Plain Talk


The Sky and the Hydrangeas by Nobuyo Honda

The rainy season in Tokyo usually starts from the middle of June and continues until mid July. The hydrangeas are at their best during this time, and I enjoy them in my garden. There are many well-known places to see them. My friend and I visited Minamisawa Hydrangea Mountain which is located behind JR Musashi-Itsukaichi Station, and takes about forty minutes on foot.

It rained on and off from early morning, and the air was damp. After lunch we went to the mountain by taxi. When we got out of the taxi, the driver told us that a man who was standing near by was the owner. He has planted about ten thousand hydrangeas on his own mountain over the past forty years. We said hello, asked how long it took to go around the hillside, and he replied thirty minutes.

We turned off the path. It was narrow and surrounded with high hydrangeas, which looked like a gate of flowers. I smelled moist green grass and soil. I was excited and curious about the mountain trail with flowers. There were blue, white, purple and a few pink flowers in full bloom in trees on both sides of the trail. Their shape and hues contrasted with the rainy green leaves. We enjoyed many varieties of blooming flowers and went up slowly. The mountainside was full of them, even though the land sloped sharply up and down. I was surprised that the owner had planted them in such a place. Finally, we reached the last of the flowers. I looked down from the heights at the blue and white flowers draped over the hill, like a shawl. It reminded me of a star’s river in the night sky. Today was the 7th July, the day of the Star Festival. It is said to be the only time when a pair of lovers, Altair and Vega, separated by The Milky Way, can see each other. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see them because of the rain clouds.

We left on foot for the station in the misty rain. We listened to the croaking of the frogs by the wayside grove. I was disappointed by the rain during the star festival, but at least the frogs seemed to be enjoying it.





Plain Talk


Blad by Aonghas Crowe

The best thing about my first year in Japan was the friendship that developed between me and my coworkers. Now, I’ve never been in the military, so I can’t be too sure, but I think what we had was as close as civilians can come to being comrade-in-arms. I might not have taken a bullet for them, but I would have quickly told our boss off if he ever treated them unfairly. The more entertaining episodes of that first year usually involved “Blad”. He was the first in a long slew of people I would meet over the years who had Masters in TESL/FL yet couldn’t master foreign languages themselves if their lives depended upon it.

In a sense it did: twenty-five years ago, it was hard to find people who spoke English in Japan, especially in the working class suburb we lived in. You needed Japanese to survive.

The root of Blad’s struggle with the Japanese language was the fact that he was tone-deaf; he couldn’t have carried a tune even if he’d had a bucket.

While the Japanese can be polite and will encourage the poorest of singers to finish their karaoke song, with Blad they threw their hands up: “Please, Bladorey,” they’d beg as he sang Killing Me Softly. “You are kirringu us!”

Thanks to his imperfect pitch, Blad never could get his tongue around Japanese words. The word for “toilet”, o-tearai, for example, gave him a lot of grief.
“Why don’t you just say, ‘toiretto’ or ‘benjo’?” I suggested.
Blad could be stubborn.

Some of our best times together were in the evenings after work. Since we lived next door, we would get together and talk over a bottle of sake´ about all the things that gob-smacked us that day.
“You know all those little mom-and-pop shops are up the hill?” Blad said one evening.
“I do.”
“Well, I found what looked like a little garden shop. There was a woman watering the plants, so I picked one of the pots up and asked, ‘Kore-wa ikura desuka?’”

We had recently learned how to say, “How much is this?” in Japanese.
“The woman babbled something to me that I couldn’t understand, so I went to another plant, picked it up and asked, ‘Kore-wa ikura deskua?’ She said something to me again, but as I was picking up a third plant, she bolted into the shop. I could hear her screaming to someone inside.”
“Well, a few seconds later a man ran out―may have been her husband―and he gestured wildly at the plants and shouted, ‘No!’ He turned to some flowers, shouted ‘No!’ again. Then he turned to me and shouted, ‘No! No! NO! This . . . is . . . our . . . HOME!’”

I laughed so hard that I started crying. When I finally regained my composure, I asked what Blad did next.

“I put the plant down and continued on up the road.”


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Tokyo Voice Column


Outdoor games in Japan! by Anne Corinne

Traditional Japanese games are a nice way to experience Japanese culture and outdoor activities at the same time! These are a few ideas to enjoy most of each season:

Takoage (凧揚げ): traditional Japanese kites are made with paper and bamboo and usually carry some Japanese writings and pictures of warriors or Kabuki actors. They are used to wish for a child’s happiness and healthy growth, especially in New Year time.

Kazaguruma (風車): this traditional windmill made with colored Japanese paper is said to exist since the 8th century and is still sold in many temples and shrines nowadays. It used to be on sale in spring and is therefore a symbol of this season.

Suikawari (スイカ割り): this traditional summer beach game consists in trying to split a Japanese watermelon with a wooden stick while being blindfolded. Participants should start 6 meters away from the watermelon and only have 3 minutes to play.

Daruma-san ga koronda (だるまさんが転んだ, the Dharma fell down): One person, with the eyes closed, says “Daruma-san ga koronda” while the others try to get as close as possible to that person without being seen moving. After saying this, the participant opens the eyes and turns around, while the others must stop moving. Those who are seen moving will stop playing, while the game will go on for the others until they reach the main player.

Hanaichimonme (花いちもんめ, children’s playing song): two groups of players face each other and hold their hands in a line. One person from each group plays じゃんけん (rock, paper, scissors). The losing player joins the other group and so on, until only 1 player is left in a group.

Takeuma (竹馬, bamboo horse): these traditional Japanese stilts made with bamboo have two footrests attached. Children used to enjoy climbing on them to develop their sense of balance. Schools and museums still introduce this activity nowadays.

A lot of fun is guaranteed! Ready? Go


Strange but True


Mine! Mine! Mine!

Hungry seagulls? Stay away. Seabirds are notorious for their bad behavior, especially when they are peckish. Everyone knows that and is probably why no one bothered stopping this brazen specimen which was caught on camera sauntering into a coffee shop and stealing a bag of potato chips. After carefully selecting its favorite flavor, the bad boy (bird) grabbed the snack with its beak ― and then walked back out, as if this were an everyday occurrence. Stealing or snatching potato chips away happens all the time, but choosing its favorite flavor? What a picky seagull!

Dream Job?

Big hairy spiders and flying seem to be two of the world’s most common fears. Putting them together? Well, that’s just unspeakably terrifying. Passengers flying on Air Transat from the Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, to Montreal had to put up with two tarantulas running loose in the aircraft. One spider found itself crawling up a female passengers leg during dinner. The passengers daughter was screaming in shock as the flight attendants managed to capture it. However the remaining spider was on the loose until the plane landed. The spiders were likely a species called Phormictopus cancerides that are common in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Specialists suspect someone brought them in a carry-on in order to later sell them as pets. The unfortunate passenger's daughter is said to be having continuous nightmares. (and now we are, too)...



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