Plain Talk


Walking through Ginza by Ashlee O’Grady

I exit the train station, emerging from our most often used elevator. It's tucked away on a side street, opening between two wings of the Hermes Building. Flanked with glass brick walls stretching high up into the sky, there is a gleaming installation above, spinning fractured slivers of silver slowly through the air. I join the main street rush, merging into the correct half of the sidewalk. Millions of people effortlessly making life work by following unspoken rules and etiquette. Keeping to the left and trying not to step on any heels or nudge anyone with the stroller, weaving past the slow walkers and sky gazers, I follow the familiar steps to where I am going.

The noise is constant, traffic rumbling past, loud speakers broadcasting unintelligible words from vans. The chatter of people as we wait for the traffic lights, I catch a word here and there in Japanese, and sometimes more startlingly in English. I am in between worlds, and I look at other non-Japanese and wonder if they too are expats in this life, or tourists visiting for the week. I live here, I know where I am going and where to get what I need, but I am not a local. I am gaijin and I break some of the aforementioned unspoken rules.

Standing in an elevator one previous afternoon, munching away on a rice ball (onigiri - the best snack in Japan) I catch a word of the 50 or so flying between the two old ladies ascending with me. "Gohan" I know means rice, so I can only guess they are not so silently judging me on my eating habits, as you are not supposed to eat and walk at the same time.

Back to the streets of Ginza, I cross the buzzing intersection, manoeuvring through the influx of people from the other direction. The buildings tower overhead, each one competing to be an architectural masterpiece. Multiple levels above are covered in Japanese characters, signs flash and speakers blare their specials, shops and restaurants with narrow staircases beckon from underground. This is when I am torn, grateful that I cannot read everything, overwhelmed with information, but who knows what amazing places I am missing out on? There is always something else to discover in Tokyo.





The Randy Reviewer


A conversation with Kenji Kamiyama by Randy Swank

Director Kenji Kamiyama is famous among SF anime fans for working on several Patlabor and Ghost in the Shell projects. This time, though, the creator of the hugely successful Eden of the East saga has come up with something quite different. His latest film, Ancien and the Magic Tablet (original title: Napping Princess: The Story of the Unknown Me) is a story that successfully mixes robots and traditional fantasy elements while exploring the enduring value of family ties. I caught up with the director some time ago to talk about this film.

“I wanted to do something different; a sort of family movie with a lighter, pop feeling,” Kamiyama says. “I have a 16-year-old daughter, and one of the producers proposed to make something that could be a message to her. For many years I made the sort of adult-oriented SF films she didn’t really like and was probably too young to understand. But while working on the new story I remembered when she was about three and I used to tell her a bedtime story every night. That memory inspired me to make Ancien… as a sort of modern fable.”

The story starts three days before the opening of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. “Everybody has very fond memories of the 1964 Olympics that highlighted Japan’s economic success, but things have changed,” Kamiyama explains. “Young people like Kokone, the film’s protagonist, have no particular expectations this time. Now we see conflicts between the young and old generations, and even technology, where Japan used to be number one, has been quite sluggish. The country is still negatively affected by the huge earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011. I was looking for something that highlighted this difference between current Japanese society and the old times while at the same time injecting some energy and enthusiasm, and I found it in the Olympic Games.”

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

Tokyo Fab



Located in the southwest of Toyama Prefecture, Nanto is a charming town surrounded by majestic mountains. This culturally diversified event featuring artists from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe has been held at this scenic city since 1991. Experience the cultural exchange through music from all over the world. For those who look forward to festival food, do not worry, food from many different cultures will be there as well! So get out of the city and enjoy the scenery with cultured music and food for some R&R!

Date:8/24(Fri)~26(Sun) @ Nanto Helios, 100 Yakata, Nanto-shi Toyama
Closest Sta: Fukuno Sta. - JR West Johana line

For more information, please visit


Slow Live in Ikegami Honmonji
Established in 2004 and welcoming its 15th anniversary is the music festival 'Slow LIVE' held in Ikegami Honmonji Temple, Tokyo. Applying the concept of 'Slow Food' to music, this event is for music lovers who want to enjoy music in a slow relaxed atmosphere. Unlike many other music festivals, this festival offers seats as rock musicians play acoustic versions of their songs. Held in such a traditional environment such as a temple, 'Slow LIVE' definitely draws the line from others.

Date:8/31(Fri)~9/2(Sun) @ Ikegami Honmonji, 1-1-1 Ikegami Ota-ku,Tokyo
Closest Sta: Ikegami Sta. - Tokyu Ikegami line

For more information, please visit

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Tokyo Voice Column


Home is Where the Heart is by Thompson Keysberg

Japan holds a very special place in my heart. I have lived here for thirteen years and raised two beautiful children. I feel more at home here now than in my native-Australian culture. I’m here for the long-term, because it’s here that my heart truly lies. Other long-term resident friends and native Japanese folk have become more than just “friends,” they are now a vital part of my broad multi-cultural family.

Whenever I do go home to visit my Australian family, it’s not long before I start to crave Japanese food. Particularly the essential Japanese super-food staples such as Natto or Ume Boshi. I relish daily, the thought of living in a culture that has such ancient fare so freely available at local stores.

In the time that I have been a teacher in Japan, I have had so many unforgettable encounters with younger and older learners alike. Fond memories and inspired learning experiences: all the way from adorable infants and their guardians, to kindergarten and elementary children, through to the inspired, inter-cultural drive of senior high school pupils, university students and gifted returnees. From housewives to museum curators, to grandparents, soul-seeking post-grad travelers, corporate executives, doctors, scientists and innovative philanthropists, just to name a few.

I feel privileged to have to taught and counseled such a wide variety of Japanese ESL learners. Especially rewarding, has been the chance to share life-changing learning triumphs. To know that I have had a meaningful impact on someone’s future. Where else, or how else, could I have gotten such immersive insight into the life and culture of Japan, other than, living and teaching here for such a long period. And I look forward to continuing that journey for the foreseeable future.

Thank you, Japan: peace and love!







Strange but True


What's hot in fashion?

It's definitely a guilty pleasure, but we all love a bit of fast food every now and again. KFC is a firm favourite among Brits, serving up finger lickin' chicken, burgers, fries and nuggets by the bucketload. Now, the truly KFC-obsessed can go one step further in showing their love for the Colonel's fried chicken. And that's by wearing the very fetching new KFC merch. Yes, KFC is releasing an actual clothing line plus fast food-themed accessories - and they are set to be a recipe for success. The collection includes joggers with chicken nuggets and fries printed all over them as well as cute chicken, fries and "nug life" pins to put on your jacket. You can even get a gold necklace that says "finger lickin good". Sadly the merch will only be released in Australia for now, but all the proceeds go to the KFC Youth Foundation - which aims to help underprivileged young people get the skills they need in life.

The Golden Ticket from Mickey D's

For all McDonald's lovers, VERY exciting news! The fast food giant is offering customers the chance to get their hands on the 24-carat gold card, which will get the lucky winner free food for the next 50 years. The card comes in the form of a phone case, which will be engraved with the winner's name so they can show it off to all their pals. If years of free food and a very snazzy accessory doesn't appeal, the winner will be able to opt for a cash prize instead. The competition is being run through the McDonald's app, and all people need to do to enter is sign up and order a meal on it before August 24, reports the Evening Standard. Customers will be able to email once a day to improve their chances. However the competition is only open to people who live in the US, and entrants must be over 13 years old… Anyone reading this in the US?