Plain Talk


Icons and Elderly by Grant Piper

My local subway station is currently installing the newest generation of ticket vending machines. The electronic gates that are compatible with paper tickets and various pre-paid cards and digital payment platforms were replaced with upgrades last year, and now the train company is working on the vending machines. When I came to Japan there were no automatic gates, or protective platform barriers. Instead, train station employees manned the exists and individually punched holes in commuter tickets as they passed through. And when they weren’t busy doing that they stood there twirling the hole-punchers in their hands like cowboy quick-draw shooters - looking like Dirty Harry or Doc Holliday. Also, when I arrived here ticket vending machines still accepted the old blue-hued 500-yen paper note, which had only recently been replaced with the 500-yen coin and was in the process of being phased out. So the newest electronic gates and ticket vending machines are the fifth or sixth - seventh? - generation of electronic machines that I have seen in Tokyo. Watching and commenting on them are one way to map the advance of digital technology in society.

The constant replacement of old machines with new provides some humor. Almost every day I see elderly passengers at the ticket machines - and bank ATMs and convenience store copy machines as well - in confusion pushing the screen with their fingers as if they think they are pushing buttons. I want to shout at them, “It’s not a button, it’s an icon!!! There are no moving parts!! It’s a computer! You don’t push it, you only touch it!” I worry their violence might damage the machines over time. Of course, we are most familiar with the technology, the books, the music and TV shows that we grew up with and the current crop of elderly grew up in a world of mechanical devices featuring moving parts and vacuum tubes, not digital ones featuring solid chips. That explains why they still push the ATM and vending machines screens as if they were still pushing moving buttons. It’s funny ... and a little pathetic.

The transition to new technology is fully achieved not by convincing people of its merits but only once the older generation familiar with older ways and means has died out. On our journey through life some totally ignore and avoid the new, preferring to live out their lives with their familiar things. That’s fine. Others, bless them, wholeheartedly embrace whatever comes along. Others, like my own mother, just dip their toes into the new technology. That’s how paradigm shifts occur, not all at once like a light turning on, but gradually as the old paradigm slowly expires. I frown on the practice of businesses and governments forcing ‘progress’ us though unilateral decisions to accept payment and applications, and to provide service only online. More and more we are penalized for using cash, penalized for seeking service from a live human, and denied service if our machines use a different operating system or program.

I enjoy watching those elderly push the touch-sensitive screens as if they were buttons. It’s a live experiment in learning curve.


Plain Talk


5 Secrets To Speaking Japanese Faster by Jeff S. Jones

You've finally made it to Japan and now you're ready to learn Japanese. But where should you start? There's so many different methods and textbooks. Fortunately, being in the country offers a big advantage: you actually have a chance to use the language in natural situations. Here are five secrets to get you speaking earlier and faster.

1. Learn the question words in Japanese
When I first came to Japan, I started memorizing how to say things like "older brother" and "younger brother". While I would eventually want to know these words, they were not very useful to me in the beginning since I don't even have a brother. Many of my friends who speak several languages say that one of the first things they learn in a new language are the "question words": who, what, when, where, why, and how.
These words are extremely useful since they allow you to immediately start asking and answering questions, a skill you can use daily. Once you've memorized the question words, then start practicing making questions. If you only learn how to say, "What is this?", then you can learn the names of lots of things. You might also want to ask things like "Where is the train station?" if you get lost.

2. Learn how to ask for help
The second thing I'd recommend learning are phrases to use when you get stuck or don't understand. Phrases like "I don't understand" and "Could you repeat that?" and "How do you say _______ in Japanese?" and "What does that mean?" and "Can you write it down on paper for me?"
Learning these phrases will rescue you when your vocabulary and listening skills are limited. By keeping the conversation going, you continue to get practice time rather than just giving up out of frustration.

3. Think backwards
As you go through your daily life, notice things you want to say but don't have the expressions for in Japanese. Keep a notepad with you and write these things down. Then when you have time, use a dictionary or get a friend to translate them for you. The next time you want to say these things, you will know how to say them.
This is also a good way to study because you are learning expressions that you actually need and can practice immediately. Maybe there's something you want to ask a clerk at a store -- for example, you might want to request a larger bag or ask them to heat up your bento. Learn how to say these things and then practice using them the next time you are in same situation. This is a great way to "reverse engineer" your learning process for your own specific needs.

4. Role play
Practice doing things you want to do in Japanese by role playing with a patient friend. For example, when I came to Japan, I wanted to order a pizza over the telephone, but didn't know how to in Japanese. I got a friend to pretend he was the person at the pizza shop and I practiced calling him and trying to order. My friend told me the phrases I was missing and explained the expressions I didn't understand. We practiced until I was confident enough to call the real shop and order smoothly.
The reason role play works is that there are only a limited number of routinely used expressions for any given task. Usually these expressions can be easily predicted. For example, we could anticipate that the pizza shop would ask me my name, address, what size pizza I wanted, and what toppings I wanted. Once I could confidently answer all their potential questions, I was quite relaxed performing the task.

5. Lean into new challenges
This may be the most important secret of all. Whenever you are confronted with a more challenging task -- for example, completing a complicated transaction at the bank or purchasing an item where you need to ask the salesperson a lot of technical questions -- it can be very tempting to just bring a Japanese speaking friend along to translate or even to avoid the task altogether. Yet you would be missing a golden opportunity to really put your Japanese skills to the test and "level up". Rather than avoid challenging tasks, the secret is to look forward to them, "lean into them", and realize they are real life opportunities to learn new expressions that you otherwise wouldn't. This may include researching something complicated on a website in Japanese. Sure, it will take you much longer than if you were performing the task in your mother tongue, but you will learn a lot from the challenge. Most of time, you will be totally amazed to discover you can do something in Japanese that you never imagined you'd be able to do.
If you want to know what someone is learning, just look at what they are doing every day. If you are regularly using Japanese in real life situations, there is no doubt your skills will quickly improve. Additionally, these tips will help you improve in any other language you might want to speak.

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


Awkward Things by Joshua Lepage

I've recently given The Pillow Book a second read. It's a book written by Sei Shonagon between 990 and 1002 -- essentially a diary that's filled with observations and anecdotes. But among the various bits of writing that make up Sei Shonagon's book, the most famous of all are her lists of things, ranging from "awful things" to "things that make your heart beat fast". Here's an excerpt from her list of awkward things:

"One has gone to a house and asked to see someone; but the wrong person appears, thinking that it is he who is wanted; this is especially awkward if one has brought a present.
One has allowed oneself to speak badly about someone without really intending to do so; a young child who has overheard it all goes and repeats what one has said in front of the person in question."

Fascinating how relatable that is despite the thousand years that separate us from Sei Shonagon, right? In her honor, I humbly present my own list of awkward things, modern foreigner-in-Japan style.

-Finding yourself stuck in an endless loop of bowing and goodbyes at the end of a night out with co-workers.

-When someone replies to you in perfect English after your hesitant attempt at communicating in Japanese.

-Working at an English conversation cafe and having to make small talk with two regular customers who sit at the same table but silently hate each other.

-A sleepy salaryman's head lolling against your shoulder in a late-night train.

-Being pursued for several steps by an insistent tissue-kubari in Shinjuku despite desperately avoiding eye contact.

-Taking the train home at 5:30 in the morning, stinky and rumpled after a long night out, and having to cling miserably to the nearest pole while surrounded by immaculate, crisply-dressed office workers on their way to work.

-Bowing out of sync with everyone else during the class's morning greeting to the teacher on your first day at a Japanese college.

... Yep, seems like I've had enough of those to write a pillow book of my own. What about you, readers?

What’s App With You?


iTunes U:

This polyvalent app is great for both students and teachers, as it includes a huge catalog of free educational content, including over one million free lectures and material from top universities and museums, as well as some great tools that make building lessons and collecting assignments much easier. We especially recommend this app to the many English teachers who are probably reading this -- it allows you to plan your lessons, add your own documents and worksheets, communicate with your students privately or as a group, answer questions, grade or annotate, and see when your students complete their assignments. All in all, it's a great way to bring your English lessons into the 21st century and do away with all the heavy textbooks.

This free multi-player app puts you in control of a tiny cell, gliding across a huge game area filled with colored dots and other player's cells. Your goal is to get bigger by eating the small dots as well as the cells of any other players who are smaller than yours. The successful players whose cells have grown larger than yours will be pursuing you as you play, leading to some fun chases and strategizing. Because there are thousands of users playing at all times, some people report a little lag compared to the original PC version of the game, especially when trying to change directions. Barring this minor issue, though, this is a solid iPhone port and definitely worth a try.

Tokyo Voice Column


Enjoy your Japanese (baby) meal! by Anne Corinne

One of the most common questions that a Gaijin person is asked both in their native country and in Japan is “did you get used to Japanese food? あなたはもう和食に慣れましたか。” If we always wonder if a Gaijin adult can eat Natto, Wasabi or even Umeboshi, we often tend to forget that Gaijin babies also taste and enjoy the local food. If you stay in Japan with your baby, it can even become a fascinating experience.

When your baby gets ready to start solid foods, your Japanese doctor will most probably recommend you to introduce おかゆ (okayu) as their very first food. おかゆ is a Japanese rice porridge. You will be able to buy it in any shop specialized in baby foods, or can also prepare your home-made one. At the beginning, it will have to be very watery so that your baby can easily absorb it (1 tablespoon of rice for 10 tablespoons of water), then you can gradually cook it with less and less water when your baby gets older, until they eventually eat normal rice.

Due to its very soft texture, 豆腐 (Tofu) is another Japanese ingredient that will be introduced at an early age to most babies, whereas ハイハイン and せんべい (Haihain and Senbei, Japanese rice crackers for babies) will be one of their first snacks. They can be found in most baby food shops, and babies usually like them as they are easy to hold, easy to eat and of course delicious.

麦茶 (Mugi-cha) will often be their first drink after milk and water. Mugi-cha, a Japanese roasted barley tea, is naturally caffeine and sugar-free, with no side effects. Apart from being healthy, it is also very refreshing and suitable for the whole family.
Sounds tasty, doesn’t it?
Enjoy your meal, baby!





Strange but True


Man dons bear costume, harasses Alaskan bears

Authorities in Alaska are trying to locate a man who wore a realistic bear costume to harass a bear and two cubs that were feeding on pink salmon by the edge of the Chilkoot River.

The odd scene took place at a weir in the river, which is used to count fish during the salmon run. A crowd of people who had gathered to watch the bears feed on fish were startled to see a costumed man run through the area, jump up and down, and get within five to 10 feet of the bear cubs.

Alaska Fish and Game technician Lou Cenicola protected the man by moving the sow away. Upon being asked to identify himself, the man simply said: "You have the license plate number. You figure it out." He then drove off in his car, still wearing his full bear costume.

World's oldest drug smuggler

Victor Twartz, a 91-year-old retired dental surgeon and devout Christian, became the oldest person to be charged with drug trafficking when he was tricked into importing almost 11 pounds of cocaine from India to Australia.

According to police, Twartz was duped by a gang who convinced him by e-mail to carry the drugs, which were then disguised as 27 bars of soap and handed to him right before he boarded his flight in Dehli.

"I'm 1,000% against drugs," Twartz stated from his nursing home in a Sydney suburb. "I don't even drink alcohol." He appeared at court last week, dressed in a tweed three-piece suit, but his case was adjourned until October.



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.


Private furnished rooms in Tokyo with free internet. Call us first or call us last!


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