Plain Talk


Perfection by Esteban Lopez

I used to think that nothing could be perfect and living in America, you are conditioned to mediocre service and products on a regular basis and so you take it in stride. That is not to say that we don’t have our geniuses. Take Steve Jobs for example, he was a perfectionist and rightly so, just think IPhone. But, men like him are few and far between; we don’t have too many greats left. And to make matters worse, not too many Americans nowadays care about the quality of their work and more often than not, they just half ass it and so we everyone suffers.

It was only until I lived in Japan for many years that I understood that perfection was an achievable goal and was highly sought after. The concept of Kaizen, where “one seeks continual improvement until all defects are eliminated and also trying to find better ways to do things at the same time.” It simply means “the pursuit of perfection.” I must admit this is what has always attracted me to Japanese culture, this never-ending quest to perfect oneself − continually striving for perfection in every aspect.

It is clearly evident in so much of Japanese culture, the attention to detail when preparing sushi, or the immaculate procession of a Japanese tea ceremony, where each and every step is carefully calculated and observed skillfully. What’s more is that Japanese care deeply about the quality of their products, so much so, that their products cannot be 99% accurate, they must at all times be 100% accurate or else returned.

I would even go as far as saying that Japanese are also fashion perfectionists. Their attention to every detail in their outfits still surprises me. What looks like was thrown together, but somehow carefully managed took me some time to learn and mimic. After careful observation, I better understand all the pieces that were necessary in my own attire.

Therefore, what Americans understand as the lofty and unachievable goal of perfection is actually the everyday existence of Japanese. They continually strive to be better in everything that they do and in doing so, have instilled in me the need to continually do better in my own life in hopes of achieving perfection someday.

かっての僕は、完璧なものなどあるはずもないと思いながらアメリカで暮らしていた。良くも悪くもないサービスと物が与えられた生活を難なく切り抜けていくのに慣れていた。だからと言って天才がいないわけではない。ステーブジョッブスを例にとろう。彼は完璧主義者で、iPhone を見れば歴然だ。でも、彼のような人はまれで、そんな偉大な人は大勢いない。その状況に輪をかけて、最近のアメリカ人の大半が仕事の質にこだわらず、たいてい無能で悩んでいる。

日本で数年を過ごした今の僕は完璧は達成できるゴールで、高く求められるものだと理解した。『かいぜん』とは、誤りや欠陥を是正し、より良い状態にするため継続的に努力することであり、同時に改良することだ。わかり易く言えば「完璧を目指す」ことだ。日本文化の側面である「完璧に仕上げるための永遠の探求 − あらゆる面で完璧を目指し絶えず努力すること」は僕を魅了する。




The Randy Reviewer


Reconsidering the idea of creativity by Randy Swank

Today’s over-intellectualized and somewhat frivolous art world seems to have lost touch with its ancient roots. However there are still places where we can find a simpler, more direct approach to art-making refreshingly devoid of any concerns about money and prestige. Two such institutions have devoted themselves to helping people born with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities develop their creativity in a caring and supportive environment.

At first sight, Tokyo’s financial district of Otemachi seems to be an unlikely place for artistic expression. Yet it is in one of those tall buildings that we find a very particular Art Mura (Art Village). It was founded in 1992 by Pasona Heartful Inc. (a subsidiary of the Pasona job agency) in order to help people with intellectual disabilities, who have difficulty securing traditional employment, earn money through making and selling art.

As Art Mura’s team leader Kumika Senda explains, “Since 1992 we have offered free courses in painting, pottery and other skills while planning dozens of exhibitions, some in our atelier. From 2004 we have decided to approach these art activities as a business, training a special group of talented people whose work is good enough to be sold or rented.”

Art Mura’s current group of 16 full-time artists work under the tutelage of painter Tokie Aizawa. “We sometimes choose a particular theme to work on, like for our recent exhibition at the Club, but they actually all have different interests and techniques,” Aizawa says.
“Their styles don’t belong to any established school of art. They are just very gifted people with a sharp artistic sensitivity that is refreshingly free from any preconceived ideas about what a painting should look like.”

As Senda points out, “Our motto is ‘talent knows no handicap’ and our goal remains to produce high quality art which can be valued and enjoyed in itself, regardless of the fact that it was made by an intellectually disabled person. That’s why we have strict quality standards and have devised a training curriculum that is specifically tailored to each artist in order to better develop their talent.” The fruit of their effort are works that share a surprisingly creative use of color.


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Tokyo Voice Column


"Inogashira Park" in Kichijoji by Curt Neilson

The moon hangs in fullness over the shallow waters.
A couple giggles in tones of discovery.
Another sits and gazes mindlessly.
Freshman-looking boys surround the swings;
The apparent leader bends his legs slowly like an aged pendulum.
They practice catch with wit, feeling their adolescence shapening into identity.
Walking I suddenly feel like Cain with GAIJIN on my forehead marking my otherness,
able to bend necks at me or cut paths through seas of dark heads.

But tonight the moon has played her trump card,
Revealing the deeper reality found beneath the surface rocks,
Making their “ar-bi-tos” and all-night cramming merely
A daydream, a yesterday, a nightmare realized for what it was:
A distracting mirage from the human, the animal, the passion―
The crickets’ song behind them, in front of them, beside them, in them―
Nature’s accompaniment to their true fairie tale.

A runner pounds the soft bricks into mud paste;
An old adobe project sprouts between my ears;
I struggle to pin a name onto my third grade teacher.

My feet zig-zag, slaloming between approachers
Seemingly unaware of walkway-as-roadway rules:
“Like a car, you idiots, walk how you drive!”
I crucify them in my head, crushing the Monet moment;
“They don’t know,” I counsel myself, “Most don’t drive . . .”

The silly beautiful boats float silently,
Slave-tied to the docks, yet smiling until their paint peels,
Their epic swan bodies and heads hiding the “Lovers’ Curse”
Of all couples who enter them and kick them through the water.

A piercing cry screeches into the midnight blue ceiling,
A peacock announcing existence.
Navy blue suits fetal curve alone on the cold wooden benches,
Awaiting Sake’s grip to soften, or Night’s icy fingers to harden
Before they stumble homeward.

I remember the previous night at the lake,
The missed moment with her, and throw my old key into the lake’s center
But miss and bury it ten meters to the left.

I smile into the beauty of the sky’s albino patches;
Cotton candy amoebas pin-cushioned
Onto a velvet sky with a thousand countable stars.

Nature holds my hand just a moment, reminding me:
A simple world where love conquers all.


Strange but True


Get your Christmas jumper ready!

It was once seen as the ultimate fashion faux pass. Brightly coloured garish knitwear featuring images of Santa, reindeer, elves or the cheesiest of Christmas sayings was previously just for the most festive on Christmas Day or for Mark Darcy's cringeworthy appearance in Bridget Jones. But the day to don your most festive outfit with pride is almost upon us - and wearers get to raise money to help children across the world at the same time. The annual Christmas Jumper Day fundraising campaign will take place on Friday 15th December. On a specific Friday in December every year, people are encouraged to make the world better with a sweater and raise funds for Save the Children by wearing a Christmas jumper and making a minimum donation of £1. The fundraising event first launched in 2012 and has seen many charitable children and adults donning their favourite festive knitwear for the occasion. There are no rules for Christmas jumpers - the more festive the better, with even jumpers that light up fair game!

Trend of This Year's Christmas's Ornaments

Gin-filled baubles exist and we imagine you'll want to hang them on your Christmas tree. Scottish distiller Pickering's has again brought out a festive range of boozy balls. Packs contains six differently coloured decorations, each one well and truly designed to help you get into the Christmas spirit. Pickering's makes good gin, too. It's not as if the baubles are a tacky novelty. The brand has won multiple awards, and has been hand crafting gin at its Summerhall Distillery in Edinburgh for more than 150 years. The gin's quality may have something to do with the fact that the last of the baubles sold out within 82 seconds. We imagine the idea itself helped the buying rush too of course. "No one had successfully made alcohol filled baubles before, which is strange because it seems so obvious now." The gin is described as 'light, fresh and bold' with the flavours of cardamom, coriander seed, and clove. Each bauble contains a double shot (50ml) and a pack of six costs £30, which isn't bad. Then again, if you need more, London brand Sipsmiths also does gin decorations. They're not baubles, but mini bottles with a ribbon with which to hand them on your tree.


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