Plain Talk


What Squirrels and I Have in Common by Hiroko

‘You like the colour of moss green, don’t you?’
A friend of mine said.
‘Your cap, blouse and bag, all in moss green.’
I look down at myself. True, I like moss green indeed.
‘Oh, my wallet, too.’

I reached into the bag and groped for the wallet in moss green to show her. The bag is messy inside, as usual, so I gave a good stir with my hand, but the wallet was not there. I remembered that I had it in another bag the day before and left it there at home, so I told her so.
‘What about lunch, then? Shall I lend you money?’

She kindly offered, but I declined, producing a 1,000 yen bill from my yellow emergency wallet. I always have two wallets on me, the moss green for regular use and the yellow containing a 1,000 yen bill for emergencies. I also have another 1,000 yen bill in the pocket inside the bag. Sometimes I have 1,000 yen bills in my coat pockets too. I have saved myself several times the embarrassment of finding no cash in my wallet to pay for what I thought I’d buy at the checkout counter at supermarkets and rushing to an ATM or giving up buying the products altogether, smiling sheepishly.

I have washed 1,000 yen bills several times with laundry, folded in the pockets of jackets, jeans and skirts. They usually dry well, though the texture changes; they become kind of crispier, but they are quite durable. Sometimes 1,000 yen bills in coat pockets pass two-thirds of a year in the closet patiently, only to be found with pleasant surprise next winter.

So, what about squirrels? What trait do we have in common? In the prime of autumn, they busily scurry around in the forests, collecting walnuts and acorns, and stock them up for the winter. They dig holes in the ground and hide their food one by one. When the ground is covered with snow and no food is found anymore, they leap about ,tracing their own body smell, and dig out and eat the acorns they hid in the autumn. Pretty smart, huh? However, there’re always some acorns forgotten and left in the ground. In spring, the acorns that squirrels buried and forgot in the ground sprout and grow into saplings and into trees, into big trees. Squirrels help grow forests, without knowing it, by simply forgetting to recollect food.

Back to my forgotten 1,000 yen bills in sporadic pockets. When they are finally found two or three seasons later, they are the same 1,000 yen, they have never grown to become 10,000 yen. After all, money doesn’t grow on trees. And, for that matter, I’d rather grow forests than money, like squirrels.

「モスグリーンの色が好きでしょ。」 友人が言った。






Plain Talk



When I first moved to Japan I was always quick to point out various cultural differences and assign them a positive or negative judgment, for example:
1. extreme courtesy and professionalism of staff members in virtually any setting = POSITIVE
2. people shoving and pushing in order to get a seat on the train = NEGATIVE

In my early years here, I had the habit of comparing these events to similar situations in my own country. This would inevitably lead to an unconscious ranking of JAPAN VS AMERICA! However is would sometimes come out in conscious conversation as well causing to 'officially' and 'objectively' decide which was 'better'. For those who are wondering, my tallies have varied over the years. In the beginning, I saw Japan as superior on almost all fronts. After four or five years, I began to reject my new 'homeland' and prefer American styles and customs over those of Japan.

It was around the mid point of my fifth year that I read the advice of cultural anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson, who said that if one is to live in another culture, he or she should eventually live in a third as well in order to triangulate their differences. If one remains stuck between two cultures, he or she will always set up irreconcilable oppositions between the two and mark one as superior to the other. I recognized that this was exactly what I was doing by constantly comparing Japan and America so I have since tried to recognize the impact of both of 'my' cultures and become a 'world citizen' by visiting a few other countries and becoming more flexible about my cultural identity. Today however, I was faced with one of the oddest experiences of my life. An Experience so odd in fact that it truly contained the potential to turn me back into a 'Judge'.

After using the public restroom in Ikebukuro station, I gave my hands a thorough washing. I do not always do this after a 'number one', but it was the end of the day and I had changed trains several times so I decided it was a good time to clean up. As I did so, and splashed a bit of water on my face for good measure, I noticed an elderly Japanese man at the sink just to the right of me collecting a bit of water in his left hand then gently splashing it below his belt. I could only see this out of my periphery mind you so I just assumed that he must have spilled something on his pants and was trying to clean it off. This however was not the case...

In the moment that I turned away from the sink I decided to risk a closer look only to find that the man was holding the head of his penis in his right and and splashing water on it with his left. He was then using his right to rub the water around. The action did not appear perverted in any sense, I think he was just 'cleaning up' in the same way that I splashed water on my face. Instead of splashing water on his face, he was splashing it down below.

As I exited the restroom, we caught eyes for a moment and he glared at me sternly, almost as if to say "Don't judge me!". Stepping just outside the exit I stopped, covered my face with my hands and gave a deep thunderous belly laugh (imagine this from the perspective of the 5 o'clock crowd of tired commuters hurriedly changing trains to make their way home: crazy bearded 外国人).

In the end, I was spared from becoming a 'Judge' and found myself just a baffled, bemused, and jovial man as I strode up the stairs to find a seat waiting for me on the semi-express train home.

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


Things my Japanese guest taught me about my hometown by Joshua Lepage

A friend of mine recently spent two weeks on my couch to visit Montreal. I was expecting the usual round of museums, attractions and well-known historical spots, but it turns out he had something different in mind: staying home to cook, visiting nearly every Starbucks in the city, shopping for local produce, and just, I'm guessing, taking a break from the ridiculous work hours he has to deal with. For two weeks, I got to see my hometown through Japanese eyes, and it was pretty fascinating.

One of the few tourist spots we hit was the Olympic Stadium, because my friend was interested in its design and in seeing the city from the tower's observatory. "Why's it all wonky?" he asked as we went up the funicular, looking at the worn, uneven sides of the tower. A great question -- and I'll never find out why, because my friend is an architect and his reaction was enough to prevent me from ever going there again.

He was fascinated by the freshly-picked apples found in every market. There were literal bushels of apples on sale for 500 yen. Big ones, small ones, Granny Smiths and Golden Delicious and Galas and Honeycrisps... And whereas Japanese apples are overall pretty sweet, Canada has a lot more variety. I'd taken them for granted. Honey and maple syrup were big hits as well, but that was less of a surprise. Japanese grocery stores don't sell honey by the kilo, and if they did, it wouldn't be for 1,300 yen.

The constant visits to Starbucks and other local coffee shops made me realize how many otaku are lurking around Montreal. Two or three times, upon hearing my friend's name, the barista lightened up and started going on about Naruto or some other anime. He reacted with polite smiles, which I could tell were 400% confusion. He was happy, though, when people mentioned how much they love Japan. That's one other thing I learned; Montrealers love Japan.

I rediscovered that Montrealers are pretty tolerant, too, despite the bad experiences I've had in the past. It was pretty eye-opening to have most people around us assume we were a couple. Little old ladies smiled our way knowingly. A barista asked, with a grin and a wink, if we wanted two forks for our strawberry tart. Making that kind of assumption wouldn't fly in Tokyo.

My apartment is a mess and I feel strangely alone, now, but by wandering around the city's shops and markets with him for two weeks, I at least learned to reconnect with my city. And he taught me how to use local ingredients to make some pretty kick-ass home-style Japanese/Canadian recipes, so if I start missing him too much, I'll just hit the market and whip up some miso potatoes or pork soup.

What’s App With You?



The official app of TED conferences, which feature fascinating talks on a huge variety of subjects. Whether you're interested in technology, medicine, business, music or education, you'll find some food for thought within the huge library of past talks. The app allows you to browse through and watch thousands of talks with subtitles in over 90 languages, bookmark talks to watch later, build playlists, look up talks by topic, date or popularity, and even download talks to watch offline later. Watching these videos is not only a great way to learn about new ideas and technology, but also a perfect way to improve English listening comprehension -- our Japanese readers should definitely check this one out.

Geometry Dash:

If you grew up loving the super-hard platform games of the late '80s and early '90s, this one's for you. Described as "Frustratingly wonderful" by Kotaku, Geometry Dash is a colorful, fast-paced platformer that'll keep you trying again and again to fly and jump your way through its spike-strew levels. The gameplay is rhythm-based and relies on simple tapping to make the player's square-shaped avatar avoid the obstacles that scroll past. It's almost hard enough to make you rage quit, but not quite -- and numerous features like character customization, gravity flipping, achievements, and a level editor keep the gameplay fresh even after hours of tapping and jumping. Geometry Dash is not a free app, but it's addictive and challenging enough to be well worth a couple of hundred yen.

Tokyo Voice Column


Raising a child in Japan by Yashadi Panditharathne

Japan, though it belongs to an Asian category, sometimes I don't see any difference among Japan and European countries. I live in the heart of Japan, Tokyo, which is far different from other Japanese villages out here.

Everyday I observe people, and it fascinates me all the time. As a typical Asian, I feel that children and parents’ relationships in Japan are quite poor when compared to other countries. For example, in other Asian countries like India and Srilanka, even after marraige, parents still worry and care as before about their children, whereas in western countries like USA and UK, it is quite different, where parents let children to live on their own although the communication among them is more intimate. Japanese show reflections from both Western and Asian; the affection is not often shown nor the communication is intimate. I have observed many parents in parks, restaurants, and trains who give less attention to their children. A Mom gives more intentness to her pet and her mobile than her own 2 years old child, although remarkably I have also seen exceptional scenarios like Dad carrying his child alone, taking care, giving kisses and showing love.

Japanese parents raise their children to be much more independent with less conversations. Where in our countries even after 20+ you can see parents still feed their children. In our countries the bond will be forever. For parents, their children would always be their children even after they become old. But this makes children dependent, in every situation. Children go to parents seeking for help, thus the abilitiy of making self decisions gets impoverished.

So according to my point of view as a girl born and raised in an Asian country like Srilanka, raising a child to be independent is a requirement so that they can face ups and downs in life on their own. We all came to this world alone and on the final day, we will have to go alone too. It’s our journey that we have to ride on our own. Hence Japan is one of the best countries, technology wise and educational wise where you can give your child the best for them to get built up on their own and to get highlighted in the world. And no matter where you live and what your culture is, your beliefs will be still passed down to the future generation, because home is the foundation of all.





Strange but True


Greek New Testament found on eBay

A rare and ancient Greek papyrus fragment of the Gospel of John was nearly sold on eBay with an opening bid of about 12,000 yen. Doctor Geoffrey Smith, a scholar of early Christianity at the University of Texas, recognized the item's value and urged the seller to take the auction down before it was sold.
"I thought: This can't be allowed to sell on eBay," stated Dr Smith. "It will just disappear into a private collection."
According to the seller, the fragment "literally fell out of a stack of letters" that once belonged to Harold R. Willoughby, another professor of early Christianity who died in 1962. It is roughly the size of a credit card and dates back to 250 to 350 AD.

Canadian man to be crowned king in Ghana

Eric Manu, 32, had been living in British Columbia for three years, working as a landscaper, when he received a phone call informing him that he was slated to become king of the Akan tribe in Ghana, his home country.
Manu's uncle had been the tribe's previous king but died in 2013. Long discussions led to the recent decision to choose Manu, his oldest nephew, as his replacement.
Manu's Canadian wife will also be traveling to Ghana to attend his coronation in January 2016. In preparation for the trip, they have been gathering items to help the Akan tribe, such as laptops, sewing machines, school supplies, and clothing.



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