Friday, 16 December 2011


View of the Island, from our departing ferry.

     Up until around fifty years ago,  young women on the island of Kamishima, would go to shore to help winch in the returning fishing boats. Just before starting down the sloped path to the beach. They stopped at the  “mirror-stone” .  By pouring water on the stone's surface they would reveal a clear reflection of themselves. They quickly arranged their hair and maybe even make-up, anxious look their best for a their brief sanctioned encounter with the young fishermen coming back from the sea.

    Having read Yukio Mishima's 1954 novel The Sound of the Waves a few years ago, I had always been drawn to visit Kami-shima, the model for the island of Uta-Jima. The story is simple enough, two young islanders with a “pure-love” that must overcome obstacles to survive. I found the descriptions of the Island itself, and some aspects of this simple Island society to be appealing at least in contrast to modern life. The scene where the main character Shinji and his younger brother and mother get up early to visit the grave of their father who was killed in the war. They visit not just on the yearly anniversary but for the monthly commemoration also. The boy visits the local shinto shrine everyday to pray to the god of the sea.

     It was time to come and visit the place for myself in 2011. Taking the ferry from Toba, we arrived 40 minutes later. As we got off the boat and walked onto the Island, I noticed a few older ladies hanging around trying to see who would be coming off the ferry. Other than that they seem to just walk around on the main road, near the post office or in front of the Elderly citizens club chatting away. I overhear them saying “Oh thats a rare face” looking in my direction.

     The Island now has a population of 440 people, down a thousand since 1954. Running water is active on the island and the old washing corner is now just marked by a tourist sign. Vending machines dispense Coke- Zero. The spots in Sound of the Waves are well mapped out and sign posted , as well as extracts from the novel describing the place with Mishima's prose.

     We set off toward the first of the two “surprisingly beautiful spots” on the Island. Yashiro Jinja, a shinto shrine dedicated to the sea god, and where Shinji prays and gives gratitude daily. After a tough climb up 200 stone steps we get to the Tori gate. The wood looks fresh and it seems that this shrine has been recently re-built. 

Yashiro Jinja
Yashiro Jinja


     Pushing up the road climbing Higashiyama (Mt Higashi) toward the light-house. I was disappointed to see that it had been locked up and automated, and the old lighthouse keepers residence was gone and replaced by a horrible looking concrete shed. The view of the Irako channel and the Pacific Ocean was the same as ever though. As in the novel, the shipping lanes seem quite busy , we saw many vessels including large freighters.
      Niwa-Hama (Garden Beach), is where the pearl diving women or Ama set out in June. The place is so well described by Mishima that I will quote here. 
Garden Beach embraced a small cove, directly beyond which, there stood the Pacific. Summer clouds were towering over the distant sea. ..
Many lime stoned crags surrounded the beach, seeming to have been placed purposely in order that children could hide themselves and fire their pistols in games of cowboys and Indians; moreover, the surfaces of the rocks were smooth to the touch, with occasional finger size holes as dwellings for crabs and sea lice..

Niwahama (Garden Beach)

      The locals seemed quite shy but friendly if approached. As we walked from Niwa-hama along the coast road back to the Port, a truck, with three or four construction workers in the back drove by. They didn't smile at first but then after the truck drove passed me they called out and waved with big smiles.Perhaps they were working on the old military observation tower, which has been deemed unsafe because the ground around it as become unstable. This development only happened last month (Aug 2011), which is such a shame. It is a key place I the novel. I took photos from the safety signs. 

The Taisho period patrol station , where Hatsue and Shinji encounter each other in Sound of the Waves 
     We get back to Port and decide to sample some local food. A set meal of Octupus ,rice, red stingray and miss soup. Its a good taste and decent price. Its almost time to get back onto the ferry. Some fisherman are sitting in front of the workers club and laughing and pointing at some boxes in the middle of the road. An old man in the distance, advances with a wheel-barrow. It seems that he is stocking the vending machine, and has decided to leave the stock in the middle of the road. Suddenly some older ladies come out to talk about the box. This seems to be quite an event. 
The house where Mishima stayed when he visited the island in 1953
      With such a small population almost devoid of young people, and with the automation, internet , vending machines you can't help but feel that a lot has been lost here since Yukio Mishima visited. This generations is  less entranced by the type of “pure love” story of Sound of the Waves which was so popular in the fifties, and has had had five move adaptions. The last being in 1985. 

Narrow street in the residential part of the island

      Kami-shima is a beautiful place and a great day trip. Hiking around the island takes about three hours and the views of the ocean are amazing. The locals have done a lot of things to promote the island and get tourists, especially pushing the novel. Even having the island declared a “sanctuary of pure love” by a famous wedding dress designer. In spite of these efforts,   I feel that it won't be long before the place becomes virtually uninhabited. While the remnant of the population remains something of the old spirit is still here.

The whole island I feel is sharing the fate of the “Mirror Stone”. Women have not needed to help with the boats for over fifty years. The stone soon came to be forgotten, and with erosion over the years, it has come to lose its reflective properties. No matter how many times and how hard the locals have tried to polish it; they have been unable to restore it to its old radiance. 

The Lighthouse today. There is no lighthouse keepers residence anymore.    

The "Mirror Stone"     

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Sunday Hiking Report


"For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands." Isaiah 55:23

I am going to try and get out of the city and into the ancient hills and mountains of Kyoto, every Sunday. So I started today. Today I decided to visit Jubusan, and here in Japanese. 鷲峰山. Jubusan is home to Kotaiji, an ancient Buddhist temple. It has been considered a holy mountain for centuries. It was a privilege to set out and visit this place and the temple that has been placed there to protect the sacred natural area around it.

 A visit to Jubusan took me to Uji in Kyoto and Ujita area. It is extremely famous as a green tea growing area. I saw many tea fields along the way, as well as the usual rice fields. The walk takes you along many rural roads with old traditional Japanese houses. There were many elderly people working in the fields, but also many children and parents in the area. There seems to be an active PTA association, putting up signs reminding people that a warm family upbringing is the best way to prevent bad behavior or delinquency .(非行).There was a community bus, which is also a fruit of an active volunteer ethic in this community. The driver was rather surprised to see me board the bus but he soon got used to me and recommended a great ramen shop for me!

I had a  brief glance at the wikipedia page for Kotaiji. it seems to have been established in the 7th Century according to medieval records. However, after fires in 1361 and another fire in 1518, what we see today is different to the original. What we see now is as arranged in the 16th Century. Suffice to say, this mountain as been considered sacred for well over 1300 years, if not longer..

The temple boasts a two storied pagoda which was built in 1298 and restored in 1681. Still looking good I think.


Disclaimer: Do not attempt this walk without getting a guidebook or maps. You can get maps from at the bus shelter at 維中前 bus stop. Don't blame me if you mess up and get lost in Uji
How to get there
1) You need to get to Keihan Uji Station (京阪宇治駅)
2) When you arrive there, exit at exit 2
3) Go to bus platform number 2. Make sure you board a bus bound for Ichumae (維中前) It should be written on the bus as this is the last stop along.. It costs 440 yen. Here is a picture of it!
If you go inside the bus-shelter there are hiking maps available. Make sure you pick one up! .

4. Head East at Ichumae (that is keep going the direction the bus was going before it stopped at Ichumae)
5. After about 50 metres, on the left side of the street, there will be a tourist information sign board. However you will be looking for a sign on the road that has 鷲峰山/金胎寺 on it.
The first sign. These will be your guide all the way to the top. So cross the road and head along the road that goes in this direction.

Then cross the road and turn right onto the road where this sign points. You will keep following these signs, and will be walking along town roads for quite a while. The main thing is to keep going and follow them. The road will look like this and you will soon come to a bridge.
Head down this road
You come to a bridge with another one of our signs on it. Turn left and head in the direction of the sign. You will now have a lovely walk through the rural town.

 I am not going to show every sign on here. After following along the streets, for quite a while. You will come to a place where there will be and indicator that you are heading into the mountain soon. On the right side of the road there will be a sign with 信西塚 written on it.  I didn't have time to decipher the sign-board, but some significant historical event occurred here, but before I could read the sign a hornet appeared so I left. On the left hand side you will see stone stairs leading to  道神社 which is a shinto shrine. Here is a picture

These are the steps leading up to道神社. Go up and check it out. Then continue along the road. You are almost at the turn off into the mountain road.

After taking time to check these out. Keep heading along the road, around a turn until you see another sign with 鷲峰山/金胎寺 written on it. Head up this dirt road and now you will be on the mountain road. Its uphill from here and tough! Five minutes after heading up this road you will come to a stone road marker with 五丁written on it. Now keep heading up the mountain. You will eventually get to a rest area (which has no chairs)

I was really tired at this point.. really tired . Making the lack of chairs all the more painful!
You must push on and on and you will come to a lunch area with toilets. This is a great place to sit down and enjoy your bento. You will be hungry so get into it.
Keep following the signs from here to the temple. Here are some pictures of the temple

This is the main area of Kontaiji. Don't forget to head up the road further up to the two storied pagoda. Just before the entrance to the temple there is a road leading further up.
This area is part of a huge open space with many buildings and a grave yard as well. After exploring for a while continue along.

 Enjoy the area and head back the same way you came. There are however other routes that lead down the mountain, and you ought to find them out yourself. If you are not sure just head back the same way you came and you will easily get back to Ichumae station.
I took a different route down but am not confident to blog about it.
With what I have told you, you should be able to visit Kontaiji and get back.

There are many mountains and walking courses in Uji. Be sure to get out and explore yourself.

Disclaimer: Do not attempt this walk without getting a guidebook or maps. You can get maps from at the bus shelter at 維中前 bus stop. Don't blame me if you mess up and get lost in Uji

Post Script

Stamina Ramen in Uji. 800 yen! fantastic

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Newly Acquired Kyoto-Fu no Yama 京都府野山


Well, being that it is seven weeks since I moved North from my beloved Kishu Province, the tears
that soaked my sleeve have dried. I am settled in my new home. I have befriended the river that runs close-by and feel at peace in this new area.

My location strategically places me close to the old Capital and away from the bawdiness and dissipation of central Osaka. But not too far away!..

I have a new acquisition for my library , a guidebook to the mountains of Kyoto, fittingly called "The Mountains of Kyoto”

This handy little volume contains 58 hiking trails in Kyoto. I had no idea that there were so many mountains in Kyoto. Actually I didn't realise how big Kyoto-fu was in the first place. It is huge!
I have always told people that it is my favorite city in Japan. Now I am going to try visit as many mountains as possible while I am living here.

I am going to start ASAP. This Sunday in fact. I am going to try and climb
Jubusan.  Closest station is Keihan Uji Station. Then I have to catch a bus!

Jubusan is the highest of the mountains in the "Southern Mountain Castle Area"( whatever that is ).In the vicinity, you can see the ancient pilgrimage site of Kontaiji, a Buddhist temple.The course is quite enjoyable... There are quite a few historical places to see on the way apparently.

Will give report on how things go!

Monday, 7 March 2011

I'm leaving Wakayama!

Sorry for the lack of activity recently. Life has been rather hectic.

Those of you who are working as High School ALT'S must be nervous
as we await the decision of which company will get the contract for 2011/2012.

The word on the street is that Interac and RCS and maybe another company(this is unconfirmed) will be fighting for the ALT contract. If you want to work in Wakayama Prefecture as an ALT you should apply to both of these companies.

I can't forsee this new bidding war being a good thing.

Unfortunately, I have decided not to take my chances and will be moving out of the prefecture at the end of the month. It kind of kills my blog title but thats the way it goes

I don't know what to do with this blogspace. It think I might just make it about hiking and mountain climbing or something! I will update anyway.

Before I finish up this year , I would like to upload a few more lesson ideas and useful links. So stay tuned for more.

I will have to decide where to take this blog after Spring break. ....

Monday, 24 January 2011

Giving Advice Lesson JHS 3rd grade or any SHS

1961 Ferrari 250GT California Spyder photographed by DougW of at the 2005 Meadow Brook Concours d'Elegance. Public Domain Image

This rare Ferrari and the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off were the inspiration for this giving advice lesson.
There is a dialogue and a worksheet for students to carry out in groups.

First things first.

Download the prints here


Part One (Dialogue)

1. There is a dialogue. Read the Dialog to the students with your JTE.
2. Check student comprehension. I usually get the JTE to ask them questions in Japanese about it.
3. Perform the Dialogue a second time
4. Allow the students to read the dialogue. Teach any words or phrases they don't understand. From experience I find that lower grade students may be confused by the conditional. If I were you I would...
Point out the phrases which are in a box. These are the patterns which we want them to use in the final activity!
Check with the JTE
before the lesson to see what words may be difficult for the students.
5. Students in pairs. Get them to practice the dialogue

Part Two (Worksheet)

1. Distribute a copy of the worksheet to everyone
2. Read the situations to all the students. Check understanding. JTE can help with this
3. Ask the students to work in pairs. They should think of some advice to give in each of these situations.
   Ask them to write using the "giving advice" patterns which are highlighted in the dialogue.
4. Choose a few students to read their advice out-loud to the class.
5. Students should practice dialogue again. This time they replace the situation in the dialogue with one from the sheet.

Part Three (Mingling Activity)

1. Students must choose one problem from the above.
2. They must then walk around the room and interview five students, asking for their advice.
3. They should also give advice to anyone who approaches them.
4. They should write down the name of the student they talk to and the advice that they were given. Observe them doing this so that they ACTUALLY do it!

Collect Prints

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Lesson Idea- A Christmas Carol- Ordering a story

I want to share the resources I made for my Christmas lesson. Please read my brief description below and click on the link to get the document
One of the tasks you can get students is to put a story into the correct order. That means you need to cut out about ten or so sentences and give them to the students. Tell them to mix them up and then get them to arrange them together.

I wanted to teach the students a really good Christmas story. Many students are familiar with the story
thanks to Disney!

The story comprised of five parts which I shall irreverently summarise as follows

1) Scrooge is BAD
2) Scrooge sees a Ghost, and gets nostalgic and sad.
3) Scrooge sees another Ghost and gets sad and worried
4) Scrooge sees the last Ghost and gets SCARED
5) Scrooge becomes GOOD

For my lesson I needed to give 10 pieces of paper to 10 groups. I split each chapter into two (sets of sentences) . The total is ten. therefore a group of forty students with four group members each.

I made this set of sentences using some online resources including a fantastic ESL site that gives a simplified version of the story. Plus I used another copy of a summarised version and made this one.

I gave each group an envelope with the stories inside them. They then had to put them in order.
Here is a link the file I used. Please print these out for yourself if you want to

When I did it this year, I allowed the students to talk Japanese while they arranged the story. This was for many reasons.
For an example of a Task Based Lesson where the students must put the story into the correct order, and only speak English, please check out JIMBOS blog here.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Happy New Years: Modified Task (Designing a holiday plan)

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a great time over the vacation. I would like to spend the next few entries discussing reports from lessons that I have tried. Here is the plan for my latest attempt at TBL.
For my Christmas lesson I got my students to complete a task of piecing a story together but I allowed them to do it talking Japanese.

I am still a little shy about TBL but I am determined to keep trying! Here is my latest lesson plan where I will try and get the students to complete the task using only English.

The Text

The text I used was Birdland and I drew from chapter nine of the text. The main dialog was two people talking about their vacation plans. I however wanted my task to be modeled on the "Lets Try" section on page 69. The listening dialogue (truncated and edited) is as follows.

T: Where would be the best place for our school trip? What is your opinion Ayaka?
A: I recommend that we visit Hokkaido. The main reason is because many of us haven't been there.
T: Okay
A: Secondly there are a lot of interesting things to see there. I personally want to visit Furano, which is the setting for a famous TV drama.
T: Thirdly, I think Ainu culture and history are worth studying. We can learn more about them in Hokkaido

Essentially, this is about people DECIDING a destination and giving reasons why. I made this the Task I want my students to achieve in this lesson. Students will be given a personal profile of a person, which states something of their interests and hobbies. They then must decide on four places in Wakayama prefecture where that person should visit.

Lesson Plan.
I decide to tackle this by a mixture of pair-work and group work.

Warm-up ( 3-5 mins)
I ask the students some questions about places they have been in Wakayama prefecture during the winter break. The students sit in pairs and I call out questions as follows "Have you been to Wakayama castle" If the students have been there, they point at the circle and if not they point at the square.
After the students must ask a follow up question i.e. "When did you go there" or something like that.

Listening (5 mins)

Listen to the dialogue from page 66 of Birdland. Get the students to COVER the conversation. Read with the Homeroom teacher. Ask the questions from the book. Then get the students to fill out the table on the work sheet. They must identify the "Good Point" and "Bad Point" of each place.

Introduce places in Wakayama (Quick Karuta game and Writing activity)

I created a set of flash cards, which contain images of famous places in
Wakayama. Please post me your mail address and I will email the PDF. It is too big to put on Google Docs.

I read sentences describing the places and the students must race to pick up the card.
After that, the students in their pairs, must pick three places and write "good points", "bad points" and "possible activities". They do this in the table provided on the worksheet. I also wrote the table on the black-board to explain how to fill it out.

After that they hand in their "pair work " work sheet.

Listening (Task Style Conversation from Birdland)

This time we move to the listening section on page 69 of bird land. This dialog has two people choosing a destination and giving reasons.  The dialog is the one at the beginning of this entry in yellow highlights.

The students listen to the conversation and then fill out a table listing Ayaka's recommendations and the reasons why she made them.

Setting up the Task

I will pin large paper cutouts with the main language used to complete the task.  This time. The phrases, which are pinned on, the board are as follows.

I recommend that.....
I think we should....

The main reason is..

I think so too
I agree

I don't think so..

I arranged the phrases on the board and wrote additions in chalk, lining them up to make the conversation.

Explaining the Task

Students will be sitting in groups of four. They will receive a final-task group worksheet. They must complete the information in it.

I will then distribute a personality card. These were taken from an ESL textbook. Here is a picture of some here. I cannot reproduce them all on this blog.

Elementary Communication Games, Hadfield,J.1984 George C Harrap and Co.

If you are an ALT in a Wakayama Highschool. Please email me privately and I will be able to fax copies of these sheets for "educational purposes"  in your lessons. I will only fax them to your school not to your private fax. Sorry.. but I don't want to be on the wrong side of the law.

Students in their groups read the personality and then design a vacation to suit that persons interests. The vacation must be in Wakayama .

  • Each student must give his or her opinion.
  • They can talk only in English.
  • They must complete the worksheet, which records each person’s opinion and the reasons why.
I will give the students about ten minutes to complete the task.


I will be attempting this and tweaking this all of next week. Wish me luck with this one.
I will report my progress next week,