Plain Talk


Tokyo Apartment Blues by H.S.

A new apartment has been built next to my apartment building. Between the nearest train station and my apartment, two new apartment buildings are under construction as well. They are all small-scale apartments with perhaps under 20 units. My postbox fills with adverts of new and second-hand apartments and houses within the radius of 10km every day.

I wonder how many more apartments, large and small, expensive and less expensive, will be built in Tokyo by 2020, when the population of Japan is dwindling (though that of Tokyo is still increasing,) poverty is spreading and aging is advancing, all so relentlessly. Isn’t the market saturated?

In Japan, the price of an apartment sharply drops as soon as someone lives in it, even if for a short while. It’s generally said that an apartment loses its value by 20% as soon as it’s “used.” In other words, theoretically, someone with the budget of 30,000,000yen, or about USD300,000, can buy secondhand what could cost 37,500,000yen brand-new. With that in mind, are there many who will buy an apartment brand-new? There may still be, but that is beyond me.

Apartment buildings age as well. They need regular maintenance, and it can cost a lot. In Japan, an apartment building usually undergoes a major repair work every 10 to 15 years, maybe 20. If the accumulated fund that unit owners deposit monthly doesn’t cover the cost, the monthly deposit may have to be raised or a temporary contribution may be collected. If over certain percentage of the owners protests against the change, though, the repair work cannot be carried out fully and the building start to decay. Naturally, the older the building is, the more repair work costs. Reaching a consensus is the major issue among owners of flats. We will see more and more run-down apartments even in residential areas in Tokyo soon.

Large clusters of apartment buildings were publicly provided in 1960s through 1980s to accommodate the growing number of nuclear families for affordable rents. Now many units in these clustered apartments are empty, and the remaining residents are old after their children, now in their 30s, 40s and 50s, moved out. Cases of “kodokushi” death in solitude increase in occurrence. Local governments are trying to find solution by assigning poverty-struck households to these old apartment buildings. Some are put to use as temporary housing for families and individuals who lost their houses in natural disasters.

Apartment buildings spring up like mushrooms after a rain. Who will buy them? Will they pay? Who will look after them? What in the world will happen to older apartments, then?

Copyright (C) 2016 H.S. All rights reserved.







Plain Talk



The longer a foreigner resides in Japan, the more senseless things gradually become sensible. That really is a warning that you may be entering the world of the otaku, because nothing makes more sense than being around all that doesn’t make sense “Otaku” (literally, polite form for “taku” − home) has raised so many criticisms, ideologies, and positive and negative impressions among all genres of society. Some associate it with a person who lives an almost functionless life, who stays at home all day playing video games, or jumps from one train to the other without a set destination. Others may visualize an otaku as an avid follower of fantasy.

There could not be any other country in this world that knows how to play with fantasy as craftily as the Japanese. Absolutely the No. 1 artistic and commercial leader of manga anime production, Japan seems to have all the space and reason to release repressed emotions, stress, confusion, shame, anger (that is normally hidden), and even genuine love.

Becoming a sought-after cafe´ in Tokyo for its kitsch and flashy interior and dose of dreamland, Kawai Monster Cafe´ in Harajuku may just be the haven to forget logic, symmetry and sensibility―a kind of over-washed Disney fantasy world where the brightest of pinks, red, greens, blues, yellows, purples and circles, lollipops, and psychedelic curves dawn on your sparkling eyes. Here, you would have to stop being a “normal, decent adult” for just a teeny hour (less if you cannot take it) and pretend that all childlikeness envelops you in strawberry syrup. Menus go from “fruitful and heavenly” to “colorful poison.” Attendants dress in uncoordinated attire mixed with human and animal fantasy. Dreamy drinks look dreamy but taste less than a dream.

Other fantasy hideouts in Tokyo take you to a Lock-up izakaya that is another overfed visual reconstruction of a prison cell, so dark and frightening are its intention, you would want to go there for a double tequila to pay for your sins. Attendants, dressed as wardens, escort you to private rooms decorated with jail bars and some “punishment” icons like skulls, daggers, and chains to do exactly what it’s called: lock you up.

Then, there is also an elementary school-like izakaya, 6nen gumi (6th Grade) where rooms are set in a nostalgic old elementary school theme: blackboards, schoolbags, and notebooks. Attendants roam around in school uniforms, one or two as teachers, ready to give you a spanking if you don’t order their school canteen lunch boxes.

In Japan, one forgets everything. We can laugh at their fantasies…but see who’s laughing at us.

What’s App With You?



Turn your iPad or iPhone into a window aboard the International Space Station. Experience stunning views of Earth captured by NASA astronauts. Touch the views and control the planet with your finger. A truly amazing one-of-a-kind experience. The app comes complete with seven beautiful interactive views of earth as well as access to the HDEV live view showing Earth live from the Space Station. In addition the app includes 8 relaxing ambient space soundtracks, a clock, and worldwide weather from Weather Underground. Please note that the ISS HDEV live feed is often off-line or otherwise unavailable. Even when on-line, the live view often shows black as the ISS is regularly on the dark side of Earth.

Atomic Toy:

Atomic Toy is another really nice app. It's made by the same developers as Tesla Toy. The app includes four different modes of operation. The different modes make it easy not to get bored with the app. Atomic Toy displays a nucleus surrounded by particles of energy. Touching the nucleus generates a new kind of atom. The energetic particles interact with touches on the screen. This universal app will also run on the iPhone and features retina support.


Tokyo Voice Column


The significance of Japanese words by Leina Sakamoto

How many of you have heard the Japanese word “guru” (グル) ? This word is most commonly known in the phrase “ Guru ni naru” ( グルになる) which means to become an accomplice. Therefore, it does not have a very good image. Nowadays it is heard as the abbreviation word for the word group(グループ). However, many Japanese do not know this themselves and use this word in the katakana form thinking that it is an English word but in fact it is a Japanese word. The history of this word goes way back to the Edo period. In the Edo period the sash, better known as obi, which you wrap around a kimono was called “guru”. The obi or “guru” is one long sash which you wrap around the waist of the body and artistically tie in the back. Given its round shape, the original meaning of “guru” meant circle or ring. Thus the root meaning of joining of people or circle evolved into words like accomplice and group. Another phrase that Japanese people are familiar with is “guru guru mawaru”. “Mawaru” means to spin around. In this phrase “ guru guru is used in the same meaning as to spin “round and round”. However, the Japanese word for round is quite different. I am most certain most Japanese don’t think this strange having heard this phrase from childhood. They probably don’t give it much thought but in fact it is the same “guru” from the Edo period.

The Japanese people use the word “circle” in many different ways. It has more than one Kanji for it;円, 輪, 丸, 環. However, the root meaning of the word has been a part of Japanese culture through the years. They respect the circle of family and friendship very much. Another example is the nomination for the Olympics. The previous years before Japan was nominated, Japan had had many struggles and natural disasters. Despite this they were able to recover and be nominated as the host country for the 2020 Olympics. Through the help of each other and the circle of relationships with neighboring countries Japan has come this far after the March 11th earthquake and tsunami. They feel that the Olympics is another “circle” or opportunity for the growth and continuing recovery of Japan. It was also nominated as Japan’s motto or kanji of the year of 2013.



Strange but True


Ratatouille anyone?

Cat cafes are all the rage these days, so it only seems logical that some other species are getting in on the action. For two days this summer, San Francisco will be host to a pop-up rat cafe, where patrons will be able to enjoy coffee and pastries in the company of the critters. The San Francisco Dungeon, a tourist attraction where actors reenact bits of the region’s history, will be hosting the event July 1 and July 7. Don’t worry ― these aren’t wild rats brought in from the streets. Instead, the rodents of honor are adoptable domestic pets from Rattie Ratz, a Bay Area rat rescue group. That means that if you get along especially well with one of the rats at the cafe, you may decide to make your new friend a permanent addition to your life!

Let's Night Fever!

"Night fever, night fever, he knows how to do it!" This flamboyant frog was captured channelling his inner John Travolta. The animated amphibian adopted the iconic pose from the 1970s hit movie Saturday Night Fever. Amateur wildlife photographer Aditya Permana from Tangerang, Indonesia, took the groovy picture in his local pet shop. He sat for an hour with his Nikon D300 and his patience was rewarded when the frog suddenly jumped up and struck the classic disco pose. The image shows the feisty frog with one hand pointing to the sky in the same manner as Travolta’s heart-throb Tony Manero, even with his left elbow kinked out and his right knee bent. He knows how to show it!


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