Plain Talk


Secret Garden 1 by Hiroko

When I lived near Waseda University in Shinjuku-ku, I found a temple with a not-so-large, yet lovely garden adjacent to a graveyard. For some reason, its stately gate with its wooden double doors facing the main street was always locked, and a smaller gate to the side was used instead. You need to turn in to a back street and walk up some 20 or 30m along the wall to reach the smaller gate, so not many passersby drop in unless they come specifically to visit it. It took me two out of the three years that I lived in the area to finally noticed the temple and wander in.

A temple’s premise is half private, half public, I suppose. I like walking through temples for their greenery and quietness, but when I enter a small temple without any specific purpose, I feel somewhat guilty, or secretive, as if an obo-san would rush out at any minute and accuse me of trespassing on her property. Once I was actually stopped and asked if I was paying a visit to someone’s tomb at a small temple in Taito-ku. They must have had some bad experiences with rascals who let themselves in and played practical jokes. Other times I pretended that I was looking for an acquaintance’s tombstone, strolling slowly among the oblongs of gravesites.

So I was feeling that way when I first stepped into this particular temple. Passing through the small gate, I saw the thick shade of trees to the left beyond a metal door. Locked? No, it creaked open.

I found myself standing in an enclosure of trees and bushes. To the right, I could see the graceful slope of tile-roofing through the leaves. To the left, a raised mound with an arbor housing a large bronze bell hanging from the ceiling. Beyond the belfry lies the graveyard. Despite the fact that the garden and the graveyard were located along the main street (I could now see the large wooden gate at the back of the garden, heavily bolted, with thick timber lining the inside) quietness prevailed as if it were a separate small universe. I stood still for a time in amazement. It was a secret garden.

Since the first time I discovered the garden, I returned time and time again while I lived in the neighbourhood. I visited there mostly on the way to or from my Saturday grocery-shopping, for the vigor of the garden never failed to give me a lift. The frequency of my visits has dropped since I moved, but I can still cycle to the temple reasonably easily.. I was there in late March when the weeping cherry tree was in full bloom in the garden. I sat on the dusty wooden veranda running around the main hall, listening to birds chirping and looking out over the garden. The willow-like cherry blossoms swayed in streams, sending petals on to my shoulders and lap.

The last time I was there, the weeping cherry tree was covered in fresh green.
(To be Continued)






Plain Talk


Japan Football Museum by Simon Duncan

This museum is located near Ochanomizu station, on the appropriately named Football Avenue. It was opened in 2003, one year after Japan co-hosted the World Cup with South Korea. The main focus was originally on the 2002 World Cup, but the museum has been updated and expanded a little in scope. Nowadays it also provides the history of football in Japan from the founding of JFA (the Japan Football Association) in September 1921 up to the present day.

The museum is not as large as some football museums in western countries, but is still a must visit for football fans and is also of some interest to those interested in Japanese history. On a recent visit on a weekday afternoon I was one of only a few people in the museum. Entry costs 500 yen and appropriately enough it took me around 90 minutes to see all the exhibits (plus some extra time in the gift shop).

The majority of the museum is located in two floors below ground, in the building that houses the JFA. It opens with a display about the 2002 World Cup, followed by a large screen that shows 3D highlights of important games of theJapanese national team. After walking through a re-creation of a locker room from the 2002 World Cup you enter a room full of trophies. Dozens of trophies? Yes, Japan has won many trophies over the years; for fair play, of which they are justifiably proud.

So far, few surprises, except that the most famous player of that era, arguably the most famous Japanese player of any era, Hidetoshi Nakata and Trosuier, the French coach of the 2002 national team are barely mentioned. Next comes the history archives and a few more surprises. There is a small display about Kyaw Din, a Burmese man born in 1900. Kyaw Din is one of 4 foreigners inducted into the Japan Football Hall of Fame, along with 64 Japanese who made important contributions to Japanese football. His contribution was to coach a high school football team that provided many members to the national team in the 1920s and to write a tactics book that was used by several future coaches of the national teams. Very little is known about him, perhaps the only man from his country to make a worldwide impact on the football world. Despite an effort a few years ago by a national paper to track down his living relatives when he was inducted, none were found and nothing is known about his later life.

The history section also has a lot of information on the participation of Japan in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where they reached the quarter finals, their best performance in that era. The final part of the museum is for displaying medals and trophies from international competitions and finally for memorabilia from various World Cups. Although the museum focuses mainly on the exploits of the men, the more successful women's team, known as Naedshiko Japan are well-represented in the trophy room. They were World Champions in 2011 and also sliver medalists in the 2012 London Olympics. Hommare Sawa, their MVP, won all kinds of medals and trophies, including most impressively and deservedly FIFA Women's World Player of the Year.

Two minor criticisms of the Japan Football Museum; a lack of English explanation for some exhibits and limited opening hours. It is closed Mondays (unless it is a national holiday, then it closes on Tuesday) and weekdays it is only open from 13:00 to 18:00. On holidays the hours are 10:00 to 18:00. Students age 7 to 15 can enter for 300 yen.

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


Traditional Japanese Arts and Crafts... Using Bugs by Joshua Lepage

Ever heard of bagworms? Also known as bagworm moths or case moths, these little critters are found all over the world and are most famous for the small protective cases they build during their caterpillar stage. The bagworms build their cases by gathering whatever's around -- sand, soil, lichen, plant material -- and use strands of silk to hold it all together. The males go on to become "proper" moths, while the females only grow vestigial wings and legs and must spend their entire life in their case.

In Japanese, bagworms are called minomushi (蓑虫). They're known for their cry of "chichi-yo, chichi-yo" in traditional literature and autumn-themed haiku (Sei Shonagon even mentions them in The Pillow Book), and they're said to be the abandoned children of demons crying out for their father (chichi). In reality, bagworms don't make any sound, and the ancient Japanese most likely attributed the "chichi-yo" cries of other insects to them by mistake. But with their little cases around them, it's easy to see how they would remind people of abandoned babies swaddled in blankets.

So what's the link with traditional arts and crafts, you ask? Well, I mentioned that bagworms make their cases out of whatever's on hand. And since the Heian period (794-1195), Japanese kids have been producing tiny, intriguing works of art by providing bagworms with bits of colorful wool, fabric, and paper with which to build their cases.

Some modern artists have used this to great effect: Aki Inomata offered bagworms small pieces of women's clothing as a way to comment on Japanese gender roles, while Hubert Duprat gave similar insects pieces of gold leaf and precious stones to create beautiful jeweled cases. But at its heart, this tradition is a kid's game -- and one that, for some reason, remains mostly unknown to people in the West.

So hey, why not give it a try this summer? If you can get your hands on some bagworms, all you need to do is to place one in a small box along with a pile of... well, whatever you want. Pieces of thread, tiny paper squares, and brightly colored wool seem to be the usual favorites, but you can try your luck with feathers or even sequins to end up with a seriously fabulous little sculpture. Way cooler than making origami cranes or paper lanterns, right? Make sure to send in a picture if you decide to go for it!

What’s App With You?



We've mentioned this app before, but it's constantly being updated and it's truly one of the best options out there if you want to learn a foreign language -- miles ahead of better-known but expensive options like Rosetta Stone. Using an experience point and level system that turns learning into a challenging game, Duolingo introduces users to a new language through a mix of listening comprehension, reading and writing. And although it used to have a definite focus on Romance languages (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian), the app now also covers German, English, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, and even Irish. Klingon's currently in the works, so whether you're a backpacker or a hardcore Star Trek fan, you'll definitely want to give Duolingo a try!

Jurassic World:

With a mega-dino expo coming to Tokyo and Jurassic World's recent release, a lot of people are sure to have dinosaurs on the brain this summer. And to coincide with the latest movie release, Ludia's come up with a cool little park-building game based on Jurassic World and its characters. The player is put in charge of Isla Nublar and must gather resources, expand the theme park and bring to life more than 50 dinosaurs. It's a little heavy on the optional micro-transactions, but the app itself is free, and it's easy to progress without paying a single yen. Definitely a fun little distraction for '80s and '90s kids who grew up with the Jurassic Park franchise and want to relive a slice of their childhood.

Tokyo Voice Column


Do Businesses in Japan Offer Good Service? by Marshall Hughes

I saw advertisements for a mega bookstore in Tokyo promising, in numerous Japanese and English language advertisements, “20% off all imported books and magazines in store.” Being an avid reader, I went to their store to pick up a book I had been eyeing. I got on the elevator and pushed the button for the sixth floor which was marked “foreign books.” I got off and went over to the section marked by a large sign saying “foreign books.” I grabbed the book I wanted and headed to the cashier, walking by several large signs boasting of the 20% discount on all imported books. When I got to the counter, I was told that I wouldn’t get the 20% discount because my book was not an imported book. I was told that since the (overseas) publisher had an office in Japan, that it wasn’t really an imported book. I showed her where the book said that it was both published and printed in Hong Kong, and where their advertisement said “on all imported books.” She was not interested. I guess that even if a book is imported from Hong Kong it is still not an imported book. Trying, but perhaps failing, to remain polite I said, “So a book written by a foreigner in a foreign language and which was published and printed in a foreign country and then imported from that foreign country is not an imported book?”

She was not amused and obviously had no intention of or probably ability to give me the discount. This policy was not hers, but something that came down from higher up, from “a suit” who didn’t want to be bothered with reason, logic, integrity and certainly not with customer satisfaction. I did not buy the book, and I will never buy another book from that store.

I now go there only to look for interesting books that I later purchase from another bookstore or on Amazon. I have lived in Japan 16 years and I read about 10-15 books a year, and I certainly hadn’t bought a majority of my books from there. Their service was too poor.




Strange but True


Cat saves child from dog, receives "Hero Dog" award

After saving her owner from a dog attack, Tara the cat found herself the unlikely recipient of the Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' 33rd annual National Hero Dog award.
The incident occurred in May 2014, when six-year-old Jeremy Triantafilo was attacked by his next-door neighbor's chow-mix dog. Tara defended her owner by body-slamming the attacker and chasing it back to its home, allowing the boy to escape with a relatively minor leg wound that later required eight stitches. Tara's actions were caught on camera, and her bravery impressed Los Angeles SPCA president Madeline Bernstein so much that she was awarded the Hero Dog award despite being, well, a cat.

Left-handed kangaroos

Although preferring one hand over the other was once thought to have developed primarily in humans and other primates, new research on wild kangaroos in Australia seems to be challenging this notion.
Scientists have observed that the vast majority of kangaroos display a natural preference for using their left hand for feeding, self-grooming and other activities, showing a degree of handedness comparable to that of humans. This preference was more pronounced in large, bipedal species of kangaroo -- the eastern grey kangaroo and the red kangaroo -- while smaller tree kangaroos seemed to be more ambidextrous.
Due to the major differences between marsupial and primate brains, these observations came as a surprise to scientists and will no doubt contribute to the study of brain symmetry and mammalian evolution.



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