi in Japan. Some call it “conveyor belt sushi, go around sushi, grab it as it comes in front of you,” but whatever you want to call it, it is unique and, according to Masahi, very good. I agree.

Happy White Day

スミス英会話大津校 White Day DessertMarch 14th is White Day in Japan and other parts of Asia. This is a relatively new holiday created in the 1970s to be a response to Valentine’s day. In Japan, typically women give chocolate to men on Valentine’s day and then 1 month later, men can give a return gift to women. In 1977 a Japanese confectionery company started marketing marshmallows as gifts for men to give to women. From that point onwards, “white” gifts were given, usually some form of marshmallow or white chocolate. There is a famous movie called “Love is a many-splendored thing” and I truly believe this to be so. Love IS wonderful! Love has such power to heal the world and I love that in Japan there are not one, but two days per year in which to celebrate love. As well as the culture of giving gifts, White Day also inspires people to go out and enjoy romantic dates. There are so many great restaurants and special offers around this time of year and it’s so nice to see couples, young and old, enjoying loving time together. With a new baby at home and not much chance to get out, I opted this year for a different kind of gift- I went to Mujirushi and bought a selection of decaffeinated teas and snacks, all in white packaging which I then wrapped in white wrapping paper. I hope my wife will enjoy quiet time, sipping fancy tea and eating special snacks.
Edward, Smith’s School of English Otsu

ASTE Kawanishi

The shopping mall ASTE Kawanishi is located near Smith’s School of English Kawanishi. I like to go there for dinner when I’m in Kawanishi to give English lessons.  The inside of this shopping mall is interesting. There is open space in the center and you can see the floors above or below you which is cool.  There is a Hankyu Department Store and many other shops, including restaurants. A place I like to eat there is HIROTA SWEETS CAFÉ located on the 3rd floor. It has no ceiling in the dining area and faces the open central area, offering a great view of the inside of the mall.. The feeling the large open space gives is relaxing for eating. Other restaurants I’ve been to there are SHIROKUJICHU (四六時中) and WAGURUME (和ぐるめ), also located on the 3rd floor. The food at all  three restaurants was delicious.

Last  year ASTE Kawanishi had nice Christmas trees with a cute Santa and snowman on the bottom floor in the central area. They were cute. This shopping mall  has many bells outside that ring every hour, playing cute tunes which gives the surrounding area a nice atmosphere.

It’s nice having this nice shopping mall in Kawanishi so close to my English school. It’s a place worth checking out if you come to Kawanishi. Enjoy!


Spring is Here

IMG_6956Japan is a very beautiful country and it’s at its most in the spring. Smith’s Eikaiwa Kyobashi is located a very short walk from Osaka Jo. I really love the area and the different places to see, including the Castle. It is especially nice to visit there at this time of the year. Today was such a bright day that I decided to walk to the school and along the way I stopped by to enjoy the blossoming gardens on the Castle grounds.  Although they were not yet in full bloom they were still very beautiful. Many people were also there enjoying the lovely sights and taking photographs.

IMG_6941It was nice to see that I was not alone in my desire to enjoy both the weather and the view. I’m eagerly looking forward to the warmer days to come and seeing the blossoms again in the next week or two.  There is no doubt that they will be in full bloom then and that the view will be incredible.

Seeing the other people out and walking among the trees was a great sign of the coming spring and more beauty to look forward to.

KISS Live in Nagoya

スミス英会話大津校 キッスの名古屋のライブThe classic rock band KISS recently came to Japan and we had the pleasure of seeing their concert in Nagoya. Nagoya was actually the first show of their Japan tour, and Japan was the first stop on their world tour! This was also KISS’s first time in Japan since releasing a single with J-pop group Momoiro Clover Z (often shortened to Momokuro). This collaboration is very unique as the members of KISS are in their 60′s and the members of Momokuro Z are in their teens or early 20′s. The song they produced together is called Samurai Son and the Nagoya concert was the live debut for this song. KISS played 5 concerts in Japan including Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima, Sendai and Tokyo. Throughout the 10 days they were in Japan, they frequently made TV appearances, including playing the song live with Momokuro Z on Friday night’s Music Station. I was lucky to be able to attend the concert with my mother-in-law and my father, who was visiting Japan with my mother at the time. We were doubly lucky to be able to attend the pre-show photo-op (photo opportunity) and meet the members as well as have professional photos taken. Such an incredible experience! Living in Shiga, we are perfectly situated to attend concerts in either Osaka or Nagoya and we were informed that the Nagoya show would be better, as the venue was smaller and it being the first show of the tour, would be especially good. It was also much less crowded than shows in Osaka or Tokyo. As such, we were able to get good seats, attend the photo-op and hear the live debut of the new single. Fantastic!
Edward, Smith’s School of English Otsu

Smith’s School of English Tsukaguchi Helping a Student Achieve His Dream

Meet Katsumi. He studies English at Smith’s School of English Tsukaguchi. When I first met him in September 2013,  he said he wanted to study cooking in France a few years later then work elsewhere in Europe as a cook, maybe the Netherlands. He wanted to study English first then later French for work.  Recently I was delighted to hear about his latest plans. This year he is going to go to Canada (my home country) and stay for 1 year. He will be studying English in Vancouver for 3 months and spending the rest of his year there working there as a cook. Next he’s going to go to France where he hopes to stay for 2 years working as a cook and possibly study French for 3 months. After his stay in France, he hopes to work as a cook in other European countries. Wow! Great!  I admire Katsumi’s drive, courage and determination. He dreams of being a chef one day. I think he will achieve his dream. Go, Katsumi, go! You can do it!

It has been a pleasure teaching Katsumi English in Tsukaguchi. During our time together I have seen Katsumi’s English conversation skills improve and, just as important, his confidence when speaking English. Katsumi works hard in his English lessons and also works hard working as a cook at a French restaurant in Ashiya. I am happy to help him learn English as he works towards achieving his dream. He is a great inspiration to us all.


Durable Handmade Products

スミス英会話大津校 ヒト・プラスがすごいです!I try to live my life in an Eco-friendly manner. I shop locally, I drive as little as possible, I take a lot of pride in recycling as much as possible. I am proud to say that we only take out 1 small garbage bag every week. As such, I greatly value durable, long lasting products which help me to cut back on the amount of waste my household produces. The longer products last, the less I have to throw out worn ones and buy new ones. My 7-year pen from Seltzer Goods is one of my favourite purchases of late, cutting back on the number of disposable pens I throw in the garbage. Last week I enjoyed shopping at Pieri, a newly re-opened shopping mall in Moriyama, Shiga prefecture, with my family. [Read more about our shopping trip HERE]
While there we stumbled across a wonderful little shop (originally from Hyogo prefecture) which sold hand-made goods from around Japan.  All of the goods were made from almost 100% recycled materials such as leather off-cuts from factories, up-cycled wood from old furniture and accessories made from  recycled metal and wire bits. I bought a cafe tray for our English school’s drink bar made from recycled wood. I was particularly interested in a series of bags made from old fire hose. Having served as a volunteer firefighter in both Canada and Japan, I have seen a lot of burst or leaking hoses thrown into the garbage. Fire hose is very expensive stuff, made of heavy but flexible rubber wrapped in strongly woven clothe. Waterproof, strong, stiff yet pliable, fire hoses are incredibly durable and are an excellent material for making long-lasting products. This company, Hito+ (ヒト・プラス) takes old fire hoses, cleans them, cuts them open, flattens them and makes them into the most durable and funky urban bags. I imagine these bags would last almost forever. What a great, Eco-friendly product!
Edward, Smith’s School of English Otsu

Lovely Lakeside Life

Although it’s only the start of March, on a fine sunny day there is nothing better than a walk along the lake. Living in Shiga prefecture is such a joy, thanks in part to Lake Biwa, the biggest lake in Japan. The lakeside mall Pieri recently re-opened with a lot of new shops, including H&M,  Zara and Old Navy. Over the weekend we enjoyed shopping and dining in the sparklingly new mall. スミス英会話大津校・滋賀県の琵琶湖 Smith's Otsu, Shiga Prefecture's Lake BiwaWhile there, we enjoyed a walk along the beach, which extends north from the mall. Looking across the lake, we had a wonderful panorama of the Hira mountain range, including Biwako Valley which still has snow on it. Blue sky, sunshine, the lake spread before us and the snow capped mountains in the background made for such an glorious walk. I couldn’t stop myself from taking some landscape shots with my camera. Spring is just around the corner but the weather is already marvellous and I can’t wait for the flowers to open and the weather to warm up so that we can enjoy camping, hiking and picnics. There are so many great spots to explore in Shiga that every year is a new adventure.
Edward, Smith’s School of English Otsu

Happy Birthday Again!

Happy BirthdayTwo years ago in this blog article I wrote about the wonder of Japanese longevity. The reason for that article was a celebration of the world’s oldest woman’s 115th birthday.

I’m now happy to report that Misao Okawa is celebrating her 117 birthday today! Apparently Mrs Okawa still lives in Osaka and still likes to eat her favourite “mackerel sushi” at least once a month.

While reading about her life I realised that Mrs Okawa has lived through three centuries: 19th, 20th and 21st. That’s just amazing.  Another amazing fact is that yesterday, she celebrated her birthday with her 92 years old son Hiroshi Okawa.

Once again a proof that a healthy  lifestyle and healthy Japanese food can lead to a very long happy life.


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