Plain Talk


Being a musician in Japan by David SweetLow

I'm an English singer-songwriter based in Sapporo Japan. I've been living here now for four years and work as a professional musician. I have my own studio where I record and produce my own songs which I distribute online to be streamed on Spotify and other music platforms. These days if you're able to produce high-quality songs and music it's a great way to be noticed and make some money from your music where ever you based in the world.

I also like to perform my music live and often play in "live houses" in Sapporo where you have to do a deal with the owner about how to be paid for your performance. Over these four years, I've gradually built up a small following with the locals by emailing, texting and working the social media. Now I'm able to negotiate with the owner of a "live house" a "ticket back" system where I'll get back 500 yen on 1500 yen ticket or 1500 yen on a 2500 yen ticket price. I can nearly always get between 20 to 40 people to a gig and that means quite a good paycheck for the performance. Of course, these gigs have to be well planned in advance and it takes a lot of work emailing and following up. If you don't have any following another option is to contact other Japanese artists in your area who may have a few fans they can invite to the show and put together a bill of 3 or 4 artists who'll play for 25 minutes each. This is a great way to make contact with other musicians in your area. By doing this you can start to build up an audience of your own fans if they like you. Some owners of "live houses" will ask you for money to play "pay to play" which can be up to 3000 yen. I personally wouldn't do this as you'll probably just be playing in front of 5 or 6 people and at times the other artists on the bill may be dreadful.

Playing live in Japan as a foreign artist, however, is usually great fun because the Japanese enjoy seeing western musicians play. If you can sing an original song in Japanese they'll be very happy and impressed and you'll get offered lots of drinks. The Japanse are known for their politeness and will listen to your performance in silence or alternatively you may get the odd guy who'll shout "yeah"! or "cool"! at every opportunity. If this happens, get his email or "friend" him on Facebook and for sure you'll have a fan at your next gig!




Plain Talk


The Art of preparing a Japanese lunch box by Anne Corinne

As my child goes to kindergarten here in Tokyo, I (laboriously) got used to preparing a Bento (Japanese style packed lunch) for her every morning. The fact that a French mom makes Japanese Bentos often raises questions from my friends, and I gradually realised that the concept of “lunch” underlies a different philosophy in both countries.

French families rather put convenience and nutrition as their priorities. They often choose the meal ingredients according to their vitamins or calories, and consider that a healthy lunch has to be a hot meal and should include a refrigerated dairy product for an intake of calcium.
Occasionally, on a school day trip, most pupils would enjoy the typical sandwich on baguette bread. But eating a sandwich everyday is unthinkable. It would be boring, repeating and considered as junk food.

Therefore, working parents naturally register their kids to the school canteen, while full-time mothers would pick up their children during lunch break, eat at home with them and bring them back to school. Cooking isn’t regarded as an expression of affection, but keeping with their dear ones at meals with convivial talks surely indicates that they do care for them.

On the contrary, a Japanese home-made Bento is a visual Art that mainly expresses the cooker’s love through her time dedication.
As rice takes itself around 65 minutes to cook, rest and cool down, a lot of mothers get up at dawn to elaborate a sophisticated Kyara Ben (Character Bento) for the happiness of their children.

They focus on the colour coordination of the ingredients, and are experts in radish tulips, carrot hearts, apple bunnies, flower boiled eggs, fish-shaped sausages, vegetable stars… The list goes on.
Always including yellow, red and green in a Bento is a must. Some recipe books even recommend to include at least 5 different colours, and to pay extra care to the artistic presentation, or (I quote) “it might look like a dog bowl”.

Unlike French children who must go to a dedicated food-serving area, Japanese pupils eat inside their classroom while their teachers teach them good eating manners. Words like “Gochisosama deshita” are untranslatable and deeply reflect a Japanese sense of gratitude to whom took the time to cook. After lunch, their team spirit goes on, in a collective effort to mop up the classroom floor from any scrap of food.

Preparing Japanese Bentos can be a time-consuming challenge for unexperienced Gaijin parents. It takes a great deal of work to adjust to this beautiful Art, but it is really worth it for a good integration at school. After all, “郷に入りては、郷に従え”. (Kouniiriteha, kounishitagae). When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Unfinished business


The Smallest Box by David Gregory

She came over to my table and asked if I remembered her.
“That’s my boyfriend over there.”
Their table hugged a pillar blocking the sunny Tokyo Bay view enjoyed by the other customers that afternoon in Chiba’s AquaRink ice skating facility café.
“Maybe we will marry next year.”

On my way out, I stopped to congratulate the potential groom to be. What I later heard happened with Hiromi and Hiroshi that night at another place also close to the bay sounded so too good to be true that I visited that place to confirm it really happened. It did.

Hiroshi had reserved for the course menu that night at OCEAN TABLE, next to Chiba Port, on the second floor, where tables sat by the huge windows facing Chiba Port Tower and Tokyo Bay. No view-blocking pillars there. And they had a wait, even with their reservation, because it was Christmas Eve, which in Japan matters much more than the following day; the Eve is the year’s couples’ night out, and single women without dates that night can feel their whole year was wasted.

Hiroshi had changed into a suit after skating, and had urged Hiromi, against her protests about overdressing, into a plaid one-piece, raising expectations. They had never come to a place this nice, one requiring reservations. Saizeriya was more their speed: fast faux-Italian, cheap, and everywhere.
The unexpected wait made Hiroshi antsy. He relaxed and all was perfect after they were seated.

They talked. They ate the Christmas Dinner courses. They ignored the soft Christmas background music. They admired the gleaming, golden Christmas Tree rising from the first-floor buffet area through the open center space across from their table. They could see outside the sparkling flashes and half the tree in Port Tower’s Christmas Illumination, and beyond, the lights from the ships on and facilities around Tokyo Bay, appearing almost twinkling. Perfect—but not for Hiromi.

She went to the toilet. Still he had not asked. The day was done. The reservation system only allowed them two hours there. They had been together all day. He had remembered her birthday-just by coincidence, also that day-with a necklace at AquaRink. Nice, but was that all? He had pestered her since early December about what Christmas present she wanted until she had finally exploded with, “Nothing! Don’t you know I just want a proposal?!” And had added she wanted it to be a surprise. Here he had the perfect chance, and he was wasting it.

She could try enjoying what was left of the evening. Dessert was next. At least here was better than Saizeriya….She was still stuck when she returned to the table, and had no chance to do or say anything, anyway. It was his toilet turn.

Their desserts came. Hiromi sat and waited and pondered the future. Outside, the tower stood alone against the dark sky and Tokyo Bay’s inky darkness.

Their desserts waited. Maybe his tooth was bothering him again. Maybe he was just tolerating it to make the night go well. Maybe for her. Maybe she should go to check on him. Wait-maybe she just heard his voice across the room.

No, only Santa Claus, posing for photographs with diners at the far table. He then started circling the room, giving a small present from his big sack at each table. She could check after he was done.

Hiroshi still had not returned to his seat when Santa reached their table. He handed Hiromi a big, red stocking, by far the room’s largest gift, accompanied by a squeaky, “Atari! You’re a lucky one!” Yeah. She set it aside and Santa moved on. What was he still doing in the toilet?

Santa finished his round, returned to Hiromi, and pointed at her unopened stocking with squeaky, “Un! Un!” grunts. The other diners had opened their presents. She forced a smile and said she was waiting for her boyfriend to return. “Un! Un!”

When Hiromi still resisted, Santa took the stocking in his white-gloved hands and opened it himself. Out first came a big, pink box, heart shaped. He opened that and pulled out another heart-shaped box, and then, from inside that, another heart-shaped box. Another smaller, heart-shaped box followed. He removed from that an even smaller heart-shaped box, and thrust it to Hiromi with one more squeaky, “Un!”

Still gone. Well, he’d miss it. Hiromi obeyed Santa this time and opened it, the smallest box in the room …and her mind and face went blank.

After that frozen moment passed, Hiromi looked at Santa. The second shock hit, and more followed. Santa Claus had ripped off his gloves, furry hat, sunglasses, and huge, flowing beard. He took the box from her?she was still speechless?dropped onto one knee, held the open box out and up to her in both stretching hands, and said in a voice loud enough for everyone in the room to hear, “Hiromi-san, boku-to kekkon shite kudasai! Hiromi, please marry me!”

Outside, to anybody looking, Port Tower’s Christmas Illumination still flashed, and the lights on and around Tokyo Bay still appeared almost twinkling. Inside OCEAN TABLE, on the second floor, everything was happening so fast that Hiromi just did not know which was more difficult to believe: Hiroshi and the ring he first tried slipping onto the finger on her right hand, the one he had taken in his before she held out her left hand, or the following PAN! and PAN! PAN! PAN! PAN! PAN! and PAN! PAN! and PAN! explosions ripping and ribbons shooting around the room as diners at the floor’s other tables popped the party crackers they had found with the notes in their presents from Santa Claus.

Copyright © 2018 David L. Gregory All rights reserved.


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 Review


Cherry Blossoms in the Time of Earthquakes and Tsunami by Rey Ventura
Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2014,
291 pp, USD34.00

Reviewed by Randy Swank

video maker and scriptwriter Rey Ventura won the 2015 National Book Award for his third collection of essays, Cherry Blossoms in the Time of Earthquakes and Tsunami, but for some strange twist of fate you will find very little information on this book. You can’t even buy it on Amazon. This is a shame because Cherry Blossoms... is a beautiful, insightful and thought-provoking book.

These 11 essays, some of them autobiographical, see Ventura travelling back and forth between the Philippines and Japan, his adopted country, often portraying the many ways Filipino lives have been shaped and affected by their rich quasi-neighbor. Like in "A Suitable Donor," where the young men who live in the Manila slum of Banseco tell of how they came to "donate" a kidney or another organ to help a rich person in need − often from Japan.

Cherry Blossoms in the Time of Earthquakes and Tsunami
by Rey Ventura
Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2014, 291 pp, USD34.00

In "Miniskirts and Stilettos" we meet Ginto, a young lady who comes to Japan dreaming of making it big as a singer and entertainer but has to deal instead with a much darker reality; while "Mr. Suzuki Tries Again" and "Into the Snow Country" are tragicomic tales of arranged marriages where the dreams and expectations of bride-starved farmers from Japan's Deep North clash with those of young Filipino women who want to escape their poverty and go into marriage "as a girl goes into a convent." Ventura tells these stories with a great eye for detail and manages to find a ray of light even in the darkest corners, or poetry in the midst of a nuclear disaster.

The book's first essay is called "The Slow Boat to Manila" and indeed, slowness is the first word that comes to mind when considering Ventura's approach to writing. Everything Ventura does is slow. He is no magazine reporter after all, and will spend days or even months getting to know a person he wants to write about. That's the kind of personal commitment and deep connection with his subject that one feels when reading his essays.


Tokyo Fab



TOKYO AUTO SALON has a wide variety of dedicated exhibitors to
-showcase and demonstrate their latest technological solutions and products for cars to be tuned-up and dressed-up
-showcase and sell cars with dress-up parts and accessories
-showcase and sell cars highlighting innovative tuning technologies
-showcase and sell auto-related video games, aftermarket parts, motorsport merchandise and other diverse auto-related products
-showcase and sell complete tuned-up cars and commercial vehicles

Date:1/11 (Fri), 12 (Sat), and 13 (Sun)
@ AKUHARI MESSE International
Convention Complex Closest Sta. Kaihin Makuhari


Furusato Matsuri Tokyo 2019

“Furusato Matsuri Tokyo”, annually held at the Tokyo Dome in January with about 400 thousand in attendance, is one of Japan’s largest collective events on the theme covering “Traditional Performances” and “Foods from all over Japan”. “Traditional Performances” is festivals assembled from all over Japan, and their powerful and gorgeous full representations attract many spectators. “Foods from all over Japan” is a collection of delicious regional “Gotochi” foods and drinks from all over Japan, spanning more than 300 companies from Hokkaido to Okinawa.

Date:1.11(Fri)-1.20(Sun) 1.12(Fri)-1.19(Sat) 10am-9pm 1.20(Sun) -6pm
Venue: Tokyo Dome Access: Suidobashi Sta or Korakuen Sta

What’s App With You?


Motivation Quotes

2019 is the beginning of anything you want. Whether you're dealing with depression, need an extra push to go to the gym, or simply like to share quotes in social media, Motivation has you covered. Motivation contains a set of inspirational thoughts and sayings that will urge you to take daily action or if you just need a little dose of “pick me ups" throughout the day. These quotes will guide and inspire you for any occasion! Set many daily reminders for yourself and share the uplifting quote of the day with your friends and family, or use the image for Instagram or as a wallpaper. Motivation contains hundreds of quotes with deep and rich meanings, with a continuous stream of new ones added daily!


Apple Design Award winner Procreate is the most powerful sketching, painting and illustration app ever designed for a mobile device, built for creative professionals. This complete artist’s toolbox helps you create beautiful sketches, inspiring paintings, and stunning illustrations anywhere you are. Create a canvas and start painting with any of Procreate’s exclusive dual-texture brushes. Use the immediately responsive smudge tool to perfectly blend colour with any brush in your library. With Procreate’s incredibly high-resolution canvases you can print your artwork at massive sizes. Experience the revolutionary selection, transform, and perspective tools built exclusively for multitouch and finish your illustration with stunning cinema-quality effects. Procreate has all the power a creative needs.


Tokyo Voice Column


Three Ways to Keep your new years resolutions by Kathleen Nguyen

In the States, the new year is a time for a fresh start and doing those things you were thinking or saying you would do, and actually doing it. It means seeing more people in the gym, at your dance studio, in your language classes, or piles of donations or trash from spring cleaning! The first month is fantastic: energy is in the air, friends are more likely to say yes, and all that exercise and cleaning feels refreshing. The problem: keeping it up!

1. Make it easy
It's easier to do something that's easy, and harder to something that's difficult. This involves structuring your life in a way to create a path of least resistance. Trying not to eat ice cream? Don't have any in your freezer. It's harder to eat when you have to go out of your way to buy rather than having a stock in your freezer.

2. Engage others.
A support group helps, since humans are social creatures. Engage a friend, coworker, family member − someone! - and by doing so, you will find yourself responsible to another person. When tempted to give in, you have someone to call,. For myself, I had a month of dancing classes, and there were many times I was tempted to leave early or give in, but either my friend would not let me or because we made the plans to go together, I would feel guilty about abandoning her.

3. Shake it up.
You wouldn't be alone if your resolutions this year are the same as the year before. If your routine is a desirable outcome, that's fine. But if you find a want to change, then it's time to shake it up. If you always take the same path home, walk a different path. There is a time-efficient method to walk to my home, but when I decided to try a different path, I discovered a fun little bakery and another path showed me what used to be the #3 ramen spot in Tokyo. It's easy to be mindless, but by shaking it up, you engage a little more with the world around you.

Hopefully, these tips help you keep your resolutions this year, so you can make new ones next year!


1. シンプルに

2. 他人を引き込もう



MUSEUM -What's Going on?-


Architectural and Spatial Works Designed for Children

The spaces in which we spend our childhoods remain with us as subconscious memories that significantly shape our lifestyles and our thinking. In this exhibition, visitors will be introduced to spaces and buildings designed for study and play―the centers of a child’s activity―that are particularly innovative examples of modern and contemporary Japanese architecture and design.
Japan’s modern education system began in the late 19th century. This is also when the country began to build its first school buildings, which transformed in style and appearance as the times changed. The first school buildings were mock Western, a style that was popular at the time. During the 1920s and 1930s, the New Education Movement of Europe arrived in Japan, leading to the construction of imaginatively designed primary schools. Following the Second World War, steel-reinforced concrete schools became the standard, but the 1970s saw the implementation of open classroom concepts.

Fuji Kindergarten 2007
Architectures: Takaharu Tezuka + Yui Tezuka
(Tezuka Architects)
Total Produce: Kashiwa Sato
Photo(C)KatsuhisaKida FOTOTECA

Today’s schools cater to completely different contemporary communities. Despite the visual differences of the schools introduced in the exhibition, they all feature symbolic exteriors that are aesthetically pleasing to children and interiors designed to make children feel at ease. Also featured are kindergartens as well as activity centers, libraries, and other extracurricular spaces of play. Although it is impossible to cover the entire history of Japanese recreational and study spaces for children in a limited exhibition space, the exhibit provides a good overview with the 42 preschools and primary schools and 25 play spaces for young children that are featured.
Photographs, architectural drawings, scale models, and other materials provide visitors with both a creator’s and user’s perspective of these works. Other displays include educational toys and original picture book artwork. As times change, so do the definitions of a society, creating new situations and solutions in children’s centers of activity. This exhibition may provide hints on how to create environments that are best suited to the development of today’s children.

Period: January 12 - March 24, 2019
Venue: Shiodome Museum
Hours: 10:00 -18:00
*Last admission 30 minutes before closing
Closed: Wednesdays
Admission: Adults: 800 / College students: 600 / High school & Junior High school students: 400

For more information, please visit

MINGEI - Another Kind of Art

In 1925, Soetsu Yanagi (1889 − 1961) first named handicrafts made by anonymous crafts people “Mingei” as he recognized the beauty in these everyday items used by common people. The defining characteristics of Mingei, which draws on climate and custom, are handed down from generation to generation, developing originality in material, color, process, application, shape and so on, and evolved into innovative, impulsive, imaginative and original work not restrained by any one form or genre.


This exhibition features 146 traditional and contemporary Mingei items from The Japan Folk Crafts Museum’s collection selected by its director, Naoto Fukasawa. They are displayed along with straightforward statements by Fukasawa regarding their appeals. In addition, it also introduces the face of Mingei in today’s society through a film capturing the lives and work of the creators of Mingei and the people who promote it. Naoto Fukasawa’s personal collection, and photographs revealing new forms of Mingei are also on display.
Furthermore, this exhibition gives a new glance at the history of Mingei by presenting Soetsu Yanagi’s “Nihon Mingeikan Annai (Introduction to The Japan Folk Crafts Museum)” and “Verses from the heart,” which are expressions straight from the heart conveyed in short phrases; the in-house magazine, “Mingei,” for which Sori Yanagi oversaw the cover layout, “The Mingei Movement Film Archive” which captures the handicrafts during the early phases of the Mingei movement, and so forth.
Finally, the exhibition introduces the items created by present-day people who carry on the Mingei tradition in various regions throughout Japan. Through a myriad of exhibit, the exhibition will unravel the story of “Another Kind of Art = MINGEI,” which will be the basis of design inspiration into the future.


Period: - February 24, 2019
Venue: 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT Gallery 1 & 2
Hours: 10:00 - 19:00
*Last admission 30 minutes before closing
Closed: Tuesdays
Admission: General: 1,100 / University Students: 800 / High School Students: 500 / Junior High School Students and under: free

For more information, please visit

Strange but True



In advertising and glossy magazines the image of women as hairless, perfectly waxed, shaved and plucked beings is constantly reinforced. Now a group of women are joining a campaign that involves growing their body hair for the month of January - and it's called Januhairy. The idea is to encourage "the acceptance of body hair on women" while raising money for charity. The Januhairy Facebook page reads: "Society seems to be behaving as if the natural hair we grow on our bodies is unattractive and distasteful. "We are so used to removing our body hair that we are becoming unfamiliar with our authentic selves." Laura launched the campaign last month and now women from the UK, US, Canada, Germany, Russia and Spain are taking part. "Some of us don’t like it, some of us do… but we are all still feminine, hygienic and beautiful, no matter how smooth or hairy," she wrote.

Kiss on New Year’s Eve?

When the clock strikes midnight this evening, many of us will be reaching for a loved one to give them a kiss. Although it's a nice way to ring in the new year, the tradition has origins rooted in ancient cultures and superstition. According to German and English folklore, the first person you encounter in the New Year determines whether you have good or bad fortune in the year ahead. So kissing your partner at the stroke of midnight is meant to indicate that your relationship will be strong throughout 2019. Kissing at midnight was also tradition during the Renaissance, when masquerade balls were popular across Europe. At midnight, people would remove their masks, and kisses were a way of purifying each other from evil. It was a way of starting the new year with a clean slate.



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