Plain Talk


Matsuri Time by Dean Mejia

If you have never been in the middle of a Japanese summer-time festival, or matsuri, then you should definitely find a way to attend one before the season is over. Admittedly there are festivals throughout the year, but summertime matsuri just seem more special to me. It's just something about the feeling in the air.

Some of the more popular ones to attend either as a participant (I’m sure you’ve seen photos, both cringe-worthy and endearing, of foreigners participating in the local festival), or as a spectator are Kyoto's Gion Matsuri in July, Osaka's Tenjin Matsuri (Festival of the Gods) in late July, and Tokushima's Awa Odori (a dance festival attended by over 1 million people) in mid-August.

There is also the visually stunning (the others are too, but this one may just be a little bit more) Aomori Nebuta Matsuri. It starts during the first week of August in the Aomori prefecture and features brightly colored parade floats depicting warriors being hoisted up and transported throughout the city. There are even fireworks on the last day of the festival. This is one of the most famous matsuri during this time of year, so I feel that my words are not doing it justice. You just have to see it to believe it.

Also for a little bit of a foreign festive feel in Tokyo, one can attend the Asakusa Samba Carnival in late August. There will be various dance teams in highly flamboyant costumes shaking their hips to the Samba rhythms. It’s quite a sight.

Whenever I visit a different prefecture, I try to schedule my trip around whatever festival is going on in town. It's a great way to learn the history of Japan and to mingle with the locals.

If you're horrible about planning ahead or sticking to a schedule, you might just be fortunate enough to hear the inviting pounding of taiko drums as you try to read your nihongo textbook at home. If so, please let your inner child-like curiosity take over, find a yukata or casual summer kimono that you can wear, head outside, and see what all the fuss is about. You might just like what you see.







Plain Talk


Summer In Japan:
Food For Staying Cool And Healthy During The Hottest Season by Patrick Hattman

For anyone living in Japan for the first time and not from a place with hot, humid summers, one of the most challenging things about life in Japan is adjusting to the sweltering heat prevalent throughout much of the country from June through August.

Having many centuries of experience in dealing with summer's dog days in their land, the Japanese have mastered numerous ways of lessening the effects of the season, particularly to avoid the debilitating impact of "natsubate" or summer fatigue. Some time-tested methods of combating the oppressive temperatures involve how the Japanese eat, including meals served hot and cold.

One hot meal -and a personal favorite of mine- is "unagi" or freshwater eel. Grilled and often served on a bed of rice, it is a fortifying meal in summer and contains essential protein and vitamins to improve one's energy level. Unfortunately, it is a bit pricey, and unagi numbers in the wild have declined significantly in recent years.

Another hot meal or snack that is a favorite of many during summer is the "ayu" or a fish known commonly as sweetfish. Not surprisingly, it is particularly noteworthy for its sweet taste, and its availability at food stalls found in abundance at summertime festivals, with the ayu grilled and served on skewers.

Throughout the summer season a cold meal to beat the heat is "soumen" or thin wheat noodles served cold and generally with a "tsuyu" sauce for flavoring and dipping. It is possible to make a sizable meal of the noodles and end up satisfied, but not too full.

Also, a cold dish consumed a lot in summer is "hiyayakko" or cold tofu. Many toppings are used for both additional taste and aesthetic qualities. Among them are soy sauce, "katsuobushi" or dried bonito flakes, and various mixes of giant radish and ginger.

Finally, when many Japanese are looking for a dessert in summer they opt for "kakigori," which is a shaved ice treat flavored with various syrups and toppings. This is better for your health than heavy ice creams and artificially sweetened drinks. Excessive consumption of them can lead to the dreaded "natsubutori" or becoming fat in summer!

Unfinished business


I Did It! by David Gregory

She had been here before. But, those were tour-guided or hand-held visits. After living most of her life in white-bread suburban USA, driving everywhere, shopping in giant malls and supermarkets, and needing only one currency and one language, my mother ventured out on her own, within and beyond Chiba, during one trip to Japan. From her notes, here are Dorothy's...

Grocery Shopping in Neighborhood―Walk five only one bag...walk five blocks back. Survived it!

Shopping in City Center―Walk six blocks to bus stop. Ride bus fifteen minutes. Arrive at stores. Walk around. Look. Decide: cookies.

Buying: “Ikura desu-ka how much?” Hmm. “Kakimasu kudasai write please.”

Paying options: give large bill, let clerk figure change, or open change purse, let clerk take out correct amount. Decide to just give some cash.

Clerk shakes her head (“NO! MORE!”), then counts out correct amount needed from register and shows me. I mimic her action from my change purse. Smiles! Deep bows with many, “Arigato gozaimasu thank you very much!”-es.
(My error: thought there was decimal point in Yen price....)

Open cookies, expecting pirouettes with chocolate centers. Instead, peanut butter waffle rolls, no chocolate. No wonder, now I see peanut sketch on package. “Shoganai can’t be changed,” I did it to myself. It could have been worse!
Travelling to Visit Friend’s Family on Other Side of Chiba―Walk ten blocks to train. Purchase ticket. Electronic lady on ticket machine screen says, “Arigato gozaimasu” and bows. Ride train twenty minutes, watching for correct stop, get off, walk seven blocks to house. I did it myself!

Visiting Hisae Overnight―My Japanese study partner in USA returned to Japan, now lives on other side of Tokyo Bay.

Take large purse and large tote bag with jacket, nightie, toothbrush, cosmetics. Walk six blocks to bus stop. Ride bus to train station. Ride train eighty minutes to Yokohama. Find correct exit from station. EASY. Did not even look at note in pocket explaining route and Japanese signs. And, look! Hisae and three-year old Kei are waiting! “Hello!” they say! Many hugs!

I did it!

Then, still more travel: train together fifteen minutes, short taxi uphill to lovely apartment, sunny and bright.

Returning to Chiba, just reverse process. Next time, we can meet at a station halfway in between. I can do it.
I can do it!

Copyright (C) 2015 David Gregory. All rights reserved. Chiba, Japan

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


Fan Fan Splash 2018

Summer has come and in this heat nothing beats being by the water or actually literally in the water. Fun Fun Splash brings an opportunity to get soaked in the concrete jungle! With the theme 'Fun', they will bring a fun water event to Odaiba. Once you enter the venue, you are in the battle field, so get your water gun ready, splash and get soaked by water balloon bombs. Outside the battle field, a water slider and pool awaits you to relax a bit, or at the fun fun art area, you can paint on the wall (or on yourself or on others perhaps?) and take some pics to show off your arty side to the world.

Date:July 28th (Sat), 29th (Sun)
@ Odaiba Oume J Area Special Venue
Closest Sta. Oume on Yurikamome line

For more information, please visit


Water Run

Songkran, informally called "the Thailand water festival," is an annual event marking the start of the traditional Thai new year. Songkran is the largest celebration in Thailand and is notorious as the wildest water fight in the world. Inspired by this Songkran water festival, water run is a fun run event. First time held in Japan, this event brings about 100,000 pieces of water balloons to be thrown at each other. There is also a zone called "Ikemen (good-looking guys) Bucket Zone" where you get splashed or splash water at good-looking guys. Enjoy the live DJ playing EDM or J-pops after getting soaked as well!

Date:July 22nd (Sun) @ Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise
Closest Sta.: Hakkeijima sta. on Kanazawa Seaside Line

For more information, please visit

What’s App With You?



Uptime is an interesting project from Area 120, Google's incubator for weird fun ideas. The app lets you set up YouTube "video parties," in which you invite friends into a live video chat session where you can all watch sync'd videos together. Thanks to the group setting, you can all share in the banter, laughter, and everyone's reactions to each video in queue. Invite codes keep your viewing party private, with more features being added, such as photo sharing on video chat. It's a fun, social way to watch the latest viral video


Slack takes conventional instant messaging a step further to make a more useful group messaging and coordination tool. Slack covers your IM basics with real-time messaging synced across devices. It also supports file sharing as well as direct and group messaging tools. In addition, the app features a system of chat channels, allowing you to quickly set up subgroups for task- or topic-oriented discussions. Slack archives your communications, allowing you to search through old messages, channels and shared files. The app includes integration with a variety of services such as cloud storage, Asana, Zendesk and more. Premium plans provide more features, such as expanded file storage and better app integration.

Tokyo Voice Column


Music to the Soul by Esteban Lopez

As I stood waiting at my son’s school today and watched Japanese life unfold before me, a sense of calmness and serenity overcame me.

On a sunny and clear day as the clouds languidly rolled by, I watched as a group of middle school boys walked in front of me and weakly teased one another at a subdued auditory level or when the small service van pulled up in front of the apartment complex opposite of the school, the sound of the engine purring scarcely registered. I had to strain to make out whether the engine was on or not. The engine was so quiet and when it was shut off, I only knew it because I watched as the service man turned the key and stepped out of the vehicle with keys in hand.

Likewise, the elderly woman returning home from the supermarket, her footfalls hardly made a sound. It was all so quiet. Even the sound of the wind seemed to be hushed. The sounds or lack thereof seemed to be composing a soundtrack − a day in the life of suburban Tokyo. It was music to my soul and just sitting there and soaking it all in was so calming. Don’t get me wrong; I know the difference between downtown Tokyo and the suburbs. Like most other people, I work in downtown and I know how noisy and demanding it is to just walk down any given street, particularly in Shinjuku and not be assaulted by a barrage of noise emanating from either a pachinko parlor or a barker standing in front of a restaurant soliciting business.

Truth be told, I’ve never lived in a city as big as Tokyo and so I don’t claim to be an authority on the matter, but I do find it rather incredulous that at times Tokyo is at odds with itself, from one extreme to the other.






Strange but True


Waistcoats are in!

The last few weeks have confirmed what many people already knew - Gareth Southgate is fabulous. Football fans are loving the England manager, heaping on the praise following several nail-biting but exhilarating World Cup clashes. But it's not just his managerial skills they're enjoying. People have also become obsessed with his style, with lots of men desperate to get their hands on his navy waistcoat. The garment, sold by Marks & Spencer, costs £65. The retail giant, which has been the official suit supplier to the England team since 2007, admitted sales of waistcoats had risen by 35 per cent because of the 'Gareth Southgate effect'. Waistcoats are classy, so we all should embrace this new tasteful trend!

Shall we embrace this trend as well?!

If you're a keen follower of fashion, you probably saw the see-through jeans Topshop were flogging last year. Those brave enough to bare all were obsessed with them, but most were left unimpressed. We all breathed a sigh of relief when the clear jeans seemed to drop off the face of the earth, however it seems the trend could be making a comeback. For summer 2018, Pretty Little Thing have launched their own version of the odd trend. The new-in section of their website features transparent zip front trousers which cost £30 a pair. And they're made entirely from plastic! The quirky garment is available in sizes 4 to 16 and differs from the Topshop version by being less tight fitting, with the addition of an on-trend kick flare. Anyone brave enough to walk around in these transparent trousers? If so, maybe you want avoid them in the summer...