Plain Talk


What do you like most about Japan? by Adriana Stoica

What do you like most about Japan? This is the most common question I get whenever I travel outside Japan. Usually, I get this question in crowded pubs or in a noisy hotel lobby and I have very little time to answer, so I had to find a short and satisfying answer, easy to explain with limited vocabulary in English and other languages I know and clear enough to make myself understood.

"Well, if I am supposed to name it in 3 words I would call it mindfulness to others."

If the other person is not a native speaker, or he is not familiar with the word mindfulness, I would add quickly caring for the other people, so that they get the idea I am trying to convey. Then, I would shortly give some brief examples, from the real life situations, that they easily understand. For example:
- While commuting by trains, people are quiet, keep their cell phones on silent mode so that they don’t disturb others and do not carry heavy backpacks during the rush hours.
- People patiently wait for the others to get off the train first, before they could enter the train.
- Generally, the lost items are returned to a Lost and Found Office, and I could find my camera forgotten in a crowded station.
- You can park the bicycle outside a shop and find it there when you come back, even if you forget to lock it ?.
- People do their best to keep the streets and cities clean.
- In shops, shop assistants hand over the products with a smile and a bow, no matter how tired they are or how late it is.

As these things do not usually happen in all the countries, many people I talk to are very surprised and impressed. They get a nice image of Japan and wish to visit and experience by themselves these things, and even apply then in their own countries. I am happy that people understand that some simple caring habits which are very common in Japan could create a calmer environment for everybody, regardless the nationality.

日本の何が一番好き? 日本から離れた旅先の国々で、よくこの質問を受ける。たいてい、人で込み合うパブや大勢の人が行き来するホテルのロビーにいて、十分な時間がないまま、手短かで満足のいく返答を見つけなければならない。それも英語か自分の知る他言語の限られた単語で簡単に説明し、自分でも納得のいくものでなければならない。




Plain Talk


Itsukushima shrine and the island of Miyajima by Shahnawaz Bhutto

The island of Miyajima is located in Hiroshima prefecture, which is home to Itsukushima Shinto Shrine, a world heritage site since 1996. In order to reach Itsukushima shrine one has to cross Island’s gateway “Miyajime-guchi” to reach Miyajima wharf on the other side and it takes 10 minutes on ferry to reach the dock. On the way towards the shrine it is usual to encounter the wild deers. This part of island is reverted as a god since long ago.

The shrine’s architecture work is a style depicting 850 years old construction which was constructed under the orders of Taira no Kiyomori, a military person who held political powers in Japan. This island was extremely important maritime route for this military person who developed economic influence through trade with China in those days and he believed that this island was a place for god protecting the navigation. The inner shrine which was reconstructed in 16th century is believed to possess the style of Kiyomori’s time.

At high tide the shrine buildings seem to float on water and this truly represents the amazing and heart touching view of shrine. Up above the shrine is a highest point of Miyajima known as Mount Misen which has natural lush virgin forests on the way. In autumn the leaves add color and beauty at Momijidani Park, and near there is the base for a ropeway system. It will take you up into the air and to the final station at the top, in about 20 minutes. Near there is the Shishi-iwa Lookout, offering a fine view of islands in the inland sea. After coming down from Mount Misen and strolling to the Omotesando walkway leading to the shrine, visitor would be delighted to see the shops selling souvenirs and small restaurants. A forever-favorite souvenir from Miyajima is momiji manju, small sponge cakes in the shape of momiji maple leaves with a sweet bean paste or some other ingredient stuffed in the dough before baking. Many shops along the walkway bake the cakes right there, giving you an opportunity you will not want to miss. Another popular souvenir is Miyajima shamoji rice scoops, said to bring good luck. Specialty shops on the walkway have scoops for everyday use, of course, but also a lineup with a wish inscribed on them, like Shobai Hanjo (“success in business”) and Kanai Anzen (“safety in the home”). After sunset the look of the island changes and between sunset and 11pm it is illuminated with lighting system which adds the beauty of the island and makes it spectacular.

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?


Mind Games Pro:

Do you feel like your brain has been mashed due to too much heat exposure in the summer? Well, time to exercise your brain! This is the unlimited, ad-free, version of the hit brain training app. Mind Games is a great collection of games based in part on principles derived from cognitive tasks to help you practice different mental skills. This app includes all of Mindware’s brain exercising games. All games include your score history and graphs of your progress. The main app shows a summary of your best games and today’s scores on all games. Using some principles of standardized testing, your scores are also converted to a comparison scale so that you can see where you need work and excel. The Training Center selects games for you to play in order to maximize your progress and enjoyment.

CogniFit Brain Fitness:

Now that we started the brain exercise, this one actually exercises our cognitive abilities. Cognitive abilities are brain-based skills we need to carry out any task from the simplest to the most complex. They have more to do with the mechanisms of how we learn, remember, problem-solve, and pay attention, rather than with any actual knowledge. Improve cognitive abilities such as memory and concentration, with sleek, fun and addictive games designed by neuroscientists. Users can track progress and access insights about overall brain health. Competitive players can challenge friends too. After an initial quiz, the app adapts each game’s difficulty to your profile and gives you recommendations based on your results. Developers found that users saw improvement by spending at least 20 minutes, two to three times a week, playing the games.

Tokyo Voice Column


The Art of Noise in Tokyo by Jeremy Moorhead

When The Art of Noise finally took the stage in Roppongi, early September, it was the culmination of a dream come true for this correspondent. I’d waited over 30 years to see them, not having the chance to enjoy their pioneering synth pop live before now. Incidentally, it was the band’s first date in Japan since 1986. They seemed happy to be back and one could hardly blame them, given the opulent surroundings of Billboard Live Tokyo.

The venue is celebrating10 years of bringing Tokyoites the best in music, including such greats as Steely Dan, Chaka Khan and Erykah Badu. It’s a far cry from London’s Shepherds Bush Empire or Dublin’s SFX Hall. No mosh pits here or plastic pint glasses. For the audience, used to Japanese comfort that doesn’t appear to be a problem. They’re all here to experience the show, which is a greatest hits package mostly culled from their first 2 albums Who’s Afraid of The Art of Noise and In Visible Silence, the latter of which has been re-released in a new deluxe format. Some new samples pepper the pieces; Donald Trump appears on Instruments of Darkness, the track originally written about apartheid era South Africa.

JJ Jeczalik, Gary Langan and Anne Dudley are enjoying the moment. All 3 have been involved in classic pop over the years; Queen, ABC, Yes, Frankie Goes to Hollywood included. Dudley, who is a composer in her own right, was recently awarded the Ivor Novello award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music.

There’s something glorious about revisiting your favourite artists from yesteryear and The Art of Noise do not disappoint. It’s reassuring to know that no matter how far away from home you find yourself; there’s a great tradition of live music in Japan and you’re usually spoilt for choice. Not just the outdoor festivals and bigger bands but just a great night out, be it a jazz session hidden away in a basement in Aoyama or an up and coming rock band raising the roof in Ebisu. Here’s to many more.


ビルボードライブ東京は、スティーリーダン、チャカカーン、エリカ・バドゥ等の大御所の最高の演奏を東京のファンに提供し続けて10年になる。ロンドンのシェパーズ・ブッシュ・エンパイアやダブリンのSFXホールとは比べ物にならない。ここでは、モッシュピッツ(押しくらまんじゅう)しないし、プラステック製パイント・グラスを持っている人もいない。日本的な居心地の良さでステージ鑑賞するのはなんら問題ない。デビューアルバム「「Who's Afraid Of The Art of Noise」とニューデラックス版としてリブートされたセカンドアルバム「In Visible Silence」から抜粋された名だたるヒット曲をつめこんだ演奏を楽しむためにみんな、ここにいるんだ。南アフリカのアパルト政策について書かれた曲、「Instruments of Darkness」にはドナルト・トランプ氏も現れ、新しいサンプリング曲も披露してくれた。



MUSEUM -What's Going on?-


Hokusai and Japonisme

For the first time ever, an exhibition celebrating the relationship of Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) and Japonisme will enliven the art scene in Tokyo. A particularly impactful artist on the world stage, Hokusai pieces were taken from Japan and shared widely thanks to travellers, enthusiasts and indeed, other inspired artists. This exhibition will put side by side, the masterpieces of the famed local with that of internationally renowned artists with a collection drawn from more than ten different countries.
Featuring 220 works of western art, 40 colour woodblock prints and 70 woodblock printed books, the immense collection allows the visitor to explore and compare fine art at its best and some quite similar scenes indicating perhaps, how significant Hokusai was to the household names of the famed art world. Compare drawings of Hokusai with paintings of Monet, Degas and Cassatt. Contemplate the relationships with impressionists like those mentioned and post impressionists such as Van Gogh.

Katsushika Hokusai
"Hokusai Manga, vol. 11 (detail)"
date unknown
woodblock printed book;
ink and limited color on paper,
22.8 x 15.8cm
Uragami Mitsuru Collection, Tokyo

Edgar Degas
"Dancers, Pink and Green"
1894, pastel on paper,
mounted on board, 66 x 47 cm
Yoshino Gypsum Co., Ltd.
(deposited at
Yamagata Museum of Art)

We can thank Curator Akiko Mabuchi, Director of the National Museum of Western Art and her collaborators for providing this wonderful opportunity to explore the focused ground breaking work of a Japanese national and the widespread sharing that was accelerated by the opening of Japan to the outside world in the late 1800’s.

Period: October 21 - January 28, 2018
Venue: The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo
Hours: 09:30 − 17:30, -20:00 on Fridays and Saturdays, -17:30 on November 18
(Last entry is 30 minutes prior to closing time)
Closed: Mondays except 8 January 2018. Closed on 28 December 2017 to 1 January 2018, 9 January.
Admission: Adults: 1,600 / College students: 1,200 /
High school students: 800

For more information, please visit

Van Gogh & Japan

The flourishing art environment of Paris in the mid to late 1800’s may not have happened without the undeniable inspiration of Japan’s unique artistic quality and in particular, Ukiyo-e (coloured woodblock painting) and writings. With vast quantities of original Japanese art reaching other nations through events organized by government and later on through art dealers, the artistic world was elevated into new levels of creativity and perhaps you could say, more freedom to express with wide range of techniques. The highly skilled Japanese ukiyo-e artists who come from a culture that celebrates focus and mastery, are still influencing artists to this day and some of the well known personalities of that time demonstrated through their work, the personal impact the exposure had on them.
Vincent Van Gogh is much loved in Japan and his time coincided with these events. Though originally born in the Netherlands, his final resting place is in France, alongside the remains of his brother Theo who had spoke at Vincents funeral just 6months before his own parting. The simple cemetery has become a pilgrimage for many a Japanese artistic aspirant.

Vincent van Gogh
"Courtesan (after Eisen)"
1887, Oil on Cotton
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
(Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

This exhibition invites you to enjoy the examples of Japanese creativity inspiring European art while also letting you bathe in the sublime natural beauty and energy of Van Gogh himself. It is yet another example of how the unique Japanese culture is such a gift to the world and how it propelled the careers and appreciation of talented creators worldwide.


Period: October 24 − January 8, 2018
Venue: Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
Hours: 09:30 − 17:30 (Last admission 17:00)
Fridays, November 1, 2, 4 − 20:00 (Last admission 19:30)
Closed: Mondays, December 31, January 1 (Open the Monday of January 8)
General: 1,600 / College students: 1,300 / High School Students: 800 /
Senior 65+: 1,000
English audio guide is available for ¥520

For more information, please visit

Strange but True


Scariest doll goes on sale for Halloween

A Halloween doll has been dubbed the 'most terrifying and grotesque thing' ever after a video of it moving went viral. Footage of the must-have decoration has been watched more than seven million times online. The nightmarish toy is made up of a pale doll with black hair bunches and blue light-up eyes cycling on a wire trike. But its the noise the petrifying puppet makes that seems to have people truly creeped out. It slowly peddles around to a ghostly child giggling soundtrack. More than 35,000 people have commented on the video, most saying how terror-struck they would be if they ever saw it. "Now I can't sleep, for fear I will wake up and she will be in my house! I hate dolls," said a viewer. But, the petrifying puppet does not come cheap. On eBay the 'haunted house animatronic tricycle doll' costs $173 or around £135. Still, if you want to spook people, maybe it's worth it?

Haunted or Not Haunted?

If you have a spare £795,000 knocking about and fancy living down the road from vegetable-shunning Tory politician Jacob Rees-Mogg, here's an old house you might fancy buying. The Old Court is a 150-year-old Grade II Listed property with seven bedrooms. And the Victorian home has kept its majestic period features, including vaulted ceilings, lavish stonework... and a magistrates' court. Ah yes. There it is. The 800 sq/ft house, not far from Bristol in Temple Cloud in the Somerset countryside, used to be a working court house. The grand hall, now used as a dining room, saw many trials. Below it, the original jail cells have been kept − and turned into bedrooms. Even the hatches remain, which staff once used to pass food to prisoners awaiting trial. In the main house, there are five bedrooms, a lounge, dining room, study, second reception room, a gym, and a sauna. The three 'jail cell' bedrooms have been made comfortable. No rats. Although, as the Bristol Post points out, it was his ancestors who probably funded the house's construction, so we should be thankful for that at least. Anyone interested?


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