Plain Talk


Sunday, August 26, 2018. by Grant Piper

Sometimes when we have heavy rain I write to my friends and family about the flood warning sirens I hear down the hill at my local river. This is a picture of the loudspeakers in my neighbourhood - the sort of thing that would be an air raid siren during WWII, or in the war movies I grew up with. Despite the Internet and online announcement systems and information platforms, and iPhones in nearly everyone’s pocket or purse every neighbourhood in Japan has a public address system like this for emergencies. I sometimes see these loudspeakers atop tall poles and make a note of them, but I usually don’t notice them. They are part of the unsightly overhead clutter of the urban landscape that I’ve grown used to. The emergency address system is test regularly throughout Japan around 5:00 p.m. every day. In my neighbourhood what happens is that a recorded message is broadcast loudly telling children that it’s time to go home. Other neighbourhoods might have different announcements. Whether children take the message and go home or not is not the point. The point is only to test the system every day.

I used to be annoyed, thinking it was stupidly over-indulgent to broadcast a message every day, “It’s 5:00! Time for you to go home!” until I finally learned what it really was. Now, it’s another one of a growing list of Japanese things I enjoy (and enjoy explaining to my family back home). And, during episodes of heavy rain, I enjoy listening for flood warnings so that I can scoot out and go have a look at the Kanda River that flows nearby at the bottom of a hill. In my 29 years living in Tokyo the local river has only flooded once, and that was during a thunderstorm, not a typhoon.




Plain Talk


“Cool Japan” by Jake Akino

I live in the Philippines and my mother is Japanese and she would bring me to Japan twice a year when I was growing up, earliest I remember was 5 years old until age 20. She might have done it as an obligation but I think my Japanese grandfather wanted to see his “half” grandkid and would sponsor my visits to Japan. Either way, it became a tradition for me to be in Japan during Spring and Winter for a week or two. I would meet family, friends and other people we usually meet in Japan and there was both language barrier and culture shock for me when interacting with them but that didn’t stop me from learning something new, getting cultured and having fun.

When I was a teenager, hanging out in one of the major cities in the world was so cool. For anyone reading this who didn’t get to experience 90’s in Tokyo, you don’t know what you missed out on. 90’s in Tokyo was cool (I think 90’s anywhere was cool!). Now, it’s more conservative and very international. It has lost many things that made it a one of a kind place. Tokyo now reminds me of Hong Kong, a place I’ve been to a bunch of times, just being honest here, that’s not a good thing. When something reminds me of something else, it is usually becomes or because of a lower quality. I do not mean to offend anyone by mentioning this.

Fast forward to 2018. I’ve been going to Tokyo by myself, I still don’t speak Japanese and now hangout with more of the international crowd and trying to find a balance between doing the touristy stuff and the more local/cultural stuff. In a nutshell, it’s like never being satisfied with anything too Japanese or too Not-Japanese but the somewhat balance I found for this was accepting that Japanese culture is not for everyone so I think less of that and settle more for things I think I’d enjoy.

The Tokyo I remember is gone, it’s now become a very touristy place and an international city and there's nothing wrong with this but it washes away a lot of what makes it unique. When they oversell their culture for tourism and make things more “international”, it cheapens the experience of what it’s really like. I don’t like “Cool Japan” and the wave of things that made it what it is so I hope it’s just a bland phase. If I ever wanted to “be turning Japanese” or make believe that Katy Perry discovered Harajuku some years ago, all I have to do is watch “Lost in Translation” and head down to Taco Bell after walking pass the “crazy” Shibuya Crossing. This version of Tokyo is not for me.





Unfinished business


I Did It! by David Gregory

She had been here before. But, those were tour-guided or hand-held visits. After living most of her life in white-bread suburban USA, driving everywhere, shopping in giant malls and supermarkets, and needing only one currency and one language, my mother ventured out on her own, within and beyond Chiba, during one trip to Japan. From her notes, here are Dorothy's...

Grocery Shopping in Neighborhood―Walk five only one bag...walk five blocks back. Survived it!

Shopping in City Center―Walk six blocks to bus stop. Ride bus fifteen minutes. Arrive at stores. Walk around. Look. Decide: cookies.

Buying: “Ikura desu-ka how much?” Hmm. “Kakimasu kudasai write please.”

Paying options: give large bill, let clerk figure change, or open change purse, let clerk take out correct amount. Decide to just give some cash.

Clerk shakes her head (“NO! MORE!”), then counts out correct amount needed from register and shows me. I mimic her action from my change purse. Smiles! Deep bows with many, “Arigato gozaimasu thank you very much!”-es.
(My error: thought there was decimal point in Yen price....)

Open cookies, expecting pirouettes with chocolate centers. Instead, peanut butter waffle rolls, no chocolate. No wonder, now I see peanut sketch on package. “Shoganai can’t be changed,” I did it to myself. It could have been worse!
Travelling to Visit Friend’s Family on Other Side of Chiba―Walk ten blocks to train. Purchase ticket. Electronic lady on ticket machine screen says, “Arigato gozaimasu” and bows. Ride train twenty minutes, watching for correct stop, get off, walk seven blocks to house. I did it myself!

Visiting Hisae Overnight―My Japanese study partner in USA returned to Japan, now lives on other side of Tokyo Bay.

Take large purse and large tote bag with jacket, nightie, toothbrush, cosmetics. Walk six blocks to bus stop. Ride bus to train station. Ride train eighty minutes to Yokohama. Find correct exit from station. EASY. Did not even look at note in pocket explaining route and Japanese signs. And, look! Hisae and three-year old Kei are waiting! “Hello!” they say! Many hugs!

I did it!

Then, still more travel: train together fifteen minutes, short taxi uphill to lovely apartment, sunny and bright.

Returning to Chiba, just reverse process. Next time, we can meet at a station halfway in between. I can do it.
I can do it!

Copyright (C) 2015 David Gregory. All rights reserved. Chiba, Japan

Book Review


Cherry Blossoms in the Time of Earthquakes and Tsunami by Rey Ventura
Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2014,
291 pp, USD34.00

Reviewed by Randy Swank

video maker and scriptwriter Rey Ventura won the 2015 National Book Award for his third collection of essays, Cherry Blossoms in the Time of Earthquakes and Tsunami, but for some strange twist of fate you will find very little information on this book. You can’t even buy it on Amazon. This is a shame because Cherry Blossoms... is a beautiful, insightful and thought-provoking book.

These 11 essays, some of them autobiographical, see Ventura travelling back and forth between the Philippines and Japan, his adopted country, often portraying the many ways Filipino lives have been shaped and affected by their rich quasi-neighbor. Like in "A Suitable Donor," where the young men who live in the Manila slum of Banseco tell of how they came to "donate" a kidney or another organ to help a rich person in need − often from Japan.

Cherry Blossoms in the Time of Earthquakes and Tsunami
by Rey Ventura
Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2014, 291 pp, USD34.00

In "Miniskirts and Stilettos" we meet Ginto, a young lady who comes to Japan dreaming of making it big as a singer and entertainer but has to deal instead with a much darker reality; while "Mr. Suzuki Tries Again" and "Into the Snow Country" are tragicomic tales of arranged marriages where the dreams and expectations of bride-starved farmers from Japan's Deep North clash with those of young Filipino women who want to escape their poverty and go into marriage "as a girl goes into a convent." Ventura tells these stories with a great eye for detail and manages to find a ray of light even in the darkest corners, or poetry in the midst of a nuclear disaster.

The book's first essay is called "The Slow Boat to Manila" and indeed, slowness is the first word that comes to mind when considering Ventura's approach to writing. Everything Ventura does is slow. He is no magazine reporter after all, and will spend days or even months getting to know a person he wants to write about. That's the kind of personal commitment and deep connection with his subject that one feels when reading his essays.


Tokyo Fab


Tokyo 150 years Program - Tokyo Grand Tea Ceremony 2018

Tokyo Metropolitan Government and Arts Council Tokyo (Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture) will hold Tokyo Grand Tea Ceremony 2018 at two renowned locations in Tokyo in order to pass on this unique Japanese tradition and cultural entertainment both at home and abroad. Everyone is welcome including those not familiar with tea ceremony, tourists, and children. Various schools of tea will join Tokyo Grand Tea Ceremony to help visitors feel the spirit of Omotenashi (Japanese hospitality) and casually experience Japanese traditional tea culture through various enjoyable programs that have attracted approximately 190,000 visitors in the past. Tokyo Grand Tea Ceremony is a loved and cherished Tokyo’s autumn tradition which is not to be missed.

October 13 & 14 @ Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum (3-7-1 Sakura-cho, Koganei-shi, Tokyo(inside Koganei Park))
October 20 & 21 @ Hama-rikyu Gardens (1-1 Hamarikyu-teien, Chuo-ku, Tokyo)

For more information, please visit



Amezaiku is one of the traditional Japanese arts crafts. The candy is softened by heating to around 90 degrees C (almost 200 degrees F), and is finely crafted with bare hands and traditional Japanese scissors. Amezaiku is created by cutting, pulling, and bending candy which is attached at the top of stick. The technique of Amezaiku has been passed down over generations. However, because Amezaiku is a traditional subculture, there is no literature with detailed descriptions of the processes and skills involved. Don't miss the chance to experience the traditional technique of Amezaiku!

Reservation is required
Venue: 1F Hori bldg, 2-9-1 Hanakawado, Taito-ku, Tokyo (Closest Sta. Asakusa Sta.)
Hours: 10:30~18:00 Closed on Thursday.

For more information, please visit


What’s App With You?



Venmo is the simple, fun money app for sending cash quickly between friends and shopping at your favorite online stores. Split purchases to avoid awkward IOUs, share your new buys, and catch up on what your friends are doing on the feed. “Just Venmo me” has become synonymous with “pay me back” or “I got it.” Send money quickly to friends by simply linking your payment method. There’s no transaction fee for sending money with your debit card or bank account. Use your Venmo balance for payments, or easily cash it out to your bank. You can easily track your finances, keep up with what you owe, what friends owe you, and what you’ve bought. Every penny tells a story, whether it’s for a group dinner, road trip, or concert, so add notes to your payments using your favorite emojis, and like or comment on friends’ stories!

PayPal: Mobile Cash:

The improved PayPal mobile app is the secure way to send, receive, and access your money from almost anywhere. With our improved app, you'll get the convenience you want, paired with the secure transactions you've come to trust from PayPal. Plus, there are no transaction fees when sending money to Friends and Family in the U.S. when you use your bank account or balance. This app also makes it easy to send money internationally. Choose from a range of currencies to help maximize the value of your money with their competitive fees. (Sender and recipient must have a PayPal account) Also, you can get peace of mind you deserve with: 24/7 transaction monitoring, Secure encryption technology, Fraud protection, Fingerprint and Two-factor authentication (activation required) So, settle up for your share of the bill, send a loved one the gift of money, or request money from a friend with ease!


Tokyo Voice Column


Unexpected Adventure in Tokyo by Angela M. Erkel

As I first moved to Tokyo, I was too busy to do much exploring, but a friend of mine came to visit me from Germany. So, taking that opportunity, we decided to go on a whole sightseeing tour.

First we started in Asakusa, and then further to Ginza. Then I had the genius idea to visit the Tsukiji fish market, because I thought it would be a great place to eat something after we walked for so long. We walked for some time in the hot sun anticipating a vibrant local food market.

When we got there, however, it was like a ghost town – not a single soul was there. It was eerie and lonely, just the faint smell of fish lingered in the air, and some crows were fighting over a leftover bit of fish meat. Little did I know, the market starts very early in the morning, and by the afternoon, everyone packs up their things and leaves. After the initial shock and laughter we explored our surroundings a little, by walking among the empty stalls which were probably very loud and chaotic in the morning. It was a whole different experience on its own and it was actually quite interesting. I was also surprised that we didn't get kicked out of there. After an hour or so, we walked back to Ginza.

On the way, we saw something quite astounding – an enormous, golden shrine. Naturally, we had to go and see what it was. It was a Japanese shrine built with Indian influences, and inside – an organ. It was quite strange to see something associated with Christianity for many foreigners in a Japanese shrine. It was very impressive and one of the security guards were very kind to us and tried his best to explain to us in English. Our adventure in Ginza/Tsukiji was an unexpected one, but so far, it was the most interesting.





MUSEUM -What's Going on?-


Munch: A Retrospective

In a rare chance to bathe in the works of a single artist, this exhibition is a retrospective of the famous Norwegian artist, best known for his iconic 1893 piece The Scream, Edvard Munch (1863-1944).
Considered one of the most famous paintings and best known pieces of art in the world, The Scream exists in four forms and is often said to depict the universal anxiety of modern man though, if you read quotes of the artist himself, it does also seem to indicate his personal anguish felt at the time of and in the years surrounding the creation of it.

Edvard Munch 《The Scream》 1910?.
Tempera and oil on unprinted cardboard
83.5 x 66cm, ©Munchmuseet

Munch had a challenging childhood losing his mother early in life and also, his favourite sister. His early artistic endeavors often featured the dull walls and surrounds of the budget apartments that they lived in as his father struggled to support the family. On reaching the age of nineteen, the artist was introduced to other artists and landscape painting through a newly formed Art Association. Though troubled through much of his life with mental distress, professional treatment and support helped him iron out some of those diturbances and his work went on to embody more colour and life and also, more acceptance in general.
An enjoyable feature of his paintings are the flowing lines and easy on the eyes use of colour.

Period: October 27, 2018 - January 20, 2019
Hours: 09:30 – 17:30, -20:00 on Fridays, 11/1, 3
*Last admission 30 minutes before closing
Closed: Mondays, 12/25, 1/1, 15 (Open the Monday of 11/26, 12/10, 24, 1/14)
Admission: General: 1,600 / College students: 1,300 / High school students: 800 / Junior high school age or younger: FREE

For more information, please visit

Rubens and the Birth of the Baroque

A creator that greatly influenced the art world of the 17th Century was Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). The Flemish artist based in Antwerp which is now part of the Netherlands, is from the famed Baroque Period and spent several years in Italy evolving and exploring his work. This exhibition will pay particular attention to that Italian relationship and will include sculptures from that period and various masterpieces of note.

Peter Paul Rubens
The Discovery of the Infant Erichthonius
1615-16 243.5x345.5cm
Vaduz-Vienna, Liechtenstein,
The Princely Collections

The powerful Rubens, through his gift of intellect and diplomatic prowess, had the opportunity to visit many royal courts throughout Europe and these opportunities certainly made available to him some interesting subjects and circumstances. As was typical with the period, religion and royalty feature regularly with self-portraits as does common life and later, landscapes expressed through the brush.
As Rubens was himself a student of more than one teacher, he also had students. This exhibition is a great opportunity for students of art, part time painters, and indeed those simply looking for the inspiration that can be applied anywhere in their life. Join many others in a pleasant stroll through the works of a Baroque master and those of his peers in a time when Flemish art was a significant powerhouse and in regular communication with the also illuminated art of Italy.


Period: October 16, 2018 - January 20, 2019
Venue: The National Museum of Western Art
Hours: 09:30 – 17:30, -20:00 on Fridays and Saturdays except 11/17
*Last admission 30 minutes before closing
Closed: Mondays (Except 12/24 & 1/14) and 12/28 ~ 1/1, 1/15)
Tickets: Adults: 1,600 / College students: 1,200 / High school students: 800 / Junior high school and younger: FREE

For more information, please visit

Strange but True


Swallow much?!

We've all heard the story about finding an extraordinary gem inside of a fish or a goose. Not sure if he was inspired by those stories, but this Irish tourist has been hospitalized in Turkey after he allegedly tried to steal a diamond ring by swallowing it. The man, identified as Ian Campbell, is accused of trying to steal the £30,000 gem from a jewelry shop in the Marmaris. The 54-year-old allegedly snatched the item of jewelry in the shop before trying to leave with it clenched in his fist. The shop assistant was reportedly suspicious and so locked the front door of the store to prevent Campbell from leaving. He then allegedly put the ring in his mouth and swallowed it. An x-ray reportedly showed the 2.5-carat diamond inside Campbell's stomach. Didn't he know the story of the wolf getting filled with stones in his stomach as punishment? We guess not.

Someone's dream is a someone else's nightmare.

For some people having a champagne tower or better yet a fountain for their wedding is a dream come true (maybe more for the guests!). For fans of fizz, a giant Prosecco fountain might sound like a dreamy situation and it would be fair to admit you've fantasized about bathing in your tipple of choice. But for the owners and staff at a winery in Conegliano in the Italian province of Treviso, it's anything but a dream, rather the worst nightmare. One of their 30,000 litre fermentation tanks filled with sparkling wine has burst, causing the beverage to spill out and flood the area. Dramatic footage of the incident was captured by an employee and shared online. But thankfully it didn't and with the heatwave that hit Europe this summer, there has been a much more productive harvest this year than there was expected to be - so hopefully all will be ok.


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