Plain Talk


Lesser known places to go in Tokyo

Free Public Lectures in Tokyo by Simon Duncan

Tokyo is one of the most expensive cities in the world and Japanese people place a strong emphasis on learning. Together this means, predictably, that education is expensive. But, believe it or not, there are opportunities to hear experts in their field talk for free in Tokyo.

For English speakers, one such place to experience this is at the United Nations University in Shibuya. They have occasional free public talks (that require advance registration) on weekday evenings. The speakers usually have a UN connection and previous guests include Ambassador William Lacy Swing, the head of the International Organization for Migration; Mrs. Sadako Ogata-ex head of JICA; and Thant Myint U- a Burmese historian and conservation expert who is the grandson of former UN chief, U Thant. Talks usually last one hour followed by a Q and A session. Then there is a usually a chance to get a free glass of wine or soft drink and some snacks and mingle. Please check their website: for more details.

Another option for free talks in Tokyo is at Japanese Universities such as Sophia University, Tokyo University or Waseda University. These and other elite universities in the capital often have free lectures open to the public on weekends. Speakers include both foreigners and Japanese. Although most talks are in Japanese language (interpreting is provided for speakers who cannot converse in Japanese), occasionally you can find some in English. The topics of the talks are related to the focus of the university or the department that holds them. So, for example if you look at:, you will see a list of lectures that mainly focus on history and politics. I was lucky enough to see Min Ko Naing, the leader of the 1988 anti-government student protest in Burma talk here in 2014. Some universities require Japanese language skills to navigate their sites. In general free public lectures are listed under 'events'.

Another option is at the JICA head office in Ichigaya where they have occasional lectures related to their overseas projects:





Plain Talk


The Gift of the Cherry Blossom by Mathew Chromecki

When I returned to my hometown of Toronto, another long, bitter winter had finally come to an end and spring was most welcome. We chose to go for a stroll through High Park to bask in the sun’s warm rays. Along the way, our romance with the sun was distracted by a crowd gushing enthusiasm for a wide cherry tree in full bloom―a grand specimen of nature―and, like a celebrity in the limelight, seemed to dazzle the sea of admirers who snapped pics with their cellphones. A gust of wind came that eased the tree’s white flower petals off their branches and set them adrift on the flow of air; this act of nature inspired the admirers to increase their posing and photo-snapping. As I stood there admiring the ebb and flow of the festivity, I decided to find out some more about this gleeful yet oddly poignant activity.

As it turns out, the significance of Hanami dates back over a thousand years in Japan. According to anthropologist Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, and a number of other sources, the symbol of the cherry blossom or Sakura may be viewed religiously, militarily, and socially.

In Buddhism, which may have been the first historical movement to wield the symbolic power of the blooming Sakura, it symbolizes the major theme of the transience of life. The expression “Life will be over before you know it,” is believed by Buddhists because they see one human life is short in comparison with the life of the cosmos. Indeed, so is the life of the cherry blossom compared with the length of human life; hence the analogy.

For the ancient Japanese warriors or Samurai, it reflected their role as protectors of another great Japanese symbol: the emperor. When a samurai would prepare to go into battle, he was ever ready to die for him, indeed the whole army, believed that to die for one’s emperor was to die most exquisitely. During Hanami, ancestors of fallen samurai may see a fallen sakura petal symbolizing the fallen samurai ancestor who sacrificed his life for the emperor.

Finally, Hanami is a time for people of all walks of life to get together and welcome the start of the next cycle of nature. Families and friends, co-workers and companies, they all spend this weekend, days and evenings enjoying being alive. Perhaps for Tokyoites, beside hanabi (fireworks festival), there is no other celebration that is enjoyed simultaneously across the city. One interesting tradition tidbit for new employees―they are asked by senior staff to leave work early to mark a piece of land in the nearest park to ensure the company has a place beneath the cherry blossoms.

This is a short but brilliant blooming festival. With all these views in mind, I suddenly realize most cities that come to admire their local cherry blossoms, often do not comprehend the knowledge about Buddhism or the sacrifice of samurais. Nevertheless, from Tokyo to Toronto to Moscow crowds gush in pure enthusiasm for the sad beauty that is the short celebrity of the cherry blossom. Perhaps, when they go home and look over the pictures on their cellphone, they may reflect: this day with all their friends and family, was a good day.

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?



Dear music lovers; don't you get tired of listening to the same songs over and over? If you listen to a lot of music, it doesn’t exactly take a long time until you begin to hear same songs repeatedly. Some people can’t get enough of their favorite songs and play the same song in loop, well that's fine, but if you crave variety, finding new music can begin to take some effort. This new app aiming to make the adventure of musical exploration much easier. It will send you one themed playlist curated by editorial team, every day, so you can find new stuff to listen to. Those playlists, powered by’s 175,000-strong playlist library, which it has amassed over the last five years, show up on your phone’s lock screen in the form of a push notification, with a new themed playlist pushed to you daily. If you’re looking for musical inspiration first thing in the morning, this is a good place to start.


Are you a foodie? If so, this is one of the must have apps for you. This next-generation kitchen companion enables food lovers to search for professionally created and tested recipes, make interactive shopping lists, follow step-by-step stove-side instructions, and more.You can search 30,000+ food and drink recipes or browse categories by skill level and theme, then save and share your favorites. Recipe features tens of thousands of tasty recipes from some of the world's top sources such as Gourmet and Bon Appe´tit. Not only that, you can easily create your ingredient lists and check off items as you shop. And finally, you can follow their convenient step-by-step instructions with tips from professional chefs as you cook! Start cooking with no fussing! Bon Appe´tit!

Tokyo Voice Column


Hana katarazu. by Paul Stewart

At this time of the year in Japan, as a writer it would almost be a crime not to talk about the Cherry Blossoms and the incredible pull they have on the people here.

It's a time of joy and celebration. Social gatherings spring up and workdays are scheduled on a sheet of plastic under the pink hue of Sakura. It's a joy to watch the families, friends, colleagues gather in appreciation and positivity with this short seasonal gift of Mother Nature.

A blossom is such a symbol isn’t it. It is the beginning of new life. A seed within a seed, its radiance is short lived yet so bright, it is timeless. I wonder if people can relate that to their own life as I wander along enjoying the picture that all are participating in the making of.

When your mind is at peace, you can catch a falling blossom and watch it dance all the way to the colored ground. Or watch it sail out and land gently upon the water of the nearby river. It’s like being in pink snow.

Have you ever tried to catch a falling petal? Have you tried to capture them in a picture? It’s not easy to do. But it is possible. The ability to appreciate is a moment not lost. It is full of abundance as are we. When we think about it, we realize, everything we do is to obtain some kind of feeling. The simplicity of this beautiful time in Japan as the Blossoms fall for another season, provides us with an opportunity to feel the depth and wonder of who we are.

The ability of the Japanese people to enjoy such things is something to feel good about and it is a shining example in a world of people who are also blossoming in many and varied ways.







Strange but True


Will you forgive me if I sing?!

A 21 year old convict in Michigan sung his repentance adapting Adel's hit song "Hello". He expressed his contrition by singing "How sorry he is" to the judge during his sentencing on a weapon charge. He started by "Hello there, your honor," and his song was recorded on courtroom video. He continued: "I want to say I'm sorry for the things I've done and I'll try and be stronger in this life I chose, but I want you to know - that door, I closed. "And your honour I'm sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry." Despite of his attempt to sing his way out, the judge sentenced him up to 17 years in prison for unlawful imprisonment and carrying a concealed weapon, but with a comment saying "obviously a talented man" Obviously singing repentance from his heart wasn't enough to make up for what he did.

The cheapest way to remove your tattoo... for this guy at least.

Before anything, please note that this is a rare case and this method is NOT for everybody. Matter of fact, not recommended! A sailor from Orlando, Florida wanted to remove his tattoo, but since laser surgery is quite expensive, he came up with his own DIY method. He packed his arm in salt and rubbed it vigorously and repeat this ritual for days. Bizarrely, the tattoo eventually peeled off in one complete piece, largely intact. After the skin peeled, his arm looked quite normal without a scar. What did he do with his peeled skin? He decided to frame it and gave it to his girlfriend...



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