Plain Talk


Zazenkai by Kai Raine

By the most obvious metrics, I was at maximum disaster level for my first zazen meditation session. I chose my first zazen session based on convenience of time and location: Zeshou-in, a zen temple in Bunkyo-ku. Beginners must request admission at least a day in advance. I sent my request at 11:50pm the day before I wanted to go. The following morning, I received the confirmation email. I headed for what I thought was the temple that evening, excited and trepidatious. Instead, my phone sent me to an empty parking lot atop a small cliff. In the parking lot, I looked over the railing and saw what looked suspiciously like a temple below. I was in the right place—at the wrong elevation. I ran the long and winding road to the temple entrance and arrived trying not to pant or look obviously winded. I took off my shoes, stepped into the hallway, and froze. The jushoku (chief priest) was walking towards me.

“Here for zazen?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“You can understand Japanese?”
“Good. Go upstairs and wait.”

I climbed the stairs and arrived in a carpeted room where eight or so people were already sitting silently. There were no bags or coats to be seen. I hesitated. At last, the man nearest to me opened his eyes and looked at me.

“You’re new?” he asked.
“Yes. My bags…”
“Go in the back room, there.”
I walked straight down the middle of the room. Someone giggled. I realized I’d erred, but was already halfway there. My bag and coat stowed away, I returned along the outer edge of the room.

“This is your first time, right?” asked the same man when I returned. “Take a seat there; the jushoku will come and show you what to do.”

I sat on my calves in a seiza. Uncertainty helped me hold the position. Another participant entered and I watched him put his bags away, go through a series of bows and steps and take a seat. The jushoku arrived showed me how to do the same gestures: how to hold my hands, where to bow, and how to sit.

It was a two-hour session with two short breaks. Though I was only in half lotus, after the first break, my legs hurt so much that I was only enduring the time. When the jushoku got up and walked around with a keisaku stick, I didn’t understand what was going on; when the man next to me was beaten with it, the shock I felt at the crack-crack-crack-crack! made the pain recede—but only temporarily. I could barely stand when it was over. My whole body was trembling with pain.

But as we sat around a table and drank matcha, the atmosphere was lighthearted. The jushoku was friendly and kind. It wasn’t the most ideal place for a complete beginner; yet it felt completely worth it.








Plain Talk


An Unexpected Visit to Shibata Castle by A. Stoica

On the last day of my business trip to Shibata city, Niigata prefecture, after a stormy typhoon, I found myself stuck at the railway station waiting for the delayed train, which no one seemed to know when it would arrive. Suddenly, one kind Japanese lady approached me and after few general questions, asked me what I was planning to do during that time. I had no idea. She said that the trains might be really late, so it would be wiser to check-in to a nearby business hotel and spend the rest of the day visiting the city. After all, it was my first visit there and I surely could see and learn something about this place. She mentioned that Shibata castle was worth visiting, as there were interesting legends about it, and she could go with me to show me around. Visiting a mysterious castle and learning about its legends? A big Yes for me!

One hour later we could admire the Shibata castle and its famous nicely shaped stone wall. The lady told me that the original wall were destroyed in a large earthquake in 1669, but it had been rebuilt using a special technique of shaping stones (Kirikomihagi) and piling them without spaces. Skillful wall craftsmen were gathered from the nearby areas to help with the reconstruction. The stone wall (about 350 m long) is evaluated as the top-class construction in the whole country. In 2002, a part of Honmaru (main building) including the stone walls were designated as cultural assets.

The lady explained me different details about the castle’s history and design. I learned that initially, the castle was called Funagata-jyo - the boat shape castle, because the main bailey looked like a boat. It is also called Ayame-jyo because the irises were blooming in the wetlands around the castle. Also, according to a local legend, the castle was called Kitsuneobiniko-shiro (the foxtail drawing castle) because it is legendary said that when the architects struggled with the plan of the castle design, a fox appeared and gave them a clue by drawing with its tail on the snow. During a big reconstruction operation during 1999-2004 the castle towers were restored correctly. The castle tower was called Sankaiyagura (The three story tower) and it is the only castle in Japan that the roof of the top is T-shaped and each corner has Shachijoko (an imaginary sea animal with the head of a tiger and the body of a fish).

I was so happy and grateful for the chance of learning about this new place, so I would highly recommend a visit at this interesting historic site (free entrance) if you get the chance!

Tokyo Fab


Sakura no Hana Saita Hi ni -A Day when Cherry Blossom Bloomed-

Get awed with a stunning cherry blossom tree with 10,000 of delicate cherry blossom petals that are handmade one by one out of papers.
This exhibition will take you to an enchanting world of 'Kazuhiro Kanazawa', a paper sculpture artists, who makes his art from all kinds of papers. Known for his warm somewhat nostalgic works, the comforting aspects in his works are important to him, which makes his work more intriguing. To make your visit more interesting, visit his website to see how he creates his art!!

April 1st (Mon) - 6th (Sat)
11am ~ 7pm (~5pm on the last day)
1F Hayakawa Bldg., 3-4-11 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0062
(Closest Sta: 8min from Gaien-mae / 10min from Omotesando Sta.)


Spring Festival in Tokyo 2019

Welcoming its 15th anniversary, Spring Festival in Tokyo re-embraces the cultural aspects of Ueno whilst cerebrating this beautiful spring when cherry blossom petals are dancing in the air. Listen to the great music conducted by maestros and be a witness of this incredible moment when music, culture and beauty thrive in the Ueno park. Let it be a reminder from Mother Nature not just survive in your day existence, but to thrive and be fully present.

March 15 (Fri) - April 14 (Sun), 2019
@ Ueno Onshi Park (Tokyo) and more

For more details and concert schedules, please visit

What’s App With You?



Cosmicast is a cool podcast player built with iOS design guidelines in mind. It’s as useful as it looks. With a customizable grid layout and three sets of themes to choose from, if you like cool graphic interface, this could be a podcast player for you. There are no complicated user accounts or settings to configure, so you can pick it up and get started immediately. With even faster OPML podcast importing and a handy search section that’s categorized effectively to show you only what you want to see, this cool podcast player makes listening to your favorite podcasts a joy! Long-holding buttons give further options to enhance your experience and other features like drag and drop podcast rearranging, 3D touch support, imessage stickers, and siri shortcuts as well.

Visit Timeline:

Visits tracks where you go and builds a personal timeline & a map of all the places you’ve been. It’s automatic, energy efficient and private. It runs in the background but does not drain your battery significantly. Simply close the app and just forget about it till you need to see where you’ve been. Visits is always working for you! Anyone who travels from place to place can use Visits to find places they have been or track time to see their day better. From Vloggers to Carpenters, plumbers and electricians, who often travel to different homes everyday, Visits can help you keep track of all your job locations, how many times you’ve visited the same home and how much time you have spent at each place so you can manage your schedule better.


Tokyo Voice Column


Perfect Balance by Esteban Lopez

It is still beyond me how Japan is able to balance nature and an urban setting so seamlessly. I am astonished by how every square inch of Japan is flawlessly dedicated to either nature or a structure. In some cases, the two even come together effortlessly.

Just today on a walk down a street in my town of Tachikawa, I was stunned when I rounded a corner onto a sidewalk and the sun’s rays were swallowed up by a barricade of Cherry Blossom trees that hugged the left side of the sidewalk with their large and immaculately manicured branches stretching across the pathway.

It felt something like stepping into Totoro’s secret garden. Just a couple of steps beforehand, I was on a main thoroughfare filled with bicyclists, cars and vans and people rushing to and fro and now I stood at entrance of a red brick path overshadowed by large trees on the left hand side and a hedge, waist high on the right. I slowly took a step into the darkened path and looked up at the streaks of sunlight that spilled onto the branches and highlighted the white blossoms that still remained on the branches.

As I walked in awe of the magnificent sight, my attention was drawn to the groundskeeper wearing a Tachikawa cap and who looked as if there could be no better position in life than to maintain the beauty and splendor of that pathway. For a brief moment, I envied him and his position. To be in charge of maintaining such a beautiful monument was the best job any person could hope for. I wanted to thank him in Japanese for all he did, but my Japanese isn’t that strong and I only hope that the large grin on my face was evidence enough of appreciation for all he did for that portion of nature.





Strange but True


What would you do?

People love to moan about "the problem with the kids these days..." Sometimes, it's unfair and unfounded. Other times, however, there's good reason to. Take this young man who was riding the New York subway recently. The youth in question was spread out over three seats with his feet up, engrossed in his phone. Then this gentleman turned up and basically just sat on him. It's a bold move, but it might have paid off. Clearly shocked, the young man pulls a genuinely priceless face, and the adult woman travelling with him makes a halfhearted attempt at intervening. As for the bloke who's just plonked himself down, he just carries on as if sitting on a kid is the most normal thing in the world. What would you do?

You can't hide your poshness

You can normally work out how posh someone is based on the way they speak and where they live. But according to an etiquette expert there are a couple of things that reveal if somebody is truly posh. An expert revealed the two little signs which give away people who are actually posh. The first is how you hold your glass when drinking white wine or champagne. If you are posh, you'd hold the glass by the stem. In fact, that's why wine glasses are actually designed with the stem rather than just a normal rounded bowl. The same rule applies if you’re drinking champagne or prosecco from a flute. The second sign is how much time people spend enjoying nice things like afternoon tea. It is about people taking their time. It's your moment to be here, he says. So, if you want to be posh, don't rush through the experience. Posh people never do!!


50 Shades of Yikess