Plain Talk


Language Survival Skills by Rebecca Marck

When it comes to “reading da lingo,” Japan is not an easy country. You can’t depend on written cognates here as in other countries where you can decipher words: (Malay: sekolah, Swedish: skola, Spanish, escuela, etc.) Here in Japan, you know it's a school if you see a clock on the front and dirt all around it. But you can’t read words unless you actually study OR develop “linguistic survival skills.”

When I first came to Japan, I made the usual mistakes: buying Ajinomoto instead of salt and miso when I wanted peanut butter, mistaking anko for chocolate. This led me to develop language coping skills that have served me well. Regrettably, I did that instead of honing my Japanese reading skills, but I manage to get my needs met using such survival techniques, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

Here, I won’t address really basic techniques like gesturing wildly, “reading” the pictures or roaming the store aisles hoping to stumble upon what you seek. “Newbies” quickly learn to keep their home address written in Japanese and perhaps even a map to get themselves home. If I needed my address in Japanese, I cut it out of any incoming mail addressed to me in Japanese and glued it onto outgoing post. I showed it to “takyu-bin” clerks, too. Of course if you receive something with red ink, underlining and deadline dates, that needs to be addressed ASAP.

Let’s consider advanced techniques such as “Take a sample.” Suppose you already have something you like or a copy of something you need, but now you need a new one. Just “take-a-sample” to the store / office / station and show it to someone there. It does mean carrying odd stuff around, but clerks can easily understand what’s required. A variation is getting a bilingual friend, student, or family member to write it down in Japanese and take the paper with you. (IF that person actually knows how to write “exfoliant” in Japanese, for example.) I’ve even taken chewed leaves from my pest-infested rosebush to show at the garden center!

“Googling it” is a useful technique when you get medicine or devices that you don’t understand. If it’s foreign-made, there’s probably an owner’s manual or patient information online in English.

Fortunately, we now have smartphones to help us cope linguistically. You can call a bilingual friend from a store, taxi, doctor’s office, etc. hand your phone over and have them explain what you can’t say. The camera function lets you take a picture of your linguistic dilemma and show it to a Japanese friend. Better yet, email the photo to someone who can explain all those buttons on your new appliance. Water leaking from the apartment above? Take a cell phone video and show it to your landlord.

Coping skills like these have helped me muddle through. But the most effective linguistic coping technique might well be to:

Convince a Japanese person to marry you!

Plain Talk


Lesser known places to go in Tokyo

Libraries in Tokyo by Simon Duncan

As the largest city in a country where it is not uncommon to see people reading in public, you would expect Tokyo to have some decent libraries. And it does! Firstly there are 'ward'(区) libraries. ** The quality of the ward libraries varies widely: some may have modern buildings with plenty of foreign books, others offer very little.

There are also two main libraries in Tokyo: Tokyo Metropolitan Library (which has a main branch in Hiroo and a smaller one in Tama) and National Diet Library in Nagatacho. For most people Tokyo Metropolitan Library will be of more interest with the National Diet Library appealing more to researchers or students.

The Hiroo branch of the Metropolitan Library boasts close to 2 million books in its collection along with numerous newspapers, magazines and materials related to the city of Tokyo. It is less than ten minutes walk from Hiroo subway station, a pleasant stroll through a park. The scheduled closing days are a little random, but they are marked on an online calendar along with the opening times. For those that cannot read Japanese they have a number of newspapers and magazines in Chinese, English, French, German and Korean. They have around 150,000 books in western languages (mainly English) and a number in Chinese and Korean as well. The library is easy to use and free, you don't even need to register. Lockers are also available free of charge. A few minor points: the library is rarely open before 10 a.m., you cannot take the books out, most staff only speak Japanese, it is not big enough for a city of 13 million people, there is no wifi and the cafeteria closes quite early.

National Diet Library has nothing to do with losing weight, and neither is it a place purely for members of Parliament-also known as the Diet- to use. For this library you will need to become a member which is a relatively quick and easy process. If you cannot speak Japanese at a decent level I would not recommend coming here alone. Unlike Tokyo Metropolitan Library this is not really a place to relax and read a book on a rainy Wednesday afternoon. It does have a huge repository of books and archival material which the staff can retrieve for you. There are also a limited number of books on the shelves, some in foreign languages. This library is the place to come if you want to research say the average size of houses in Ueno from 1900-1920 by looking at archival materials. For most 'normal' people, especially foreigners this library offers little more than a quiet place to sit for free. The cafeteria on the top floor offers views towards Asasaka.

For more information please see: (Tokyo Metropolitan Library) (National Diet Library).

** although sometimes in Tokyo 区 is translated incorrectly as 'city'.

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


Hieroglyphs 101 by Joshua Lepage

One of my very first loves -- before fashion, before music -- is linguistics. I remember watching The Lion King as a kid and obsessing over the infamous African chant that opens the movie. I wanted to understand it, so I looked up the language and basic lessons online. To this day, I retain a bit of Xhosa and Swahili vocabulary and grammar. With every passing year, in fact, I absorbed tidbits of different languages from whatever movie or music I liked. As useless as it may seem, knowing the basics of many languages helps you analyze any new language you try to learn, which makes the process much faster and easier.
One of the surprising ways in which my Japanese has helped me is in reading and writing Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Yeah, those little symbols carved onto pyramid walls. I learned a handful of symbols as a kid, but went back to it recently and was stunned to realize that hieroglyphs rely on the same basic principles as Japanese kanji. Each symbol is pronounced in a certain way when used on its own, but also has a different meaning and pronunciation when used in conjuction with other characters. Sound familiar?
For example, take a simple duck symbol. When used to mean "duck", it's pronounced "aped". It can also mean "son" when paired with a male symbol, though, and in that case it's pronounced "sha". Add a female symbol instead, and you get "daughter" -- pretty straightforward. These little pictures are then paired with more simple symbols that only stand for sounds and syllables, in the same exact way kanji and hiragana are paired together in Japanese.
Last year, my friend and I went to an Egyptian exhibition at the Mori Arts Center Gallery. I was happy to see a large sign that explained hieroglyphs to Japanese visitors, then disappointed to find out that it only explained some basic symbols equivalent to the English alphabet. Nothing about the similarities to kanji. I thought it was a shame -- of course, no one's going to become fluent in Ancient Egyptian by reading a couple of signs in a museum, but just learning about these similarities in two languages that evolved so far from each other teaches you a lot about how similar our
thought processes are, regardless of cultural and ethnic differences.

What’s App With You?


Great Lightsaber

Ever dreamed of owning the Great Lightsaber? It looks great, it sounds great and it takes advantage of your device's full screen.This popular Lightsaber - themed app turns your iPhone into the humming weapon of a Jedi with customizable colored blades and different hilts. There are several different choices of colors and hilts, and you can get more via an in-app purchase which also gives you force lightning, which is pretty cool. Swing your iPhone-saber around and it spits out sounds as if it’s clashing against the luminous blade of an opponent. You can duel other users of this app via bluetooth. It single-handedly helped hordes of Star Wars fans live out their Jedi vs. Sith fantasies. The Force Saber of Light app is free to download and great fun for the whole family! Or you can use it as a flashlight in the dark...

Star Walk:

Star Walk arrived in 2010 and gave astronomy neophytes a crash course in next-level stargazing. The app uses the iPhone’s GPS, compass and gyroscope, so when you hold it up to the night sky, you see on screen a perfectly positioned overlay with information on the brightly shining bodies in view. It is a beautiful stargazing app and it will become your go-to interactive star chart of the night sky, following your every movement in real time and allowing you to explore over 200, 000 celestial bodies with extensive information about stars, planets, satellites, and constellations that you find. Even if you’ve never been that into astronomy, Star Walk will surprise you. It's quite simply the stargazer’s dream app and has spawned many imitators. But Star Walk will always be the first and, perhaps, the best.

Tokyo Voice Column


Living in the Hot Spring paradise by Cherry

It has only been one year since I first came to study in Beppu city, Oita prefecture but I already felt attached to this place as if it was my own hometown, Vietnam.

The pleasant surroundings are one of the reasons I like here. I had taken a hiking to a long beautiful coastline across the city, and a city night view from Beppu Wan has become my favorite spot. Also, the hospitality especially from the elderly has made a deep impression on me. I still remember when I had trouble using a bus, one fine grandmother came to help me. Using my crappy Japanese I thanked and had a talk with her. She is living with her husband, whose son works in Tokyo. Despite the hustle life, he always manages to come back to see them. Listening to the story reminded me of my parents back home. Before getting off the bus, I was gifted a bag of Kabosu, Oita prefecture’s famous citrus fruit. How can I forget such a kind-hearted woman?

Back to my life in Beppu, can you imagine living in a place having the world’s renowned hot springs? From upon the Kannawa district to downtown area, Beppu provides us with series of hot springs where we can soothe our body and soul after hard days’ work. What is more, by joining the ‘Hell Tour’, you can visit the hot springs with different colors and enjoy hot spring eggs. The Beppu Hot Spring Festival in April is the biggest festival where there are parades, fireworks and most hot springs are free of charge. I believe not only international tourists but Japanese people will definitely enjoy Beppu’s hot springs during vacation.

Having been living here for one year, I am satisfied that I made a right choice to study in this wonderful country. I am sure not only me but any other international student would feel the same. Dear Tokyoites, why not taking a chance and visiting Beppu, the hot spring paradise?





Strange but True


A Message in a bottle reuniting with it's writer after 23 years

Gwynfor Griffiths, 44, threw a message in a bottle into the irish Sea from North Wales in 1992, hoping it would one day be picked up and sent back to him. The bottle has been drifting in the sea for 23 years and has finally been picked up by a windsurfer. Jonathan Scott, also 44, found the bottle while windsurfing on a beach, about 40 miles away from the place that the bottle was thrown into. The dad-of-two took a picture of the letter and posted it on Facebook hoping to find its writer. After over 10,000 shares, Jonathan had his luck and found Gwynfor Griffiths. They arranged a meeting and a message can finally reunite with its writer after 23yeasr!

'caffeine bracelet' replacing your morning coffee?!

Stained teeth? Coffee breath? No time for morning coffee? This could be your solution. A new caffein bracelet is set to revolutionize the way - intaking caffein through our skin instead of drinking. Invented by Adam Paulin - a personal trainer with a B Sc Hons in neuroscience and psychology and launched together with Alex Kryuk, a medical doctor with a Ph D in medicine, this bracelet Joule could be changing the way we meet mates for a coffee and a catch up from here on. The Joule comes as a durable silicone bracelet or a watch and works using a process called transdermal administration of chemicals.It is similar to how Nicorette patches work. The caffeine would be embedded in an adhesive patch which would provide a controlled release "through the user's skin as their body heat melts away the thin layers of formulation" Not to worry, it has about the same caffein content as a cup of coffee but it will be released taking over four hours so it will not be a shock to the body system in any means. Missing an actual cup of coffee? you can still drink it wearing this bracelet as well.



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