Plain Talk


Perfection by Esteban Lopez

I used to think that nothing could be perfect and living in America, you are conditioned to mediocre service and products on a regular basis and so you take it in stride. That is not to say that we don’t have our geniuses. Take Steve Jobs for example, he was a perfectionist and rightly so, just think IPhone. But, men like him are few and far between; we don’t have too many greats left. And to make matters worse, not too many Americans nowadays care about the quality of their work and more often than not, they just half ass it and so we everyone suffers.

It was only until I lived in Japan for many years that I understood that perfection was an achievable goal and was highly sought after. The concept of Kaizen, where “one seeks continual improvement until all defects are eliminated and also trying to find better ways to do things at the same time.” It simply means “the pursuit of perfection.” I must admit this is what has always attracted me to Japanese culture, this never-ending quest to perfect oneself − continually striving for perfection in every aspect.

It is clearly evident in so much of Japanese culture, the attention to detail when preparing sushi, or the immaculate procession of a Japanese tea ceremony, where each and every step is carefully calculated and observed skillfully. What’s more is that Japanese care deeply about the quality of their products, so much so, that their products cannot be 99% accurate, they must at all times be 100% accurate or else returned.

I would even go as far as saying that Japanese are also fashion perfectionists. Their attention to every detail in their outfits still surprises me. What looks like was thrown together, but somehow carefully managed took me some time to learn and mimic. After careful observation, I better understand all the pieces that were necessary in my own attire.

Therefore, what Americans understand as the lofty and unachievable goal of perfection is actually the everyday existence of Japanese. They continually strive to be better in everything that they do and in doing so, have instilled in me the need to continually do better in my own life in hopes of achieving perfection someday.

かっての僕は、完璧なものなどあるはずもないと思いながらアメリカで暮らしていた。良くも悪くもないサービスと物が与えられた生活を難なく切り抜けていくのに慣れていた。だからと言って天才がいないわけではない。ステーブジョッブスを例にとろう。彼は完璧主義者で、iPhone を見れば歴然だ。でも、彼のような人はまれで、そんな偉大な人は大勢いない。その状況に輪をかけて、最近のアメリカ人の大半が仕事の質にこだわらず、たいてい無能で悩んでいる。

日本で数年を過ごした今の僕は完璧は達成できるゴールで、高く求められるものだと理解した。『かいぜん』とは、誤りや欠陥を是正し、より良い状態にするため継続的に努力することであり、同時に改良することだ。わかり易く言えば「完璧を目指す」ことだ。日本文化の側面である「完璧に仕上げるための永遠の探求 − あらゆる面で完璧を目指し絶えず努力すること」は僕を魅了する。




The Randy Reviewer


Reconsidering the idea of creativity by Randy Swank

Today’s over-intellectualized and somewhat frivolous art world seems to have lost touch with its ancient roots. However there are still places where we can find a simpler, more direct approach to art-making refreshingly devoid of any concerns about money and prestige. Two such institutions have devoted themselves to helping people born with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities develop their creativity in a caring and supportive environment.

At first sight, Tokyo’s financial district of Otemachi seems to be an unlikely place for artistic expression. Yet it is in one of those tall buildings that we find a very particular Art Mura (Art Village). It was founded in 1992 by Pasona Heartful Inc. (a subsidiary of the Pasona job agency) in order to help people with intellectual disabilities, who have difficulty securing traditional employment, earn money through making and selling art.

As Art Mura’s team leader Kumika Senda explains, “Since 1992 we have offered free courses in painting, pottery and other skills while planning dozens of exhibitions, some in our atelier. From 2004 we have decided to approach these art activities as a business, training a special group of talented people whose work is good enough to be sold or rented.”

Art Mura’s current group of 16 full-time artists work under the tutelage of painter Tokie Aizawa. “We sometimes choose a particular theme to work on, like for our recent exhibition at the Club, but they actually all have different interests and techniques,” Aizawa says.
“Their styles don’t belong to any established school of art. They are just very gifted people with a sharp artistic sensitivity that is refreshingly free from any preconceived ideas about what a painting should look like.”

As Senda points out, “Our motto is ‘talent knows no handicap’ and our goal remains to produce high quality art which can be valued and enjoyed in itself, regardless of the fact that it was made by an intellectually disabled person. That’s why we have strict quality standards and have devised a training curriculum that is specifically tailored to each artist in order to better develop their talent.” The fruit of their effort are works that share a surprisingly creative use of color.

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


The Spy Across the Table
(Book 4 in the Jim Brodie thriller series)
by Barry Lancet
Hardcover − 2017, 448pp, $17.10
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (June 20, 2017)

Reviewed by Allan Cook

The Spy Across the Table is the much-anticipated fourth installment in Barry Lancet's award-winning Jim Brodie thriller series.

Sometimes-PI Brodie "is in top form" (Kirkus Reviews) in this latest outing, in which he finds himself called to the White House―by the First Lady herself―after a double-murder occurs at the Kennedy Center. It turns out the First Lady was the college roommate of one of the victims, and she enlists Brodie―off the record―to use his Japanese connections to track down the assassin. Homeland Security head Tom Swelley is furious that the White House is meddling and wants Brodie off the case. Why? For the same reason a master Chinese spy, one of the most dangerous men alive, appears on the scene: the murders were no random act of violence.

The Spy Across the Table
(Book 4 in the Jim Brodie thriller series)
by Barry Lancet
Hardcover − 2017, 448pp, $17.10
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (June 20, 2017)

Forced into a dangerous game of espionage, Brodie finds himself in the crosshairs of the Chinese, North Korean, and American governments. He flies to Tokyo to attend the second of two funerals where Anna, the daughter of one of the victims, is kidnapped during the ceremony. Immediately, Brodie realizes that the murders were simply bait to draw her out of hiding: Anna is the key architect of a top-secret NSA program that gathers the personal secrets of America's most influential leaders―secrets so damaging that North Korea and China will stop at nothing to get them, forcing Brodie to face off against the spy across the table.
The previous entry in the series, Pacific Burn, explores the tragic aftermath of the Fukushima quake-tsunami disaster and the real reasons behind the nuclear melt down. Japantown, the first Brodie adventure, won the Barry Award for Best First Novel, was initially optioned by J. J. Abrams, and is now under consideration at other studios. The second volume, Tokyo Kill, was a finalist for a Shamus Award for Best Novel of the Year and declared a must-read by Forbes magazine.

Lancet's connection with overseas travel, foreign lands, and Japan began more than thirty years ago with a short exploratory trip from his California home to Tokyo. Five years later, after visiting numerous other countries, his visit to Japan turned into a long-term stay in the Japanese capital, a thriving metropolis he found endlessly fascinating. Now, Lancet is based in Japan but makes frequent trips to the States.


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?


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Tokyo Voice Column


"Inogashira Park" in Kichijoji by Curt Neilson

The moon hangs in fullness over the shallow waters.
A couple giggles in tones of discovery.
Another sits and gazes mindlessly.
Freshman-looking boys surround the swings;
The apparent leader bends his legs slowly like an aged pendulum.
They practice catch with wit, feeling their adolescence shapening into identity.
Walking I suddenly feel like Cain with GAIJIN on my forehead marking my otherness,
able to bend necks at me or cut paths through seas of dark heads.

But tonight the moon has played her trump card,
Revealing the deeper reality found beneath the surface rocks,
Making their “ar-bi-tos” and all-night cramming merely
A daydream, a yesterday, a nightmare realized for what it was:
A distracting mirage from the human, the animal, the passion―
The crickets’ song behind them, in front of them, beside them, in them―
Nature’s accompaniment to their true fairie tale.

A runner pounds the soft bricks into mud paste;
An old adobe project sprouts between my ears;
I struggle to pin a name onto my third grade teacher.

My feet zig-zag, slaloming between approachers
Seemingly unaware of walkway-as-roadway rules:
“Like a car, you idiots, walk how you drive!”
I crucify them in my head, crushing the Monet moment;
“They don’t know,” I counsel myself, “Most don’t drive . . .”

The silly beautiful boats float silently,
Slave-tied to the docks, yet smiling until their paint peels,
Their epic swan bodies and heads hiding the “Lovers’ Curse”
Of all couples who enter them and kick them through the water.

A piercing cry screeches into the midnight blue ceiling,
A peacock announcing existence.
Navy blue suits fetal curve alone on the cold wooden benches,
Awaiting Sake’s grip to soften, or Night’s icy fingers to harden
Before they stumble homeward.

I remember the previous night at the lake,
The missed moment with her, and throw my old key into the lake’s center
But miss and bury it ten meters to the left.

I smile into the beauty of the sky’s albino patches;
Cotton candy amoebas pin-cushioned
Onto a velvet sky with a thousand countable stars.

Nature holds my hand just a moment, reminding me:
A simple world where love conquers all.

MUSEUM -What's Going on?-



The ancient and advanced cultures of the Andean regions of South America come to life in Japan yet again with this stimulating and inspiring exhibition. This 2017 collection follows on naturally in the footsteps of scientists and historians that include Japans own Izumi Shimada who was at the forefront of discoveries and renewed interest in sites in Peru in the early 1990’s.
Introducing 9 Andean cultures of the Sican, Chimu, Moche, Chavin, Caral, Huari, Inca, Nasca and Tiwanaki, the diversity, wisdom and way of life will be evident. On display and shared will be the historical data which in some ways, was turned on its head when the carbon dating around 1996 was conducted at the ancient city of Caral, alongside insights into the scientific methodology of such projects.

"Mask with Inlays"
Moche (200a.c.−750/800d.c.),
Culture Ministry of Peru/National Museum of Nature and Science
Photo by Yutaka Yoshii

Remarkably, Caral may even pre-date The Sumerian and Egyptian cultures according to some and is rich in architecture, art, mathematics and astronomy knowledge while the Nasca Lines of the Nazca culture prompts speculation, imagination and curiosity.
This enriching experience also offers fun with Alpaca on site for pictures from 11am -3pm, a virtual reality experience featuring Lake Uyuni and, a presentation by the Museum Director on Nov 26th at 1pm with tickets on sale from 10am the same day. Don’t miss this!

Period: October 21 - February 18, 2018
Venue: National Museum of Nature and Science,Tokyo
Hours: 9:00 − 17:00 - 20:00 on Fridays and Saturdays
(Last admission 30 minutes before closing)
Closed: Mondays, 12/28 ~ 1/1, 1/9 (Except 1/8 & 2/12)
Admission: General & College students: 1,600 / High school, Junior high school & Elementary students: 600

For more information, please visit

Denmark Design

The refreshing and light design of Denmark comes to Japan in a focused exhibition featuring a variety of creations from this refined nation.
Denmark as a country easily wins the hearts of people with famed exports such as Lego and the writings of Hans Christian Anderson. While being a small country similar in size to Kyushu, it is often declared to be the happiest country in the world and adds strength to that with a high standard of living and a robust social system. It is not surprising that its design is also quite beautiful with an eye for simplicity and practicality.

Poul Henningsen
Pendant lamp《PH Artichoke》
1957 Private collection
photo:Michael Whiteway

The exhibition itself will reveal these traits through such things as lamps, furniture, toys, plates and dishes and other daily necessities. There might even be a bike that would be a good fit for the Japanese way of life! The journey of time has seen Denmark ride a wave of success as they capitalized on the mid-century post war boom of the 1900’s and they have not ceased since. From the late 1800’s to the present time, Denmarks stamp on a product normally means style.
So if you are playing with ideas for your current home, looking for inspiration or perhaps, even fancy yourself as a designer of some kind, soak it up and perhaps you’ll find the original Hans Wagner chair available for selfies or pictures of your making.


Period: November 23 - December 27
Venue: Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art
Hours: 10:00 − 18:00 - 19:00 on Fridays (Last admission 30 minutes before closing)
Closed: Mondays (except December 25th)
General: 1,200 / University and High school students: 800 /
Junior High School Students and below: FREE

For more information, please visit

Strange but True


Get your Christmas jumper ready!

It was once seen as the ultimate fashion faux pass. Brightly coloured garish knitwear featuring images of Santa, reindeer, elves or the cheesiest of Christmas sayings was previously just for the most festive on Christmas Day or for Mark Darcy's cringeworthy appearance in Bridget Jones. But the day to don your most festive outfit with pride is almost upon us - and wearers get to raise money to help children across the world at the same time. The annual Christmas Jumper Day fundraising campaign will take place on Friday 15th December. On a specific Friday in December every year, people are encouraged to make the world better with a sweater and raise funds for Save the Children by wearing a Christmas jumper and making a minimum donation of £1. The fundraising event first launched in 2012 and has seen many charitable children and adults donning their favourite festive knitwear for the occasion. There are no rules for Christmas jumpers - the more festive the better, with even jumpers that light up fair game!

Trend of This Year's Christmas's Ornaments

Gin-filled baubles exist and we imagine you'll want to hang them on your Christmas tree. Scottish distiller Pickering's has again brought out a festive range of boozy balls. Packs contains six differently coloured decorations, each one well and truly designed to help you get into the Christmas spirit. Pickering's makes good gin, too. It's not as if the baubles are a tacky novelty. The brand has won multiple awards, and has been hand crafting gin at its Summerhall Distillery in Edinburgh for more than 150 years. The gin's quality may have something to do with the fact that the last of the baubles sold out within 82 seconds. We imagine the idea itself helped the buying rush too of course. "No one had successfully made alcohol filled baubles before, which is strange because it seems so obvious now." The gin is described as 'light, fresh and bold' with the flavours of cardamom, coriander seed, and clove. Each bauble contains a double shot (50ml) and a pack of six costs £30, which isn't bad. Then again, if you need more, London brand Sipsmiths also does gin decorations. They're not baubles, but mini bottles with a ribbon with which to hand them on your tree.


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