Plain Talk

TOKYO NOTICE BOARD 27 FEBRUARY 2015
Big World, Little Cat
7 Stupidly Big and Small Things in Japan by Alex Parsons

One of the things that keeps surprising me in Japan is the size of everyday objects. Miniature dogs wandering big cities, huge sumo wrestlers squished into tiny cars... Every day there is something that makes me feel like I've been secretly downing the size potions in Alice in Wonderland. Here are some things that have really caught my attention:

1. Small - People
I know the Japanese are a smaller nation than us Aussies. The average height of Australian males is 178cm, and 164cm for females. Whereas in Japan the average male and female height is about 171cm and 159cm respectively. But I didn’t think my 174cm frame would cause such a stir. I'll never forget the time that I stopped by my favourite cafe in Nozawa Onsen after an autumn hike. An elderly couple in the cafe took a keen interest in me and after some small talk the husband asked to take a photo. Very excitedly, he made me stand next to his diminutive wife, and exclaimed that I was "Oki!" (huge).

2. Big - Bread
Japanese thick cut toast blows my mind (And my daily carb allowance...). I love how toast is categorised by its thickness in Japan. It means that when I buy the loaf with just 4 chunky pieces in it, I can tell myself I was good and only had one slice of toast today.

3. Small - Peanut cream
I am obsessed with this delightful peanut-toffee spread. But the containers are just so small! Don't they know I need truckloads of this magical goo? One tub lasts me 2 days. Yes, I know it should get me through the week, but I always end up going at it with a spoon and finishing it in one go. You don't have to say it. I know I have a problem.

4. Big - Dinner and drinks
When the Japanese do dinner and drinks, they do it right. I have never felt so sick-to-death full and yet wanted to keep eating so badly until I came to Japan. Last week my friends and I brought Christmas presents to a lovely old lady's house. She insisted we stay for dinner and then called up two other families to come over and join. Soon there were 6 of us around a table crowded with nabe, curry puffs, deep fried potato things, nozawana, sauteed meat, maki sushi, inari sushi, eggs, and 6 different types of sake we had to try. The Japanese do alcohol in a big way too - huge 1.8 Litre bottles of sake (Isshou-bin) and those hilarious 3 Litre Asahi beer cans that come with a handle on the side just so you can carry it. I could get used to this!

5. Small - Coffee
Whether it comes in those silly excuses for a can or at a real cafe, the size of coffee is always underwhelming. Ship this stuff in the form of megalitre vats please, and hook it up to my veins!

6. Big - Apples
I'm living in Nagano, which is famous for apples. These things are in such abundance they're passed around like a burden. I have friends who have accumulated over 40 apples because people just keep giving them to them. To make matters worse, these things are huge. I think I could fit 2-4 Australian apples inside one of them.

7. Small - Shoes
While I am yet to try it myself, I hear it is very difficult to buy shoes as a gaijin due to our godzilla-sized feet. What I have experienced personally is how bathroom slippers are simply not designed for me (as you can see in the photo). There's nothing like barely being able to fit your toes into a pink slipper to make you feel like a giant, unfeminine freak.


Plain Talk

TOKYO NOTICE BOARD 27 FEBRUARY 2015

Lesser known places to go in Tokyo
Edo-Tokyo Open-air Architectural Museum by Simon Duncan

This collection of old buildings and structures, located in a large park in a quiet area in the western suburbs of Tokyo, actually has a better name in English than it does in Japanese. Edo Tokyo tatemono no en, literally translates to Edo Tokyo building park.

Edo is the former name for Tokyo, used from the period 1603 to 1868. So, you may expect to find a collection of buildings from that period. The seven hectare park doesn't disappoint and boasts around 30 buildings and structures from the Edo period up to early Showa period (1920s and 1930s).

These buildings, which range from large houses formerly inhabited by rich, influential people (including the creator of the Calpis soft drink) to an old public bathhouse, were carefully taken apart and lovingly re-constructed in the park. This provides a rare glimpse into the Tokyo of the past. Especially interesting is one street that boasts an old izakaya, a pharmacy, and a soy sauce shop amongst others. This part of the open air museum also has a street car and a police box, adding to the atmosphere of the Tokyo of days long gone.

The park is similar, but smaller, to Meiji Mura near Nagoya city which has a superb collection of old buildings including the entrance of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Imperial Hotel, formerly a Tokyo landmark. Despite being more compact than Meiji Mura in Nagoya, when I visited Edo Tokyo Outdoor Architectural Museum I spent around 3 or 4 hours wandering around (there is a decent amount of walking involved), not bad for 400 yen!

Children who are not yet in high school can enter for free (if they have proof of living in Tokyo). Children and animation fans may be interested to know that Studio Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki also designed the mascot character for the park.

The park can be reached by taking a bus (or a long walk) from JR Musashi Koganei or Seibu Shinjuku line Hana Koganei and is closed Mondays (except national holidays). Please see their website for more details.
http://tatemonoen.jp/english/

Finally a thank you to various volunteers that I talked to in the open-air museum, they were very friendly and able to answer all my questions about the buildings.

東京都西部郊外の閑静な場所に古い建造物と構造物が集められた大きな公園がある。『江戸東京たてもの園』を文字通りに『エド●トウキョウ●ビルディング●パーク』と呼んでいるが、英語名は日本語の名称よりも響きがいい。

江戸は1603年から1868年に使用された東京の昔の名だ。つまり、その時代の建物が集められている。7ヘクタールの公園は訪れる人の期待を裏切ることなく、江戸時代から昭和時代初頭に建てられた30もの建造物や構造物は堂々とそびえたつ。

財力のある権力者がかって住居とした豪邸から大きな銭湯までここに集められた建造物は、注意深くパーツに分解、公園で再度建造された。ここでは過去の東京が垣間見える。特に興味深いのは居酒屋、薬局や醤油屋が軒を並べた通りだ。電車や派出所もあり、東京の在りし日の雰囲気を一段と高めている。

江戸東京たてもの園は名古屋の郊外にある優れた建造物の集合施設である明治村とよく似ている。明治村には東京のランドマーク、帝国ホテルをデザインしたフランク・ロイド・ライトによる玄関ホールもある。名古屋の明治村よりもコンパクトではあるが、江戸東京たてもの園を訪れた僕は、あれこれ見学して3−4時間もかかった。400円ならお得だ!

(東京在住が証明できる)中学生までの子供なら入園料はいらない。子供やアニメファンなら公園のマスコットキャラクターをデザインしたのがスタジオ●ジブリの宮ア駿氏だと知れば興味がわくかもしれない。

JR中央線「武蔵小金井」駅北口、西武新宿線「花小金井」駅よりバスを乗る(あるいは徒歩で)行く事ができる。月曜日は定休日で詳細は、
http://tatemonoen.jp/

最後に公園で出会ったボランティアの方々にお礼をのべたい。とても親切で建造物についての僕の質問にことごとく答えてくれた。

Unfinished business

TOKYO NOTICE BOARD 12 DECEMBER 2014

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

TOKYO NOTICE BOARD 27 FEBRUARY 2015
50 Shades of Yikes by Joshua Lepage

So, 50 Shades of Grey's finally hit the theaters. It's been making headlines constantly, too, with housewives arrested for masturbating in movie theaters and other shenanigans. I'm about as far as one gets from the intended audience for this thing, but after hearing so much about it, I decided to crack open the book and see what the fuss is about.
As 50 Shades was originally a piece of Twilight fanfiction, it came as no surprise to me that the titular character, billionaire Christian Grey, goes about seducing shy, virginal Ana by stalking her, watching her sleep, sending her lavish gifts roughly twelve minutes after meeting her, and generally acting like a creep.
After reading so many scathing reviews, too, I wasn't surprised by the frankly insulting portrayal of the BDSM scene. Grey bullies a girl he's just met into signing away all control over her own life, ignores their previously agreed-upon safe word, and, most egregiously, has a dark, traumatic past that made him into a sadist, as if all BDSM enthusiasts are broken people.
No, what really got to me was the quality of the writing. 50 Shades reads a lot like some form of alien life spent about two days observing human sexual behavior and wrote a really bad entry about it for its travel blog. The straw that broke the camel's back, for me, was a beautiful moment when Ana, after waking up for the first time in Christian Grey's house, surreptitiously brushes her teeth with his toothbrush because "it would be like having him in my mouth." We readers are supposed to see this as an erotic, thrilling little moment. Forget the badly-written spankings and floggings; this, right here, is the stuff of nightmares.
I hear the 50 Shades movie is just as laughable as the books are, but it's the books I want to heartily recommend. For a good giggle and, if you're an aspiring writer or editor, some great examples of what NOT to do, skip the movie and pick up the novels instead. Just make sure to get them from a used bookstore so E.L. James isn't encouraged to produce a fourth volume of offensive pseudo-BDSM dreck.


What’s App With You?

TOKYO NOTICE BOARD 27 FEBRUARY 2015

Calcbot:

Calcbot The Intelligent Calculator is a combined calculator and conversion app that'll blow your phone's basic calculator app out of the water. The well-designed interface, featuring large, easy-to-use buttons in attractive colors, makes the app super easy to use. Every calculation is saved onto a history tape, which you can scroll through and choose favorites from using a simple star button -- forget about the usual calculators' cryptic memory keys. A simple swipe lets you convert your results between 500 different units, including auto-updating currency updates, and tilting your phone to landscape mode will let you access a bank of common scientific functions. Calcbot is a great app that makes using a calculator fun and intuitive.

Trivia Crack:

This hit app puts a twist on the usual trivia games by pitting friends against each other in a race to obtain six different characters representing the trivia categories of Science, Entertainment, Art, Geography, Sports, and History. The questions are chosen from a bank of over 100,000, and if you get stuck, the ability to earn power-ups and extra spins on the wheel or even to steal characters from your friends means that you'll be able to use strategy, rather than just trivia knowledge, to make your way to the top. Although the ads on this app can get a little distracting, the cute, colorful design and fun gameplay make it well worth a try.

Tokyo Voice Column

TOKYO NOTICE BOARD 27 FEBRUARY 2015
Thirteen Good Turns by David L. Gregory

My mother had just called and told me about the passing of a special person. Bicycle to the beach, I decided. Take and leave the sadness there.

On my way, a changing traffic light diverted me onto a street where I passed an elderly Japanese woman struggling alone with the back wheel of her bicycle. A hooked cord had slipped off the rear basket, caught on a spoke, and wrapped tight around the hub. The wheel would not budge. The woman’s fine, frail fingers were no match for the spokes. She was on the verge of crying.
The beach could wait a few minutes.

My trying to untangle the cord and pull it off was not working when a young Japanese mother and her daughter passing by on bicycles stopped and asked if we needed help.
“Tools,” I said. The mother promised to return in five minutes with her husband’s box.
The beach became less urgent.

The woman and I chatted while we waited. She was 83 years old, lived alone nearby, and was going shopping. “Honto-ni, domo arigato gozaimasu! Really, thank you so very much!” she said over and over.

The young mother returned, and with a few twists of her husband’s screwdriver and pliers I pried loose the hook and freed the cord. The woman thanked the young mother, and then me, again.

After the wheel was rotating again, I bent the hook back into shape, against the women’s protests, and re-attached the cord to the rear basket. She pulled out her wallet as I gave the wheel a final checking spin and offered me \2,000.
“No, no. You keep that.”
She insisted; I resisted.
“No, you helped me. That’s enough. Thank you!”
The sadness from my mother’s news never made it to the beach.

母が電話で特別な人が亡くなったと知らせてきた。自転車で海岸に行こうと決めた。溢れる悲しみを水に流すそう。

海岸に行く途中、信号が変わり、道で自転車の後輪と悪戦苦闘している日本人のおばあさんの姿を目にした。留め金のあるコードが後籠から外れ落ち、スポークに引っかかり、ハブに固く巻き付いていた。車輪は動かなかった。女性の華奢でもろい指ではスポークに太刀打ちできなかった。おばあさんは絶望のふちにいた。海岸に慌てていかなくてもいい。

コードをほどこうにもなかなかうまくいかなかった。自転車に乗った若い日本人のお母さんと娘が通りがかり何かできる事はないかと声をかけてくれた。「道具がいるんだ。」と言うと、5分待ってて、夫の道具箱を持って来るからと言ってくれた。
海岸は後回しでいい。

待つ間おばあさんとおしゃべりをした。おばあさんは83歳で近くに一人で暮らしをしており、買い物に出かける途中だった。「ほんとにどうもありがとうございます!」と何度も何度も繰り返した。

若いお母さんが戻ってくると、スクリュードライバーとペンチでちょっとねじるだけで留め金をゆるめコードをはずすことができた。おばあさんは若いお母さんと僕にお礼をいった。

車輪が動くと留め金を後ろに曲げ形を直し、再びコードを後籠に取り付けた。おばあさんは財布を取り出し、僕が車輪の最終点検をした後で2000円を差し出した。「いらない。」と言ったが、彼女は引き下がらなかった。そして僕は言った。「いや、僕こそあなたに助けられた、それで十分だ。ありがとう。」
あの溢れるほどの悲しみは消え、海岸へは向かわなかった。


Strange but True

TOKYO NOTICE BOARD 27 FEBRUARY 2015
Stoned wallabies make crop circles

It's long been proven that crop circles, intricate geometrical patterns found in fields and supposedly made by aliens, are the work of creative pranksters with too much time on their hands. This time, though, crop circles found in a Tasmanian poppy fields were shown to have a much more entertaining origin.
Lara Giddings, the attorney general for the state of Tasmania, recently reported that wallabies had been finding their way into poppy fields grown for medical uses. The kangaroo-like marsupials would eat the crops until they got high, then walk around in circles.
It seems that walking around in circles is common in animals who've ingested poppies, as sheep have also been spotted making these drug-induced crop circles.

Warrant issued for Elsa

Elsa from the popular movie Frozen may be impervious to cold, but the winter has been harsh enough in Kentucky to move a local police department to issue a warrant for the arrest of the Disney queen.
After more than a foot of snow fell over parts of Kentucky, police in the town of Harlan posted the following Facebook message: "Suspect is a blonde female last seen wearing a long blue dress and is known to burst into song 'Let it Go!' As you can see by the weather she is very dangerous."
The police department then used the attention they got from this message to remind all residents to take the weather seriously and be careful. Elsa, meanwhile, remains on the run.

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