Plain Talk


Ohitori-sama by Chris-pooh

Over 6 years in Tokyo, I have tried as much as possible to explore the city. It’s too big and too rich in variety to see it all. Besides, it’s a humongous creature that changes its shape day by day.

On weekends, I walk around on my own with the help of the smartphone. I cannot speak Japanese much. I cannot read. So I look and look at things, some making a lot of sense and others no sense at all to me. Paper-thin, triangular buildings with laundry hanging on one side and futon hanging on the other. A talking vending machine that inlaid in a space exactly cut to its size on the front of a 6-storey apartment building. Drunkards late at night in Shibuya. Coffee shop signs hanging vertically on a pencil-like concrete building. Wooden houses straight from the post-war era poised at the foot of modern office buildings. Black waves of commuters at train stations during rush hours. I’m thrilled.

I’m too busy and excited to feel lonely. Besides, I see so many people on their own, enjoying themselves at movie theatres, cafes and restaurants. “Ohitori-sama”―that’s what they are dubbed. You step in a cafe´ alone, and a waiter smiles at you and asks; ohitori-sama desuka? You’re ushered in to a counter seat or a small table with a chair or two. At a movie theatre, while the ceiling lights are on, only a small number of people are chatting with lowered voice. It’s quiet in general, because the majority of the audience is ohitori-sama. All the noise they make is the crackle of crisps bags or munching on riceballs reservedly. At least that’s my experience at my favorite movie theatres. It was a great surprise to me at first. You’re not alone being alone. There are always other ohitori-sama’s around you.

I went to a movie back in Germany once on one of the visits I made during breaks. I was shocked at the level of noise from people chattering all over the place, all at once. The place was full of groups of people, and many were chatting busily. I tried to spot ohitori-sama, but as far as I can remember now, I didn’t find one beside myself. I remembered that people, especially those who don’t look like a grandpa/grandma yet, don’t come to movies, cafe´s and restaurants alone. I remembered I often felt somewhat awkward being alone among groups of people in such public places. Of course there’s no reason to feel out of place, but often I actually did.

It’s impossible to boil down the charm of Tokyo to a couple of elements, but acceptance of ohitori-sama is definitely one of them. Tokyo is so friendly to ohitori-sama. It accepts without asking.

Copyright (C) 2018 H.S. All rights reserved.




The Randy Reviewer


Mikio Oga, jiujitsu master by Randy Swank

The first time I saw Mikio Oga he was grappling on the mat with another guy, practicing what to the untrained eye looks like judo. Oga even wore a traditional white judo outfit, but he was quick to explain that they were actually doing something different: Brazilian jiujitsu (BJJ). Oga, 44, is a third-degree black belt and one of the sport’s most accomplished practitioners in Japan. He was super featherweight champion in the 2007 International Brazilian Jiujitsu Federation master and senior worlds (35-40 year olds) and runner-up in the light featherweight category of the 2005 competition. “It sure looks like judo,” Oga says, “and it actually derives from a brand of judo that was introduced in Brazil by a Japanese master in 1909, but while judo employs a mix of throws and grappling techniques, Brazilian jiujitsu is essentially a ground fighting sport.”

One of BJJ’s major appeals is that a smaller, weaker person can successfully defend against and even overpower a bigger, stronger opponent by taking the fight to the ground and applying chokeholds and joint-locks techniques. It’s also much safer than getting thrown and there are less big injuries, so it’s easier for people in their 30s and 40s to get something out of it.

Oga sensei began to practice BJJ after learning other martial arts. In fact he is a first-degree dan black belt in judo, kendo and karate. “My grandfather was a big fan of period dramas and especially samurai sword fights,” he says, “so when I was in fourth grade he got me into kendo, a modern version of traditional Japanese swordsmanship. As Oga has never been very comfortable with doing all the standing throws that comprise a good part of judo, he found that BJJ’s emphasis on pinning techniques suited him fine.

He currently manages two of its 20 branches and has awarded black belts to 30 of his students.”Learning BJJ helped improve my confidence,” he says. “I remember the pressure I felt when I took part in tournaments. One of the things I learned through BJJ was not to be overwhelmed and turn the pressure instead into positive energy in order to achieve my best performance. BJJ is a very tactical sport which rewards patience and technique. In other fighting sports, like boxing, size matters, but in ju-jitsu you can win without being a bully.”

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Tokyo Voice Column


“Tokyo Sound”by Curt Neilson

The velvety smooth―
So hauntingly romantic,
The feminine Japanese voice,
Caressing Yamanote ears;
Its American counterpart―
“and refrain from talking on the phone,”
A study in contrast,
Spunky prissy funny.

The blaring insistent “WAH WAH WAH,”
Like Charlie Brown’s teacher or a machine gun,
Permeating hung-over membranes,
Demanding the surrender of PC’s and radios,
Nostalgic but maddening.

Learned to hate them in Korea,
Learned to love them in Japan,
Mourned their ubiquitous dead husks,
Littering adorning Japan’s ground.

Cherished silence in the dialing morning train,
Enjoying last bits of freedom,
The pin drop heard:
An umbrealla sliding from a passenger;
Pink high schoolers then shrilling,
Foreign bellowers then interrupting,
Eyes not dissuading,
Ear plugs lacking.

Suffocating silence amidst
A hundred humans packed
liked cigarettes;
Unnerving silence,
Palpable tangible hovering
penetrating invading,
A common secret shared
like a shame,
Eyes fearing disclosure.

The sweet cheerful innocent
So Asian, so western, so perfect;
The fascinating, comic bizarre
Rising into the clouds of surprise
As baffled foreigners smirk.
The amusing irritating
“Yadda! Wakkanai!”
around Shibuya 109.

Sounds echoing in my memory,
“Toookyooo . . .
Toookyooo . . .”
When lying in my bed back home
Or walking down Los Angeles streets,
Reminding me of another life.

Strange but True


Living in a castle!

For 22-years beach monarch Marcio Mizael Matolias has avoided high rents in an upscale district of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by living in a sand castle. But his unusual home has not stopped the 44-year-old, known affectionately by locals as ‘The King’ from pursuing his three passions: reading, golf and fishing. Matolias has no trouble putting on a regal air and happy to pose on his throne in front of his castle, scepter in hand. However, unlike other monarchs, ‘King Marcio’ is personally responsible for conducting repairs to his palace, whether it’s the dungeons or a door. Despite this, Matolias says he would not have it any other way. “I grew up in the Bay of Guanabara, I always lived on the beach. People pay exorbitant rents to live in front of the sea, I do not have bills and here I have a good life.”

Can't get no sleep?

Most of us aren't lucky enough to live in front of the sea and have the sound of the waves as a lullaby. For those who have problems falling a sleep, here is a simple and speedy trick which could make you fall asleep in 16 minutes! Count sheep, have a hot bath and a glass of warm milk, douse yourself in lavender spray, cool down your room, wear socks to bed... not all of these will be practical, or work for you in terms of getting to sleep. In which case, a new and dazzlingly simple trick may be worth a try. 'Make a list'! Specifically a to-do list of all those tasks and jobs which you haven't yet got round to doing. Writing in the journal Experimental Psychology - researchers said worrying about future tasks “is a significant contributor to difficulty in falling asleep." So, the more specifically you write your to-do list, the faster you subsequently fell asleep.