Plain Talk


Lion Dance in Hinohara Village 1 by Hiroko

Hinohara village is the only “village” in mainland Tokyo. Located in western Tokyo and thickly forested, many of its districts face severe depopulation. My husband and I visited one of the districts, Henbori, for a two-day trip over a weekend in September.

We took the bus from JR Musashi-Itsukaichi station all the way to Kazuma, the line’s final stop. After trekking for about five hours, we came out on Kazuma Onsen hot spring. Though there was no view of Mt. Fuji that day, we enjoyed hiking and the refreshing onsen. We took the bus tracing the way back toward the JR station for just about 10 minutes and got off at Nishikawabashi in Henbori district, one of the many non-descript settlements along Hinohara Street. We wouldn’t have thought of staying there if we didn’t stumble on the only guesthouse in Henbori online.

It was an old farmhouse turned into a guesthouse. We were assigned to a tiny space on the second floor. A group of five motorcyclists squeezed in a dormitory. The spacious kitchen and tatami room on the first floor were open to the guests.

At around 7:30 p.m. when we were having tea with some biscuits, the guesthouse keeper came to ask if we’d like to come to see the locals’ practice session of shishimai lion dance for the autumn shishimai dance in two weeks.

Excited, we walked to the community centre nearby, where the dancers were taking turns practicing in the hall, a taiko drum tied around the waist and in plain clothes. Three shishi’s dance together in Henbori shishimai. The older people instructed the young taking them by the hand. Flutists played the tunes repeatedly, and some older men sang along or called out encouragement once in a while. I was fascinated and nailed to the practice.

Seeing my enthusiasm, the guesthouse keeper took me to a room at the back and showed me the feather-decorated, polished red shishi masks with goggling eyes and huge bulbous nose. Back in the hall, he told me who’s who of the dancers and flutists. I thought it was typical of Japanese society when I learned that the son of the Buddhist temple in the district was dancing in the Shinto festival. Shintoism and Buddhism coexist peacefully, or even melt into each other. Also, only the oldest son in a family could dance in the past, but now second and third sons are welcome to dance in the face of the scarcity of the youth. I wondered if girls would start to dance pretty soon.

Witnessing the passing the dance from generation to generation was exciting. The atmosphere was of a close-knit society where everyone knows everyone else. I left at around 10 p.m., but the practice continued into the late night.

We left Hinohara the next day, but the image of shishimai remained strong with me. I decided to go to see the festival on a day trip, though obviously I could see only two dances to catch the last bus back to Musashi-Itsukaichi. The dance dedicated to the Shinto shrine starts at 5 p.m. and lasts nearly till midnight. It’s truly a village festival, not one for tourists. I invited a friend this time. We planned to combine viewing two waterfalls and the shishimai.

We arrived at beautiful Hossawa-no-taki waterfall at around half past noon. Then the second waterfall called Kichijoji-taki was only a part of the river over several rocky bumps. There was no one but us. A tiny stone shrine stood tilting to one side.

On our way from Hossawa to Kijijoji-taki, we were greeted by a float pulled by the locals. They were celebrating their autumn festival of the district. A small masked figure in costume was dancing up in the float. Judging from the mask, I guessed it was a fox, the messenger or a trickster.

From there we caught a bus to Henbori. Since there was plenty of time before the dance started, we strolled and snacked. On the way to the venue, I saw one of the older dancers who had been teaching the youth. He remembered me when I said hello. At the venue I saw the guesthouse keeper and we stood and chatted a little. It felt good to recognize people and being recognized.

The dance started at 5 p.m. The first dance was to cleanse the ground. The second was with difficult parts in triple time. Dancers were junior high students. They did the triple time smoothly, and I saw the teachers smiling approvingly. A pro cameraman was shooting a video and taking photos. The shishimai here was recently designated as Tokyo’s important intangible folk culture asset.

The atmosphere was relaxed. Spectators ate and drank, chatted and laughed out loud. I spotted a couple of flutists looking down at their smartphone when they didn’t play during the dance. The soulful shishi dance and the modern gadget hit me as an interesting contrast between the tradition and modern life.

We had to leave at 7:15 p.m. reluctantly to catch the bus. I knew the highlight would come later. I stopped to say good bye to the guesthouse keeper, who was selling drinks. “Come again next year,” he kindly said. I should stay overnight to see the lions dance the night away.

Copyright (C) 2016 Hiroko. All rights reserved.















Plain Talk


The calendar, not the temperature, determines clothing by Marshall Hughes

Ask any foreigner who has been in Japan a long time and he’ll tell you that while Japan is still very traditional, it has become less rigid in numerous ways, especially in the larger cities.

About 20 years ago when I was teaching junior high school in Ibaraki I got a lesson in just how conventional/conservative Japan was. I had to go to the city hall every Wednesday morning to check in at the Board of Education. I didn’t understand any Japanese at that point and my only obligation was to be on time. My boss was an extremely old school man and really enjoyed letting me know he was the big daikon and I was not worthy of his time. I did everything I could not to give him a reason to criticize me.

One morning my alarm failed me, and when I woke up it was 8:22. The Board of Education was 10 minutes away and I had to be there before 8:30 to avoid a very unwanted lecture. I took a 30-second shower, swallowed a doughnut nearly whole, threw on my clothes and stuffed an extra shirt in my bag, as it was unusually warm that fall morning and I knew I was going to be sweating like a pig as I raced through red lights and peddled fast enough to make any Tour De France racer jealous. I wheeled up to the city hall, passed on taking the extra three seconds to lock the bike and took the stairs three at a time in my quest to be in my seat before 8:30.

Against all odds, I made it with about 10 seconds to spare. My boss immediately ran to me and asked, “Aren’t you cold, aren’t you cold?” My hair was wet, sweat was dripping off my face and my shirt was soaked. I was anything but cold.

At 8:30 the bell rang and we had our all-important one-minute meeting. Before I could go change clothes, my boss again came over and asked repeatedly if I was cold. “We Japanese are cold today,” he added. I managed to escape to the bathroom where an octogenarian man was washing his hands. He eyed my sweat-stained shirt and sopping wet hair and gummed, “Samukunai desu ka (aren’t you cold)?”

After changing shirts I went off to school, and later called a Japanese friend, the most non-traditional Japanese I knew. Hiroe explained, a bit condescendingly if I remember correctly, that that day was the day when everybody had to change from short-sleeve shirts to long-sleeved shirts. Temperature was irrelevant. Not wanting to criticize me directly, my boss had been trying to tell me that it was completely inappropriate to wear a short-sleeved shirt.

I have noticed in the succeeding years that people can mostly wear short- or long-sleeved shirts based on the temperature, not the calendar.

What’s App With You?


Remote Control:

Tired of sitting on the couch, having to handle keyboard and mouse on your lap to control your media center Mac? Turn your iPhone or iPad into the ultimate remote control for your Mac. Use Remote Control on your iPhone as a trackpad and keyboard to comfortably browse on the big screen TV. Using AirPlay Mirroring and an Apple TV, your Mac can be located anywhere in your home. All you need to do is download the Mac Helper application and connect your Mac and iOS device to the same WiFi. Simply select your Apple TV from the list of available AirPlay devices and control your Mac from the comfort of your couch or bed!


Are you obsessed with multitasking to the extent that you cannot just watch one TV program but need to watch two programs at the same time? Well, here's an app for you. 2Play is an application that is easy to use and allows you to watch two YouTube videos simultaneously on one of your devices (iPhone/iPod iPad) wherever and whenever you want. Just installed and start. As soon as you install the app, it will be immediately reflected on the home screen dividing it into two. Let's start double screen YouYube so we can save time!

Tokyo Voice Column


The 100-Yen Shop, The Valentine Hat, and the Cheesecake by Brendan Lee

Let's admit it ― romantic holidays can be a stressful time.

For me, it isn't just the ribbons and the wrappings and the obligation, it's the sense of one-upmanship; I feel a nagging urge to try and top whatever I did before. If it was a pearl bracelet last year, this year I have to start looking for diamonds. If it was a trip to DisneySea last year, this year I'd better look for tours to Bali. And behind it all, there's a nagging sense of worry:What if this is the year that I'm not able to meet expectations? What if she opens her gifts and I see disappointment pass over her face?There's only one word for how I'd feel: crushed.

I don't know if I've found the perfect solution, but this last Valentine's Day I came up with something that put a smile on my girlfriend's face. I made her a Valentine's Hat. It wasn't hard ― after a trip to the 100-yen store, and an hour or so of scorching my fingers with a hot glue gun, my masterpiece was complete. It was gloriously insane: a pink baseball cap, festooned with pink bows and a fluffy grinning rabbit's face. And should my girl ever find herself in a raving mood, it takes just a quick tickle under the rabbit's chin to set my entire creation a-twinkling with its shockingly bright LEDs.

Will she wear it in public? Well, the jury's still out. But the smile on her face was unforgettable. And the cheesecake she made for me...well, that was pretty unforgettable, too.

Take it from me ― if you ever find yourself in a holiday jam, take a look in the 100-yen shop, and inside your heart. You might just be surprised at what you find.






Strange but True


Brave Little One Trying to Immigrate on His Own.

If Hollywood is looking for a “Snakes On A Plane” sequel, this could be it. Passengers on a British Airways flight were forced to endure a four-hour delay after a mouse was discovered on a San Francisco-bound airplane on Wednesday. The crew told travelers that they could not take off from Heathrow Airport in London with the critter on board. Travelers did their best not to feel too trapped by the mouse. “We know almost everyone wants to fly with us to San Francisco, but on this occasion there was one very small customer who we had to send back to the gate,” British Airways said in a statement, according to the BBC. Eventually, the plane was ready for takeoff. “Everyone with two legs is now on their way to California, and we are sorry for the delay,” the airline added. Poor little one... he forgot his passport and his visa...

Unusual Friendship

The tortoise and the hare may have been fierce rivals, but this real-life tortoise and rabbit are nothing but good buds. A small desert cottontail rabbit, which appeared to be about 2 weeks old, mysteriously showed up inside a tortoise enclosure at the Dove Mountain resort in Marana, Arizona. The bunny was in bad shape, and had gotten into the home of Wamba, the resort’s resident African tortoise. Brink, who cares for Wamba, found the little cottontail the next morning. “We found that the bunny had stuff wrapped around his neck, like grass and weeds,”. “There were four layers of this plant matter wrapped around, constricting so tightly it was embedded in his skin.” The rabbit and tortoise were cuddled up together, and appeared to have bonded overnight. As the Rangers attempted to remove the bunny, so as to clear the plant debris from its neck, the tortoise became quite responsive to their actions, emitting grunts & groans in a clear demand for the gentle care of his newly found friend,


Guesthouse Tokyo

10 minutes to Ikebukuro.


safe and accessible solution for your accommodation needs in Tokyo.

Sakura House

1830 monthly furnished rooms at 204 locations in Tokyo.


Private furnished rooms in Roppongi, Akasaka, Azabu-Juban etc.

J&F Plaza

Furnished & unfurnished guesthouses and apartments in Tokyo.

May Flower House

Tokyo furnished apartments. Ginza, Roppongi, Yotsuya and more.

TenTen Guesthouse

33,000yen/30 days for working holiday students.


Private furnished rooms in Tokyo with free internet. Call us first or call us last!

Hassle free moving starts from 6000yen.

Tokyo Helping Hands

Very flexible working hours to effectly help you with moving, deliveries, disposal, storage and more!

AirNet Travel

We'll cut you the best air ticket deals anywhere.

Fun Travel

Discount air travel & package tours 2min from Roppongi Stn.

No.1 Travel

We go the extra mile for you. International air tickets and hotels.

JR Tokai Tours

Top-value travel to Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya fron Tokyo by Shinkansen.

Matsuda Legal Office

All kinds of Visa, Immigration & Naturalization, International Marriage etc.

Futaba Visa Office

Licensed immigration lawyer & certified public tax consultant.

Coto Language Academy

Group lessons from ¥1,700 & Private lessons from ¥2,800.

iPhone Doctor

Will fix your iPhone and other smartphone at reasonable cost.

American Pharmacy

English speaking pharmacy since 1950.

Tokyo Skin Clinic

EU-licensed multi lingual doctors.

Takarada Electric

Visual equipment and home appliances.Overseas use and Tourist models.

Tokyo Speed Dating

1st & 3rd Sat. at Barin Roppongi.


The best way to meet single Japanese women. Parties held every week.


Japanese women & Western men.


Join us

50 Shades of Yikess