Plain Talk


Tokyo Apartment Blues by H.S.

A new apartment has been built next to my apartment building. Between the nearest train station and my apartment, two new apartment buildings are under construction as well. They are all small-scale apartments with perhaps under 20 units. My postbox fills with adverts of new and second-hand apartments and houses within the radius of 10km every day.

I wonder how many more apartments, large and small, expensive and less expensive, will be built in Tokyo by 2020, when the population of Japan is dwindling (though that of Tokyo is still increasing,) poverty is spreading and aging is advancing, all so relentlessly. Isn’t the market saturated?

In Japan, the price of an apartment sharply drops as soon as someone lives in it, even if for a short while. It’s generally said that an apartment loses its value by 20% as soon as it’s “used.” In other words, theoretically, someone with the budget of 30,000,000yen, or about USD300,000, can buy secondhand what could cost 37,500,000yen brand-new. With that in mind, are there many who will buy an apartment brand-new? There may still be, but that is beyond me.

Apartment buildings age as well. They need regular maintenance, and it can cost a lot. In Japan, an apartment building usually undergoes a major repair work every 10 to 15 years, maybe 20. If the accumulated fund that unit owners deposit monthly doesn’t cover the cost, the monthly deposit may have to be raised or a temporary contribution may be collected. If over certain percentage of the owners protests against the change, though, the repair work cannot be carried out fully and the building start to decay. Naturally, the older the building is, the more repair work costs. Reaching a consensus is the major issue among owners of flats. We will see more and more run-down apartments even in residential areas in Tokyo soon.

Large clusters of apartment buildings were publicly provided in 1960s through 1980s to accommodate the growing number of nuclear families for affordable rents. Now many units in these clustered apartments are empty, and the remaining residents are old after their children, now in their 30s, 40s and 50s, moved out. Cases of “kodokushi” death in solitude increase in occurrence. Local governments are trying to find solution by assigning poverty-struck households to these old apartment buildings. Some are put to use as temporary housing for families and individuals who lost their houses in natural disasters.

Apartment buildings spring up like mushrooms after a rain. Who will buy them? Will they pay? Who will look after them? What in the world will happen to older apartments, then?

Copyright (C) 2016 H.S. All rights reserved.







Plain Talk



The longer a foreigner resides in Japan, the more senseless things gradually become sensible. That really is a warning that you may be entering the world of the otaku, because nothing makes more sense than being around all that doesn’t make sense “Otaku” (literally, polite form for “taku” − home) has raised so many criticisms, ideologies, and positive and negative impressions among all genres of society. Some associate it with a person who lives an almost functionless life, who stays at home all day playing video games, or jumps from one train to the other without a set destination. Others may visualize an otaku as an avid follower of fantasy.

There could not be any other country in this world that knows how to play with fantasy as craftily as the Japanese. Absolutely the No. 1 artistic and commercial leader of manga anime production, Japan seems to have all the space and reason to release repressed emotions, stress, confusion, shame, anger (that is normally hidden), and even genuine love.

Becoming a sought-after cafe´ in Tokyo for its kitsch and flashy interior and dose of dreamland, Kawai Monster Cafe´ in Harajuku may just be the haven to forget logic, symmetry and sensibility―a kind of over-washed Disney fantasy world where the brightest of pinks, red, greens, blues, yellows, purples and circles, lollipops, and psychedelic curves dawn on your sparkling eyes. Here, you would have to stop being a “normal, decent adult” for just a teeny hour (less if you cannot take it) and pretend that all childlikeness envelops you in strawberry syrup. Menus go from “fruitful and heavenly” to “colorful poison.” Attendants dress in uncoordinated attire mixed with human and animal fantasy. Dreamy drinks look dreamy but taste less than a dream.

Other fantasy hideouts in Tokyo take you to a Lock-up izakaya that is another overfed visual reconstruction of a prison cell, so dark and frightening are its intention, you would want to go there for a double tequila to pay for your sins. Attendants, dressed as wardens, escort you to private rooms decorated with jail bars and some “punishment” icons like skulls, daggers, and chains to do exactly what it’s called: lock you up.

Then, there is also an elementary school-like izakaya, 6nen gumi (6th Grade) where rooms are set in a nostalgic old elementary school theme: blackboards, schoolbags, and notebooks. Attendants roam around in school uniforms, one or two as teachers, ready to give you a spanking if you don’t order their school canteen lunch boxes.

In Japan, one forgets everything. We can laugh at their fantasies…but see who’s laughing at us.

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 Revi]ew


Here Comes the Sun: A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras
By Leza Lowitz
Stone Bridge Press, 2015, 264 pp., \2251 (Paperback) /\1489 (Kindle)

Reviewed by Allan Cook

“Here Comes the Sun” is the autobiography of Japan based American writer Leza Lowitz. Born in San Francisco, Leza now lives in Tokyo with her Husband Shogo and their adopted son. Published on June 6th and printed by her home-state publishers Stone Bridge Press the novel is the journey of a woman in a foreign land in search of love, motherhood and ultimately of finding herself.

Hailing from one of the world’s most Asian and Japan-centric communities with about a half-million Japanese and over 5.5 million Asians, Leza, as all Californians, grew up in a deeply multicultural society with a deep Asian influence. With such deep connection to Asia and especially Japan it was no surprise that 1989 saw her first stint at life in Japan when she lived here in Tokyo until 1994.

Here Comes the Sun: A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras
By Leza Lowitz
Stone Bridge Press, 2015, 264 pp., \2251 (Paperback) /\1489 (Kindle)

In that time, Leza worked as a writer and literary translator utilising her knowledge, experiences and passion for Japan, by writing for the Japan Times in addition to lecturing on American literature at Japans most prestigious university, Tokyo University. Lowitz's translations included haiku and tanka a task that ultimately led her to writing her own books of poetry while in America. Published in 2001 “Yoga Poems: Lines to Unfold By”, saw Lowitz connect her other passion, discovered in her childhood, of Yoga and her desire to write.

It was that passion for Yoga that much of her life has been devoted, and which, in 2004 led her to return to Tokyo after a decade of absence. Opening a Yoga studio in Shinagawa, Lowitz finally began to see her life fall into place as the many seemingly disconnected pieces of her life finally connected, revealing their ultimate meaning. A road that would eventually lead her and her husband to revealing their greatest gift, Shinji the child they would eventually adopt.

It is from the Sanskrit teachings that each chapter of “Here Comes the Sun” is identified through its 8 Chakra titles. In Hindu according to the tantric yoga traditions, a chakra is a location on the subtle body! That is, the psycho-spiritual body! They are points of energy, points that channel our life force. Chakra also means “to move”, and is where the words origin can be found. As with all our lives, movement, change and adaptation are constant. Ultimately “Here Comes the Sun” is the Chakra of one woman's life and the connections that lead her through it to the understanding and wisdom that comes with that movement.

Tokyo Fab


So long, and thanks for all the sushi by Joshua Lepage

Eagle-eyed readers will no doubt have noticed that TNB has been re-publishing old columns of mine for last few weeks. Every time I scroll through my dusty old articles folder, I'm surprised by just how much I've written since joining TNB. I've been with them for years now -- I've written about fashion school, movies, art, the Japanese language, shopping, and even my disastrous love life and drunken adventures. Since I moved back to Canada, though, it's been increasingly hard to write anything fun or at least relevant to you Tokyoites.

So yes, this is officially my last article. I'm stepping down. It pains me to do so, but I'm sure that in no time, TNB will have amassed a line-up of fresh-faced writers who actually live in Tokyo and can churn out much better biweekly articles than I can. My daily life in Montreal mostly involves working in a call center and moping over the snow, the cold weather, the gross sushi, and the lack of men's clothing that fits my narrow shoulders, so I promise you won't be missing out on anything exciting.

The good news, though, is that I'm still working on a way to move back to Japan. I refuse to give up, dear readers -- I just need to save up some money and get that JLPT 1 out of the way. If all goes well, you might run into me at a Nichome club in a year or two. In the meantime, please enjoy the hell out of that wonderful city on my behalf. Eat some basashi (my fave), visit your neighborhood watering hole to practice your Japanese on the locals, spend too much at Laforet, take long walks at 3am without fearing for your safety, visit a temple or two, and enjoy the cheap all-night karaoke.

Oh, and of course: if you have something interesting to write, drop TNB a line. They've treated me with exceptional kindness and generosity over the years, and they're terrific people to work with.

Thank you for reading about my silly opinions and adventures, guys. It's been a blast.

What’s App With You?



Turn your iPad or iPhone into a window aboard the International Space Station. Experience stunning views of Earth captured by NASA astronauts. Touch the views and control the planet with your finger. A truly amazing one-of-a-kind experience. The app comes complete with seven beautiful interactive views of earth as well as access to the HDEV live view showing Earth live from the Space Station. In addition the app includes 8 relaxing ambient space soundtracks, a clock, and worldwide weather from Weather Underground. Please note that the ISS HDEV live feed is often off-line or otherwise unavailable. Even when on-line, the live view often shows black as the ISS is regularly on the dark side of Earth.

Atomic Toy:

Atomic Toy is another really nice app. It's made by the same developers as Tesla Toy. The app includes four different modes of operation. The different modes make it easy not to get bored with the app. Atomic Toy displays a nucleus surrounded by particles of energy. Touching the nucleus generates a new kind of atom. The energetic particles interact with touches on the screen. This universal app will also run on the iPhone and features retina support.


Tokyo Voice Column


The significance of Japanese words by Leina Sakamoto

How many of you have heard the Japanese word “guru” (グル) ? This word is most commonly known in the phrase “ Guru ni naru” ( グルになる) which means to become an accomplice. Therefore, it does not have a very good image. Nowadays it is heard as the abbreviation word for the word group(グループ). However, many Japanese do not know this themselves and use this word in the katakana form thinking that it is an English word but in fact it is a Japanese word. The history of this word goes way back to the Edo period. In the Edo period the sash, better known as obi, which you wrap around a kimono was called “guru”. The obi or “guru” is one long sash which you wrap around the waist of the body and artistically tie in the back. Given its round shape, the original meaning of “guru” meant circle or ring. Thus the root meaning of joining of people or circle evolved into words like accomplice and group. Another phrase that Japanese people are familiar with is “guru guru mawaru”. “Mawaru” means to spin around. In this phrase “ guru guru is used in the same meaning as to spin “round and round”. However, the Japanese word for round is quite different. I am most certain most Japanese don’t think this strange having heard this phrase from childhood. They probably don’t give it much thought but in fact it is the same “guru” from the Edo period.

The Japanese people use the word “circle” in many different ways. It has more than one Kanji for it;円, 輪, 丸, 環. However, the root meaning of the word has been a part of Japanese culture through the years. They respect the circle of family and friendship very much. Another example is the nomination for the Olympics. The previous years before Japan was nominated, Japan had had many struggles and natural disasters. Despite this they were able to recover and be nominated as the host country for the 2020 Olympics. Through the help of each other and the circle of relationships with neighboring countries Japan has come this far after the March 11th earthquake and tsunami. They feel that the Olympics is another “circle” or opportunity for the growth and continuing recovery of Japan. It was also nominated as Japan’s motto or kanji of the year of 2013.



MUSEUM -What's Going on?-


Leonardo da Vinci e Michelangelo

In an impossible challenge, the inspired art of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and Michelangelo (1475-1564) is in a face-off to decide who is superior. The enjoyable theme is enriched by the works of each artist including: the most beautiful rough sketching by Leonardo, the Study of the Angel Vergine delle Rocce Michelangelo and, head study for Leda And The Swan.
With Leonardo having hits such as 'The Last Supper' and 'Mona Lisa' Michael Angelo came back with the likes of 'David’ and the monstrous project of the 'Sistine Chapel'.

*Left - Leonardo da Vinci
"study for the Angel in the "Virgin of the Rocks"Head os a young woman
1483-85, ?Torino, Biblioteca Reale

*Right - Michelangelo Buonarroti "Studies for the head of “Leda"” 1530, ? Associazione Culturale Metamorfosi and Fondazione Casa Buonarroti

It is any ones guess as to who would be the winner but certainly, the inspiring collection of drawings, and 65 pieces including paintings, manuscripts and letters from the Royal Library of Turin and the Casa Buonarroti Museum, are sure to inspire and enhance your admiration for these two Italian born geniuses. Both prodigious artists created in various media to a distinctly high level with an irony in some way as Da Vinci favouring painting and Michelangelo not particularly respectful of the form. Their sheer talent however, flowed into all their work viewable here and shows the contradiction of what we think or prefer, compared to what we can create.

Period: June 17 - September 24, 2017
Venue: Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, Tokyo
Hours: 10:00−18:00 
Fridays & on the second Wednesdays: 10:00−20:00
(If Friday is a national holiday, close at 18:00.)
Final Week of Exhibitions: Monday−Friday 10:00−20:00
*Last admission: 30 minutes before closing
Closed: Mondays
Admission: 1,700 / University & College and High school students: 1,000 / Junior high school & Elementary school students: 500

For more information, please visit

Alberto Giacometti

After an 11 year absence from Japan, in conjunction with Fondation Marguerite et Aime´ Maeght, the diverse art of Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) will delight patrons once again.
Considered one of the most important sculptors of the 20th Century, the Swiss- born son of Protestant refugees escaping the inquisition, went on to study at the Geneva School of Fine Arts. His work expressed through different media and forms represented here in this exhibition held at the National Art Center, include oils, sketches, prints and sculpture. The latter he was particularly known for with his style featuring elongated forms. The tall skinny figures evolved from the original tiny designs as he stretched them with his imagination and the result is visible. This innovation became a trendsetter for sculpting.

Walking Man I
Alberto Giacometti
1960 Bronze
Archives Fondation Maeght,
Saint-Paul de Vence (France)

The Maeght Foundation holds one of the three largest collections of the artist and most pieces on display are sourced through them. 135 items will give you a great sense of how he preferred to work with models he was close to. Worth noting is the Japanese connection of photographer Yanaihara Isaku (1918-1989) who was a friend and model. With his skills in cubism and leadership in surrealism, Giacometti is sure to please the welcome enthusiast.


Period: June 14 − September 4 2017
Venue: Special Exhibition Gallery 1E, The National Art Center, Tokyo
Hours: 10:00 am-6:00 pm *10:00 am-8:00 pm on Fridays and Saturdays
(Last entry 30 minutes before closing)
Closed: Tuesdays
Admission: Adults: 1,600 / College students: 1,200 / High school students: 800 /
Junior high school students: Free

For more information, please visit

Strange but True


Ratatouille anyone?

Cat cafes are all the rage these days, so it only seems logical that some other species are getting in on the action. For two days this summer, San Francisco will be host to a pop-up rat cafe, where patrons will be able to enjoy coffee and pastries in the company of the critters. The San Francisco Dungeon, a tourist attraction where actors reenact bits of the region’s history, will be hosting the event July 1 and July 7. Don’t worry ― these aren’t wild rats brought in from the streets. Instead, the rodents of honor are adoptable domestic pets from Rattie Ratz, a Bay Area rat rescue group. That means that if you get along especially well with one of the rats at the cafe, you may decide to make your new friend a permanent addition to your life!

Let's Night Fever!

"Night fever, night fever, he knows how to do it!" This flamboyant frog was captured channelling his inner John Travolta. The animated amphibian adopted the iconic pose from the 1970s hit movie Saturday Night Fever. Amateur wildlife photographer Aditya Permana from Tangerang, Indonesia, took the groovy picture in his local pet shop. He sat for an hour with his Nikon D300 and his patience was rewarded when the frog suddenly jumped up and struck the classic disco pose. The image shows the feisty frog with one hand pointing to the sky in the same manner as Travolta’s heart-throb Tony Manero, even with his left elbow kinked out and his right knee bent. He knows how to show it!


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