Plain Talk


New Year--Then and Now by Clare Williams

This New Year, as I sat back nursing a glass of Hourai Junmai Ginjo in one hand and picking up small goodies from my jubako with my chopsticks in the other, I pondered the New Year WIFC2J (when I first came to Japan). Everyone used to hang little rice straw wreaths of prosperity over the front number plate of their car but this year I counted only one. And everyone used to set up kadomatsu decorations at their front door, but all 450 apartments in my building were bare this year, including mine.

Also, my first New Year in Japan (an ancient time that predated convenience stores), I didn't know that the whole country closed for three days so I hadn't laid in any food. Imagine my surprise when I went out on January 2nd to the supermarket only to find it and everything else shuttered. I ate out of cans for another two days. However, no such experience for any 2016 Japan neophytes. As consumers are spending less than ever, retailers, forced to intensify their efforts to relieve you of your money, remain open throughout the period. And there are those convenience stores.

Then there is the food. Traditional o-sechi was still traditional when I first arrived―everything preserved with sugar: vegetables simmered in a sweet broth of mirin, soy sauce and sugar; fish basted in a sweet sauce and grilled; little candied shrimps on toothpicks and sticky sweet piles of tiny dried fish mixed with sesame seeds and walnuts. Not to mention the sugar-glazed beans, and the whole chestnuts buried in a sweet yellow mash. But 2016? The recipe book I bought last December included such exotica as deep-fried salmon and avocado spring rolls, coconut tapioca and bean yokan, and pa^te´ de campagne, served with tortilla chips.

Another issue was what to do during New Year. Your foreign friends travel, your Japanese friends retreat to their hometowns, your married friends cocoon, but singleton, impoverished you? Now there are sales, English cable TV, and the Internet of Endless Delight. Then, not much. On January 2nd I spent the day in the local cinema with a rat running about my feet and the rickety building nearly falling down from an earthquake halfway through. But I also remember January 3rd standing in the dry rustling grasses of a riverbed behind a temple in Kawagoe (don't ask―let's just say I got lost), watching the sun set behind a distant Mt Fuji silhouetted against a cold, clear blue and orange sky, thinking large, solemn thoughts on life and time passing.

And I remember New Year's Eve, when I walked to a nearby temple at midnight in the bracing cold, just as the bell started tolling the 108 Buddhist sins. I stared up at the burning cinders of a bonfire rushing into the dark sky as snow started falling, thinking, this is great, just great. I would rather be here than absolutely anywhere else on earth.
And that hasn't changed.

Fatherhood in Tokyo


Father of two:Tears, Tantrums, or Togetherness by Craig Atkinson

My wife suffered from postnatal depression after the birth of our first child, and this is how I dealt with it. Warning, It might not work for everyone.

A month after my first child was born I started my own business, and it was the best thing I could have done. Being my own boss meant that I controlled every hour of my day, which suited being a new father. I was able to set my priorities on my terms.

The first priority I set, was the hours I worked. I made it a rule to work no later than 4:30, and only seldom on weekends. However, I would do my paperwork once everyone had gone to bed. By doing this, it allowed me the time to take my son out for an evening walk in the stroller and gave my wife some time to herself, which of course doubled as bonding time with my son. I also used this time to think about my business, ways I could improve it, and also unwind from the day. I would then return home, cook dinner, and bath my son. These might sound like natural tasks that an active father should be involved in, and I completely agree, but don't forget, not everyone does these, but they certainly helped my wife get through the first year. And within that year she was also able to meet a local community of Japanese mothers in our area with similar aged kids.

Thankfully, the business was going well enough for us to buy her a small car, which gave her some freedom from the house. The second year got easier, but never perfect. Honestly, I never knew what I'd come home to, tears, tantrums, or togetherness.

Then fast forward to the beginning of 2013, my son was now two and a half years old and we had to start thinking about kindergartens. I was behind the wheel driving somewhere, I don't recall where, but I just had this thought, 'What if in the next few years we move back to Japan?' I didn't think it would solve all our problems, but I knew my wife would be happier there. Since my son had been born, they'd been back a few times, and I knew her mother was very supportive.

Over the summer time that year we went back for a vacation and I remember looking at my wife and thinking, 'this is where we should be.' We immediately began the visa process that week.

We are now living in Japan, and have done so since November 2013. The move was a four month frenzy of packing up our old life and preparing for a new one. We have also been blessed with the birth of our second son in August this year. I'll be the first to admit, that moving countries might sound a bit excessive, but it came down to what was the best choice for our family. And that's my main theme here, making a fatherly decision. This decision didn't benefit my business, or my career, but it did benefit the most important people in my life, my wife and son.

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?


Hideout-Early Reading:

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Tokyo Voice Column


Exchange student in Tokyo by Choir Sin Yen

“Wow, how advanced technology!” This was the first sentence came across my mind when I stepped on this land on 31st August 2016. I was impressed with the advanced technology in Japan when I visited the toilet in Haneda Airport. Frankly, I was amazed by this technology as I never experienced this in my country. Eventually, I ended up by spending about 15 minutes in this toilet to enjoy this technology. I was looking forward to start my adventurous life as exchange student in this country for five months.

When I arrived train station, I was shocked when I saw floods of people in the station. It was extremely crowded compared to my country. Along the way go to my shared house, I noticed that everywhere is spick and span. This built up good impression of Japan in my mind. It cannot be denied that this is a beautiful country. I like the city view in Tokyo especially at night. Light on the skyscrapers shine the sky of the city. It was indeed magnificent view.

Much have been said about the courtesy in Japan is the best around the world. Seeing is believing. People in Japan bow when greeting others. Japanese queue up while waiting bus or train. As saying goes “Every minute counts.”, one of the best thing is the punctuality of the train system and Japanese. It is a pity to note that punctuality is not an utmost important value in my country. Thus, I really salute Japanese and Japan train system because this can avoid unnecessary inconvenience to others.

I come from a tropical country. Hence, I never experienced four seasons weather before. I was in a jubilant mood when I knew that I had this golden opportunity to come Tokyo as an exchange student. I keep exploring this country, the land of the rising sun.





MUSEUM -What's Going on?-


Titian and the Renaissance in Venice

With free and rich in colour brushstrokes, Tiziano Vecellio (Titian), painted his way into legendary status in Venice, Italy and the world during the Renaissance Period of the 15th and 16th Centuries.
Influencing art to this day, his perfecting style saw him dominate the Venetian Art School for 60years. He was a particularly versatile painter and adept with landscapes, portraits, backgrounds and religious images. Much of his work was commissioned by the churches of the day and included a Portrait of the Pope.

Tiziano Vecellio, "Danae"
C. Around 1544-46, Oil on Canvas, 120×172cm,
Museo di Capodimonte, Naples
(C) Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte per concessione
del Ministero dei beni e delle attivita culturali e del turismo

This wonderful dive into the rich art of Venice and the Venetian Art School delights in quality, colour and history. It’s a rare chance to see with your own eyes, 70 paintings and prints usually kept by some of the top museums of Italy. Alongside Titian and others, prominent artists from the post-Titian period also feature. Rivaling Florence and Rome, Renaissance Period Venice comes to Tokyo and just as Titian has influenced modern Western artists up to this day, he may well make a lasting impression on the inspired painters here. Featured are many well-known works including ‘Flora and Danae’ which gives you a sense of the mastery reached by this long living master.
Titian, Born in approximately 1488 - 90, died in 1576 of a fever during the Plague as did his son and appointed assistant, Oragio. The last 26 years being primarily dedicated to painting portraits for the Monarch, Phillip II.

Period: January 21 - April 2, 2017
Venue: Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
Hours: 9:30−17:30 Fridays until 20:00 (Last admission 30 minutes before closing)
Closed: Mondays, Tuesday 21 March *Except for Monday 20, 27 March
Admission: 1,600 / University students: 1,300 / High school students: 800 /
Seniors 65+: 1.000 *Admission free for visitors of junior high school age or younger

For more information, please visit

Murmur and tumult. Masterpieces of Nabis from the Muse´e d’Orsay

To celebrate its 30th year, Muse´e d’Orsay, Paris offers a rare glimpse into a group of particularly fascinating artists prevalent in the 1890’s who gave themselves the name, Nabis.
The name means ‘prophet’ and coincidently, the largely bearded artists saw to break away from the regimented lines of the private art school of Rudolf Julian (Acade´mie Julian) and sek a more bold, daring and interesting style. Influenced in meetings with Paul Gauguin, key founder Paul Se´rusier brought to the group ideas of symbolism shared by the master. He painted a scene on a cigarette box which became known as ‘The Talisman’ which seemed to have a spiritual meaning for the group. Nabis included E´douard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard and Maurice Denis along with members from Denmark, Holland, Hungary and Switzerland.

Pierre Bonnard
"The Chequered Blouse"
1892, Oil on canvas
(C) RMN-Grand Palais
(muse´e d'Orsay) /
Herve´ Lewandowski / distributed by AMF

This colourful collection with its interesting lines, colours and forms features the famous ‘Woman In The Garden’ series by Pierre Bonnard along with many portraits. Bonnard himself, painted scenes in great detail and they seemed narrative and autobiographical. He stated that all his subjects were at-hand so he was able to re-study them at-will while also using his many notes. The detail of his work resulted in him being named, ‘The Intimist’. His wife can be seen in many of his works.
The group Nabis didn't survive into the 1900’s though with the exclusion of Paul Serusier the founder, the mentioned artists did have much individual success.


Period: February 4 − May 21 2017
Venue: Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum
Hours: 10:00〜18:00 / Sat. 〜 Thu.
~20:00 on Fridays (apart from holidays) and on the second Wednesday of a month and Final Week of Exhibitions: Monday−Friday 10:00−20:00
※Last entry 30 minutes prior to closing time.
Closed: Mondays(Except March 20th, May 1st and 15th)
Admission: 1,700 / University & High school students: 1,000 /Junior High School students: 500

For more information, please visit

Strange but True


Hold Up!! Maybe not...

A middle-aged man in a sun hat and shorts allegedly robbed a shop - using his HAND as a fake gun. The suspect, who remains unnamed, was captured on CCTV apparently stealing $300 (£245) from the convenience store. Footage shows him standing at the counter, with his right hand stuffed in his pocket, waiting for a customer to leave the premises. Dressed in a sun hat, a blue shirt and dark blue shorts, he then leans towards two unsuspecting employees and points at the counter. He apparently tells them to "take out the cash and put it there now". "All the cash, over here, put it right here," he says, before allegedly moving his left hand towards the workers and adding: "All of it, or you will be shot." The suspected robber then takes his right hand out of his pocket and hastily shoves it beneath his shirt, where he seemingly pretends that it is a gun. Raising his voice, he yells at the employees: "Take out the f***ing money," according to the footage, released by police. With his fingers seemingly bent in the shape of a gun, he then watches as the employee opens the till, before telling him to "get over there". Footage shows the worker hesitating before doing as he is asked - while the suspect apparently grabs bundles of cash from the till. Police say the suspect took hundreds of pounds from the till during the robbery. They are asking anyone who recognises him to call them.

Beautiful trees killed by cute fluffy animals!

Hundreds of trees damaged by the gnawing of squirrels were chopped down to stop branches falling on a busy road. Hundreds of beautiful beeches were reduced to stumps over claims the chomping rodents made them a danger to motorists. The trees were coppiced along the busy A38 between Bodmin and Dobwalls in Cornwall at the start of December. Officials at the fancy Boconnoc Estate, near Lostwithiel, Cornwall, which can be rented for private functions, say Highways England asked them to cut them down. Safety checks had found squirrels were biting bark off trees causing branches to fall in the way of cars. But the decision has infuriated locals - who say around 750 trees have been given the chop. Local Sue Downey, 65, of Truro, Cornwall, said: "As a tree lover I found it a shocking sight, mutilated beeches. "I nearly crashed the car because the sight was so unbearable I had to keep looking away. The Forestry Commission said squirrel damage to trees in Cornwall is becoming an issue. Damage caused by grey squirrels costs the British forestry sector around £6million a year... It would be nice if we can come up with solutions to make both squirrels and trees happy...


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