Plain Talk


Thoughts for Foreign ESL Teachers by Thomas Keysberg

Workloads for foreign ESL teachers can vary from ridiculously over-worked, through to little or nothing for extended periods, or in many cases with frequent shifts between the two.

People might wonder why anyone would complain about having tons of free time and getting paid for it, but there are a number of reasons. While being overworked is stressful, it at least carries some sense of accomplishment and belonging. Spare a thought for those foreign ESL teachers who are chronically under-utilized.

Foreign ESL teachers in both the public and private sectors frequently have to contend with class cancellations and dysfunctional English programs, which leave them without purpose or guidance in their work environment. This absence of meaningful working life can have a serious effect on mental health.

In a Japanese culture which considers excessive workloads as normal, being a highly-visible foreigner with a severe lack of participation can be humiliating. There can be a sense that you are being resented by your Japanese colleagues who work their butts off, often for less money than you.

Such feelings may be compounded by lacking Japanese ability, low intellectual stimulation, feelings of isolation, poor working conditions and job insecurity.

However, there are many ways to combat the apathy and depression which can arise from being a neglected or overworked foreign ESL teacher. First is: DON’T PUT ALL YOUR HOPES FOR FULFILLMENT INTO A CRAPPY ESL JOB! Study Japanese; join a sport, hobby, culture, or international group such as those found at:

There are also a number of organizations which can help. City Offices have connections with support services for foreigners. For urgent mental health concerns call Tokyo English Life Line (TELL) 03 5774 0992 (9 am − 11 pm every day.) For work rights, check out the General Union, ( or Nambu Union (






放置されオーバワークのESL教師からは無気力や意気消沈が持ち上がるが、それと戦う方法はたくさんある。まず、自分の希望や期待をすべてESLに捧げようとしてはいけない。それから日本語を勉強しよう。スポーツや趣味、文化やインターナショナルなグループに参加しよう。グループは で探そう。

手助けしてくれる組織もたくさんある。東京都には外国人をサポートしてくれる課もある。メンタルヘルスに関する相談は、03-5774-0992 で英語対応してくれる。労働契約の相談は、ゼネラルユニオンやナンブユニオンへどうぞ。

Plain Talk


Interaction With Japanese Police by Marshall Hughes

Most people I know try to avoid interactions with police on any level, and I had been pretty much able to avoid the police my whole life until I came to Japan. It was in Japan that I had my first interaction with police. It was because of a parking ticket and it was an amazing experience.

In my country, America, a parking ticket can be handled by writing a check and dropping it in the mail. Not so here. I used to live near Tsukuba, Ibaraki, and sometimes would drive to Abiko and park next to a public park when I went into Tokyo on a weekend night. It always looked a bit dodgy as to the legality of where I was parking, but there were other cars parked there so I thought I’d give it a try.

One Monday morning I came out of my house only to discover something attached to the front grill of my car. It was on there very securely, but I was able to pull the paper ticket out while leaving the bulky apparatus that remained attached to my car. I had not noticed it when I came home the previous Saturday night. I showed the ticket to someone at work who told me I had to go to the police station in Abiko to pay the ¥10,000 ticket. I left work early the next day and went to Abiko. When I walked in the station I headed to the front desk where I showed two officers my ticket and said I was there to pay. They asked me if I had an international driving permit or a Japanese license. I told them that I had an international permit. This seemed to not be what they wanted to hear. They stepped back and, after recirculating through their teeth the usual amount of surrounding air that can accompany indecisiveness here, discussed what to do. They struck upon the idea of calling in another officer so they told me to wait. Down the stairs came a quite portly officer and the first two officers handed him the ticket and melted into the background.

Mr. Massive asked me if I had an international permit or a Japanese license. I told him that I had an international permit. Cue the air suck and confusion. He turned for help but the first two officers were gone, so he waved me into what I would guess would be the interrogation room. There were only two chairs, a light and a desk in the room. There was a small, two-way window for observation. I looked around for blood stains as my imagination started to go wild. Mr. Massive asked if I spoke Japanese, a rather odd question as I had been speaking to everyone so far in la lingua Japonica. I told him only a little, thinking it might be the best answer. He asked to see my permit, and this is where the fun really began. An international permit, at least one from America, is more a booklet than a license. Mine was 16 pages or so, with one page each in about a dozen languages including English, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Korean and Arabic, among others. I handed him the permit. He looked at the front cover, and turned the permit upside down. And then right side up. And then upside down. It was soon apparent that he couldn’t read English, or even tell when letters were right side up or upside down. Then, he flipped through the book from front to back, occasionally turning the book upside down and then back. He couldn’t tell, in any of the languages, what was upside down and right side up. Even in Chinese or seemingly Japanese. Finally, he got to the end of the booklet where my picture was. When he saw my picture he turned the booklet right side up and handed it back to me with a bit of a self-satisfied smile. He then left me in the room and came back toting a massive book, one of the single most mammoth volumes of anything I had ever seen. He started going through the book, and I assumed it was to quote me some vehicle code. He was sweating. Profusely.

He finally closed the book and gave me a rapid-fire, no-holds-barred lecture about the importance of driving safely while school was in session, saying that if I hit a child while driving it would be a serious problem. I’m not sure what that had to do with my parking ticket, but I assured him that I would always drive safely and try not to run over any children. He then stood up, gave me the thumb out the door and out of the building.

I never paid the fine or heard from them again.

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


Deck The Halls With Period Movies by Joshua Lepage

It's getting cold, and the endless bounenkai/Christmas party season is upon us. Once your social bar is filled up and you need a quiet night at home, consider curling up with one of these Japanese period movies. I know, I know. Period movies... probably isn't your favorite genre. I had my doubts, too, but my roommate has been watching these movies for two weeks, and I've found myself completely engrossed in most of them. Give these a chance.
Kagemusha (1980): Kagemusha is the Japanese word for a political decoy, and the movie tells the story of one of them -- a lower-class criminal who's saved from crucifixion and taught to impersonate a dying warlord in order to dissuade opposing clans from attacking. Tatsuya Nakadai is fantastic in the main role, playing both the warlord and his impersonator. Watching him go from dignified warlord to low-class criminal is half the fun of the movie. I was pleasantly surprised by how the story also portrayed the warlord's servants getting attached to the impersonator despite themselves, rather than just dealing with the political side of the story. And it's an Akira Kurosawa movie, so it's gorgeous to boot.
Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (2011): Absolutely beautiful remake of Masaki Kobayashi's 1962 film. The movie revolves around the concept of honor and the practice of scamming money off samurai clans by asking them for a place to commit ritual suicide, hoping to be given money and sent off instead. The sets, colors, and cinematography really make this one stand out, as do the compelling characters.
Ugetsu Monogatari (1953): This black-and-white movie is set in the 16th century and revolves around two peasant couples who have to abandon their village when an opposing army sweeps through it. One of the men wants to become a samurai, and the other ends up at the creepy house of a creepy noblewoman. It's a beautiful morality tale, and even though I don't bat an eye at most horror movies, that creepy house sequence is... well, really creepy. This movie's in the public domain in Japan and available on dirt-cheap DVDs, so you don't have an excuse not to watch this one.
If you do end up watching any of these, pay attention to a) the clothes, and b) the portrayal of samurai. The colors, patterns, and fabrics used are great indicators of a character's social standing, of their personality, and even of the seasons the movies are set in. And as for samurai, well, these three movies paint an interesting and reasonably realistic picture of them, and it's interesting to contrast it with the "honorable warrior" image people have of samurai in the West.

What’s App With You?


Yousician Piano & Guitar:

Yousician has pushed music teaching into the digital age by offering a whole new way to learn how to play piano or guitar. Useful for both beginners and advances players, the app includes hundreds video tutorials and over 1,500 missions and songs. Simply pick up your guitar or sit at your piano and start playing -- Yousician will listen and give you instant feedback on your accuracy and timing. You can unlock harder levels as you play and track your progress over time, which makes the app a great source of motivation. The only hitch is that you can use Yousician for only 15 minutes per day without a subscription. Still, give the free version a try. If it helps you improve, the subscription will be well worth the price (and it's much less expensive than a private tutor, to boot).

The Walking Dead:

No Man's Land: Inspired by the immensely popular AMC TV series that follows a small group's struggle to survive a zombie apocalypse, this app challenges you to join the fight and build your own survivors' camp. Part of the game involves carefully allocating your resources to training your survivors, improving your camp, and building new structures, and the other part is a turn-based, top-down zombie-fighting gorefest reminiscent of old PC role-playing games. The app is surprisingly faithful to the show in terms of music, atmosphere and overall look, and the graphics are fantastic -- miles ahead of the usual TV show or movie tie-in apps.

Tokyo Voice Column


Need to wire the world? by Mai

I read an article in the TIME magazine about Mark Zukerberg, Chairman, CEO & Co-Founder of Facebook. He met Prime Minister Mr. Naedendra Modi to hold the summit called Internet Org. during his visit to India in October, 2014. He also visited a tiny town in rural India, where a third of the people live below the poverty line. He came to the town to look a new computer center.

India is estimated to have about 350 million Internet users in 2015. Although India is the second-highest number of Internet users in the world after China, its online penetration rate is still just 19 percent. Internet growth in India will be driven by users in rural areas.

Mark Zukerberg has the bigger picture of Facebook’s long-term future, that is, connecting the entire world. His mission wouldn’t actually be possible unless everyone in the world were on the Internet. Therefore, he was in India on a campaign to make sure that every single human being on earth has an Internet connection. He figured out the answer to how to get all of humanity online is application, which induces offline people to have the Internet. He has focused a big challenge to complete his mission.

I wonder if it’s really needed to wire the world. In IT ages, social media like Facebook impoverish people’s relationships stripping out essential elements of human contact. Also, some people are addicted to the Internet. Cyber-bulling and invasion of personal information happens. Internet is irrelevant to people in the rural area. There’s no necessity for them to be online in their day-to-day lives. Technology and innovation change the human nature. They have risks to cause social, economic and cultural problems. Digital threads are woven too deeply into our life.





Strange but True


Leonardo da Vinci android wows Japanese public

The International Robot Exhibition 2015 opened its doors on December 2 at the Tokyo Big Sight Center, featuring a wide array of displays and seminars on the latest robot technology and prototypes. This year, the exhibition featured a few humanoid robots who danced, crawled, opened doors and even walked across narrow beams, but the real show-stopper was a hyper-realistic Leonardo da Vinci robot who spoke to visitors in Japanese.
Developed by Minoru Asada of the University of Osaka, this remote-controlled version of the Renaissance artist is the first android reproduction of a famous historical figure. The robot's movements and speech can be controlled through a special headset that replicates the wearer's head position and lip movement on the robot in real time.

Chinese man wins bet by swallowing nail, spends winnings on surgery

Xiao Gong, 27, of Ningbo in eastern China was out of work and out of money when he heard two people betting over their ability to swallow a nail. Thinking he had found the solution to his financial problems, he swallowed a five-inch nail and a five-inch piece of saw blade and was given 6,000 yuan (115,630 yen) for the feat.
"I felt some pain in my esophagus when I swallowed, then it subsided," he told The People's Daily. However, he found himself in intense pain over the next few days as the sharp objects failed to pass through his system. He went to the hospital for emergency surgery and is expected to live, but unfortunately, his winnings were not enough to cover the cost of the procedure.



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