Plain Talk


Share a Universal Connection with Japan through Theater at Meijiza by Lorne Fetzek

Tokyo is consistently rated as one of the world’s great cities. Still, those rankings often discount the performing arts scene. That may be because much of Japan’s theatrical world is “hiding in plain sight” so to speak. The theaters and performers abound, with talent, but perhaps the language barrier discourages many. Whether you are a resident, or a visitor here, it pays to be intrepid. One great example of a hidden gem is Meijiza/明治座 in Chou-Ku/中央区.

Meijiza showcases popular entertainment. In one month, you’ll likely see Rakugo/落語 performed one week and a live reenactment of an Anime/アニメ the next. Many shows run for only a week or two, so if whatever’s playing isn’t of interest, wait, and it’s likely that something completely different will be onstage soon. Marking its 147th year, this remarkable theater has burned to the ground or otherwise been destroyed 5 times in its history and yet, it remains a landmark venue (the current theater was constructed in 1993).

Some of the most familiar faces in the Japanese entertainment world (people you see in commercials or frequently on local TV shows) reveal their thespian skills here. I recently attended a play based on a popular, long-running television series which featured a star-studded cast of Japanese Geinojin/芸能人.

One more tip, Meijiza offers Bento/弁当 meals that you can eat at your seat during performances. So, so GOOD! Make sure you place your order before taking your seat.

We’re all yearning to make connections with the community again in these difficult times. What better way than to share an afternoon or evening with your fellow Tokyoites at this “people’s theater”, Meijiza!






Plain Talk


Vaccination campaign: Japanese Encephalitis by Anne Corinne

If you are living in Japan with young children, your city hall will most probably send them some free of charge coupons for Japanese encephalitis immunizations. You may be surprised about it, as most foreign countries don’t organize any vaccination against this disease. And, by the way, WHAT IS Japanese encephalitis?

This infection is said to have been reported for the first time in 1871 in Japan, hence the name “Japanese Encephalitis”, although it also exists in surrounding Asian countries.

The risk is especially high from May to October, mostly in Japanese agricultural areas with flooding irrigations (rice fields, etc.).

The virus, which is spread by mosquitoes, causes viral encephalitis. There is no efficient treatment to cure the infection, and permanent brain damage or even death can occur, especially among children.

At the moment, vaccines are the only available measures to keep protected from the disease. This is why Japan organizes massive immunization campaigns at an early age for all its young residents, as the disease has been recognized as a public health issue.

A 1st term vaccination will start when your child is around 3 years old, followed by another injection the following month and a 1st term booster 1 year later. Then, a 2nd term immunization will be done between the age of 9 and 12 years old.

Thanks to Japan’s vaccination campaign efforts, cases of Encephalitis are now rare, but the virus still remains among mosquitoes in the affected areas. This is why adult foreigners who are not immunized against the disease remain at risk. Ideally, we are recommended to get vaccinated too, especially if we spend a lot of time outdoors, or at least to take as many precautions as possible to avoid mosquito bites, by using long-sleeved clothes, repellents and insecticides.

Anyway, once we experience Japanese humid summer and its inevitable mosquitoes, trying to keep them away cannot make us any harm…




ウイルスを持つ蚊を介して感染し急性脳炎を起こす。ウイルスに直接効く抗生物質はないため、治療方法は対症療法のみだ。脳性麻痺等後遺症を残し、死に至ることも ある。






Unfinished business


Farewell to a Japan Jazz Icon by David Gregory

The messages from all over Japan read aloud during the service helped us realize how widely Koyama-san touched lives and how many like us were feeling something newly missing from our worlds. But, although wonderful and sometimes saddening us, they did not trigger crying. That happened next.

Those first few notes of the "'Round About Midnight" Miles Davis version, the cut Koyama-san always used to open Jazz Tonight, performed by a live piano and trumpet duo up front near the coffin, did it: Instant recognition, recollections, sighs around the room, eyes closed, arms crossed, heads dropped back or down, and tears, at least for me. How many times had we heard, after Miles breathed his somber opening, Koyama-san's low, raspy voice welcoming us into the studio with, "Minna-san, gokigen ikaga desho-ka everybody, how are you feeling?"?and never thought that someday we would hear him ask about us no more?

Koyama-san's widow, whom, like him, had never known me, stood alone at the coffin head and bowed in silence to everyone in turn after they placed flowers around his body as the duo continued with another slow number, the trumpet sounding so strong and crisp and unusual in a memorial service hall. After we placed our flowers, she responded to my hand on her shoulder, a touch just meant to console her, by immediately turning and reaching for me?a total stranger?burying her head in my chest, and breaking down. She needed that hug that everybody sometimes needs. She let go after her respite when she was ready to face the coffin and everyone else again, and returned to her position. Going to Kashiwa in a snowstorm was worth it just for those few moments when I could do something for her.

So our Kashiwa day was both sad and good. But, why did I even want to go a funeral for a man whom I only knew by voice, and who, although linked to jazz, was not even a musician?

Koyama-san and his Jazz Tonight program I listened to since at least the early 2000s. For more than sixteen years, while my life in Japan has been filled with huge uncertainties, he has been here Saturday nights on the radio, reliable, keeping me connected to the world's music and opening my ears to music from Japan I would not know without him. Listening to him always made me feel good, no matter what had happened in my life during the week or what was coming up in the weeks ahead. Koyama-san and Jazz Tonight were my respite. How well can I replace that comfort?

Koyama-san, thank you for helping this foreigner feel good in Japan. Please rest well in jazz heaven.

NHK Radio, thank you for giving Koyama-san a way to connect with us. Please encourage other DJs to continue doing what he did so well.

To Koyama-san's surviving family members: Please care well for yourselves now, and thank you for supporting and sharing Kiyoshi with us.



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


Olafur Eliasson: Sometimes the river is the bridge

Influenced by our complex relationship to nature, Eliasson’s installations often use natural phenomena − such as light, water and mist − to heighten our understanding of the way we perceive and co-produce the world around us. At MOT, visitors are invited to view the artist’s earliest work in the exhibition, “Beauty” (1993), where a rainbow emerges in a darkened space. A major installations created specifically for the exhibition will utilize the cavernous space of MOT’s atrium. The activities of Studio Olafur Eliasson (SOE) are not limited to the production of artworks. Ideas and projects are developed through daily experimentation, collaboration and research. Sometimes the river is the bridge will integrate some of this process into the exhibition through a display of the studio’s recent research into new sustainable and biodegradable materials as well as recycling techniques.

Date: - Sun. 27 September, 2020
@ Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo
Closest Sta.: Kiyosumi-shirakawa Sta.


Peter Doig

Painter of romantic, but uncanny landscapes, Peter Doig (b. 1959) has been named one of the most important artists in the world today. Doig produces paintings that combine diverse imagery from the compositions and motifs of works by modern painters such as Gaugin, Van Gogh, Matisse and Munch, to scenes from films, advertising graphics, and the landscapes of places he has lived, such as Canada and Trinidad.
Our mystical fascination with Doig’s paintings may be attributed to the artist’s use of images seemingly seen somewhere, to present worlds we have most certainly never seen. Inviting viewers on a journey of the imagination through painting, Peter Doig this long-awaited first solo exhibition by Peter Doig in Japan, covers the artist’s career from early work to latest offerings.

Date: - October 11, 2020
@ National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
Closest Sta.: Takebashi Sta.

What’s App With You?



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Tokyo Voice Column


How do you think of that? by Mardo

I showed my wife a recent Tokyo Voice Article I wrote on remote controls. After reading it, her first question was “How did you think of that?” My reply, I always think, about everything.

This article was not about who controls the remote or how much more unfit we are now we don’t have to stand up, but about how often we drop them. Weird, right? But me, I always think, about everything. It can be simple things, like what should I bring to a party if Jo is coming instead of Jack (Jack usually makes salad). Or it could be something complex like, can the speed of shadow move faster than the speed of light. Or it could be something worth writing about, no matter how strange, like, How I can understand why Mothra is a Japanese Movie monster after moving to Japan, because some of the moths here are Huge!

Of course it is not always a good thing to think about everything. Especially when you vocalize what you are thinking. E.g. What I can do when you have to work that extra shift, or, now you can go to gym and get back in shape since you were dumped by your loser BF and have time to go again… (no one likes having it implied they’ve put on weight).

All I know is I think all the time, about everything. I am sure this would make me terrible at meditation. that whole clearing your mind of everything idea is not something I have ever been able to do. For me “Thinking about anything” is preferable, and a much better way for me to relax or come up with a solution to a completely different problem.

Maybe I should start my own form of meditation. Free thinking! You just think about random things until you are calm or have an answer. I would use a comfortable chair too, no mats or sitting in strange bendy positions. I could make a fortune with this idea… excuse me, I need to go think about something.





メディテーションの新しいアプローチとして提唱してもいいかもしれない。フリーティンキング方法! 気持ちが落ち着くまで、答えが見つかるまでさまざまな事に思いを馳せる。くつろげる椅子にゆったり腰かければ、マットはいらないし、身体を曲げた窮屈なポジションも必要ない。お金になるいいアイディアかもしれない....、考え事をしなくちゃいけないので、失礼します。

MUSEUM -What's Going on?-


Koko ni Iru (I am Here!)

Organized by a unique curator Nobumasa Kushino, Kushino Terrace is an Art Space where atypical artists including juvenile delinquents and death row inmates can express themselves through art.
This exhibition in Miyagi Prefecture has been organized by the Kushino Terrace showcasing 9 unconventional and energetic artists including Sakuzo Tan.
“Social media made it possible to peek into other people’s happiness and sometimes that could trigger anxiety and insecurity.
Nevertheless, we also know that no matter how wealthy you become, living in the material world, and feeling euphoric, the feeling of satisfaction will eventually wear off.
History already proves that the human desire for momentum and happiness is endless.
None the wiser, we understand that being different and following our own senses is the right thing to do, but we also know that being who you truly are takes much courage.
In such struggle, a person who is immersed in something and lives without being influenced by the existing values has a strong “self”.
In this exhibition, introduced is a unique and intense self-expression that focuses on the existence of "I".
On the street, at home, in the atelier, and on the screen of smartphones, they have been creating their own place and let the world know who they are.
If you listen carefully, you will hear their voices.
A powerful voice saying "I'm here".”

(C) Kushino Terrace

With many unique artists, this exhibition invites us to the world lesser-known and sheds light on the out-of-ordinary perspectives. Perhaps, after this experience, the world would never be the same.

Period: - August 30th, 2020
Venue: Nishipirika no Museum - 47,Tateshita Yoshioka, Taiwa, Kurokawa District, Miyagi Prefecture
Hours: 11:00 − 17:30
Closed: Thursdays
Admission: FREE

For more information, please visit


Philippe Parreno Exhibition

A Key Artist Of His Generation, Philippe Parreno Has Radically Redefined The Exhibition Experience By Taking It As A Medium, Placing Its Construction At The Heart Of His Process. Working In A Diverse Range Of Media Including Film, Sculpture, Drawing, And Text, Parreno Conceives His Exhibitions As A Scripted Space Where A Series Of Events Unfold. He Seeks To Transform The Exhibition Visit Into A Singular Experience That Plays With Spatial And Temporal Boundaries And The Sensory Experience Of The Visitor. For The Artist, The Exhibition Is Less A Total Work Of Art Than A Necessary Interdependence That Offers An Ongoing Series Of Open Possibilities.
In This Exhibition, You May Encount His Masterpieces Including Marquee Made Of Lightbulbs And Neons Flickering, And Speech Bubbles Which Is Balloon Work Stuck To A Ceiling. And Also Ice Man Exhibited In Ripples Across The Water In 1995, A Exhibition By WATARI-UM Collaborated With A Legendary Curator Jan Hoet, Shall Get Renewed And Reappear.

Marquee, 2016
Courtesy the artist and Esther Schipper, Berlin
Photo (C) Andrea Rossetti

Through These Colorless And Transparent Works, We May Witness A Neo-Futuristic Landscape In Parreno's Eyes. This Is A Cutting-Edge But Also Nostalgic, Mysterious World Of Parreno, Which Is Here Today And Gone Tomorrow.
This Is A Presentation Or A Re-Presentation Of Objects That Appeared Between 1994 And 2006.
The Title Is Made Out Of The Superposition Of All Those Dates Starting In 1994 (The Speaking Stone) Or 1995 (The Ice Man In Reality Park That Was Made For A Group Exposition Called 《Ripples Across The Water》 Curated By Jan Hoet That Took In WATARI-UM, The Watari Museum Of Contemporary Art) And Finishing With The First Marquee Appearance In 2007. An Over Exposure Of Dates Produced This Motif. This Motif Gives The Title A Manifestation.
There Is No Synopsis To This.
There Is No Beginning And No End To It.
Here Objects Enter Into A Dialogue Between Each Others. Each Of These Object Sees (Through A Camera) The Other Connected, And Is Sensible Enough (They Have Access To Data About Atmospheric Pressure And The Wind Direction In Shibuya) To React To Some Precise Events. They All React To Air Variations, To Air Exchanges. All Together They Produces Scenes That Will Occurred Between November 1st 2019 And The Completion Of This Series Of Manifestations On March 22nd, 2020. (Philippe Parreno)


Period: - March 22, 2020
Venue: WATARI-UM, The Watari Museum of Contemporary Art
Hours: 11:00 - 19:00, - 21:00 on Wednesdays
*Last admission: 30 minutes before closing
Closed: Mondays
Admission: ¥1,000 / Student (under 25 years) ¥800 / Elementary and Junior-high school student ¥500

For more information, please visit

Strange but True


Don’t want to leave your shed?

As far as face coverings go, a man wearing a shed on his head is one of the more bizarre looks you're likely to come across when you pop to the shops. But for this man, the miniature garden structure is not a response to the coronavirus pandemic but "a way of life". He made headlines at the start of lockdown after shoppers at Aldi in Bristol photographed and filmed him queuing to get in, doing his shopping and paying at the checkout, as reported by Bristol Live. The glare of the cameras is nothing new for the local celebrity, who previously drew attention when he strolled through the city with a shed on his head playing loud techno music, flashing disco lights and spouting flames from the chimney. He says "I don’t walk around Bristol with a shed on my head, I walk around Bristol, and that’s it. These people just can’t look past the shed sometimes.” Might be a bit hard for people to look past the shed when your head is literary inside it…

Always Ask for ID!

On TikTok, one 18-year-old said she used baby powder in her hair and tucked some into a scarf to make her look 'matronly'. Complete with sunglasses and face covering, she managed to buy a bottle of wine without being challenged. She added that if she had been challenged to provide ID, she would have "said I had forgotten it in the car and left the store." Another viral hit shows a girl of unknown age apply her costume in her bedroom before driving to a shop. Accompanied by pals, she puts on an OAP mask from a costume shop, with fake hair that covers her face. Her mates film her secretively as she walks through the shop, mimicking the frail gait of an elderly lady. She emerges victorious with a shopping bag packed with tins of booze, as her friends laugh excitedly. In a time where most people are wearing masks, staffs always need to ask for ID when selling alcoholic beverages!



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