Plain Talk


Otoshidama by Hiroko

Otoshidama is a Japanese custom of adults giving money to children for the new year. Cash is handed from parents to their children, from grandparents to their grandchildren, from uncles and aunts to their nieces and nephews, usually in a special decorated paper pouch at new year’s get-togethers. Other people, such as visiting friends of kids’ parents, may also give out some otoshidama. Children are not supposed to solicit for otoshidama; they have to wait patiently until the adult “remembers” that he or she has it ready. They’d better behave themselves at least on the first couple of days of the year, even if they are restless.

On the grownups’ side, there is some social pressure that they have to manipulate. If you go online, you see so many people asking if they should give otoshidama to whom and how much.

As a child, I received otoshidama from my parents. It was a joy to open the small envelope to find 1,000, 3,000 or 5,000yen bill neatly folded inside. Starting maybe from the blueish 500yen bill (there was such a thing back then,) when I was 6 or 7, my parents raised the amount little by little every year until it reached 10,000yen or so between the age of 15 and 18, I think. Then it was over. My parents seemed to understand that you outgrow receiving otoshidama as you graduate from high school.

Among my mother’s siblings, they established a pact to stop the custom of otoshidama. They didn’t like the idea and trouble of money exchanging hands busily among relatives. So my siblings and cousins didn’t expect to receive anything at the new year’s get-together at our grandparents’ house.

A couple of relatives on my father’s side gave us some money. Though I must have felt grateful, I wasn’t after otoshidama so much, maybe because I wasn’t familiar with receiving it from people other than my parents. Maybe I didn’t find justification.

It was only after entering university when I learned that some people had collected as much as 100,000yen every year since they were in elementary school. The more relatives a child has and the more close-knit the relatives are, the higher the sum of otoshidama will become. As they grew older, they started to see that their parents had to give as much as they collect, but they were happy with the fat piggybank. 100,000yen was, and still is, to me, something that belongs to adults, and definitely not to children. I was shocked rather than jealous.

I have never given otoshidama to my nieces. My sister, who’s their mother, seems to give them a little bit. As we were, my nieces seem to be just as happy with the little money in the little envelope as any kid. It’s not the amount that makes you happy. Maybe I’ll give some next year for the fun of giving otoshidama.








Plain Talk


Five Ways to Keep your new years resolutions by Kathleen Nguyen

In the United States, besides heralding the dreaded tax season, the new year is a time for a fresh start and basically doing all those things you were thinking or saying that you would do, and actually doing it. It means seeing more people in the gym, at your dance studio, in your language classes, or piles of donations or trash - spring cleaning! Now, the first month is fantastic: the active energy is in the air, friends are more likely to say yes, and all that exercise and cleaning leaves one feeling refreshed. The problem: keeping it up! The favorite excuse: life gets in the way.

1. Make it easy
Seems simple, right? It's easier to do something that's easy, and harder to something that's difficult. This involves structuring your life in away to create a path of least resistance. Trying not to eat ice cream? Don't have any in your freezer. It's harder to eat when you have to go out of your way to buy rather than having a stock in your freezer.

2. Engage others.
Think of your flagging energy as an addiction. You're addicted to your old habits! As with many addictions, a support group helps, since humans are social creatures. Engage a friend, coworker, family member - someone - and by doing so, you will find yourself responsible to another person. When you're tempted to give in, you have someone to call, and they have permission to push you. For myself, I had a month of dancing classes, and there were many times I was tempted to leave early or give in, but either my friend would not let me or because we made the plans to go together, I would feel guilty about abandoning her to stay in.

3. Shake it up.
You wouldn't be alone if your resolutions this year are the same as the year before... maybe even the year before that. As Henry Thoreau would have said, it's a rut and you're stuck. If your autopilot generates a desirable outcome, that's fine. But if you find a want to change, then it's time to shake it up. If you always take the same path home, walk a different path. There is a time-efficient method to walk to my home, but when I decided to try a different path, I discovered a fun little bakery and another path showed me what used to be the #3 ramen spot in Tokyo (need to check if that's updated). Point is, it's easy to be mindless, but by shaking it up, you engage a little more with the world around you.

4. A little planning goes a long way.
You're taught to make an outline before you write an essay in school. Same concept. Take the time to write down how you spend your time, what your habits are, what you hope to change, and make a plan. A bestseller book that I like for self-help is "The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin." She offers a lot of her information online as well, which means it accessible worldwide. []

5. Five minutes
It's not a lot of time. I've been using my five minutes to practice a dance step or to tidy up the kitchen counter. What happens to me is forward momentum. By the mere act of starting, I've overcome one obstacle. And it's harder to stop until I'm done. My dance instructor likes to say, five minutes is good, ten minutes is great, fifteen minutes is fantastic.

Hopefully, these tips help you keep your resolutions this year, so you can make new ones next year!

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


An Open Letter to Lonely Foreigners by Joshua Lepage

I often hear expats and students mention how hard it is to make Japanese friends, and up until a few months ago, I would've agreed wholeheartedly. It can get pretty discouraging if you haven't learned to spot the subtle differences between friendly-friendly and just-being-polite-friendly. Even so, I hear the same "wah, I don't have any friends" refrain from people who've been here for a decade.

I was in that situation for a couple of years, hanging out mostly with fellow English teachers and foreigners who approached me in clubs. When I noticed the absurd fact that my Japanese wasn't improving despite living in Japan, I switched tactics.
I still remember the awkward silence that fell like a brick the first time I stepped into the tiny bar closest to my guesthouse. A quick "konbanwa", though, diffused the tension instantly. Doesn't matter how bad your Japanese is -- show that you're willing to try, and the majority of people will be more than happy to Tarzan their way through simple conversations with you over their nama beer.

And what I found out was that not only has my Japanese improved much more from talking about Canadian beer and hot celebrities than it has from months of school, but my very small circle of friends has expanded considerably. I know many of the local business owners, now, and I'll have at least a dozen people throwing themselves at my crappy guesthouse should I finally host a gaijin-style house party. I even have an amazing wingwoman who insists on dragging over any man I find cute, disregarding with cheerful determination the fact that Sekimachi's gay population is pretty darn close to zero.

So if you have no friends, I sympathize, but... pick a bar close to your place, learn a few phrases by heart if you have to, and have a drink once a week. Keep at it and go alone -- I don't care if you only know how to say "sushi" and "kawaii", don't bring four other foreigners with you to act as a linguistic and cultural shield. I promise people will warm up to you if you give them an opportunity.

What’s App With You?



Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, Tumblr, Gmail... the average person easily has a dozen usernames and passwords to memorize to access all of their online accounts. With so many sites requiring you to create accounts in order to use them, it's easy to give into the temptation to use one easily-remembered password on every account, even though it's much less secure. 1Password removes the inconvenience of creating and remembering passwords from your life by creating unique passwords for every account and allowing you to log on with a single tap. You can even use it to store credit card numbers, making online shopping a breeze. It can sync between your devices and encrypts all of your password and personal data for extra safety -- all you need to remember is one master password. The full, paid version of the app adds some useful bonus features like tags and shared password vaults, but the free version is great on its own.


If you like crossword or word search puzzles, this app will provide you with hours and hours of challenging entertainment. Each level consists of a grid of letters in which words are hidden. The goal is to find and swipe words away, clearing letter tiles until the entire grid has been cleared. It's easy at first, but the order in which words are swiped quickly becomes important and the difficulty goes up as the grids become larger. The game is available in a whopping 15 languages, with 580 levels per language.

Tokyo Voice Column


Japan Rugby Union. by Mardo

A few months ago, before the rugby world cup, I made a Scottish friend of mine a bet. If Japan beats Scotland in their pool match, he would buy me a bottle of Scotch, If the Thistle defeated the Cherry Blossom, I would buy him some Japanese Whiskey. He felt this bet pretty safe, right until a week before the game when Japan Shocked the world and defeated former Champions the Springboks in a Thriller!

All of a sudden, the 2019 Rugby World cup in Japan was safe. A week earlier South Africa was saying they could host it if Japan couldn’t, after a stadium building debacle. After that game, South Africa was championing Japan’s rugby. A week earlier traditional rugby nations had been wondering if Japan deserved a world cup. They shut up pretty quickly. Like my friend who I made the bet with, they had not been paying attention to Rugby outside the 6 nations or Tri-nations ( now 4 with Argentina). They assumed rugby wouldn’t change. And they were wrong.

Apart from having more rugby clubs or players than either Australia or New Zealand; apart from over 100 years of rugby playing history and apart from having the support of about every major company in Japan, Japan had been playing well.

Japan had defeated every nation in their pool except South Africa in the previous decade, had made the top ten in world rankings and had something to prove. If Japan had had more than a 4 day break between games I think they would have beaten Scotland and I would be drinking a highland single malt right now!

I have already told my wife we will be going to the next RWC, she has been forewarned. My old Rugby team mates in Gunma and Tokyo lined up and I am just waiting for the draw. Japan 2019, here we come!






Strange but True


Man has 1,497 credit cards

With 1,497 valid cards totaling a credit line of 1.7 million dollars (almost 200 million yen), Walter Cavanagh holds the record for owning the most credit cards. The American man has held this title in the Guinness Book of World Records since 1971 and started collecting cards in the late 1960s, after betting his friend he could collect more credit cards than him in a year.
He had collected 143 card by the end of that year (from banks, shops, restaurants, hotels -- any business that offers one), while his friend had only collected 138. And since he started his collection, Cavanagh has only been refused a card by one business: J.J. Newberry's, a now-defunct variety store chain.
Appropriately, Cavanagh also holds the record for the world's largest wallet. At 250 feet long and a 800-card capacity, though, it's not nearly large enough to hold his entire collection.

Thief swallows gold chain, is force-fed 48 bananas

After 25-year-old thief Gopi R Ghaware was arrested in the Ghatkopar east fish market in Mumbai, India for stealing a woman's gold chain, an x-ray revealed that the stolen jewelry lay in his stomach, forcing police to come to a creative solution.
Police ordered a basketful of bananas and had Ghaware ingest four dozen, forcing him to keep eating well into the night. The next morning, he was escorted to the bathroom by four policemen, who filmed the proceedings as the chain was retrieved from Ghaware's system. Ghaware then had to clean the chain with phenyl before it was returned to its rightful owner.
As unusual as it may seem, this is not an isolated case; Mumbai police have been known to feed criminals dozens of bananas, sometimes washed down with milk and laxatives, as a fast way to retrieve stolen goods that have been swallowed.




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