Plain Talk


Tokyo: Live or Leave? by Olga Kaneda

Imagine yourself waking up to the sound of birds singing in the morning, listening to the blissful silence in the afternoon, taking a slow walk or jogging along the beach in the evening, and looking at the starry sky at night. There’s plenty of time to smell the roses and enjoy your cup of tea or coffee which, by the way, does not cost a fortune.

No, I’m not talking about some kind of resort. All this is real when you move out of Tokyo. You just have to know where to go.

Living in Tokyo, especially in the central part, is a wonderful yet sometimes annoying experience. You have to deal with high prices, crowds of people, both locals and tourists, lack of greenery, noise and other kinds of pollution, and other unpleasant stuff. For me, the best thing about leaving Tokyo is that I practically never see and hear toy poodles in dog strollers anymore. They were starting to drive me crazy!

Of course, there are many pros of living in Tokyo. It is convenient to get everywhere, to meet up with your friends and hang out, to visit art galleries, newly opened trendy shops and cafes (after standing in a long, long line to enter them), festivals and other events. Tokyo is full of life and endless possibilities. With all its non-stop working and entertainment, it can also be indifferent and unwelcoming. Tokyo may be a perfect place when you live alone and have a stable job with a more or less decent salary. When you are tired and have no time or desire to cook, you end up buying the overpriced take-out food which is full of taste enhancers and preservatives, but who cares? When you don’t want to clean your apartment, you can always call the professionals. When you need a massage or a SPA, you stop by the salon on the way home. Everything is at your fingertips. But when the time comes and you start a family, most people find it too difficult to keep such lifestyle. They trade convenience for space, elegance for affordability, and they pay for it by taking a longer commute to work every day.

Is moving to quiet and boring town in the suburbs worth it? It is up to you to decide. I’ve already made my choice.






The Randy Reviewer


Hakkaisan’s Jiro Nagumo by Randy Swank

When Jiro Nagumo was a little kid running around his family’s sakagura (sake brewery) in Niigata Prefecture, little he knew that one day he would succeed his father as the president of Hakkaisan, one of Japan’s most popular sake makers. “Our house and brewery were just one place, so I literally grew up there,” Nagumo says. “I used to play while the grown-ups were working, and was scolded more than once because of my pranks. For as long as I can remember the brewery has been part of my life.” Created by Nagumo’s grandfather Koichi in 1922, the brewery had a hard time breaking into the sake market as Niigata was outside Japan’s main production areas in Kyoto and Kobe.

Thanks to improved brewing techniques and a concerted effort to make Hakkaisan a popular brand name, today Niigata’s sake is recognized as one of the best in Japan. “Niigata is famous for its water and rice, which are the two main ingredients in sake-brewing,” explains Nagumo.

While Hakkaisan’s fortunes have been on the rise since the early 1980s, the sake industry has struggled to keep its share of the local booze market. “Between the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 80s there was a national sake boom that was driven by the economic bubble,” he says. “Unfortunately after a while people’s interest began to drift towards more fashionable drinks like whisky and wine, or cheaper stuff like shochu.”

Learning from the industry’s mistakes, Hakkaisan has been able to adapt to the changing market. “We realized that instead of competing with shochu companies on their level (i.e. by lowering our price) we had to offer superior quality sake for the same price,” Nagumo says. As a consequence, while in the last 25 years national sake production has dropped from eight to three million koku (one koku is equal to 180 liters), Hakkaisan has increased its output from 10,000 to 33,000 (that’s about 3.3 million bottles).

“What’s really important is that more people get to know fine sake and understand how well it goes with food as it enhances its flavor. There’s nothing better than food and sake.”

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Tokyo Voice Column


Last Terry Pratchett by Mardo

I have long delayed buying the latest Terry Pratchett book, but it I had to sooner or later. The problem is, that the latest book from my favourite author, is also the last. Sir Terry passed away, and when I finish this book, I accept that there will never be another Pratchett book.

Sir Terry was one of the world’s biggest selling Sci-Fi/fantasy authors, up until Harry Potter came out, and then again when the Harry Potter series finished. The discworld series got me through a lot of good days and bad; I reread them often, but when I finish this one, that’s it, a 25 year long relationship is over, and only memories remain.

I am older and this ending of an era is something I am used to now, I was upset when my favourite Sumo wrestler retired; I knew my life was changing when I finished my last shift at Nova (by the station) and I know I will go on. I have new favourite Sumotori - (Ura or takayasu come to mind), a new job and a new favourite Author and series (Rivers of London, in case you were wondering).

Still this one will be hard, books are with you when you need them most. When you are sick in bed, stuck on a train, or relaxing in the sun. And the relationship with your favourite Author, is quite serious, even if you will never meet them. So, unless I can get my hands on some out of print early works, this is the end… apart from re-reading again.

And as Sir Terry Pratchett often wrote, no one is really gone until the last person who remembers them is wiped from history. So I will read his book, and say his name... I recommend his work. I hope you will remember his name too.



年をとり、こうしたある時代の終わりに、今の僕は慣れてきた。大好きな相撲力士が引退する時には悲しんだし、ノバでの最後の交代勤務を終えて自分の人生が変わるのを知った。それ以降も同様な経験をしている。新しい力士でお気に入り(宇良和輝や安 晃)もいるし、新しい職についている。大好きな作家やシリーズ物もある。(興味のある方に言っておこう、リバーズオブロンドンだ。)



Strange but True


Different New Year Traditions around the world

Spain's 12 grape challenge
Revellers seeing in the new year in Spain stuff their mouths with grapes in the final moments of the year - one grape, and one wish, for each chime of the clock at midnight.
Great balls of fire, Scotland
In Stonehaven, Scotland, it is a custom to parade through the streets on New Year's Eve while swinging blazing balls of fire around. Not for the faint hearted. The tradition is part of Scotland's Hogmanay celebrations, although its roots trace back to the Vikings.
Red underwear, Turkey
The tradition of donning scarlet pants on NYE dates back to the Middle Ages. Red garments were frowned upon because of the colour's association with all things evil, but on NYE, they brought good luck. The practice is especially popular in Turkey, where stalls selling red lingerie appear over the festive period and sell out fast.
Animal whispering, Romania
Farmers in Romania try to understand their animals in a New Year's ritual which, if successful, signifies not just a Doctor Dolittle-esque gift for communicating with our furry relatives but good luck for the coming year.
Mass kissing, Venice
St Mark's Square in Venice is known for holding not only a big firework display each NYE but something far more unusual - a mass "kissathon". Up to 70,000 revellers pucker up for the snogging session. Don't forget your Tic Tacs.
The suitcase walk, Ecuador
Been dreaming of a holiday but worried it might never happen? Take your empty suitcase for a stroll around the block - ignoring the curtain twitching from your neighbours - and make the dream a reality in the coming year. Or so goes the Ecuadorian tradition anyway.
Underwater tree planting, Siberia
There is a rather bizarre custom in Russia that involves cutting a hole in the ice covering Lake Baikal and diving to "plant" a tree. Note that only professional divers are allowed to participate.
Dinner for One, Germany
This British comedy sketch from 1963 about a lonely 90th birthday dinner has been inexplicably embraced by Germans, and is broadcast in many homes during new year festivities. It is up to the butler, James, to play the role of Miss Sophie's departed friends, getting more and more drunk as he does so.




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