Plain Talk


"PRETTY WOMAN" by Alma Reyes

The epitome of the Japanese woman has always been one striking element of Japanese culture and tradition that foreigners find so magnetic and exotic. The novel “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden tells the world how Japanese women can be both gentle and fiery beneath the fine contours of the silk kimono. Over the past twenty years, women in Japan have been taking more active roles in society―working later hours, heading organizations, assuming managerial posts, and choosing not to have children to fulfill lasting careers. Still, this percentage of proactive women ranks fairly low compared to women’s statures in other countries in Asia, and more so in the Western front.

We have all heard of the “OL” (office lady) phenomenon that has existed in Japan for over fifty years since after WWII. One would think that the stereotyped scenario of female employees making and serving tea, running photocopies, buying lunches for kacho and bucho (department heads), or cleaning bosses’ desks would have progressed by now to more challenging responsibilities. Not quite.

Despite approaching the latter part of the 21st century, fresh female graduates stepping into their first taste of corporate life could still be subjected to routinary days making and serving tea to visitors who drop by the office. They are most likely to be instructed to buy milk, sugar, cream, or toilet paper from the convenience store, buy stamps and deliver packages to the post office, and sometimes seniority or having a graduate degree are not exceptions. In contrast, a newly hired male employee would not be obliged to make and serve coffee nor run errands.

When you step out of the corporate world and hit the back streets of Tokyo, you may unluckily find sleazy places that hire joshi chugakusei or junior high school girls, and joshi kokosei or senior high school girls, dressed in their typical cutey short-skirted high school uniforms to “attend” to male customers who come to the shops just to fancy looking at them. These young girls go home with minimal wage just enough to spend on their favorite luxury bags or eat at some fancy restaurant. Pop idol groups consisting of high school girls, again, in short-skirted high school uniforms, though earning more handsomely than their counterpart cute girls in backstreet shops, sacrifice their education for wealth and fame, and social life by having to avoid the tempting glances of cute boys that swoon them to relationships in the risk of getting fired.

The prevalent male fetishism in Japan for minor-aged girls looking “kawai” (cute) and innocent goes beyond media exploitation in television, movies, advertisement, and manga. It truly is tough being female in the Japanese workforce; more so being a female gaijin (foreigner), and who may be pregnant or a mother over 30 years old. The coming Tokyo Olympics in 2020 may, perhaps, be a pivotal point for women’s issues―to provide them more aspiring opportunities in work where their skills and abilities can be best utilized and respected by all.

Plain Talk


Harbingers by Aonghas Crowe

The Japanese will tell you that nothing quite heralds the coming of spring like the ume blossoms of February. In my opinion, however, there are no harbingers of the season better than the coveys of road construction crews, which can be spotted throughout country in the months leading up to April.

Easily recognizable by their white crowns and the vertical yellow stripes on their breasts and backs, the crews have a mating call that is quite distinct―ja-ja-ja-ja-jack, ja-ja-ja-ja-jack. The crews forage deep in the ground seemingly at random; and, having found what they are after, the will replace the top layer of earth with asphalt and quickly migrate off to only Mother Nature knows where.

Back in the days when I did a lot of translation work, there was a hackneyed phrase that I was often forced to render into English: utsukushii shizen ni megumareta (美しい自然に恵まれた, lit. “blessed with beautiful nature”). I would translate this in a variety of ways, such as “The prefecture is blessed with bountiful nature”; “The city is surrounded by an abundance of natural beauty”; or “The town is surrounded by beautiful nature.” Occasionally, I might slip something like “Located in an idyllic natural setting, . . .” into my translation, but I found that if I took too much poetic license, the translation would invariably come back to me with the complaint: “But, you left out ‘beautiful’.” Or, “You failed to mention ‘nature’!”.

The thing that exasperated me, though, when I was doing these translations is that I would gaze out of my office window and look at the jumble of telephone wires and cables, the scarcity of trees, the concrete poured over anything that wasn’t moving, the gray balconies and staircases stretching as far as the eye could see, and shout, “Where the hell is this ‘beautiful nature’? Tell me!! Where is it?!?!”

Having grown up on the west coast of the United States, I know what unspoilt nature is supposed to look like. In my twenty-plus years living in and traveling around Japan, however, I have yet to find a place that has not been touched by the destructive hand of man. Mountains that have stood since time immemorial are now “reinforced” with an ugly layer of concrete; rivers and creeks are little more than concrete sluices; and Japan’s once beautiful coastline is an unsightly jumble of tetrapods―concrete blocks resembling giant jacks―that are supposed to serve as breakwaters but may actually be causing greater erosion. One of Japan’s chronic problems is that, once something has been set into motion, it is often difficult to change course. As a result, by the early 1990s more than half of Japan’s coastline had already been blighted by those ugly tetrapods. I dread to know what the figure is today in 2017.

Were I to form my own political party, one of the first campaign promises I would make is to form a Ministry of De-Construction. The MDC would remove unnecessary dams, tetrapods, concrete reinforcements, and so on; the idea being to put Japan’s ever so important general construction industry to work by undoing all of their eyesores. Second, where the dams, reinforcements and tetrapods truly were necessary, I would ensure that they be concealed in such a way to look as natural as possible. Third, the cobweb of electric cables and telephone lines would once and for all be buried. Fourth, there were would be stronger zoning and city planning to reign in urban and suburban sprawl and create compact, highly dense cities that are separated from each other by areas of farming, natural reserves, and parks. Fifth, diversity would be reintroduced to the nation’s forests. No more rows upon rows of cedar that not only look ugly, but give everyone hay fever.

Unfortunately, none of these things are bound to happen anytime soon. The Japanese are so accustomed to being told in speeches and pamphlets that their town or city is blessed with beautiful nature that they have come to believe it despite what they surely must see with their own eyes.

Familiarity sometimes breeds content.


Haru-o sakibure
Doboku kana

Nothing quite heralds
the coming season of spring
like public works.

What’s App With You?


Marvel Puzzle Quest:

If you’ve ever played a Puzzle Quest, then you can see how Marvel could make that unique take on the Match-3 formula something special. Marvel Puzzle Quest does a great job of making characters feel different within the confines of the rules. Each one has corresponding colors that it prefers to be matched, gaining points towards a special attack each time. Special attacks affect the playing space in interesting and flavorful ways, and many characters have different versions that iterate on their many comic booky nuances even further.

MARVEL Contest of Champions:

The real success Contest of Champions has is that it makes me wish there was a proper Marvel-only 2D fighter. The combat mechanics are basic, yet intuitive enough to get the most of PVP encounters. It doesn’t take much to string combos together, just tapping or holding, but it’s enough to keep things interesting. You can also get a wealth of characters through just playing the game, and things to spike to ridiculous difficultly so hard that grinding some experience by repeating old missions isn’t a viable option. Outside of super moves, though, I wish there was more variety between characters.

Tokyo Voice Column


Springtime in Tokyo, Time to Stretch Your Legs by Lorne Fetzek

Tokyo winters can seem unbearably long. In fact, compared to other parts of Japan, winter in the city is comparably mild, but, as the days pass, and temperatures never seem to rise, denizens of the great metropolis seek shelter in the warmth of the subways and innumerable bars and restaurants that pepper virtually every neighborhood.

All of us dreaming of one thing, the first hints of spring that will allow us to shed our heavy coats and scarfs and allow us to once again enjoy the suns full warmth.

Some of us may have also gained a few kilograms during the long winter period of relative activity. For those of you looking for any excuse to shake the winter blues, I have a suggestion. Walk!

Despite still being the world’s largest metro area, the city center of Tokyo is surprisingly compact. So, like the Japanese do, use Nihonbashi (日本橋) as a starting point, and start walking to enjoy this beautiful city. A 1/2 to 1 hour walk in any direction will serve as a personal challenge and also an opportunity for discovery.

While the physical benefits of a nice walk in early spring might seem obvious, there are also some practical merits.

For starters, if you’re newly arrived and don’t know your adopted city yet very well, there’s no substitute for a good walk to get to know the surroundings in a way that’s just not possible if your underground, or in a car or taxi. Walking gives you the “feel” of the neighborhood and you’re virtually guaranteed to remember the neighborhood better if you walk it than if you’ve simply driven through and especially if you’ve only emerged from a subway exit!

The second major benefit is discovery. I suggest that you give yourself some extra time, and as you are walking from point A to point B, take the opportunity to check out along your stroll the many shops, bars, restaurants, and other establishments along the way. And, as you go, keep a list of the places you’d like to come back to! On a recent 1 hour trek from Nihonbashi to Toranomon (虎ノ門), I listed 15 places, all restaurants, actually, that I want to come back and try. Once you’ve got your list, once you get home, do a deeper dive by checking the websites of the places you listed for more information.

You’ll be an expert on Tokyo’s neighborhoods in no time!
Spring is here! Make it count!! And, happy trails to you!

Strange but True


Who, or what should I say, doesn't like fast food?

Everyone goes nuts for tacos ― even squirrels, well, this one anyway. Brooklyn resident Maria Bianchi recently managed to photograph a sighting of “Taco Squirrel,” a relatively rare creature in the animal kingdom. As you can see by Bianchi’s tweet, Taco Squirrel has a jones for hardshell tacos. Whatever it was, it’s safe to say it probably was delicious, because tacos, by their very nature, are delicious and even just the lone shell would probably still be pretty good. This squirrel surely enjoyed eating Taco nearly the size of its whole body. Taco Squirrel is just the latest urban animal caught in a feeding frenzy by a world hungry for photos of urban animals eating fast food. "Pizza Rat", “Bagel Pigeon”, "Doughnut Rat”, “Milkshake Squirrel”... Just hope eating this guilty pleasure food is a special occasion for them and not a daily routine...

Wasn't expecting to bump into you there!

Roller coasters are designed for thrill seekers, but one man got more than he bargained for at the newly opened Ferrari Land in Barcelona, Spain. A man and his friend went for a ride on Red Force, which is being touted as Europe’s fastest roller coaster, on Friday and literally crashed into an unfortunate surprise. While riding the 112 mph coaster, a bird slammed into the man’s face. Shocked by the impact, the man felt his face until he found a bird pushed up against his neck thanks to the ride’s extreme acceleration. He tossed the bird aside and, appeared to tell his friend what just happened. Moments after the encounter, the man seemed to accept his ― and the bird’s ― fate and rose his hand for another drop. It’s unclear if the man suffered any significant injuries, but, at the very least, he and the bird appeared to be ok and thrilled the last few seconds in the video.


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