Teaching English in Japan

I often feel lucky that I was born with a gift, that gift being a native English speaker. We have life too easy, we never have to fear not being understood when we go to another country, knowing that someone in the area will be able to understand you. We don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a language unless we choose to.  Therefore I feel privileged to give back to the Japanese to help them overcome the English barrier.

I have lived in Japan for 15 years and I have taught English to adults, businessmen, women and children but the most enjoyable for me is teaching kindergarten kids from the ages of 3 to 6. We teach them for only 20 minutes a week, they have 10 hours of lessons a year and by the end of that first year they can identify animals, fruits and vegetables, colours, 25 verbs, uppercase alphabet ,and their names, their ages and if they like things, of course at first they are shy, sometimes the first  lesson they run towards the door crying in hysterics, thinking who is this strange-looking person in my classroom and why is he here but by the end of the first year they are shouting the English words and sentences so hard that their faces are turning a bright purple, sometimes so bright you think the child is going to burst.

Over the first year we have gained the children’s trust and from there we can provide a better education for them in the following two years of class. Today being the last class is always sad to say goodbye, the kids come running up to you, jump on you and give you a big hug, they say I love you Chris sensei, some kids are happy others are sad and most of the time I leave teary eyed but satisfied that I have passed the language to another Japanese child, who will feel confident in the future to be able to master the language I naturally learnt.

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The force of Naruto whirlpools, Tokushima, Japan

Located in the north east of Tokushima on the island of Shikoku lies a small town called Naruto. Naruto is famous for its swirling whirlpools that just happens to be the fourth strongest in the world that can reach up to 20 metres in diameter. Having never seen a whirlpool except for the powerful vortex that forms whenever I pull the plug out of bathtub. I was looking forward to witness the force of these whirlpools, though I had heard from many people that they can be rather disappointing if you don’t come at the right time.

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The best time to see the whirlpools are at the change of tides when it moves a large volume of water into the Inland Sea. Naruto and Awaji Island are seperated by a width of 1.3 kilometres. The strait is one of the connections between the Pacific Ocean and the Inland Sea. Due to the narrowness of the strait, the water rushes through the Naruto Channel, forming the whirlpools.

From the Renaisance Hotel we took a taxi up to the whirlpools passing the Otsuka museum of Art ,as well as the dock where the boats venture out into the channel and travel under the Naruto-Ohashi bridge to inspect the whirlpools up close.Whirlpools have been known to kill unlucky seafarers but their power tends to be exaggerated as there are no stories of large ships being sucked into a whirlpool.

Arriving at the whirlpools, the signs showed best viewing times. On the day that we were there the best times to observe the whirlpools were 9.30am and 16.30 pm, with two hours to wait we thought it would be good to walk around Naruto Park. The area had a few souvenier stalls attended by elderly women selling tacky souveniers as well as a museum about whirlpools throughout the world. The museum was quite interesting but if you don’t know Japanese it wouldn’t be worth the entrance fee as there are no signs in English.

While walking around outside we saw a sign Cha- En, a traditional tea house located 300 metres up the hill. We wandered up to where we thought it would be but there was no tea house instead there was a sparse open, manicured lawn overlooking Naruto Ohashi bridge, Awaji Island and the gushing water flowing in under the bridge, even from this distance you could tell the velocity of the water was extremely powerful. The view was spectacular and I could only imagine what it would have been like centuries ago when the tea house was standing there.

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Standing in the chilled air but still a bright blue sky we wandered down to the bridge which had been built with a pedestrian platform underneath for people to get a close up look of the whirlpools 45 metres below. The taxi driver had told us that it would be cold up here, he wasn’t exaggerating with the wind whipping against our face and the cars pounding the bridge from above. The bridge expecting to last 100 years is capable of sustaining the force of an earthquake to a level of eight on the richterscale, that history shows occurs once or twice a century.

As we walked along the bridge after about 100 metres, came the first glass panel to observe the water. Looking through the panel, my stomache felt squirmy filled with nerves watching the water crash against the rocks and the shore. Walking further along, the panels came more frequently until we came to a closed off area where you could walk no further. The panels before had only been a small squared window, now the whole area was a panel covering a space of 15-20 squared metres right over the centre of where the whirlpools occur. The ferocity of the water swirled at amazing speeds it was unlike any bathtub I had seen before, even though the whirlpools that we saw were probably only five to ten metres in diameter, the sheer force of the water, the power of nature that is formed without any help from humans left me in silence while people moved around trying to find the best spots when a whirlpool would appear.

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I just squatted peering through the panel taking everything in, watching the whirlpools form. Man can destroy forests, pollute water and air but one thing they can’t destroy are these whirlpools. As we were leaving I walked to the edge and looked out between the wire and watched a boat carrying tourists to get a close up of the whirlpools. I stood knowing that boats had never been sucked into the pools below but it still made me stand and watch, luckily for the passengers they too were not to be the first to be sucked into the whirlpools.

Whirlpool information

The whirlpools occur twice a day usually in the morning and afternoon. The day we were there the best viewing times were 9.30 and 16.20.

You can get close to the whirlpools by taking a glass bottom boat for a 20 minute viewing of the whirlpools for 1500 yen.

We only walked on the bridge which still offer great views. 500 yen

whirlpool museum 600 yen.

A bus runs once an hour from Naruto station takes about 15- 20 minutes.

Have you seen the whirlpools of Naruto?

Skiing on Mount Rokko, near Kobe, Japan

The Sochi Winter Olympics are on and the mountains have been calling our names, echoing across the sea and could be heard whispering throughout the air through Rokko Island where we live.  The Olympics have inspired one boy in particular insisting that he wanted to go skiing so we set out to see if this soon to be forty year old could take the pounding on his body that beginners get from the snow.

Location

Mount Rokko is the nearest mountain from Osaka and Kobe which has a ski/snowboard run however it takes a bit of an effort to get there even though it can be seen looming in the background from the balcony of our apartment. To get there it still entails a train, a bus, a cable car and another bus to reach the ski fields.

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Why we didn’t really like Langkawi

Langkawi has a reputation of being the best island to visit off the Malaysian Peninsula. Having been given UNESCO World Geopark status in 2007 for its forests, mangroves and Islands. In 1986, Prime Minister Mahatir Mohamad started to transform the island into a flourishing island for tourism with an increasing number of tourists coming each year. Langkawi is a duty free island.

Langkawi is known for its beaches, untouched forests. It is what we thought would make a great holiday destination but to be honest we were left a little bit disappointed with the island. We enjoyed our time there but it is a place that we both know we will never return to. This is why……….. Continue reading

Leaning Tower of Pisa is not the only tower that leans

To be honest we had no intentions on visiting Pisa while we were in Italy, we heard that there was the tower, the cathedral and very little else to see in the town. After spending an amazing two days exploring the five villages that make up Cinque Terre we were moving to the Renaissance city of Florence when we noticed  that we needed to change trains in Pisa. With the unexpected turn of events, we thought it would give us the perfect opportunity to tick off the Leaning Tower of Pisa on places that we have been.  Over the two weeks in Italy we found that the Leaning Tower of Pisa is not the only leaning tower in the world, let alone in Italy.

The leaning Tower of Pisa

The world’s most famous leaning tower, Pisa is located about an hour from Florence making it very easy to do on a half day or day trip from the city. We managed to stop in on our way to Florence which we recommend because there are some amazing villages, cities and wineries in Tuscany.

The creamy white  marble tower looks like an eight tiered wedding cake that’s flopped to the left. The tower took nearly 200 years to construct, standing 55 metres high, unfortunately by the time the third tier was built the tower had already started to lean due to it being built in sandy soil. The tower has survived war, elements and restoration schemes. The tower was closed from 1990 to 2010 to stabilize the building.

People take photos pretending to hold up or push the tower down. Some climb over 300 stairs to reach the top but to be honest we did neither, we sat on the lawn admiring the tower, thinking this small town of Pisa has done an amazing job at marketing one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world.

Would we make a special trip to Pisa just to see the tower, we would have to say, no

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Towers of Asinelli and Garisenda, Bologna

Bologna is one of those cities that goes under the radar with international tourists but Italians find it one of the most beautiful cities in the country. The reason we were here was to try the food that is famous in the city from tagliatelle al ragu (bolognaise sauce), lasagne to Bolliti Misto coming to Bologna just for the food is worth the trip. Little did we know that we would find not one but two leaning towers.

The leaning towers of Asinelli the tallest of the two and Garisenda take up prime land near the Bologna Cathedral. The towers were built in the 12th century and have tilted because they weren’t built on a solid foundation. The smallest tower is closed to the public but you can still clamber up the 498 steps in the confine space of the Asinelli tower.

As you climb you can actually feel the incline of the stairs inside the towers, the view of blazing reds and crimson orange of the terracotta tiles of the roofs makes the climb all worth it. This climb is not for people who are claustrophobic

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San Martino Church

Burano island, near Venice is well known for its kaleidoscope of  colours of its buildings from the different shades of blues, greens, reds and oranges. The picturesque fishing village is also known for its lace.

In the background of the town known as the drunk tower by locals is the bell tower of the San Martino church built in the 15th century.

These are three of the towers that we saw that lean in Italy but there are a few more.

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We were also surprised to see that this tower leans

Big Ben

Big Ben the clock tower of the palace of Westminster has began to lean. First noticed in 2011, the leaning Tower of London has a lean of .26 angle degree, rather small in scale compared to the other towers mentioned, the lean has already cracked the walls of the House of Commons

The tower having been built in 1858 has had a lot built underneath it including an underground line, car park and sewers which may have led to the destabilization of the ground to cause the lean.

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It’s now cool to have a lean like this building featured below

Capital Gate, Abu Dhabi, UAE

In 2010, Capital Gate in Abu Dhabi built to lean 18 degrees westward, was named by Guinness Book of Records as the world’s furtherest leaning tower.The tower is a 35 floor skyscraper

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Have you been to any of these towers or other leaning towers of the world? We would love to hear about them

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Would you visit Thailand now with the protests taking place

With elections being held today in Thailand and protests being held regularly since November things look to be escalating into something bigger that may lead to an uprising in the country that could possibly affect tourists coming to the country.

Today five electoral posts were prevented by protesters, police and armed forces preventing people to vote, Bangkok’s other 23 electoral posts went without a hitch allowing people to vote. It will be interesting to see the number of people who turned out to vote especially since the opposition The People’s Democratic Reform Committee boycotted elections. Continue reading