Plain Talk


Tokyo Yamathon: A marathon For Charity by Marc Antomattei

On the date of May 30, 2015, I participated in my first ever Tokyo Yamathon. The Yamathon is a marathon in which teams consisting of either three or four people participate in and complete by their own choice of walking or running, or a combination of the two. The purpose of the Yamathon, as set forth by the organizers, and for participants, is to raise money for charitable causes. Most notably the biggest, most immediate, and most often given to cause is giving to the victims of the March 11, 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The Yamathon has been ongoing annually since November 1, 2010, and this year 100% of everyone’s 10,000yen team registration fee went to the NPO NADIA, a charitable organization helping with the Tohoku recovery. The goal is to walk around the Tokyo Yamanote train line loop (your choice of clockwise or counterclockwise), stop at all 29 stations and take a picture, and finish at Tokyo station by the end of the day (which is within 12 hours). The complete walk is 34.5 km (21.4 mi).

I first learned about the Yamathon this year a month before it happened from my girlfriend Jun, who herself is a two time previous participant of the fundraiser challenge. I opted to join in from a push by her to be part of it. My saying “yes” to her were for more reasons than one. The comedic answer is when your lady ask you to do something, how can you not say yes? I had my own personal reasons as well. Having hosted and been a part of many charitable events myself, I just love the feeling of giving. It’s very empowering and at the end you sense a feeling of personal reward from giving. Another reason for me, and possibly many others to join, is just being posed with the challenge. It’s about getting out there and presenting the best version of you to overcome the challenge. For my girlfriend though, it was just about meeting new people.

Looking back on that day, it wasn’t as difficult as my girlfriend made it out to be, but it was still a challenge nonetheless. For me making it to the end, the biggest hurdle was not the completing it part, but it was actually going through the ups and downs with your team and accomplishing something together. If you are teamed up with many strangers like I was, many of them may not be as physically or mentally as strong a person as you might be, and you have to use your energy to try to lift them up too. Anything is possible though with togetherness. If you are ever posed or presented with the opportunity to be a part of this challenge next year or anything similar in Tokyo, why don’t you take them up? You get rewarded in the end in more ways than one, and so do many others not participating. One love.

Copyright (C) 2016 Marc Antomattei Press

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?



Another word game? Yes, but this one stars bears! Even better, it's really good and dead easy to get into.You start out with a board with some letters on it. Type out a word from the letters and the letter spaces are immediately replaced by bears, which are instantly surrounded by more letters. Countdown timers add some spice to the game too. You'll get tall and thin bears, weirdly wide and squat bears, and there's also "The Bear" after 'filling the entire screen with bears, if you clear all of the letters. At the end of a round, if you get "The Bear", that would result in huge scores and immense satisfaction.

Forge of Empires:

Forge of Empires, a free Web game that takes a long-term approach to empire building as well as historical progression. If you like the Middle Ages, this is the game to play! There are three separate ages to play through; Early Middle Ages, High Middle Ages and Late Middle Ages. Each of which will take a fair chunk of time to progress. Along with the historic progression, your army and other resources will progress, too. From stone to iron, ballista to cannon etc. You have to keep your villagers happy by providing entertainment points by constructing theaters and such to keep up their steady productions. Build your empire and keep your people safe. Long live your queen/your king!

Tokyo Voice Column


My first shabu shabu experience by Jelena Pejic

Listening to my two Japanese friends talking to the waiter and ordering the food and drinks I get confused if what they order will be tasty to me. I have not understood a word as I just arrived in Tokyo for a two year adventure into Japan and its culture. My Japanese language skills are still under maintenance.

As the food arrives my friends explain that it is what they call a traditional 'Shabu Shabu' meal, nothing but a Japanese version of the European Meat Fondue. I like meat and I like fondues, therefore I am overly excited once I discover all the meat slice arrangements on the table, the different sauces, vegetables, rice and a hot pot with the different boiled broths in it. The taste of the meat even beats the look and I can hardly stop eating as the server keeps bringing more and more meat to our table. Later I realize that we paid for a 'all you can eat' offer - so for the price we can eat as much as we want (or shall I say can).

I leave the restaurant by the end of the funny and entertaining night with a satisfied belly and mind. I have not only made new friends but I have also discovered a new authentic Japanese restaurant in the middle of the Roppongi main street and one of the most delicious Japanese meals besides sushi. I will definitely go back and try the coconut cream broth or the fish sauce.

I remember receiving a homemade sake at the end of our meal before we left. Sake is a Japanese wine made of rice and contains about 15-20% alcohol. It feels much stronger when I rush it down and it leaves a slightly light-headed feeling behind. The last kind gesture of the waiter in the restaurant is a glass filled with ice water that the thirsty three of us have been craving for after a salty and very tasty meal. I can hardly walk back the few steps to my hotel and as I enter the room I fall straight into my comfortable bed and asleep.





Strange but True


Cake as a bribe?

A 62 years old guy from Shaftsbury, was charged on a felony count of grand larceny and a misdemeanor count of bribery. This suspect started leaving messages for investigators asking if he can resolve the matter without going to court, according to the paper. Three days later, he made a cake with pink frosting and tried to give it to a police officer as a bribe to let hime go. A hand written note on the pink-frosted confection supposedly said that it’s “to sweeten the deal. Let’s make it happen today,” The cake was photographed but destroyed without being eaten, and the box was saved as evidence. The cake looked messy with pink frosting smeared all over and not evenly. Although, we highly doubt it would have made any difference even if the cake was divine and gorgeous.

Snakes in the Box instead of Jack!

Terrified electricians had the shock of their lives when they opened an electricity box to find two huge snakes lurking inside. This house was scheduled to be demolished in North Carolina and when the City workers opened the electrical box, they were greeted by two dead snakes that had managed to climb in. One of the snakes was electrocuted to death after it chomped on a wire, while the other was fried while biting its companion's tail. Poor snakes, but they scared the workers to death when they opened the electricity box. If they could get into an electrical box, they could practically crawl through any tiny hole. They warned local residents to check their electrical boxes are sealed securely, adding that it was “not uncommon” to see snakes inside similarly small spaces.



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