Plain Talk


My home country of Japan by Kai Raine

I grew up in the suburbia of West Tokyo. I’m a ha-fu, but neither half is Japanese. I left when I was thirteen to live with my grandparents in the US to relearn English. I thought that I’d get to come home to Japan after a few years. Instead, my family moved to India; there followed fifteen years of moving every two years.

During those fifteen years, I told myself all sorts of things to try and ease the ache: mostly I drew on memories of being Other. The preschooler who would scream, “Look, Mom, a foreigner!” as I walked to school every morning for the entire first term of sixth grade. The bullies that made third and fourth grades my hell, until my parents finally transferred me to a new school. Home is a myth, I told myself―and one day, I believed it. The ache was no more.

I came home to visit for the first time in nine years. It was bliss. I wanted nothing more than to stay. When I left, I expected the ache to come back. It didn’t. I’d conquered it for good. So it was easy to remind myself that visiting and living were worlds apart.

A few rounds of rinses and repeats in this pattern, and I’m back now―have been for the better part of a year. I expected the sensation of being Othered to diminish my homecoming, somehow. But it hasn’t. I notice the occasional wide-eyed look of alarm when I enter a shop. I notice that often the seats beside me in a train car are often among the last to be occupied. I’m conscious of the way my friends speak about “foreigners” and “foreign lands”, as if there is no distinction but “Japanese” and “Other”. Once upon a time, this was the bane of my existence. It isn’t, anymore.

I smile and speak to the wide-eyed shopkeepers, and revel in the joy when their expressions relax. The first time someone apologized to me for thinking I was “foreign”, I felt my heart grow three sizes.

I even find that being “foreign” has made it easier to stumble through relearning my hometown as an adult. There is no pressure from the outside for me to conform, or for me to be anything other than―me. (India is my counterpoint, where strangers berate my father for raising a daughter who can’t speak Hindi, and remind him that I must be married to a good Indian man.)

Yet it is still my home, in a way that nowhere else has ever been. I’m a part of this place, and this place is a part of me. I’m home, and at peace.







Plain Talk


Excitement on the Eve of Setsubun (節分) by Raulie W. Schnee

The Japanese celebrate Setsubun, the coming of spring (according to the Chinese lunar calendar) on the eve of 3 February.

Special sushi rolls called ehomaki (恵方巻) are eaten for dinner. After dinner, some roasted soybeans (福豆fukumame) are eaten and then more are scattered outside the front door. Setsubun, associated with the Chinese New Year, has been celebrated for centuries in Japan, and is still enjoyed today, especially by children.

Ehomaki is a long sushi roll, held at length in the "auspicious direction", and eaten at one go without stopping to talk until the roll is gone, all the while making a wish for the new year. It should never be cut into pieces beforehand. The auspicious direction changes from year to year (east‐northeast for 2019). Failure to obey the ritual cancels your wish, so proceed carefully.

The roasted soybeans are rather bland. A big bowl of the beans is placed on the table. Each person counts out the number of beans for each year of their age, and then places the beans on their plate. (Some will take and extra bean, believing it may add more good fortune in the coming year.) After each family member eats their allotted number of soybeans, the remainder of the beans are tossed out the front door while chanting, "Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!" (Out with the devils, and in with good fortune!) This spell casts out the devils of misfortune and welcomes spring with a dose of good luck. This ritual is also observed at temples and shrines on the evening of 3 February.

Your soybean purchase may come with a devil mask. Dad puts on the mask so the little ones can pelt him with beans, as he (the devil) is driven from the house, and, hopefully, allowed back in after removing the mask and all the beans have been thrown.

The bean scattering ritual dates back at least a thousand years and is familiar to all Japanese, but eating the ehomaki is more recent and not as well known.

The ehomaki ritual is very recent in the Kanto region surrounding Tokyo. Many older Japanese in the Tokyo area are not familiar with this practice. Many say the custom originated with their rowdy cousins to the west in Osaka. The ehomaki sushi rolls, made with seven fillings to represent the Seven Deities of Good Fortune (七福神 Shichifukujin) are marketed aggressively in convenience stores, super markets, and the basements of department stores, so put in your order early because on the evening of 2 February these sushi rolls, available only at this time of year, will be flying off the shelves at your local convenience store.

Tokyo Fab



For its sixth exhibition within the framework of the Fondation Louis Vuitton’s “Hors-les-murs” programme, the Espace Louis Vuitton Tokyo is pleased to present a specific installation by the late Jesus Rafael Soto: Pe´ne´trable BBL Bleu. This programme has been showcasing unseen holdings from the Collection at the Espaces Louis Vuitton in Tokyo, Venice, Munich and Beijing over these past three years, thus carrying out the Fondation’s intent to realize international projects and make them accessible to a broader public.
Jesu´s Rafael Soto was a Venezuelan artist who was best known for his kinetic sculptures and large scale optical installations. Born in 1923 in Ciudad Bolivar, Soto remained in Venezuela for his formative years, before moving to Paris in 1950 where he would remain for the rest of his life, while keeping a workshop in Caracas from 1975 onwards. Very early on, he attached himself to post-war avant-garde modernism and became part of the abstract art circles. His participation in the Salon des Re´alite´s Nouvelles in 1951, followed by his involvement in the celebrated exhibition Le Mouvement at the Galerie Denise Rene´ in Paris in 1955 alongside Marcel Duchamp, Alexander Calder, and Victor Vasarely, bears witness to this commitment. By the late 1960s, Soto was known as a leader in kinetic art, with works that were remarkable for their illusions of sensory vibrations.
Jesu´s Rafael Soto was born on June 5, 1923, in Ciudad Boli´var, Venezuela and died in Paris, France, in 2005. He studied at the Escuela de artes pla´sticas in Caracas from 1942 to 1947 and then served as director of the Escuela de bellas artes in Maracaibo, Venezuela, until 1950, at which time he relocated to Paris. There he associated with Yaacov Agam, Jean Tinguely, and Victor Vasarely, as well as artists connected to Galerie Denise Rene´ and the Nouveaux Re´alistes (New Realists).

Date: Till 12 May 2019
Venue: Espace Louis Vuitton Tokyo.
Louis Vuitton Omotesando Bldg. 7F 5-7-5 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku

What’s App With You?


Chunky Comic Reader

Try an app that makes your comics look great, makes reading them a pleasure, and takes all the friction out of importing and managing them. The app will happily grab comics from a range of cloud services, but splash out on the single £2.99 IAP and you also gain access to Mac/Windows shared folders and Chunky’s own web server. When reading, settings enable you to adjust aspects of panning, page turns and rendering, including upscaling; the last of those things ensures comics in Chunky look stunning on the Retina display − even if the source material isn’t of the highest quality. It can browse and download and Copy. Also you can copy files in and out with iTunes on your computer or download them via the built-in web browser.


Watched too many movies and they all blured into one, at which point you run the risk of accidentally watching same movie? Save yourself by using Letterboxd to make a record of the films you love. Letterboxd for iOS puts the popular social network for film lovers on your iPhone or iPad, so you can log films and catch up on your friends’ activity with ease. Sign in to enjoy its all-new native interface. Tracking can be as simple as providing a quick thumbs-up or star rating. All your films can then be browsed in a grid that can be filtered by various criteria. To take things further, you can write reviews and delve into the social side of the app, thereby becoming someone clever or an angry person on Twitter.


Tokyo Voice Column


Am I a regular? by Mardo

There is a question I have been pondering lately. I was working, not at my usual school, but at the district education office. Very quickly, the owner of the coffee shop next door, learnt my order, Small Cappuccino. Within a fortnight he was asking me if I wanted it the moment I walked in, within a month, all I had to do was walk in and nod, and my order was put in line. I was a regular, and it was my local coffee shop. So my question is, how long does it take to become a local?

In England, Australia etc, when we say a local, we usually refer to our local pub, even if its not in the same local area as where we live or work, it’s the pub we go to the most. A place where you are considered a local, a regular... a place where the barmaid automatically knows what to start pouring as soon as you walk in. When I lived in Gunma, my Local was the Drunken Duck in Hitachi-naka. There was an Izakaya closer to my flat, but the Drunken Duck employed Australian cooks, so there was always beetroot on the hamburger and someone who knew the football scores from home. Within a month I had an account. If I was broke just before my monthly pay day, I could put dinner and a pint on the tab.

I am sure becoming a regular or having a local are not likely to happen in a month. I think there has to be a many factors combining. How often you go, how friendly the staff are, and it probably helps to order the same thing over and over. I have been to bars where the staff were so unfriendly, or just busy, that I would never be a regular there. And then places where they remember me after two visits. Either way, having a Local bar, cafe, restaurant, supermarket, or in fact ANYTHING, makes living and working somewhere so much nicer. Even if I walk into my neighbourhood store, and the old lady behind the shop complains that it’s just too hot, makes you feel like you belong… Even as a large foreigner in a small country town.




Strange but True



Hawaii may be renowned for its white sand shores, but the island's coast is also home to some eye-catching black sand beaches. These beaches come about after a volcanic eruption, when the lava flow reaches the ocean and explodes before cooling, causing black shingles that become the shore. Following Kilauea Volcano's eruption last year, now Hawaii has a brand new black sand beach located in Isaac Kepo‘okalani Hale Beach Park. It's only recently opened to visitors; the region was closed for months after the eruption, which caused devastation and forced thousands to evacuate their homes. Less than a year later, the island is already bouncing back, with many new resorts opening as it gets its tourism industry back on track. Although visitors are allowed to visit the beach, they are being advised to exercise caution.

Bringing your pets?

A Taiwanese woman was stopped at a customs checkpoint on the island of Kinmen after returning from a visit to China. Coast Guard officials conducting routine security and customs checks noticed the woman was walking in an unusual manner. The passenger was pulled to one side for questioning where officials discovered the shocking reason for her funny walk. Individually wrapped in bags were 24 gerbils, strapped to the woman's legs and covered by a skirt. The woman reportedly told customs officials she was smuggling the animals for friends and had purchased them at a pet store in China, according to local news station 97x. But authorities believe she had been sent by a smuggling ring to test inspection procedures at the Taiwanese port. The poor creatures were all eventually euthanized by vets in Thailand.


50 Shades of Yikess