Plain Talk

Big World, Little Cat
3 of My Great Japanese Language Fails by Alex Parsons

New cultures are always exciting because you find novel ways to completely embarrass yourself. This is even easier to do when you are not very familiar with the language but are still trying desperately to exercise your new vocal skills. Here are 3 of my biggest fails so far:

*You are welcome for my presence
It was my first week in Nozawa Onsen and my boss decided to introduce me to some locals. At night we walked down the road to what used to be an old brothel but had since been converted into a cosy restaurant. Upstairs were about 10 elderly men and women who were thoroughly into the swing of drinking and eating. We sat down with them and it became clear that my boss wasn't about to help me introduce myself. I racked my brain for introductory Japanese and belted out a, "Konbanwa, watashi was Alex des -" (Good evening, I am Alex). So I was winning so far. Well done, Alex. Next, I had planned to say "Hajimamashte" (nice to meet you). But what came out was "Doitashimashte" instead. There was an odd little pause in the conversation. I had just said "Good evening, I am Alex. You're welcome." Like I was some rock star they were lucky to meet. Thankfully my Epic Gaijin status meant that they were understanding. An elderly man corrected me, poured me some wine, and we continued talking in limited English/Japanese.

*Good evening?
My other significant language fail was with a lovely old woman I met at the onsen. I crept in to O-Yu, the most famous of all onsen in Nozawa Onsen, and found a little spot to wash myself beside the water. The old lady spotted me and shouted "Relax!" and showed me that I could sit however I wanted. In the change room afterwards I tried my hand at small talk. "Sugoi, des ne?" (Awesome, isn't it?) I said, gesturing at the onsen's architecture. She told me it was designed in the Edo style before leaving. Eventually I left too and I spotted her again, sitting on a low rock wall outside the bath house. "Sit!" she said. I sat. "Cool!" she said. I cooled off in the night air beside her. After some minimal small talk I decided it was time to wander the streets to my abode. But I wanted to thank her for her time and welcoming attitude. I wanted to say "Good evening and thank you." But what came out was, "Konbanwa. Soretemo arigato gozaimus." As I walked away I realised I had said "Good evening, OR thank you." No wonder she looked confused for a moment before smiling kindly at me like I was the village idiot.

*Why do I only know food words or dirty words...
In order to improve my Japanese skills, and hopefully reduce my rate of embarrassing moments, I asked a young lady from my village for lessons. I met her when I was searching for the place where you boil your eggs in the onsen water. It was lucky she spotted me and explained that I was actually putting my eggs in the onsen for people to wash their clothes. Anyway, we had our first lesson the next week. She was helping me to write kanji and with each symbol I was trying to think of Japanese words that started with them. For example, 'ra' - ramen, 'ya' - yakitori (yes I only know food words). So we got to 'he' and I blurted out the first thing that came to mind. Which was, of course, 'hentai'. My teacher looked shocked for a moment and exclaimed, "I didn't think you would know that word!" before we both collapsed into laughter.

Plain Talk


Wabi-Sabi: Perfection Redefined
By Weellee Domingo

During a job interview several months ago, the interviewer asked me if I've already heard of "wabi sabi", to which I said no. So he asked me what I think that term means. Not wanting to admit that I have absolutely no idea - not even one enough to make an intelligent guess - I just said that the term probably has something to do with talking or communication. I have 2 bases for that assumption. First, there is a word in the Filipino language called "sabi" which means "say" or "tell", so I supposed it could be related. Second, I was, after all, in an interview for a language teaching position, and language is obviously vital in communication. So my answer should somehow make sense, right?

Immediately after that interview, I took to my phone and searched for "wabi sabi". That was when I realized how totally unrelated my answer was to the real meaning.

What then, is wabi sabi? Wikipedia defines wabi-sabi as a representation of "a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection". Furthermore, the wabi-sabi aesthetic is "sometimes defined as one of beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete."

Hmmm. For some, the concept of imperfection as something that is beautiful might be easy to understand. Yet for others, it might be outright impossible. How can something that is not perfect be beautiful?

Makes me wonder: what is perfection, anyway?
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines perfection as "an exemplification of supreme excellence; an unsurpassable degree of accuracy or excellence". Lots of big words, huh? And, that definition is somewhat similar to "ideal", don't you think?

With that kind of definition, it's no wonder that we've come to believe that nothing is perfect in this world, or that nobody's perfect. I must admit, up until a few years ago, I believed in that same thing. After conversations with friends, however, I realized that what I was looking for was the "ideal", which, of course, doesn't exist.

So you may be wondering: what now is my definition of perfection? I see perfection as the true acceptance of what is so, not of what it should be; i.e., a thing or a person is perfect for what it is, and for what it is not.

I look at it this way: for the moments in our lives that are good, it's quite easy for us to view them as perfect, simply because it's all good. But even those moments that are not-so-good, they still are perfect - they happened at the perfect time and at the perfect manner - because they give us opportunities to learn about ourselves, to grow as individuals, and to realize who we are meant to be for the world.

So let me just end this piece with a quote from a lady named April Mariz Herher. Known to her loved ones as Epey, she's actually a lesbian who recently won a contest in a Philippine noontime show. She said: "We are born to be true, not to be perfect."

To that, I add: It is because when we were born, we are already perfect to begin with. And being completely true to ourselves is simply the expression of the perfection that we already are.

Unfinished business


HACKETTSTOWN by David Gregory

Boxing Day, raining hard on the two-lane highway winding between dark cliffs, our headlights poking snow piled heavy on fir trees, Yoshi driving, Naomi and Tomoe talking in back, following red tail lights streaming ahead, toward home, all tired after a long Whistler skiing day. “Dave, what is your best Christmas memory?” Tomoe asks me, switching to English.

Ah, Christmas...probably, with Aunt Roberta, about 1993, I think. Hackettstown, New Jersey. The best gifts show people you know something about them that they do not know themselves. That was one of those times.

Hackettstown snuggles up to the Appalachian foothills in the wilderness corner of New Jersey. Aunt Roberta is alone. She has lived most of her life in that big, old house that needs something done to that peeling gray outside. If she had the extra cash. She lost her husband when he was 35; her only son, Richard, in a construction accident a year after he returned from Vietnam; and her later longtime special friend, Joe, to cancer, just before the Christmas I went back.

She has not traveled in nearly 10 years due to her health. But, she holds her head high. Those strong blue eyes that have cried so many times still look straight at you, with love. Her soft voice calms you. Her fine silver hair is casually brushed back; she only takes care of things that really matter.

How does she keep going? She has a way of becoming attached to other families. Allison, next door, loves Aunt Roberta as she had loved her own mother. Allison’s little boy, Kaleb, calls Aunt Roberta, “Grandma”; he never met his own real grandmother. Eric and I always thought of Aunt Roberta as one of our grandmothers, too. She always told us to open her small packages before Christmas day. She knew little boys.

That Christmas in ‘93 I came in from Japan to meet Mom and Dad at Aunt Roberta’s. “Too far away,” she sometimes complained. But, she had always said, “Go.” Find out. Tell her about it. She would be waiting, back in New Jersey. “Write about it.”

The New York bus dropped me into Hackettstown’s snow and cold in front of the boarded up movie theater on Main Street. Mom and Dad came in from Chicago the next day, and we sat around the old table in the warm yellow brown kitchen. It looked like the usual Christmas Plan: early dinner out, gifts, visit Grandma the next day... lots of slow sitting... a routine more than a celebration. Yes, good to be with family, but... then the telephone rang.

Aunt Roberta called from the living room, “David, it’s your friend... he’s in the City... .”

Steve! With Heidrun! They made it... at Kennedy, just in from Germany. Can make a quick stop on their way to Buffalo tonight. “Finally, we’ll meet!” Mom said. After almost ten years, she would have a face to match the name of my good buddy from our early career trainee days at GE. Then, Mom and I sensed a chance. Why not invite a few others, too? Aunt Roberta would love it. I picked up the phone. Of course, Allison said. And with Jay, her husband, and Kaleb, and the new baby, Yeshua.

Allison and crew were already with us when Steve and Heidrun’s headlights finally swung into the driveway. We welcomed them in from the frosty night with hugs. Then, I popped outside and crossed the snowy yard to pull Angie out of her kitchen. “OK, but just for a few minutes,” she promised. “Angie Our Angel,” we called her. She often looked in on Aunt Roberta. Her eyes twinkled.

Coats and scarves piled in the kitchen, we packed into the living room. The party sparked to life all by itself. “So, you are...?”, “How do you know...?” Glasses of juice were poured, plates of baked sweet breads were passed around, fingers poked into bowls of spiced nuts. “Oh, yes, I’ve heard about... ”, “Where do you...?” No music, no special lights, no decorations. Not needed. Only the stuffy sofa and armchairs encircling us.

And the old gray house had never seen such a potpourri of people! Look at tall, German-blooded Steve, with his German girlfriend Heidrun, educated in France and the USA. Allison, from Trinidad, descendant of Native Americans, sitting on the sofa. Jay, son of Indian parents, standing taller than us all, a little shy in the big group. Angie, on the other hand, daughter of Italian immigrants, squeezing her happiness into other arms or hands. And Mom, Dad, Roberta, and myself, the instigators, maybe looking like old timers in the New Country, but with roots that also went back to others brave enough to leave their homelands, in our cases Germany, England, Scotland, and maybe Wales. Who knows? It didn’t matter anymore where anyone was from.

“Ah, I’ve always wanted to....”, “How do they celebrate...?” Yeshua just smiled, cradled in Allison’s arms. Kaleb bounced around, greeting and investigating everyone his bright-eyed way, and finally, exhausted, flopped down into Grandma Roberta’s lap.

Swirling, glowing, an hour passed, filled with chatter, munching, and laughter. The old living room had never been so alive. And, in the middle, Aunt Roberta sat, quiet, soaking it in. Just smiling. But, if you looked behind her glasses, you would see teary eyes. “All these people, from so many places... came here... just for this,” she said to me in her soft voice. “You don’t know how happy I am. Oh, it’s just... .” She squeezed her eyes shut and turned her head.

You see, Christmas is not always a happy time for Aunt Roberta. Richard was born on Christmas Eve.

Then, almost as fast as everyone had come together, it was over. Angie had food in the oven. Steve and Heidrun were still long hours from Buffalo. Yeshua was already asleep. Kaleb slumped like a rag doll over his father’s shoulder as they walked out. We waved good-byes from the back porch door and slowly returned to the suddenly empty living room.

Over, so soon. But, we made it happen, one magical hour, that year. For Aunt Roberta. She still asks me to write about it.

“My best Christmas memory? That would probably be from Hackettstown, in 1993... .” The four of us watch the wipers swish away the dark rain, the snow piled heavy on the fir trees. Hackettstown had lots of snow that Christmas. I’m wondering, now... how maybe I, too, received a best gift... one time... many times... in Hackettstown... .

The earliest version of this story I printed in my 1998 end-of-year holiday letter; a revision I read at the “Tribute to Roberta Lyon” memorial service in Hackettstown on 6 January 2001. Special thanks to Eric Gregory for editorial assistance.
Copyright (C) 2014 David Gregory. All rights reserved. Chiba, Japan


Tokyo Fab

Ninja of the 1990s by Joshua Lepage

A few weeks ago, I recommended some great Japanese period movies. Now, in honor of Ninja Day, I'm recommending some terrible movies that'll be familiar to most '90s kids. These flicks illustrate perfectly the North American ninja craze I grew up with: they show a deep, deep lack of knowledge about anything even resembling Japanese culture, and they throw the word "ninja" around with blissful carelessness.
The first movie: Surf Ninjas, in which two young surfers from L.A. discover that they're the crown princes of "the Asian kingdom Patusan". If you're thinking that the name Patusan doesn't sound very Japanese, wait until you hear the characters' names (Ro-May? Colonel Chi?) and see some of the shooting locations (clearly in Thailand). The two kids are attacked by "ninjas" at some point -- they're covered head-to-toe in camouflage, attack at night, and use martial arts, which makes them ninjas by 1990s standards. As for the titular Surf Ninjas, well, the two princes teach their people to surf in order to overthrow the evil Colonel Chi, and that... makes all of them ninjas, too.
3 Ninjas: A cross between Karate Kid and Home Alone, only much much worse. Three lily-white kids learn martial arts from their Japanese grandfather, whose existence is never explained in any way during the film. Being a ninja, here, can be achieved by 1) putting on a karate gi, 2) wearing a plastic Beijing opera mask (???), and 3) yelling a lot as you kick people in the chest. That's it. That's ninjutsu. Don't think about it too hard.
I was going to include the live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie in this list, but with the turtles sneaking around and wearing civilian clothes to blend in, and the evil Foot Clan using things like smoke bombs to evade pursuit, they're already being much more ninja-y than other 1990s ninja portrayals. That's how low the bar is. The giant turtles are the most accurate.
Japanese readers, do hunt down these two movies and watch them if you can stomach it. You'll understand the kind of stuff most Westerners associate with ninja. Western readers who have good childhood memories of these movies, on the other hand, should keep those memories intact and never ever watch them again.

What’s App With You?



A Simple Puzzle Game: This little game comes across as a clean, minimalist version of Tetris. It starts off pretty calming and zen-like by challenging you to move falling blocks into the best position to clear rows, just like Tetris. However, placing two blocks of the same color on top of each other creates a block of a darker shade, and rows disappear only if bricks are of the same color. The challenge soon becomes devilishly difficult and forces you to think fast on your feet to avoid filling your entire screen with mismatched blocks. Perfect for fans of simple old-school games and color-based puzzles.


Arriving just in time for Valentine's Day, this app quickly rose to the #1 spot for Catalog apps in over a dozen countries, and it's a great tool for lovers looking for ways to keep things exciting in the bedroom. Inspired by the infamous Sanskrit tome of sex positions, Kamasutra separates different positions into six categories of over 100 positions each, and uses an emotion-driven classification system to allow you to quickly find something to suit your mood. Each position is described in detail and helpfully illustrated with cartoon silhouettes. Shake your phone to get a random position for some spontaneity, or carefully track your favorites with Kamasutra's rating system. You can even check out the most recently-added positions or the most popular ones according to user ratings.

Tokyo Voice Column

Manly Pursuits by M.G.

Torn medial ligament, Torn Meniscus, (left knee), Torn Anterior ligament (right knee), Torn A.C. joint (Right shoulder), Broken Nose... I could go on, this isn’t a list of injuries sustained during a car crash or fall down the stairs. This is just the injuries I have racked up since I turned 18 and started playing competitive sport.

The first knee injuries were from Squash and basketball, but when you start to thrown in the wrestling and football related injuries, especially at the representative level, it gets even worse. Which makes me ponder of course, Why are we told sport is good for us?

I have friends who avoided sport and now can live happily without visits to their chiropractors on a regular basis. Friends who have never had to spend a month on crutches or had to pay physiotherapy bills. And quite frankly, they seem pretty happy about it!

Now I know, apart from the limps in later age, the men who play sport are better socialised, healthier, etc, and I know I have traveled around the world in team colours myself and had a lot of perks. But I would really like my not to hurt so much on cold days.

I suppose it is our own fault. I played on when I shouldn't have, we all did, I once saw a man get staples in his head, no anesthetic, at a local amateur rugby game... in 2nd grade! he wasn't even in the top team! This is the kind of mentality we men have. We need to do something physical and aggressive, and sport is better than war.

Men, we need to test ourselves, and we are told sport is the way to do it, but if I have a son, I have a plan. I will get him to take up Yoga or zumba at a very young age. he will be fit, injury free, and considering the Zumba and Yoga instructors I have dated, he will have himself a much better class of girlfriend.







Strange but True

Fart pill for Valentine's Day

Christian Poincheval, an inventor from northwestern France, has come up with a new ginger version of his scented pills designed to make farts stink less.
Although the pills also come in violet- and rose-scented variants, Poincheval chose to create a ginger version for Valentine's Day due to ginger's fabled aphrodisiac qualities. The pills save couples from embarrassing themselves by breaking wind during romantic moments. The advert for them invite lovers to "say it with love, flavour your farts with ginger".
Poincheval had the idea for these pills six years ago, when a flatulence-filled dinner with friends motivated him to come up with a solution to the stinky problem.

Prison restaurant voted best in Cardiff

The residents of Cardiff, the Welsh capital and one of the biggest cities in Britain, voted a restaurant staffed by criminals as the top one in the city on website TripAdvisor.
The Clink restaurant at HMP Cardiff outranked 946 other restaurants in the area with its informative, friendly staff and the atmosphere of its dining room. Happy diners have left many positive comments on their experiences, with some noting that The Clink's waiters put those of other restaurants to shame.
The prisoners working there are in training to gain national catering qualifications. Coupled with the restaurant's true-to-life working environment, this training may allow them to land jobs in Michelin-starred restaurants or luxury hotels once they leave jail.



safe and accessible solution for your accommodation needs in Tokyo.


Private furnished rooms in Tokyo with free internet.


Monthly apartment and Guesthouse real estate agency with 800 rooms.

Guesthouse Kowloon

Kagurazaka guesthouse, one of the most famous old towns in Tokyo

Guesthouse Shinjuku

3 minutes walk from Waseda University.

Guesthouse Tokyo

10 minutes to Ikebukuro.


safe and accessible solution for your accommodation needs in Tokyo.

J&F Plaza

Furnished & unfurnished guesthouses and apartments in Tokyo.

May Flower House

Tokyo furnished apartments. Ginza, Roppongi, Yotsuya and more.


Visit information center in Shibuya.

Sakura House

1830 monthly furnished rooms at 204 locations in Tokyo.

TenTen Guesthouse

33,000yen/30 days for working holiday students.

Tokyo Information

Reasonable apartment & guest houses in Tokyo.

Sekien Co.

Provides mini-truck relocation to overseas moving.


Do you think moving is a lot of work? Don’t worry about it. We can help you move, both in Japan and overseas.

Tokyo Helping Hands

Very flexible working hours to effectly help you with moving, deliveries, disposal, storage and more!

Hassle free moving starts from 6000yen.


At your service from document to moving.

XPS Tokyo

Here to help you get set up quickly, easily and economically

AirNet Travel

We'll cut you the best air ticket deals anywhere.

Fun Travel

Discount air travel & package tours 2min from Roppongi Stn.

No.1 Travel

We go the extra mile for you. International air tickets and hotels.

Japan Group of Consultants

Lawyer consultants, Visa, company establishment & office rentals.

Narita Immigration Legal office

Let us solve your visa problems!

Niitsu Legal Visa Office

Free consultations even at midnight.

Nissato Legal Visa Office

Licensed immigration lawyer & certified public tax consultant.

Iidabashi Japanese Language School

Group lessons from ¥1,700 & Private lessons from ¥2,800.

American Pharmacy

English speaking pharmacy since 1950.

Tokyo Skin Clinic

EU-licensed multi lingual doctors.

Tokyo Speed Dating

1st & 3rd Sat. at Australian Bar Quest.


Japanese women & Western men.

Book Off Shirokanedai

Second hand English books from ¥200.

Join us