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


So long, and thanks for all the sushi by Joshua Lepage

Eagle-eyed readers will no doubt have noticed that TNB has been re-publishing old columns of mine for last few weeks. Every time I scroll through my dusty old articles folder, I'm surprised by
just how much I've written since joining TNB. I've been with them for years now -- I've written about fashion school, movies, art, the Japanese language, shopping, and even my disastrous love life and drunken adventures. Since I moved back to Canada, though, it's been increasingly hard to write anything fun or at least relevant to you Tokyoites.

So yes, this is officially my last article. I'm stepping down. It pains me to do so, but I'm sure that in no time, TNB will have amassed a line-up of fresh-faced writers who actually live in Tokyo and can churn out much better biweekly articles than I can. My daily life in Montreal mostly involves working in a call center and moping over the snow, the cold weather, the gross sushi, and the lack of men's clothing that fits my narrow shoulders, so I promise you won't be missing out on anything exciting.

The good news, though, is that I'm still working on a way to move back to Japan. I refuse to give up, dear readers -- I just need to save up some money and get that JLPT 1 out of the way. If all goes well, you might run into me at a Nichome club in a year or two. In the meantime, please enjoy the hell out of that wonderful city on my behalf. Eat some basashi (my fave), visit your neighborhood watering hole to practice your Japanese on the locals, spend too much at Laforet, take long walks at 3am without fearing for your safety, visit a temple or two, and enjoy the cheap all-night karaoke.

Oh, and of course: if you have something interesting to write, drop TNB a line. They've treated me with exceptional kindness and generosity over the years, and they're terrific people to work with.

Thank you for reading about my silly opinions and adventures, guys. It's been a blast.

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


Home Remedy by Mardo

I think most of us are rational, science believing people these days. If we break a bone, we see a doctor, if our tooth hurts, we see a dentist. We no longer use old superstitions to try and heal ourselves of ailments. Except for when we have a cold.

For some reason, when we have a cold, we go straight back a couple of hundred years and forget all the published, peer reviewed information. Well, not entirely, we still take a headache tablet for the fever or a decongestant, but we also go straight for the same things our great grandparents would have.

In Japan my personal favourite was a hot Toddy of Sake and Honey or a hot Ginger tea. In China the Ginger was boiled in Coca Cola and then drunk! In Australia I have always gone for lemon and Honey drinks and breathing in steam with eucalyptus oil in it. I am not sure why we go to the old ways with a cold, but we do. Bring out the hot water bottle!?

Maybe it's because the cold has defeated science? Science has a vaccine for measles and almost wiped out polio! But the common cold? Still around. Every year. I went to my doctor and she just told me to rest and drink juice… anyone could have told me that!

Maybe it's because we all get colds, and we have all tried to beat them, and occasionally won without the doctor's fee. At any rate. If my colds get worse I will try home remedies from further afield. Some countries like Spicy food I hear. And an old friend of mine who was an Army Major recommends warm Rum… but Since I am also taking the cold and flu tablets as well, I think I shall skip that. Because if there is one thing I will listen to science on, it is about mixing pharmacy drugs and alcohol. There is a lot of science on that! and none of it will make my cold better!






Strange but True


First Beer Spa Brewing up in USA

The craft beer revolution has begun in Central Oregon, and it was no surprise this revolution spread to this tourist town called Sisters. Sally Champa, a massage therapist, was talking to one of her clients, a Deschutes Brewing employee, about the many benefits of hops outside of a brewing―a moisturizer for skin, calming effect on the nerves, and even some anti-bacterial properties. It gave her an idea to use hops in her practice, which led to a bigger idea: Oregon’s first beer-centric spa,"Hop in the Spa" Customers start with a pint in the lounge to relax before they soak their body in a brew of hops, which are great for dry skin complications. After soaking, customers are massaged using hop essential oils and other elements in the massage to create a rounded, relaxing experience. After that, it’s more relaxation and, likely, a beer or two. Wouldn't it be a great relaxation day to soak yourself into a hop bath!

Hungry? Attack of a hungry man

This hungry man attacked a man with a snickers bar in the Subway. The attacker shoved a candy bar in the face of the victim and then repeatedly punched him in an apparently random attack. The victim was unprovoked by the attacker when he shoved a Snickers bar in his face and mouth and asked the attacker what was wrong with him. The attacker then repeatedly punched him in the face during a scuffle. God knows why he attacked this poor man... maybe he was craving for a snicker bar?



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