Plain Talk


"PRETTY WOMAN" by Alma Reyes

The epitome of the Japanese woman has always been one striking element of Japanese culture and tradition that foreigners find so magnetic and exotic. The novel “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden tells the world how Japanese women can be both gentle and fiery beneath the fine contours of the silk kimono. Over the past twenty years, women in Japan have been taking more active roles in society―working later hours, heading organizations, assuming managerial posts, and choosing not to have children to fulfill lasting careers. Still, this percentage of proactive women ranks fairly low compared to women’s statures in other countries in Asia, and more so in the Western front.

We have all heard of the “OL” (office lady) phenomenon that has existed in Japan for over fifty years since after WWII. One would think that the stereotyped scenario of female employees making and serving tea, running photocopies, buying lunches for kacho and bucho (department heads), or cleaning bosses’ desks would have progressed by now to more challenging responsibilities. Not quite.

Despite approaching the latter part of the 21st century, fresh female graduates stepping into their first taste of corporate life could still be subjected to routinary days making and serving tea to visitors who drop by the office. They are most likely to be instructed to buy milk, sugar, cream, or toilet paper from the convenience store, buy stamps and deliver packages to the post office, and sometimes seniority or having a graduate degree are not exceptions. In contrast, a newly hired male employee would not be obliged to make and serve coffee nor run errands.

When you step out of the corporate world and hit the back streets of Tokyo, you may unluckily find sleazy places that hire joshi chugakusei or junior high school girls, and joshi kokosei or senior high school girls, dressed in their typical cutey short-skirted high school uniforms to “attend” to male customers who come to the shops just to fancy looking at them. These young girls go home with minimal wage just enough to spend on their favorite luxury bags or eat at some fancy restaurant. Pop idol groups consisting of high school girls, again, in short-skirted high school uniforms, though earning more handsomely than their counterpart cute girls in backstreet shops, sacrifice their education for wealth and fame, and social life by having to avoid the tempting glances of cute boys that swoon them to relationships in the risk of getting fired.

The prevalent male fetishism in Japan for minor-aged girls looking “kawai” (cute) and innocent goes beyond media exploitation in television, movies, advertisement, and manga. It truly is tough being female in the Japanese workforce; more so being a female gaijin (foreigner), and who may be pregnant or a mother over 30 years old. The coming Tokyo Olympics in 2020 may, perhaps, be a pivotal point for women’s issues―to provide them more aspiring opportunities in work where their skills and abilities can be best utilized and respected by all.

Plain Talk


Harbingers by Aonghas Crowe

The Japanese will tell you that nothing quite heralds the coming of spring like the ume blossoms of February. In my opinion, however, there are no harbingers of the season better than the coveys of road construction crews, which can be spotted throughout country in the months leading up to April.

Easily recognizable by their white crowns and the vertical yellow stripes on their breasts and backs, the crews have a mating call that is quite distinct―ja-ja-ja-ja-jack, ja-ja-ja-ja-jack. The crews forage deep in the ground seemingly at random; and, having found what they are after, the will replace the top layer of earth with asphalt and quickly migrate off to only Mother Nature knows where.

Back in the days when I did a lot of translation work, there was a hackneyed phrase that I was often forced to render into English: utsukushii shizen ni megumareta (美しい自然に恵まれた, lit. “blessed with beautiful nature”). I would translate this in a variety of ways, such as “The prefecture is blessed with bountiful nature”; “The city is surrounded by an abundance of natural beauty”; or “The town is surrounded by beautiful nature.” Occasionally, I might slip something like “Located in an idyllic natural setting, . . .” into my translation, but I found that if I took too much poetic license, the translation would invariably come back to me with the complaint: “But, you left out ‘beautiful’.” Or, “You failed to mention ‘nature’!”.

The thing that exasperated me, though, when I was doing these translations is that I would gaze out of my office window and look at the jumble of telephone wires and cables, the scarcity of trees, the concrete poured over anything that wasn’t moving, the gray balconies and staircases stretching as far as the eye could see, and shout, “Where the hell is this ‘beautiful nature’? Tell me!! Where is it?!?!”

Having grown up on the west coast of the United States, I know what unspoilt nature is supposed to look like. In my twenty-plus years living in and traveling around Japan, however, I have yet to find a place that has not been touched by the destructive hand of man. Mountains that have stood since time immemorial are now “reinforced” with an ugly layer of concrete; rivers and creeks are little more than concrete sluices; and Japan’s once beautiful coastline is an unsightly jumble of tetrapods―concrete blocks resembling giant jacks―that are supposed to serve as breakwaters but may actually be causing greater erosion. One of Japan’s chronic problems is that, once something has been set into motion, it is often difficult to change course. As a result, by the early 1990s more than half of Japan’s coastline had already been blighted by those ugly tetrapods. I dread to know what the figure is today in 2017.

Were I to form my own political party, one of the first campaign promises I would make is to form a Ministry of De-Construction. The MDC would remove unnecessary dams, tetrapods, concrete reinforcements, and so on; the idea being to put Japan’s ever so important general construction industry to work by undoing all of their eyesores. Second, where the dams, reinforcements and tetrapods truly were necessary, I would ensure that they be concealed in such a way to look as natural as possible. Third, the cobweb of electric cables and telephone lines would once and for all be buried. Fourth, there were would be stronger zoning and city planning to reign in urban and suburban sprawl and create compact, highly dense cities that are separated from each other by areas of farming, natural reserves, and parks. Fifth, diversity would be reintroduced to the nation’s forests. No more rows upon rows of cedar that not only look ugly, but give everyone hay fever.

Unfortunately, none of these things are bound to happen anytime soon. The Japanese are so accustomed to being told in speeches and pamphlets that their town or city is blessed with beautiful nature that they have come to believe it despite what they surely must see with their own eyes.

Familiarity sometimes breeds content.


Haru-o sakibure
Doboku kana

Nothing quite heralds
the coming season of spring
like public works.

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?


Marvel Puzzle Quest:

If you’ve ever played a Puzzle Quest, then you can see how Marvel could make that unique take on the Match-3 formula something special. Marvel Puzzle Quest does a great job of making characters feel different within the confines of the rules. Each one has corresponding colors that it prefers to be matched, gaining points towards a special attack each time. Special attacks affect the playing space in interesting and flavorful ways, and many characters have different versions that iterate on their many comic booky nuances even further.

MARVEL Contest of Champions:

The real success Contest of Champions has is that it makes me wish there was a proper Marvel-only 2D fighter. The combat mechanics are basic, yet intuitive enough to get the most of PVP encounters. It doesn’t take much to string combos together, just tapping or holding, but it’s enough to keep things interesting. You can also get a wealth of characters through just playing the game, and things to spike to ridiculous difficultly so hard that grinding some experience by repeating old missions isn’t a viable option. Outside of super moves, though, I wish there was more variety between characters.

Tokyo Voice Column


Springtime in Tokyo, Time to Stretch Your Legs by Lorne Fetzek

Tokyo winters can seem unbearably long. In fact, compared to other parts of Japan, winter in the city is comparably mild, but, as the days pass, and temperatures never seem to rise, denizens of the great metropolis seek shelter in the warmth of the subways and innumerable bars and restaurants that pepper virtually every neighborhood.

All of us dreaming of one thing, the first hints of spring that will allow us to shed our heavy coats and scarfs and allow us to once again enjoy the suns full warmth.

Some of us may have also gained a few kilograms during the long winter period of relative activity. For those of you looking for any excuse to shake the winter blues, I have a suggestion. Walk!

Despite still being the world’s largest metro area, the city center of Tokyo is surprisingly compact. So, like the Japanese do, use Nihonbashi (日本橋) as a starting point, and start walking to enjoy this beautiful city. A 1/2 to 1 hour walk in any direction will serve as a personal challenge and also an opportunity for discovery.

While the physical benefits of a nice walk in early spring might seem obvious, there are also some practical merits.

For starters, if you’re newly arrived and don’t know your adopted city yet very well, there’s no substitute for a good walk to get to know the surroundings in a way that’s just not possible if your underground, or in a car or taxi. Walking gives you the “feel” of the neighborhood and you’re virtually guaranteed to remember the neighborhood better if you walk it than if you’ve simply driven through and especially if you’ve only emerged from a subway exit!

The second major benefit is discovery. I suggest that you give yourself some extra time, and as you are walking from point A to point B, take the opportunity to check out along your stroll the many shops, bars, restaurants, and other establishments along the way. And, as you go, keep a list of the places you’d like to come back to! On a recent 1 hour trek from Nihonbashi to Toranomon (虎ノ門), I listed 15 places, all restaurants, actually, that I want to come back and try. Once you’ve got your list, once you get home, do a deeper dive by checking the websites of the places you listed for more information.

You’ll be an expert on Tokyo’s neighborhoods in no time!
Spring is here! Make it count!! And, happy trails to you!

MUSEUM -What's Going on?-


Collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen Bruegel's
"The Tower of Babel" and
Great 16th Century Masters
the State Hermitage Museum

The Netherlands rich cultural heritage comes to Tokyo in 2017. Featuring in particular, two talented influential artists who plied their trade some 500years ago, the collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen features about 90 pieces including oil paintings of rich colour and astounding realism, print works and wood sculptures.

Pieter Bruegel I
"The Tower of Babel"
c.1568, oil on panel
Museum BVB, Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Hieronymus Bosch (c.1450-1516) was one of five artist brothers and extended from a family of painters. In existence in the entire world today, his highly regarded paintings are numbered at only about 25 with another 8 drawings attributed to him with confidence. This exhibition will provide the most rare opportunity to see two of his masterpieces and an insight into 15th Century Netherlands. His work is know for fantastic imagery, detailed landscapes and, as with many of that era, religious themes. He also was a great leader in the field influencing featured artist, Pieter Bruegal The Elder.
Pieter Bruegal I (c.1526/30-1569), was another Dutch painter of incredible talent and his featured painting ‘The Tower of Babel’ returns to Japan after 24yrs. This time, in a wonderful innovation by Tokyo Arts COI, a replica include triple the size of the original and also, a 3D graphic has been created to exlpore in multiple ways.
This enriching gallery visit delights with skill, insights into 15th and 16th Century Netherlands art, culture and history.

Period: April 18 - July 2, 2017
Venue: Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
Hours: 09:30-17:30 *09:30-20:00 on Fridays (Last admission 30 minutes before closing)
Closed: Mondays (except for May 1)
Admission: 1,600 / University & College students: 1,300 / High school: 800

For more information, please visit


Influenced by Leonardo DaVinci and in turn, impressing upon greats such as Salvador Dali, the oil paintings of Giuseppe Arcimboldo feature in a unique and impressive display of nature in art. The Milan born Italian creator found favour in the Hapsburg court in Vienna in the late 16th Century performing as portrait painter to the elite while also being involved in costume design and art direction.
The significant feature of his work is the use of motifs such as fruit, vegetables, books and fish to compose the subjects form (mostly portrait heads).

Giuseppe Arcimboldo
"Spring" 1563
Oil on Canvas
(C) Museo de la Real Academia
de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. Madrid

Arriving in Japan for the first time, this collection in collaboration with The National Museum of Western Art, has gathered pieces from many major museums around the world. Arcimboldos’ famous self-portraits named Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer will be displayed alongside each other to delight and perhaps tempt your taste buds! You will also be treated to the story of his work as Art Director in Hapsburg Court and have the opportunity to examine his background influences and later influencing right up to the 20th Century resurgence of interest in his style.
This weird, witty and wonderful artist has left a uniquely flavored brush stroke in the world of creativity.


Period: June 20 − September 24 2017
Venue: The National Museum of Western Art
Hours: 09:30〜17:30 / 〜20:00 on Fridays & Saturdays (Last admission 30 minutes before closing)
Closed: Mondays, July 18 *except Monday July 17, August 14, September 18
Admission: Adult: 1,600 / University: 1,200 / High school: 800

For more information, please visit

Strange but True


Who, or what should I say, doesn't like fast food?

Everyone goes nuts for tacos ― even squirrels, well, this one anyway. Brooklyn resident Maria Bianchi recently managed to photograph a sighting of “Taco Squirrel,” a relatively rare creature in the animal kingdom. As you can see by Bianchi’s tweet, Taco Squirrel has a jones for hardshell tacos. Whatever it was, it’s safe to say it probably was delicious, because tacos, by their very nature, are delicious and even just the lone shell would probably still be pretty good. This squirrel surely enjoyed eating Taco nearly the size of its whole body. Taco Squirrel is just the latest urban animal caught in a feeding frenzy by a world hungry for photos of urban animals eating fast food. "Pizza Rat", “Bagel Pigeon”, "Doughnut Rat”, “Milkshake Squirrel”... Just hope eating this guilty pleasure food is a special occasion for them and not a daily routine...

Wasn't expecting to bump into you there!

Roller coasters are designed for thrill seekers, but one man got more than he bargained for at the newly opened Ferrari Land in Barcelona, Spain. A man and his friend went for a ride on Red Force, which is being touted as Europe’s fastest roller coaster, on Friday and literally crashed into an unfortunate surprise. While riding the 112 mph coaster, a bird slammed into the man’s face. Shocked by the impact, the man felt his face until he found a bird pushed up against his neck thanks to the ride’s extreme acceleration. He tossed the bird aside and, appeared to tell his friend what just happened. Moments after the encounter, the man seemed to accept his ― and the bird’s ― fate and rose his hand for another drop. It’s unclear if the man suffered any significant injuries, but, at the very least, he and the bird appeared to be ok and thrilled the last few seconds in the video.


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