Plain Talk


More Signs of the Changing Culture of Japan by Marshall Hughes

Although almost imperceptibly slow at times, cultures are constantly changing. Japan is no exception.

Recently there was an event which happened at the private junior high and high school where I work just outside of Tokyo that is a reflection of a change in Japanese culture.

When I returned to school in September after a summer break, there was something new at my school, something unexpected which I took as an indication of Japan’s changing mores.

When I arrived for my first day, it was there, next to the entrance area where students and teachers change their shoes. “It” was a small Daily Yamazaki convenience store.

Traditionally in Japan, mothers have made obentos, boxed school lunches, for their children to take to school every day. This was possible as few mothers worked outside the home, and not preparing a delicious and, as importantly, pleasing-to-the-eye lunch was a reason to be ashamed. Good mothers made tasty and visually-appealing lunches. Bad mothers did not.

The decision of whether or not to let Daily Yamazaki build a shop on campus was left up to the school’s teachers. Not surprisingly, the teachers had a variety of opinions - some hoping to hold on to what they saw as traditional Japanese values and some willing to bow to the inevitable.

In talking with some of the other teachers I found that these kinds of stores, or at least outside venders, have been in public schools for some time, but are now starting to move into private schools where, it is assumed, fewer mothers are working and have time to make obento lunches.

The store has lots of notebooks, pens and pencils, but nearly all the students who use the store can be found there during lunch, grabbing something to eat. Students (and teachers) can buy onigiri (rice balls), spaghetti, burritos, cup noodles, curry and rice and many kinds of bread. There is nothing healthy to be eaten - no fruits or vegetables to be found.

The home-made obentos that other students have brought to school look much more healthy, but at this point there is no turning back. Time marches on.










Book Review


Cherry Blossoms in the Time of Earthquakes and Tsunami by Rey Ventura
Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2014,
291 pp, USD34.00

Reviewed by Randy Swank

video maker and scriptwriter Rey Ventura won the 2015 National Book Award for his third collection of essays, Cherry Blossoms in the Time of Earthquakes and Tsunami, but for some strange twist of fate you will find very little information on this book. You can’t even buy it on Amazon. This is a shame because Cherry Blossoms... is a beautiful, insightful and thought-provoking book.

These 11 essays, some of them autobiographical, see Ventura travelling back and forth between the Philippines and Japan, his adopted country, often portraying the many ways Filipino lives have been shaped and affected by their rich quasi-neighbor. Like in “A Suitable Donor,” where the young men who live in the Manila slum of Banseco tell of how they came to “donate” a kidney or another organ to help a rich person in need − often from Japan.

Cherry Blossoms in the Time of Earthquakes and Tsunami
by Rey Ventura
Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2014, 291 pp, USD34.00

In “Miniskirts and Stilettos” we meet Ginto, a young lady who comes to Japan dreaming of making it big as a singer and entertainer but has to deal instead with a much darker reality; while “Mr. Suzuki Tries Again” and “Into the Snow Country” are tragicomic tales of arranged marriages where the dreams and expectations of bride-starved farmers from Japan’s Deep North clash with those of young Filipino women who want to escape their poverty and go into marriage “as a girl goes into a convent.” Ventura tells these stories with a great eye for detail and manages to find a ray of light even in the darkest corners, or poetry in the midst of a nuclear disaster.

The book’s first essay is called “The Slow Boat to Manila” and indeed, slowness is the first word that comes to mind when considering Ventura’s approach to writing. Everything Ventura does is slow. He is no magazine reporter after all, and will spend days or even months getting to know a person he wants to write about. That’s the kind of personal commitment and deep connection with his subject that one feels when reading his essays.


Tokyo Fab


Cinco de Mayo 2018

Cinco de Mayo means 5th of May in Spanish. The day is to commemorate the Battle of Puebla, where a small team of Mexican fighters defeated a much larger French army, which at the time was considered the strongest in the world. Cinco de Mayo has grown especially popular in the United States, where all things Mexican are celebrated. Cinco de Mayo in Japan, which started in 2013 in Yoyogi Park, will hold its 6th year of celebrations in Odaiba. It will showcase not just Mexico but music, dance and cuisine from many other countries in the western hemisphere. Known as one of the most “international” festivals in Japan, it is a great chance to enjoy fine food, drinks and interactive entertainment with friends and family.

Date: Saturday May 12th 10:00-21:00 Sunday May 13th 10:00-21:00
@ Odaiba Yume no Hiroba (Symbol Promenade Park)

For more information, please visit


Manpaku 2018

Manpaku, is a food festival where you can become manpuku (eat till your hearts content). Celebrating its 7th anniversary, this event aims to entertain everyone with its mouth-watering and unique dishes from all over. There are 10 different food areas: meat, seafood, vegetables, ramen, gyoza dumplings, fried dishes, sweets, cheese and more to choose from, spoiling guests with a wide variety of choices! During the daytime, the festival is family friendly with kids area as well as attractions including street performers and a tuna cutting show. At nighttime, it turns into a beer garden with a glittering mirror ball. Enjoy this festival till your bellies are satisfied!

Date: May 17th (Thu) - June 4th (Mon)
@ Showa Kinen Park Nearest Sta: Tachikawa Sta

For more information, please visit


What’s App With You?



Bandcamp might seem superfluous in a world of Apple Music and Spotify, but for anyone who enjoys venturing further afield to find new music, it’s a must. The service is chock full of indie artists, whose music you can delve into by way of the Bandcamp Weekly radio show, or by browsing the app’s news feeds. Most albums enable you to preview a few tracks in their entirety, and some are entirely free to play, forever. If you want to go old-school and actually buy music, the Bandcamp website is a good bet. Purchases can be downloaded in a range of formats; and when you only have your iPhone to hand, you can stream what you’ve bought and watch as your personal music feed fills with related tracks you might also enjoy.

Bricks Camera:

Bricks Camera is a novelty camera app that will strike a chord with anyone who has an affinity for plastic building blocks. The app’s essentially a live filter. Through its camera, the world’s transformed into a universe of brightly colored ‘bricks’, the size of which you can adjust with a swipe. Hold down the shutter and you get a short video rather than a still. Also, if you’re not feeling the vibe in live mode, you can import a photo instead. Your blocky masterpiece can be saved or shared − unfortunately only with a three-brick-wide watermark. It’s a pity there’s no cheap IAP to be rid of that, but otherwise this is an entertaining − if slightly throwaway − camera freebie.

Tokyo Voice Column


Exploring the attractions of Funabashi H.C.Andersen Park by Olga Kaneda

Want to have some family fun on the weekend? Your kids will be delighted to spend a day in Hans Christian Andersen Park in Funabashi City, but there’s much more to it than just that. The place is equally attractive for children and grown-ups, and you should visit it at least once and check it out yourself.

Funabashi H.C.Andersen Park is divided 5 zones: Castle of Flowers, Fairy Tale Hill, Children’s Museum, Kids Kingdom, and Nature Experience Zone.

The Castle of Flowers has a rest area with medieval-style tables and chairs. At the entrance you can see a bell with Thumbelina’s image which rings every hour. You can eat your obento here if you don’t fancy the idea of eating outside. Younger kids will have a blast on the playground with Tunnel of Lizard. In the Community Center there is a Goods Shop where you can buy many imported goods from Denmark, including Danish beer for yourself and Lego for your little ones. It is in the Fairy Tale Hill Zone. On your way you will see rural landscape of Denmark in the 1800’s with a Windmill, a Farmer’s House, and the Fairy Tale Pavilion with a museum room, lots of Andersen’s books, and handicraft activities. You can also rent a boat and take a trip around the Pond of the Sun. I highly recommend doing so in cherry viewing season. In the Children’s Museum Zone children can try themselves at acting or participate in workshops with artists. When you get to the Kids Kingdom Zone, there are many physical activities (adventure playground course, petting zoo, pony riding etc.) that will make you and your kids sleep tight after you return home. Take a sun tent and food, because you probably will not want to miss out an opportunity to have a picnic. If you would rather prefer some peace and quiet, a stroll in the Nature Experience Zone is just what you need. Enjoy the nature of Satoyama by taking a walking trail around the waterside.

The admission fee for junior high school and younger kids is free on April 2nd, H.C.Andersen’s birthday.






Strange but True


May the Fourth be with you

May 4 is known as Star Wars Day. It's a big deal for fans of the sci-fi franchise. It's because the date provides the opportunity to play on the famous Star Wars line, May the Force be with you. People like to say, 'May the Fourth be with you' today. People watch one or more of the movies, dress up, celebrate with various toys and memorabilia. So yes, some take May 4 very seriously indeed. Heathrow Airport celebrated Star Wars Day with amazing departure board. Heathrow Airport tweeted as such “Good morning from Heathrow. The force is strong with us today and we've got some special new routes. Will you be travelling to galaxies near... or far, far away?” and on its board were the names from the movie such as R2D2, BOBA and more. Heathrow staff were praised for their creativity!

What's your sign?

Not everyone takes to roads like a duck takes to water. Some of us will fail our driving test (theory and practical) multiple times, spending a small fortune in the process, before we can upgrade our license from green to red. Others, it seems, have twenty lessons then ace their test, with just a few minors. While you may put this down simply to different aptitudes for driving, it may also have something to do with your star sign.100,000 drivers in Australia were tested to see which star signs were the most or least likely to break the law. And some star signs emerged as being better drivers than others. But first, which zodiac sign do you think is the worst driver? According to the survey, the worst offenders were Leos and Pisceans who, between them, amassed the most amount of fines. Tut tut. In any case, it’s always good to remind ourselves to drive safe.