Plain Talk


Star Wars VII - The Force Awakens by Allan Cook

After 32 years the original cast of Star Wars finally returned to the big screen here in Japan on December 18th 2015. In easily the most anticipated film of all-time, mainly due to the return of its original characters, Star Wars had a lot to live up to, and many, including myself, were starting to worry that the new film had set an impossible task! Could Star Wars 7 repeat the critical success of the originals or would it fail miserably like the first attempt at a reboot?

Lucky enough to get a ticket to one of the Japan nationwide premiers, I settled into my seat eager to find out if the Force was with the new film! From start to finish The Force Awakens was a clear success returning us to the stylistic spaceships and effects of the originals, and leaving behind all the overdone effects of the 1st reboot! And to add the icing to the cake, we were happily reunited with our favourite characters Han Solo and Leia. What more could a Star Wars fan ask for! In addition to the stunning combination of the original style combined with the awesome effects capable in todays modern movies, we were introduced to new faces who didn't fail in exciting us just as much as Luke, Han and Leia did all those years ago. Rei, Kylo Ren, and Finn are great new characters who were fun to watch and their characters were a refreshing new addition to Star Wars mythology. Reveals are very quick in this new Star Wars! Where it wasn't until Empire Strikes Back that the iconic “I Am Your Father” phrase was spoken by Darth Vader to Luke, many of our questions about the origin of the new characters are revealed very quickly.

The Force Awakens is almost flawless and has received mostly rave reviews. However, there are a few areas that are a disappointment. Sadly the plot was a safe choice and is effectively almost a “carbonite” copy of the original! In addition, although we get to see quite a lot of Han Solo, his character isn't really fleshed out and we don't see much character development. Furthermore, sadly Leia’s role is little more than a glorified extra, or even a cardboard cutout of her original feisty self!

In contrast, in the “failed” 1st reboot we saw Yoda, Darth Vader (AKA Anakin Skywalker), The Emperor (AKA Palpatine) and Obi Wan Kenobi’s characters really fleshed out and brought to life! We even saw some great new characters in Qui-Gon Jinn, Mace Windu, and, for a short time Darth Maul, and lets not forget those amazing lightsaber fights, especially when Yoda got into the frey! OK, so we did have to suffer the annoyance of Jar Jar Binks, who pretty much single handedly ruined Episodes 1-3. But for the great development of all those characters, in 7, all we get is Han Solo and a cardboard cut out of Princess Leia! Hmm! I definitely hoped for more after my 32 year wait!

But of course, the reality is that Star Wars is now a Disney movie, which for many fans created a huge amount of concern when George Lucas revealed he had sold the rights to Star Wars! But do we really need such a deep story and deep characters? None of those were present in the original trilogy! I, as the entire audience that watched the movie with me, were lost in the excitement of the new film and perhaps Star Wars just needs to take us back into that Galaxy that we love and finally tell us what we've wanted to know for so long! Who will bring balance to the force? Rei? Kylo Ren? Luke? Darth Vader? Han Solo? Leia? Or maybe even Finn? Or will Jar Jar Binks return to mess everything up again? What’s for sure, I cant wait until May 2017 when Episode 8 hits the big screen!

Plain Talk


Gyaru culture: An end of an era or a new beginning? by Mayumi Siobhan

The end of “gyaru” or a new beginning? Gyaru subculture has always been a large influence within Japan’s fashion industry, but with the discontinuation of gyaru magazines and less gyarus on the streets of Tokyo does this mean it's the end? Find out more about how it has influenced many girls from all over the world.

With a growing number of gal circles and Internet communities, the popularity of gyaru fashion is quickly catching up in the West amongst other Japanese sub-culture styles such as Lolita and Visual Kei. Whilst in Japan, the trend has died down since it became a popular trend in the 1990s after the bubble era.

I first became intrigued by gyaru fashion when I was 14 years old when I first picked up my copy ‘Ageha’ magazine, a glossy magazine packed with gyaru fashion, hair styles, diet and makeup tips for young women in their early 20s. Around this time pop queen of Japan Ayumi Hamasaki was also a huge influence on Japanese women at the time. Dyed big hair, eyelashes, overly decorated nails, raves and gyaru circles were all part of embracing this youth culture.

So where did gyaru go?
In recent years gyaru fashion in Japan has died down along with the end to gyaru magazines such as “Egg”. The reasons are to do with the poor economy of today and Japanese women and “growing out” of the gyaru phase. According to a recent survey it is stated, “young women today apparently prefer less makeup and simple fashion and undyed hair”.

Nevertheless, there is still a popularity of gyaru culture amongst other nationalities. The International gyarus. There are many online communities where gyarus from all over the world access from their social networking sites to connect and make new friends from across the world. Recently, I attended many international meet ups at Shibuya in Tokyo where gyarus from all over the world gathered to get hair sets, take purikura (Japanese cute photo booths) go to karaoke and chatter away about our hobbies and interests alike. With our big hair and bold fashion sense we stood out from the crowd. I met one girl who came all the way from Finland by herself to Japan for the first time. Some girls have been living and working here for a long time. The international gyarus are bold, independent and don’t care what other people think. They embrace the Japanese youth culture and fashion through connecting with friends and celebrate it. Despite the collapse of gyaru in Japan with new trends coming in, perhaps the daring International gyarus will be the ones to keep this exceptional sub culture alive.


ギャルは終わり?それとも新しいスタートか?ギャル文化は90年代からずっと日本のファッションに大きな影響を与えました。しかし、最近のギャル雑誌の終わりや東京の町であまりギャルの女の子が見られないと言うことはもう全てが終わりと言う意味なのか? 日本のギャルファッションがどうやって海外の女の子に影響を与えたのかをダイジェスト!






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


Down With Dictionaries! by Joshua Lepage

I've never been one for learning languages by actually studying: I puzzled out the basics of the Japanese language through sheer force of will by staring very hard at J-pop lyrics, and even when I finally took classes, I sighed every time a new word would pop up in our bone-dry reading comprehension textbook. I'd look it up on my iPad, forget it right away, look it up again, jot down the translation in the margin, and forget it again after flipping to the next page. I just can't deal with forced, unnatural language acquisition.
Instead of trying harder and maybe making flashcards like any decent student would, I blew a mental raspberry at my dictionary app and bought myself a shiny copy of Harry Potter in Japanese. Maybe a little ambitious, but hey, I knew the story already, how hard could it be?
Once I learned to just gloss over the words and sentences I didn't understand, it turned out I didn't need a dictionary at all. And if you can read very basic Japanese, you can do it too.
If, for example, Harry receives an object from a friend, then pulls a letter out of that object, well, you've just taught yourself the Japanese word for "envelope" through logical deduction instead of trying to cram an English translation into your head halfway through a sentence. That blob of kanji for "Cerberus"? Oh, look, it's just "three", "head", and "dog"; obvious enough if you're not automatically panicking and reaching for the dictionary. Congratulations, you're now reading a novel in Japanese.
Fair warning: The first chapters will be painful, and you won't be able to pronounce most of the great new words you'll naturally teach yourself. Don't expect to dazzle your Japanese friends with your mad conversation skills. Do expect, though, to speak more naturally and to be able to grasp the meaning of kanji instinctively. Just make a promise to yourself not to use a dictionary, start with a short book you're already familiar with, and work your way up from there. I'm pretty satisfied with my new ability to inhale 1950s Japanese literature -- I can't pronounce anything, mind you, but I understand what I'm reading. That wouldn't be happening if I were still stabbing at my iPad and raging over the dull little articles in my textbooks. I'll take Mishima, Lolita, Dumbledore, and Bilbo the Hobbit over "Mister Smith Goes To A Tea Ceremony", thanks.

What’s App With You?


Adobe Voice - Show your story:

Voted one of the best apps of 2014, this ingenious little app will help you tell a story through the creation of animated videos that take only minutes to make. No filming necessary -- just talk and choose from over 25,000 icons and millions of images to punctuate your narration with, and the app will do the rest by automatically adding cinematic motion and a soundtrack to your project. Whether you're thinking of recording a simple little message for a loved one or making a serious business presentation, Adobe Voice produces polished, professional-looking results in only minutes. The interface makes it easy to record line by line, to change the theme and look of your project, and to share it with others on your web page or through social media once you're done tweaking it.

The Westport Independent:

A great indie game that made a splash at the PAX convention last year, The Westport Independent puts you in charge of editing one of the last independent newspaper in your country, a post-war nation ruled by the Loyalist Party. You must remove and carefully censor content printed in the newspaper, with the constant threat of rebel activity and the oppressive, ever-watching government breathing down your neck. You're in charge of the "truth" that will be printed, but must face the consequences. A fascinating concept that makes for a great gaming experience, although the result is a little short (you'll need about 3 hours to get through the whole game) considering the price tag.

Tokyo Voice Column


Water and its Magical Power by Masaaki Tobisawa

Hello, I am Masaaki Tobisawa and I live in Nerima-ku, Tokyo.

I regularly go to the public sports center in Nerima. Twice a week, in fact: once for swimming and once for machine training. I've been keeping this habit for 15 years.

I've found that swimming is a very beneficial exercise indeed. It helps us breathe better and sleep regularly. I really recommend taking up this habit, because physical movement in the water is rather comfortable for the body.

I am 42 years old and I used to be paralyzed on the left side of my body. When I was 10, I had a brain stem stroke. I'm not sure how damaged my brain stem is, but swim by swim, my condition has improved. My paralysis is almost gone, and blood flow to my brain stem has gotten better.

Swimming by yourself is not a competition. There's no hurry, and consequently, it's also a good mental exercise.

This planet is almost entirely covered in water. I believe that water has magical powers.









Strange but True


Katana-wielding Mormon bishop saves woman from attack

Kent Hendrix, a bishop for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a martial arts enthusiast, got to put his skills to use in his hometown of Millcreek, Utah, by defending a neighbor from a man who had been attacking her.
Early in the morning, Hendrix was woken up by his teenage son, who told him that their neighbor was being attacked outside. He grabbed the weapon closest to him -- a carbon steel samurai sword -- before heading outside, brandishing the sword at the attacker.
"His eyes got as big as saucers and he kind of gasped and jumped back," stated Hendrix. "He was staring down 29 inches of razor."
Hendrix was successful in scaring away the attacker, who turned himself in to police an hour later.

Egyptian museum staff face trial for breaking Tutankhamun's beard

Eight Egyptian Museum employees have been referred for trial for their involvement in the botched reattachment of the beard on the golden burial mask of pharaoh Tutankhamun.
A year ago, conservators at the Egyptian Museum had found the mask with its blue and gold beard broken off and hastily glued back on. Claiming that the beard had either been knocked off accidentally or that it had been removed after becoming loose, museum employees made four attempts to reattach the beard, damaging the 3,000-year-old artifact by scratching at it to remove the excessive amounts of glue that had been used in the attempts.
Fortunately, a team of conservators led by German experts were able to reattach the beard properly and repair the damage, and the mask was put on display again in December.




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