Plain Talk


A Christmas Eve with a Japanese touch by Anne Corinne

As Christmas is coming soon, my relatives and friends based in Europe often ask me if I have any plans for the day, often assuming that nobody celebrates it in Japan. Well, if Christianity is indeed a minority religion here and represents only 1% of the population, many Japanese people actually do celebrate it nowadays by going to Santa Claus parties or by decorating a Christmas tree.

Although Nativity scenes are extremely rare at Japanese homes and the religious aspect is often of secondary importance, many people still go to church every year to listen to beautiful Christmas songs.

After all, the popular saying that “Japanese people are born Shinto, married Christian and buried Buddhist” shows how open-minded Japanese society can be towards different religions.

Unlike countries with a Christian tradition, Christmas Eve is much more important in Japan than Christmas day itself, and there is no national holiday on 25th December.

In Japan, surprisingly, 24th December is rather seen as an evening for two. A bit like Valentine’s Day, Japanese couples would enjoy Christmas Eve with a romantic dinner date in a restaurant and a night walk to see Christmas illuminations. Meanwhile in Western countries, it is so much a big family gathering that traffic congestions and crowded trains are often expected towards this big time of year.

On Christmas day, my French family would give presents to children and have the biggest yearly meal, near a cosy fireplace. It would be served on a beautiful table covered with tablecloths and silverware, and last for several hours. Even the regular local mineral and sparkling waters would be sold in special limited editions with glass bottles signed by famous fashion designers. Our typical menu would be foie gras, raw oysters, turkey, chestnuts, a plate of cheeses and salad, and a glass of champagne. And the long-awaited dessert would be a Yule log cake with a candied cherry on top. To finish, we would have a cup of Christmas tea made with orange peel, and eat some delicious marrons glacés.

Japanese families who want to savour a Christmas meal would rather buy fast-food fried chicken legs. This unexpected tradition is said to have started in the 1970’s, when the expat community regarded the new fried chicken fast-food chains as the only existing substitute for the traditional turkey that is hardly for sale in Japan. It has become so popular nationwide that it is now a “must-eat” on that day (prepare to stand in line for a long time to order your menu).

Japanese Christmas desserts are beautiful cream cakes with lots of big fresh strawberries on top. This combination of white and red colours definitely brings some festive Japanese touch. Although we are both in the northern hemisphere, it is interesting to notice that strawberry is a summer fruit in Europe, whereas it is already ripe in winter in Japan, about 6 months before anyone else.

The land of the rising sun just never ceases to amaze us, and so much the better.










Plain Talk



Living in Japan for many years somehow makes you acquire the culture’s unaccountable behavioral customs. This awareness becomes even more striking each time you leave the country and return. Here are a few of them:

“Ki wo tsukau” or showing extreme regard or concern for others is the Japanese manifestation for being discreet, by nature, about avoiding situations that provoke: offending others by language or action; making someone wait; causing someone inconvenience; imposing burden; putting someone at risk; or embarrassing someone (at least publicly). Punctuality, for instance, is a globally known virtue of Japanese. Foreigners think it’s stemmed from Japanese being purely precise in time, when actually, the underlying reason is they don’t want to make someone wait for them, which is regarded as impolite. Many Japanese as well do not customarily “volunteer” staying at relatives’ or friends’ homes when they travel. They would rather bunk in a hotel than impose a burden on others.

Other ways that Japanese practice “ki wo tsukau” may be like choosing a restaurant that the other party prefers (and also selecting an inexpensive meal if being treated); handing an o-kaeshi token or reciprocating by action in return for a present or a favor rendered (such as a job introduction, help with a house move, payment for a meal, and others); and generally downplaying your priorities to adjust to the other party.

Money talk is considered taboo in Japan. You can hardly hear a Japanese ask someone about the amount of salary one is making, let alone ask someone to pay for your train fare or meal. “Going Dutch” is the expected system when eating out. Only would you experience “free” meals when you are in the company of your boss or someone well above your senior. By the same token, borrowing money from someone is more of the exception than the rule (unless it is a person of very close affinity).

The omiyage gift-giving custom (gifts commonly handed out from a trip) can be quite overwhelming. Train stations, airports, souvenir shops, basements of department stores, and shopping arcades flood with presentably packed boxes of sweets, cookies and delicacies representing the region where they come from. It is such a practical marketing tool that many Japanese pick up these omiyage just before boarding the train or plane. Usually one to two boxes would be adequate for one person or a family, and the receiver, likewise, would expect nothing more. The custom is so ingrained in the culture that company workers almost always feel compelled to pick up an omiyage for their co-workers or boss before they return to Japan from a business trip.

On the other hand, Japanese culture is also clouded by a million contradictions. The courteous bow and demure body gestures can quickly be camouflaged by aggressive commuters pushing you inside the train or aside when you descend the staircase or escalator. Touching, not hitting, the person next to you in the train by the umbrella tip, your bag, or just the side of your coat can be addressed with a condescending pout and raised eyebrow, so be careful. The social standards are set so high by moral expectations that deviating from such is literally considered a character misfit, consequently being shoved off from job opportunities, social groups, and even family relations. Social pressure is, indeed, challenging that one has to figure out the least excruciating method to cope against the odds.



What’s App With You?



It's a free iPhone app that lets you type in a tiny missive (140 characters or fewer, like old-school Twitter), and then hurl the letters about the place. This isn’t freeform animation – you don’t need to know anything about keyframes and paths. Instead, you select a font, an animation style, a background pattern (which also animates), and an image to sit underneath everything. By default, you get an Instagram-friendly square composition, but a button lets you cycle through a range of alternatives. Quite a few of the animation styles result in questionable legibility. But work with some of the subtler options – and the rather nice backgrounds – and you can end up with a visually arresting video to share online.


This app sits in a space between traditional movie-making software and quick-fix video editors. As with products geared towards quickly fashioning something for social networking, Splice is keen to get you started. Select some videos or stills from your iPhone, drag to arrange the thumbnails, select an aspect ratio, and you essentially have an edit. However, the app gives you plenty of options for taking things further. You can add titles, effects, text overlays, and audio. Individual clips can be trimmed, cropped, and have filters added to them. Naturally, in-progress projects are saved so you can return to them later. Throughout, layout and workflow resemble the kind of thing you’ll be familiar with if you’ve ventured into desktop editing – only streamlined for mobile, and without a price-tag attached.


Tokyo Voice Column


“Leaf hunting” in Japan: no actual hunting, just admiring by Olivia

Back at home, we used to collect autumn leaves and make medicine or wreaths for home decoration and for fashion. I remember wearing my autumn wreath with pride at a school festival. So, when I heard the word “momijigari”, I thought it would be something similar. But no, people don’t collect red, yellow, and orange leaves in Japan. They usually don’t make autumn leaf wreaths as well. Japanese way of enjoying the autumn leaves is also exciting and fun, but a little tiring because of the crowds.

Momijigari is composed of the words “momiji” (Japanese maple) and “gari” (hunting), actually means "admiring autumn leaves”. There are many famous spots with stunning views, most of them outside of Tokyo. Trees with leaves that change colors in autumn are called deciduous trees, and they lose their leaves in the winter. They include Japanese maple, Japanese beech, and ginkgo or maidenhair tree. The color starts to change when the morning temperature is 6 to 7 degrees Celsius.

I recommend checking the “autumn leaves forecast” online before visiting any of the spots you found on English websites. In Japanese, there are many websites where you can check this kind of information, but for us foreigners, it is important that there is visual aid along with the kanji. So, I use this website, because each spot has a small Japanese maple sign coloured in green, partly red, red, or black, showing the stages of coloring. This way you will be able to catch the best the place has to offer!

Like cherry-blossom viewing, admiring autumn leaves at first became popular among aristocracy in Heian period. The nobles, inspired by the fall colors, played music and composed poetry, or went to the mountains on excursions. Areas near Nara, and Kyoto were described in numerous poems and paintings. They are still very popular! In the Edo period, the custom finally became available to the common people, and in the Meiji period, the public transportation allowed to travel a long distance to see the most famous autumn foliage places.

We can enjoy the autumn colors from mid-October to mid-December in Japan.







Strange but True


Be Smart to Use Smart TV

They’re some of the most popular home devices around, but if you have a smart TV , it could be susceptible to hackers. It is easy for hackers to take over your smart TV and ‘silently cyberstalk you. While hackers may not be able to access your locked-down smart TV directly, it’s possible that your TV can give him or her an easy way in the backdoor through your router. While this is no doubt very concerning, thankfully there are several things you can do to protect your family: Know your smart TV - know exactly what features your TV has and how to control those features. Don’t depend on the default security settings and make sure you know how to turn off the microphones, cameras and collection of personal information if you can. Check for security patches - check the manufacturer's ability to update your device with security patches.

WhatsApp Gold Hoax

It’s been going around since 2016, and now it seems that the WhatsApp Gold hoax is circulating once again. The hoax message mentions a fictional app called ‘WhatsApp Gold’ which does not exist - there is only one version of WhatsApp, and it’s the one you’re already using. The message is made up of two parts, with the first claiming that a video will come out tomorrow called Martinelli, which will hack your phone. Do not open it, it hacks your phone and nothing will fix it. Spread the word. While there doesn’t appear to be any such thing as the ‘Martinelli video’, the second half of the message warns about WhatsApp Gold - which is a true scam. If you receive a message to update the Whatsapp to Whatsapp Gold, do not click !!!!!



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