Plain Talk


Big World, Little Cat

5 Steps to Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock by Alex Parsons

I'm not going to lie, my first day back in Australia was incredibly weird.
Of course it was fantastic to see my mum at the airport, crying from happiness (man, I had missed those hugs). But it had been 9 months since I stepped foot on Aussie soil and it was long enough to make everything feel new again. The trees were so tall. So were the people. Everyone is friendly. Oh my gosh, why is there so much.
You see, I had been living very simply in the tiny village of Nozawa Onsen, Japan. There I had a single room to myself, a micro kitchen, shared bathroom, and went to bathe at the traditional hot springs every day. I kept my room sparse and spent most of my time on the mountain, shooting through powder and ducking trees.
So returning home to the suburbs of Sydney to live with my mum and sister was quite an adjustment.
If you've ever seen what it's like to bring a new cat or kitten home with you, that's how I felt. Keeping this in mind, here’s 5 steps to dealing with some serious reverse culture shock:

Step 1: Have everything set up that your cat might need e.g. food, bed, litter tray
When we got home from the airport, mum pottered around for a bit before she went back to work for the afternoon. Before she left she said, "I bought you a new blanket and pillow. I hope it's not too fluffy. I cleaned your room. Oh and I got you some muesli and yoghurt, I tried to think what you might feel like when you got back." She sorted through the fridge. "And there's some cheese and here's your lunch when you get hungry. We're almost out of strawberries though, I'll pick you up some more tomorrow."
I was thinking, why is she so helpful? How can I repay her? WHAT DOES SHE WANT FROM ME?
I reminded myself she was my mother, who loved me hugely, dearly, unconditionally. She was always like this. It had just been a long time since someone had looked after me.

Step 2: Let your cat explore the house in its own time
After mum left for work, I had the house to myself for a few hours.
I stood in my room, unsure what to do with myself. I looked at the stacks of books on my desk, the overflowing wardrobe, the art on the walls. Was this all mine? I tiptoed around and couldn't stop questions filling my mind. Why do I have so many clothes? No one needs that many clothes! Why is my bed so soft? Why do I have 6 blankets and 3 pillows? Oh my gosh, why am I wearing shoes indoors?

Step 3: Have a space for the cat to rest, away from stimulus
Maybe I'm just tired, I thought. In Japan I'd gone straight from a 25 hour ferry ride to jumping on two trains to the airport and then an 8 hour overnight flight. Naps fix everything, right?
So that afternoon I tucked myself into my too-soft bed with my too-fluffy pillow, under my new blanket. I dragged my cat, Kissaki, in with me and it curled up in a ball beside my stomach. My sister's cat, Pancake, settled alongside my back. I was hemmed in by kitties and promptly fell asleep.

Step 4: Introduce your cat to family members, one at a time
When I woke up, my sister had just walked in the door.
I ran out to see her and it felt like no time had passed between us. We sat on the couch and talked about nothing in particular, falling into our old rhythms of joking about everything, watching cat videos and making a lot of Adventure Time references. Within 30 minutes I was laughing so hard I was crying.

Step 5: Love your cat forever and watch it grow
That night I made dinner with mum. I kept sneaking up behind her and giving surprise attack hugs. Sam got back from the gym and we settled on the couch, cats on our laps.
Things felt normal again. Slower, more structured, more stable. Finally, I was home.


Plain Talk


Secret Garden 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.

Sitting on the veranda of the temple, I detected a smell that was almost familiar to me; faintly acrid, kind of similar to a type of herbs Ah, it was the smell of the old bathtub in my childhood! Made of cypress and oval-shaped, the smell of wood rose from the deep tub and I breathed in the scented steam as I soaked in the warm water years ago. When rubbed on with fingertips, the tub felt slick and at the same time a little fluffy on the surface under the water. The veranda was probably made of cypress too.

Triggered by the image of the ancient bathtub in the old Japanese house of my childhood, other images connected to the bathroom came back as well; afternoons in summer, me and my little brother, aged six and four, ran back home in their swimming suits in the sudden squall from the concrete neighbourhood reservoir; made into a makeshift kids’ swimming pool. Our flip-flops pitter-pattered hard under our feet, kicking dirt up, drawing spots on our thin, childish calves. We jumped in the bathtub together. We shot water at each other through linked fingers. We were safe now. Outside, raindrops hit the roof hard, drowning the world in slanted white sheets. Thunder rolled, and we imagined an enormous, ogre-like God of Thunder beating gigantic drums up in the grey sky. We were psyched up and happy.

A fat cricket with long and strong hind legs would lurk in the damp corner. It was scary because it leaped high in unexpected directions. I desperately ran for fear of accidentally stepping on it, its slimy juice all over the sole of my bare foot. We children were not assigned to cleaning the floor. Mother did all the cleaning, and I suppose it was quite an unpleasant task with all the slime and grime and tangled hair and possible crickets and snails hiding under the floor board.

It was quiet in the garden. The metal door creaked and someone came in.. He was in samue, the Japanese working clothes that Buddhist priests wear. He walked briskly toward the belfry. After a moment, there came a strong, vibrating sound of the bronze bell. Dinnnnnggg…. Donnnnnngggg…. I imagined the priest holding onto the strap attached to the lumber mallet and swinging his body, building the right momentum to drive the lumber to the bell. I felt the sound on my skin as well as well within ear drum. The bell sounded 18 times, and went silent. The priest came back and looked over at me. I nodded, he nodded back, and he then disappeared beyond the metal door, which he left open behind him.

The quietness returned again. A truck rumbled down the street outside, but the noise didn’t register. My mobile read 5:11p.m. The late afternoon light was slanting low, but it was still some time before dusk. I stood up, dusted my backside lightly, stretched my arms up; ready to go.

This is my secret garden. I can’t tell you exactly where it is.










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 Revi]ew


Here Comes the Sun: A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras
By Leza Lowitz
Stone Bridge Press, 2015, 264 pp., \2251 (Paperback) /\1489 (Kindle)

Reviewed by Allan Cook

“Here Comes the Sun” is the autobiography of Japan based American writer Leza Lowitz. Born in San Francisco, Leza now lives in Tokyo with her Husband Shogo and their adopted son. Published on June 6th and printed by her home-state publishers Stone Bridge Press the novel is the journey of a woman in a foreign land in search of love, motherhood and ultimately of finding herself.

Hailing from one of the world’s most Asian and Japan-centric communities with about a half-million Japanese and over 5.5 million Asians, Leza, as all Californians, grew up in a deeply multicultural society with a deep Asian influence. With such deep connection to Asia and especially Japan it was no surprise that 1989 saw her first stint at life in Japan when she lived here in Tokyo until 1994.

Here Comes the Sun: A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras
By Leza Lowitz
Stone Bridge Press, 2015, 264 pp., \2251 (Paperback) /\1489 (Kindle)

In that time, Leza worked as a writer and literary translator utilising her knowledge, experiences and passion for Japan, by writing for the Japan Times in addition to lecturing on American literature at Japans most prestigious university, Tokyo University. Lowitz's translations included haiku and tanka a task that ultimately led her to writing her own books of poetry while in America. Published in 2001 “Yoga Poems: Lines to Unfold By”, saw Lowitz connect her other passion, discovered in her childhood, of Yoga and her desire to write.

It was that passion for Yoga that much of her life has been devoted, and which, in 2004 led her to return to Tokyo after a decade of absence. Opening a Yoga studio in Shinagawa, Lowitz finally began to see her life fall into place as the many seemingly disconnected pieces of her life finally connected, revealing their ultimate meaning. A road that would eventually lead her and her husband to revealing their greatest gift, Shinji the child they would eventually adopt.

It is from the Sanskrit teachings that each chapter of “Here Comes the Sun” is identified through its 8 Chakra titles. In Hindu according to the tantric yoga traditions, a chakra is a location on the subtle body! That is, the psycho-spiritual body! They are points of energy, points that channel our life force. Chakra also means “to move”, and is where the words origin can be found. As with all our lives, movement, change and adaptation are constant. Ultimately “Here Comes the Sun” is the Chakra of one woman's life and the connections that lead her through it to the understanding and wisdom that comes with that movement.

Tokyo Fab


The 3,800-dollar cat by Joshua Lepage

As I write this, my roommate's cat lies on my bed, wearing a plastic cone of shame around his neck to keep him from licking his sutured wounds. He's not exactly impressed with it, but the pain meds he's on are keeping him quiet.

Akhen is a Cornish Rex -- not a cheap cat. He cost my roommate $700 as a tiny baby, then several hundred more in vet bills over the next year. Feline herpes, asthma, a slight heart murmur... He sure is cute, though. Who doesn't like the sleek look of exotic cats like rexes, sphinxes and Abyssinians? They're elegant and unique-looking, but super active and fun to own. Akhen even fetches toys like a dog. Great breeds, really. We even thought it was cute when he tapped his back leg against the floor rapidly. He just did it once in a while, so we thought it was his way of scratching an itch or something.

Two weeks ago, Akhen hit his back leg against a corner of my bed, then started to limp. And instead of getting better, the problem got worse over the following few days. A few minutes of Googling later, I'd found the likely culprit: a luxating patella, or "dislocated kneecap" for those of us who don't speak doctorese. Ouch, right? Turns out that it's not uncommon in cats and even less uncommon in exotics. And sometimes, when the kneecap starts to slip, they learn how to push it back into place by... tapping their paw on the floor. Oh.

So off we went to the nearest surgical center for pets (which wasn't near at all) to have Akhen examined by a great surgeon who confirmed his laundry list of ailments: asthma, heart murmur, feline herpes, dislocated kneecap, and a minor problem with his hip, too. Operating on this little Darwinian mistake would set my roommate back a whopping $2,700, or over 255,000 yen.

At least surgery went fine, and it's been hilarious watching him stumble around in his plastic cone. Our next eight weeks, though, will be devoted to preventing him from jumping on or off anything in the house while he recovers. After that, I expect my roommate will be picking up the phone to buy pet insurance before another part of Akhen breaks, luxates, leaks something weird, or otherwise goes wrong.

The moral of this story, I guess, is not to buy exotics. And if you must, make sure to insure the hell out of them. My fat Japanese bobtail may not have the sharp cheekbones and awesome look of his Cornish Rex brother, but he's a shining beacon of health next to sad, drugged-up, plastic-coned Akhen. Our third cat, if we ever adopt one, will be the most ordinary-looking lump we can find at our local shelter. Lesson learned.

What’s App With You?


Stephen Hawking's Snapshots of the Universe:

Stephen Hawking's books may be a bit challenging for the average reader, but this app does a great job of simplifying and explaining the principles that control our universe, making them accessible to just about anyone. Through 10 interactive experiments, this app will teach you how planets stay in orbit around stars, why black holes may not actually be black, why time is not the same for everyone, how motion and location depend on an outside observer, and much more. Great for both adults and students, Snapshots of the Universe is a perfect intro to some basic scientific principles, and also provides more in-depth reading material to go with the fun interactive experiments.

Tap Titans:

Tap to attack, tap to slay, tap to collect gold, tap to hire heroes -- gameplay doesn't get much simpler than that. A perfect time-waster, Tap Titans is a typical RPG condensed into frantic screen-tapping fun. Your character is confronted with endless series of (rather adorable) monsters and titans, which you must kill by tapping your screen. Loot gold from their corpses and spend the coins on attack upgrades or on hiring companions to help you chip away at your opponents' increasingly high health points. Sadly, this app contains micro-transactions in the form of diamonds that can make gameplay faster or easier, but they've proven easy to ignore. Just be patient and keep tapping!

Tokyo Voice Column


What’s in a name? by Mardo

I recently found out a friend of mine was not allowed to use her last name on Facebook. Stalker. She has to use her maiden name. This is odd considering how big Facebook is on trying to make people use their real names. Stalker is her real name. Quite a common name in England and Scotland., especially if your family member was involved in anything stealthy, like hunting, but because of how we use the word today, she can’t use it on facebook.

This got me thinking about other names we can’t really use today. I had some cousins whose last names were Fag. They changed that about 20 years ago. I would also hate to be a member of the Crapper family. Originally a harmless name from a picker, or Cropper of fruit. However, once Thomas Crapper started selling very good flushing toilets, no one wants this last name, it means to relieve oneself. No one wants a name like that! If you had invented a vacuum cleaner, like the Hoover family, you could live with sucking, but dumping is another thing entirely!

Then there is of course language meaning across different languages. I recently found the Japanese name/word Ifuku being used in business, for clothes, for car parts and a few other products. In English this could be mistaken for a rather rude saying. Once we start using other languages things can get quite amusing. In one language for instance, my name can be translated into “I have a Horses Penis” which is pretty flattering, or maybe it means “I am a Horses Penis” Not sure. Not going to risk it though. However, either way, I doubt I would get that name past facebook. but should we really let internet companies tell us what we can or cannot name our kids? I think not, and I am sure my future son, Max Power, and my Daughter, Tumblr Likes, will agree.


そこで他にどんな名前の使用が制限されるか考えてみた。『Fag(ホモ)』という名字のいとこがいたが、20年前に名字を変えた。『The Crapper (ザ・便所)』一家の一員になるのもまっぴらご免だ。もともと果樹園の雇われ労働者(ピッカー/クロッパー)由来のホームレスの意味だ。でもトーマス・クラッパーが、あのすばらしい水洗トイレ設備を考案し売り出すと、誰もこの名字を使いたがらなくなった。用を足すという意味の名前なんて誰も嫌だ!


Strange but True


Four-legged snake fossil found

A team of scientists, led by Dr. Dave Martill from the University of Portsmouth, have discovered the first known fossil of a four-legged snake.
According to Dr. Martill, it is generally accepted that snakes evolved from lizards at some point in the distant past, but scientists have yet to discover when, why, and how the change occurred.
The fossil, discovered during a routine field trip to Museum Solnhofen in Germany, is that of a juvenile snake measuring just 20 centimeters. Its sets of arms and legs may help shed light on how snakes made the transition from lizards to serpents. The remains of the snake's last meal in its gut, most likely a salamander, already hints at the fact that snakes became carnivorous much earlier than previously believed.

Panda fakes pregnancy to get better treatment?

Giant panda Yuan Yuan, resident of the Taipei Zoo, seemed to be exhibiting all of the usual signs of pregnancy: a loss of appetite, a thickening of the uterus, and rising fecal progesterone. An ultrasound scan, however, determined that Yuan Yuan was not pregnant.
This is not the first instance of a pseudo-pregnancy in the panda world, and now, some experts are speculating that the clever animals may be faking their symptoms, as pregnant pandas are usually moved to air-conditioned room and provided with extra food and round-the-clock care.
There is debate on the subject, though, and other experts speculate that pandas' bodies may just be "rehearsing" for pregnancy, leading to the hormonal changes.



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