Plain Talk


Mother by Hiroko

When I was a child, my parents were mostly silent with each other. I don’t remember them discuss things, at least not over the meals. Sometimes, at night, when I got up to take a pee, I tiptoed near their bedroom and heard them talking in a low voice. I strained my ears but I couldn’t fathom what they said.

My mother seemed to be proud that they weren’t the chatty type. She told us children happily how they were quiet since young. (She could be talkative with us.) Her favorite anecdote was this; when they were newlywed, her husband’s younger sister came to visit and stayed overnight. In the morning, she didn’t come out of the guestroom and my father left for work. As soon as he was gone, though, the fusuma door slid open and she crawled out on all four. “Did you have a fallout?” was the first thing she uttered to my mother. “No way. Why?” said my mother, startled. “You guys didn’t talk at all!” the sister-in-law exclaimed.

Did they communicate more non-verbally? Did they have a lot of physical contact? That’s unlikely as well. Like many Japanese of their generation, as far as I can remember, there wasn’t much physical contact between them on a daily basis. I have never seen them walk hand in hand, not to mention embracing each other or kissing. They don’t touch each other casually. If they did, it was meant to be a joke and deliberate.

Well, that’s the long preface to what I want to get around to. Now my parents are in their 80s. Both have some medical conditions to attend. One of the problems my mother has is her hearing loss. She says people’s voice gets muffled and inaudible. She dismisses hearing aids after trying a couple and found them unhelpful. You have to literally shout at her close so she can understand what you say. Recently when I met her at a restaurant, I switched to writing when I realized I was talking too loudly to her and people turned their heads toward us.

Mother doesn’t seem to be depressed in particular with the loss of hearing, though. She even says it has its upside: at home, she feels closer to her husband than before. Why?

When she hears him say something but cannot understand what he said, she trots to him, hugs him, turns her better ear, which is the left one, to his mouth and ask “Say that again!” She does it many times a day. The action makes him laugh. In their 80s, they either learned for the first time, or remembered after decades of physical distance and awkwardness, that the simple act of hugging daily can facilitate intimacy. I’m glad that they did before it’s too late. She looks happy.

Copyright (C) 2016 Hiroko. All rights reserved.







Copyright (C) 2016 Hiroko. All rights reserved.

Plain Talk


How To Travel With Style by Jeff S. Jones

Do you like to travel? I love it, and I've spent a lot of time thinking about how to plan the perfect vacation. Although I've traveled to 17 countries, I'm still an amateur traveler compared to many friends I've met while living overseas, some of whom have traveled to every continent, even Antarctica.

So while I'm not always the most traveled person in the room, I'd like to think I'm a smart traveler who keeps getting better at maximizing the joys of travel while minimizing the hassles. Here are some tips I've discovered that I hope will help you make your next trip your best ever:

- Planning and anticipating your vacation is as fun as the vacation itself. Jeroen Nawijin, a tourism researcher in The Netherlands, found that one of the biggest boosts of happiness you get from travel is from simply booking your trip. The happiness boost from knowing you have an exciting vacation coming up can last up to eight weeks, so consider booking in advance rather than waiting until the last minute.

- Plan a 7-9 day trip. Some people take shorter vacations, some go backpacking for months and months. I find the sweet spot for a trip is 7-9 days, just enough time to really forget about home and experience a new place without starting to miss sleeping in my own bed. The research I've read backs this up: most people don't experience more happiness on longer vacations. I also prefer to pick one city/area and really experience that location rather than trying to visit multiple cities -- or even countries -- in a short time. When you try to visit too many locations, you spend most of your trip in planes and buses.

- Pick 3 things you really want to see or do. If there's less than 3 things you want to do in a place, it's probably not a good choice for your trip. If you count on doing more than 3, you risk filling your schedule so tightly that you're just racing from one famous attraction to another with no extra time to discover things in the moment. Planning your itinerary on the internet can be a mixed bag: while it is possible to get more information than you could from a single guidebook, it's also possible to over-research your trip to the point where it feels more like researching a dissertation rather than casually choosing items from a menu. Often the thing you most remember from a trip years later is just something simple like a funny chat you had with an interesting taxi driver, something you could never have planned. So just make sure you cover your Top 3 and leave the rest to chance -- often the best plan is no plan at all.

- Pack as little as possible and then pack 20% less than that. I like to carry only two bags: a small suitcase for clothes and a small bag (containing a good book and a notepad) to carry on the plane. Carrying too many things weighs you down when you are walking around -- always leave at least one hand free. I have never taken a trip where I can recall the items I packed, but I can remember trips where I over-packed and was stressed out lugging around too many bags. Unless you are traveling to a deserted island, forgotten items can usually be purchased locally. Many places also have cheap laundry services for travelers, so you can pack even less clothes. I use vacations as an excuse to leave my laptop computer at home and get off the grid -- not only do I not have to carry my laptop bag, but I don't have to remove my computer for airport security.

- Wear comfortable clothes on the plane and request a vegetarian meal. I have seen people on 17 hour flights who are dressed like they are attending an expensive cocktail party. I personally wear the most comfortable clothes possible: an over-sized jogging suit that is as comfortable as a pair of pajamas. I have no belt, so I don't have to worry about taking that off at the airport. I bring an extra pair of socks so I can take my shoes off when the flight starts and still keep my feet warm by wearing two pairs. I request a vegetarian meal and they deliver my meal first before everyone else gets theirs. The meat served on airplanes usually looks pretty disgusting, so I figure I am not missing anything. The less you eat on a long flight, the better. There's nothing worse than overeating on a plane and landing at your destination feeling sick and bloated. Instead, arrive hungry and look forward to sampling the local cuisine.

- Plan a big event for the last day of your trip. This is another thing the travel researchers discovered: you tend to remember the last day or two of your trip so plan something special and end with a bang. I tend to save one of my Top 3 things for the last day of my trip. As in showbiz, leave yourself wanting more.

- Learn a few words of the local language. I try to learn at least "Hello" and "Thank you". It's amazing how much using just a few local words enhances your experience interacting with people at your destination, especially in areas where most tourists don't bother. If you have extra time, learning a few simple sentences or how to ask basic questions can really pay off. Though you may not be able to use these perfectly, just trying is often a great conversation starter to make new friends.

- Ask other travelers about their travels. Some of the best trips I've taken started with someone else telling me about an incredible place they visited. Whenever someone is raving about a destination, I always take notes. One question I always like to ask people is "Would you go again?" If they say yes, it's probably a place worth visiting. If they say maybe, it usually means that one trip there is enough. Another question I like to ask is "What surprised you most there?" This question helps you bypass just hearing about the most famous sightseeing spots which everyone feels obligated to mention and often elicits an interesting story or an off-the-radar discovery. It can also reveal their true impression of the place.

I wish you a happy travels, wherever you decide to go. May you get to travel enough to eventually discover that the most interesting spot on Earth is always wherever you happen to be at the moment. When you realize this, you truly begin to travel with style.

Jeff S. Jones is a high school teacher and corporate trainer. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, he has lived in Tokyo for over a decade and resides in Koto Ward, where he enjoys jogging at night beside the mighty Sumida River.

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?



Paper for iPhone is all about the combination of text and images. Tap a small “+” icon at the bottom of the screen, and a blank note appears where you can fill it with a photo or drawing, using all the same tools available in the iPad app. Paper’s many brush tools are available with its sophisticated color-picker, and also a neat tool that figures out you were trying to draw a circle or square and straightens everything out for you. Take a photo, and put a spotlight around the important subjects and you can even connect the Pencil Stylus and work that way. A caption, a description of the image you created―a few sentences, a paragraph, a to-do list- can also be created . Maybe the most novel thing about Paper is the way it handles text formatting through gestures; just swipe right on a line to turn it into a task or bullet point, or left to make it into a header. There is no comparison making lists and taking notes in Paper compared to others apps.


This app is not like any other designed to work with Apple’s iPad tablet. The unique shape and meticulously crafted finishes are the obvious differences, but it’s the experiential qualities that truly sets it apart from the rest. Pencil allows you to switch between tools in an intuitive and natural way when working with Paper. Bounce between drawings, erasing, and blending without ever having to “switch tools” ― the tip draws, the eraser erases, and your finger smudges. Try Pencil with Paper since they are made by the same app creator and its highly compatible.

Tokyo Voice Column


Why metal? by Olga Kaneda

When I was a kid, I went to a public dentist. There were almost no private dentists at that time. Fixing your teeth was free, and guess what? By the age of 15 I had to replace almost all my dental fillings.

After coming to Japan, I was crazy scared to go to the dentist. I imagined that the staff will laugh at my fillings, find a hundred cavities and take all money out of our bank account. I wasn’t wrong, although I must admit that no one laughed at me (at least in front of me).

From what I gathered from my dentist, I will need to bring lots of money to their clinic. Normally I understand pretty much Japanese, but she is very, very smart. She has a PhD in or something like that (I also have a PhD, by the way, but only in economy and it is pretty much useless). And it’s not an expensive dental clinic for foreigners somewhere in the middle of Roppongi. My clinic deals with the national health insurance all right. The problem is me. I hate even the thought of “silver” amalgams, covered by insurance, let alone the metal crowns in my mouth. No, really, cut it out! I’m still in my 30’s, so why would I flash my metal teeth to the public every time I smile or expose my body to unknown alloy of metals, proudly regarded to as “silver” by dentists? White or natural-colored cement dental fillings cost a lot, though. They are not covered by insurance. There are also plastic ones, and my dentist says they are for temporary use.

Of course, if we don’t have any money, I will have to. But I still have a choice. I have cut most of my daily expenses and there are only few ways of saving left. But hey, that’s a great opportunity to change my lifestyle to a healthier one!



歯医者の説明で私が理解した事は、治療費がかかるということだった。普段の私は日本語はかなりできる。しかしその歯医者はかなり頭がよかったし、博士号を取得していた。(私だって経済学博士号をもっているが、この場では役にたたない。)六本木の真ん中で外国人相手に高額治療をする歯医者でもなかった。私の行った歯医者は保険内治療がしてもらえる。問題は私にあった。私は保険が適用される『シルバー』のアマルガムでさえ嫌っている。銀歯だなんで考えられない! 私はまだ30代で、毎回微笑んだり口を開けたりする度に銀歯を恥ずかしく思うなんてごめんだ。白や乳白色のセメントの被せものは高額だ。すべて保険外診療となる。プラスチックでできた乳白色のものもあるが、歯医者に言わせると一時的なものだそうだ。



Strange but True


R.I.P for Cops Little Friend

Officers from a Police Department in Nebraska announced the untimely passing of a beloved squirrel who frequented at their station's parking lot. Though the cops say her death remains a mystery, and that they are not investigating, they still took the time to cordon off the spot as if it were a little crime scene. This littlest friend of theirs had been so popular among those on the force that they even set up a Twitter account in her honor. The friendly squirrel whom they all came to know will be truly missed.

Don't worry Baby Whale, I am Here To The Rescue!

An exhausted baby whale who became stranded during low tide was saved from drowning this week ― all thanks to the kindness of surfers who refused to ignore her pleas for help. Two surfers were out to catch some waves along a beach in Costa Rica when they saw a strange lump protruding from the water in a small river nearby. What did they find? They found a weak baby whale that could not keep afloat. Using all their strength, they carried her out to deeper water closer to the open sea. However she was so weak that they literally had to hold her at the surface of the water to breathe. For more than six hours, the rescuers kept to that noble task long enough for the whale to regain her strength. Fortunately, their efforts paid off. At high tide, the surfers guided the whale out to deeper waters where she was able to swim away on her own.



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