Plain Talk

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


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.

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.








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

Inawashiro Animal Shelter by Joshua Lepage

Know anyone with at least a year left on their visa and a desire to find a new job? You probably do -- there's tons of them in Tokyo, poor souls stuck working insane hours at dodgy English schools and conversation cafes for outrageously low pay. Here's the thing, though: there's a great gig out there just waiting for an English speaker to grab it, so I'm going to make an exception and advertise the hell out of it this week.
Why? Because I'm sitting with my cat Eggs leaning against my leg right now, and I wouldn't have that cute ball of fluff in my life if it weren't for Japan Cat Network's Inawashiro Shelter. It's a great place filled with caring people and awesome cats and dogs who need homes and attention, and they're looking for a shelter manager who likes animals (obviously) and wants to meet people from around the world.
No animal experience? No problem, they'll train you. All you need is a year left on your visa, ideally, and good English communication skills. It's a volunteer gig, as the shelter spends every penny on caring for their animals, but food and a living space are provided. And if you're good at fundraising, the shelter's more than willing to create a monthly stipend. Not too shabby, right?
As I mentioned, I've been to Inawashiro in Fukushima to visit the shelter and adopt my cat, and it's a great, friendly place. The volunteers are amazing people, there's a constant flow of families looking to adopt, and really, it might be kind of out in the boondocks, but the fresh air, scenery, and all-around friendliness made me want to drop everything and volunteer there. Heck, I'd be running to the rescue right now if I had a visa.
So please help these great people out by spreading the word. Visit the Japan Cat Network website at for more information, and if you're interested in the position, contact Susan Roberts at

What’s App With You?



Why tap your phone keyboard's keys one by one when you can swype instead? This app allows you to save tons of time by swiping your finger over the keys to write, reducing typos and mistakes. You can also use Swype to type as you would normally, though, and the app learns the way you type, suggesting words and getting smarter the more you use it. It supports 26 languages (no Japanese yet, though), and even though it's not free, the low cost is an awesome bargain considering how efficient the keyboard is. Swype also comes with a variety of themes, including some colorful and animated ones that can be purchased in addition to the basic app.

Fist of Fury:

We often review game apps with a retro look to them and Fist of Fury is no exception with its cute pixel graphics, bright colors, and catchy tunes. Described as a "martial arts guru game", this brawler puts you in the shoes of one of 21 fun characters and challenges you to punch and kick your way through the multitudes of enemies that come at you on a static backdrop. It's a simple concept but challenging enough to master that you'll have a hard time putting down your phone once you get into it. The countless characters also extend the fun quite a bit, as they have to be unlocked and each have their own unique moves and power-ups.

Tokyo Voice Column

Souls in Japan by Paul Stewart

There are many ways to travel in the world. The pushing and pulling of other people’s desires and expressions may stimulate our choices or, we may be prompted by our inner guidance and inclinations. Either way, here we are in Japan. It must be the best place for us to be at this point in our lives.

Having created this opportunity for oneself, it’s worth considering what it is gifting us and how we are profiting, benefitting and growing from the experience. And as always, it’s a wonderful opportunity to contribute our unique energy to the collective here in small and/or large ways.

One thing that stands out to me about Japan and one quality I greatly appreciate, is the silence. Be it climbing Fuji san, sitting by a lake in Hakuba or walking the crowded streets of Tokyo. It takes inner silence to hear outer silence. Though outer silence can help you sense your own stillness and peace. As the appreciation is felt, one can notice so many small but meaningful occurrences here in Japan. The elegant and poetic folding of a handkerchief by a gentleman in a suit at the lights. The soft graceful movement of a woman’s hand as she describes her subject to a friend in a cafe´. The lowering of voices with respect to other people nearby. Particularly noticeable and powerfully creative is the appreciation of admirers that sit or walk in parks seemingly able to connect and feel the natural beauty around them.

Japan is a land and culture of variety. From highly refined martial arts to traditional song and dance, pop culture and simple calm living. I feel respect when I think of and experience Japan. I sense it molding me and enhancing me yet at the same time, reflecting parts of myself that had been hidden. It is a gentle and wise place. It is interesting and enlightening. Its nature is profoundly beautiful and its people perfected through centuries of practice.

It’s an invitation to let Japan touch the deeper parts of you. Allow time for quiet and noticing the inherent qualities of this rich, abundant land. Let yourself be changed for the good and forever touched by your precious time here.






Strange but True


What color is the dress?

In late February, a simple picture of a cocktail dress uploaded to the social site Tumblr has been making waves throughout the Internet as it divided users over one simple question: What color is the dress? Some saw gold and white, while others insisted that the dress is blue and black.
As it turns out, the dress is in fact blue and black, and the optical illusion was due to the picture's white balance, which bleached the dress' colors to light blue and brownish black. This caused confusion because the picture lacked clues the human eye can use to interpret the lighting of the environment depicted -- it's difficult to tell whether the dress is white and gold and in shadow, or blue and black and in bright light. All in all, a fascinating little illusion that's gotten thousands of people debating over the past couple of weeks.

Pig top student in dog obedience class

She may be a pig and only six months old, but 45-pound Amy proved her smarts by working her way to the top of the puppy class at Family Dog Training Center in Kent, Washington. She's mastered an obstacle course that includes jumps, a chute, and a teeter-totter, and even learned to sit, which pigs usually don't like.
Owner Lori Stock trains Amy daily in addition to two weekly puppy classes. As the only requirement for the lessons was to be housebroken, Amy was able to join her dog classmates with no trouble and proved quickly that she can learn much faster than them. Her rewards for learning new tricks include banana chips and string cheese, but absolutely no bacon treats!



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

50 Shades of Yikess