Plain Talk


Ichiyo Higuchi: Literary Giant and the Woman on the 5000 Yen Note
by Patrick Hattman

Japan's 5000 yen note features a grainy picture of a young woman who lived during the Meiji Era (1868-1912). A famous writer at a time when few women were in the profession, her real name was Natsu Higuchi, but she is better known by her pen name, Ichiyo Higuchi.

Higuchi was born in Tokyo in 1872 during a period of rapid change in Japan as the country emerged from 250 years of a closed door policy to reengage the rest of the world. Higuchi's father worked a variety of jobs but struggled to find success in this new world, and his untimely death in 1889 left Natsu, her mother and younger sister to fend for themselves.

Higuchi's situation was complicated by the fact that she became the head of household and had to support her family. Displaying an early talent for writing, she decided to embark on a literary career. She had more than 20 short stories published over the next several years, with many of them receiving widespread acclaim.

Higuchi penned stories about the ordinary people around her and how they dealt with the harsh reality of their existence. Unrequited love was another common theme in her writings, and how women had little control over their lives after marriage.

Some of her most prominent works include: Otsugomori (The Last Day of the Year) in 1894, Takekurabe (Growing Up) and Jusan'ya (The Thirteenth Night) in 1895, and Wakare-Michi (Separate Ways) in 1896.

With her literary reputation established, Higuchi seemed to have a bright future in front of her. However, stricken with tuberculosis, she died on November 23, 1896, aged 24. Her life was short, but her stories had a profound effect on the Japanese at the end of the 19th century, and still resonate with many people in Japan and abroad today.





代表作に、『大つごもり』(1894年) 『たけくらべ』(1896年)『十三夜』(1895年) 『わかれ道』(1896年)


Plain Talk


What happened to all the ridiculous T-shirts? by Marshall Hughes

Where have all the insane, error-filled, humorously bad, slightly risque´ and just plain ridiculous T-shirts in Japan gone recently?
- - - - -

More than 20 years ago I taught English in public junior highs in Ibaraki Prefecture, just north of Tokyo. About once a month, I went to elementary schools to teach.

One day I was in a fourth-grade class and met a girl who was perhaps the cutest, most adorable student I’ve ever met. Her pigtails stuck straight out and she was the very picture of kawaii. Her purity, innocence and zest and wonder of life were truly remarkable.

A few months later I was standing on the platform at Koga Station and the girl recognized and approached me. She was as cute as ever, and she was wearing a T-shirt printed in English. She asked me to read the shirt and tell her what it meant in Japanese.

The shirt said, “I am devil mouse. You are nothing but a bucket of spit.”
Only it didn’t say spit, it said something that rhymes with spit. I told her I couldn’t understand it completely, but that part of it said that she was cute like a mouse.

Foreigners in Japan 20 years ago used to frequently see all kinds of shirts similar to this. Two other favorites I saw were “He was foxed by his girlfriend. Don’t monkey about him,” and “Show your fluttering and you’ll never have anything what you’ve dropped this.”

It wasn’t just on T-shirts that you could find strange things. When the Tsukuba Express Line, running from Tokyo to Tsukuba, opened in August of 2005, there were signs in the station saying “no smorking.” Tsukuba is said to host not only the highest percentage of English speakers of any city in Japan, but because of all the research centers there it is also said to host the most highly-educated work force in Japan. Still, their signs said “smorking.”

One day in Utsunomiya I walked in a clock shop to waste some time as I waited for a friend. I found about 35 clocks that, for some reason, had English expressions printed on the back panels. About 60% of them had either misspellings or were complete gibberish.

I know that this isn’t exactly a one-way street. I have heard many cases of Westerners in America getting Chinese characters tattooed on their bodies only to find out later that the characters are either non-sensical or don’t mean what the bearer thought they did.

Remnants of the good (?) old days when these kinds of T-shirts were seen everywhere still exist on some websites that are dedicated to funny T-shirts and signs. One example is Check it out for a few good laughs.

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


Little Shrimpin’by Dean Mejia

When most people in the USA think about buying pets, the first animals that get considered are dogs and cats. Birds, fish, and hamsters are pretty popular as well. To my surprise, my girlfriend skipped all of those options and chose tiny freshwater shrimp instead.

Growing up I didn’t have any friends that had these little creatures in their home. I didn’t even see any kids on television shows that had them as pets. Besides all of that, I’m allergic to shrimp so I would have never even considered bringing them into my life. I compromised with my girlfriend though, since she convinced me that there impact on me would be minimal or non-existent. They have not impacted negatively at all.

The shrimp have impacted me in a positive way though. Seeing them swimming around and between the various plants, rocks, and mini-moss balls in our 1.5 gallon tank has a nice calming effect. After a hard day of work, I can come home and sit in front of the tank for 15-20 minutes and just zone-out. I observe as their community unfolds, and as long as my girlfriend does minimal maintenance on the tank, I don’t have to worry about anything.

The shrimp are fragile creatures and this has made for a challenging experience. We’ve had 10 shrimp in total since we started. 7 have died for various reasons (overheating, getting stuck in the filter, etc.). The tank seems to be stable now though, and the 3 shrimp present are thriving. Currently in the tank, there is 1 snowball shrimp (Shirop), 1 red cherry shrimp (The Red Guy), and 1 yellow shrimp (Lemon Bar). I am happy that we didn’t settle for more traditional pets, because these little guys are really cool. If they were ever to grow bigger than 2 centimeters though, like if they grew to be 2 inches in length or more, I would probably visit the tank a lot less. I need them to remain cute and tiny for this relationship to work.





MUSEUM -What's Going on?-


Impressionist Masterpieces from the E.G. Buehrle Collection, Zurich (Switzerland)

Sixty pieces of fine art Arriving in Japan for the first time account for half those on display in this exhibition brought to you from the collection of Emil Georg Bu¨hrle (1890-1956).
The energy of the German born collector and arms manufacturer was directed into the creation of a foundation in Zurich in 1960 near his home and last residence. Some famous creations will feature including Pierre August Renoirs ‘Irene Cahen D Ivers’ affectionately known as ‘Little Irene’ is a portrait of the 8yr old daughter of well known banker, Cahen d’Anvers. Her picture is said to be touching and beautiful and loved by many.

Pierre August Renoirs
'Irene Cahen D Ivers (Little Irene)'
1880, Oil on canvas
(C)Foundation E.G. Bu¨hrle Collection,
Zurich (Switzerland)
Photo: SIK-ISEA, Zurich (J.-P. Kuhn)

World-renowned artist Paul Cezanne is remembered through his featured piece ‘Boy in Red Vest’. Cezanne painted 4 portraits of the child three of which are in museums in the U.S.A while one, the most famous, will be here in Japan for this special occasion. The painting valued at 91million dollars was in fact stolen from its home in Zurich in 2008 to be discovered in Serbia in 2012. Another featured and significant piece is “Water Lilies’ by Claude Monet. The huge 2x4m masterpiece will be viewed for the very first time outside Switzerland.

Period: February 14 - May 7, 2018
Venue: The National Art Center, Tokyo - Special Exhibition Gallery 1E
Hours: 10:00 -18:00, -20:00 on Fridays, Saturdays and April 28~May 6
(Last admission 30 minutes before closing)
Closed: Tuesdays (Except May 1)
Admission: General: 1,600 / College students: 1,200 / High school students: 800
*Free admission for junior high school students and younger
English Audio Guide Available

For more information, please visit


An impressive list of artists can be explored in this wonderful exhibition of some of the worlds finest and most famous 17th century paintings. Of particular interest will be the seven paintings travelling together for the first time by Diego Vela´zquez (1599-1660). The highly acclaimed painter revered by future greats was a court painter that included historical and cultural aspects and scenes of people amongst his works.
Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), the prolific Flemish artist of the Baroque tradition knighted by both the King of Spain and the King of England, can be studied with his dynamic and sensual style often featuring biblical and mythological women. Bartolome´ Esteban Murillo (1617-1682) who along with religious pieces also took delight in painting women and children of the time. His realistic portraits can be viewed as everyday people of society. As did Murillo, Francisco de Zurbara´n (1598-1664) took up apprenticeship in Seville, Spain and his distinctive style will stand out to you with its precise foregrounds and dark backgrounds. Quite striking indeed.

Diego Rodri´guez de Silva y
'Prince Baltasar Carlos
on Horseback'
Ca. 1635. Oil on canvas,
211.5 x 177 cm.
(C)Museo Nacional del Prado

With the main collection coming from that of King Phillipe 4th of Spain,
it is back by popular appeal after a seven-year absence coinciding with the
150-year celebration of diplomatic relations between Spain and Japan.


Period: February 24 − May 27 2018
Venue: The National Museum of Western Art
Hours: 9:30am- 5:30pm / - 8:00pm Fri. & Sat
(Last admission 30 minutes before closing)
Closed: Mondays(Except for 26 March and 30 April)
General: 1,600 / College students: 1,200/ High school students: 800
*Free admission for junior high school students and younger.

For more information, please visit

Strange but True


Too Much Drinking?

There were many sore heads around the world after the New Year's Eve celebrations. And it appears the hangovers weren't exclusive to humans as this worse-for-wear PIGEON shows. The bird was spotted with its head slumped against a car windscreen by an amused passer-by in south-western Russia on January 1. The man filmed the encounter, getting up close to the feathered critter which appears to be dead on the bonnet. The cameraman, thought to be the owner of the car, is seen to gently prod the bird, saying: "Brother, c'mon brother. Wake up, bro! Hey, brother." The sluggish pigeon then stirs and eventually wakes before flying away. As the film was made on the 1st of January, social media users speculated thats its condition could be linked to heavy New Year's Eve celebrations. Hope he sobered up and feels better now...

Forgot your trousers?

If you see people on the tube in the UK with no trousers in freezing January, there’s a reason for that. Not necessarily a GOOD reason, but a reason all the same: It’s the annual No Trousers On The Tube day. Wish it was for charity or a good cause, but it’s not. It’s just a chance for people to exercise their free will to show off their legs to confused commuters on the underground. As it would be illegal for people to go naked, they will only be removing their trousers and not their underwear. It was organised by The Stiff Upper Lip Society. The only rules were: That you are willing to take your trousers off on the Tube. You are able to keep a straight face while doing it. The organiser also state that their aim is to make people laugh, not pee them off. Don’t wear anything overly close-fitting (so no thongs, banana hammocks or mankinis) or kilts without anything underneath. They emphasize that they don’t want people to be disgusted, and the organisers do not want trouble so they are putting their trust in you. Anyone want to join this movement?


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