Lena LeRay is an Assistant Language Teacher through the JET Program in Japan. She's not sure yet what she wants to do with her life once she returns to the USA.
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“I didn’t even start gambling until I was 43. I thought I was...

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“I didn’t even start gambling until I was 43. I thought I was mature, but I was as vulnerable as a child. I started going to the casino once or twice on the weekends. It was a social thing. I’d just play cards with my friends. But I had good luck in the beginning. I started to win. And I started to love it. I couldn’t wait for the weekend. Soon I started to go during the week. I’d work the early shift and I’d have all afternoon to play. I abandoned all my responsibilities. Once you start playing– you forget that you’re hungry, you forget that you’re thirsty, you even forget that you have a family. I lost the grocery money, the rent money, everything. Winning felt great. And losing made me need to win. I’d make up excuses every time I came home empty handed. I’d say that I was mugged, or that my work hadn’t paid us that week. Eventually I had to sell my car. I lost our house. I lost my wife. We’d been together for twenty years. I just took for granted that she’d always be around. The only thing that I didn’t lose was my daughters. They sat me down one day, and said: ‘Dad, either quit gambling, or quit this house.’ And I never played again.”

(Medellín, Colombia)

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Crowbeak
95 days ago
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Nakagawa, Hokkaido, Japan
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(3/3) “The night I deserted was the most frightening moment of...

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(3/3) “The night I deserted was the most frightening moment of my life. The guerrillas would have killed me if I’d been discovered. I ran away in the middle of the night. I found a road and hitched a ride with an oil truck from Ecuador. I tried to cross the border but the army arrested me. I thought for sure I would be executed. But they gave me the chance to demobilize. The first thing I wanted to do was see my family. It was too dangerous to return home so I sent for them. I thought my father would push me away, but he was very happy to see me. My sisters told me that my disappearance had been very hard on him. He had gotten very sick. I’ll always live with that regret, but we were able to spend four years together before he passed away. I’ve rebuilt my life from scratch. Leaving the guerrillas was like being born again. I had no skills. There was a lot of prejudice against me. I had to work as a waitress and go to school at night. But I’m almost finished with law school now. And even though it took a lot of suffering to get here, I finally have the life that I imagined as a young girl.”

(Bogotá, Colombia)

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Crowbeak
95 days ago
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Nakagawa, Hokkaido, Japan
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(2/3) “I was the youngest one in the camp. I felt very happy...

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(2/3) “I was the youngest one in the camp. I felt very happy at first. I didn’t have to cook anymore. I was having new experiences. The guerrillas taught me rules. They taught me how to use weapons. They told me that we were fighting for the poor. All of it sounded very good. But then basic training began and it was very difficult. I started to miss my family. My father’s birthday came around, and I could not stop thinking about him. They sent me to another camp because my father kept searching for me. I spent eight years with the guerillas. We lived in the mountains. I slept on the ground. I didn’t get a salary. The fighting was continuous. The army would bomb us day and night. And I didn’t speak to my family for a full seven years. I always wondered what happened to them. Finally it got to be too much, and I decided to desert.”

(Bogotá, Colombia)

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Crowbeak
95 days ago
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Nakagawa, Hokkaido, Japan
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(1/3) “I knew nothing about the guerrillas before I joined...

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(1/3) “I knew nothing about the guerrillas before I joined them. The only thing I knew was that they lived better than me. I grew up on a farm in a rural area. We were very poor. My mother abandoned our family so I had to take care of my younger siblings. My father was a good man, but he didn’t give me any liberties. He didn’t let me go to town. He didn’t let me go to school. He didn’t let me have a boyfriend. I wanted freedom, and the guerrillas seemed like my only way out. They used to drive by our farm in their jeeps. They seemed powerful. Even the women wore camouflage. One day the guerrillas stopped by our farm to buy some chickens, and I told them I wanted to join. I was only thirteen years old. They told me to meet them at a certain spot at 5 AM the next morning. I didn’t even say ‘goodbye’ to my father. They told me that I was never allowed to speak to my family again.”

(Bogotá, Colombia)

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Crowbeak
95 days ago
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Nakagawa, Hokkaido, Japan
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JR East Unveils Luxury Sleeper Train Designed by Ferrari Designer Ken Okuyama

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all photos courtesy Nikkei

It’s been almost 3 years since the announcement that JR East was investing 5 billion yen to create a luxury sleeper train. Yesterday, that train was unveiled at a ceremony in Tokyo. Dubbed the Train Suite Shikishima, it was designed by Ken Okuyama, a Japanese industrial designer and the only non-Italian to have designed a Ferrari.

Okuyama incorporated wood and washi paper into the interiors to create the luxurious sleeper train, which begins operating in May 2017. But with a maximum capacity of 34, the exclusive cars come at a price. There is a high-end, 2-floor suite with a private onsen bath and heated kotatsu to keep travelers warm as they speed through the landscape. Here, a 3-night, 4-day journey through Japan costs 950,000 yen (about $8000) per person. But rooms are already booked for 6 months out.

Perhaps in the magical spirit of the Hogwarts Express, the Train Suite Shikishima will have its own dedicated “platform 13.5” at Ueno Station in Tokyo.

If you want to learn more you can visit the website where there’s contact information and numbers to call to make reservations. There’s also a sales office at Tokyo Station.

The sleeper train offers various packages depending on the season and below is a map of two of them. On the left is the Spring – Fall 3-night package that begins in Ueno and makes a large loop up North extending all the way to Hokkaido. On the right is a shorter Spring – Fall 1-night package that begins in Ueno and makes a central loop through Aizu Wakamatsu.

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Crowbeak
122 days ago
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Nakagawa, Hokkaido, Japan
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Vintage Advertisements from Japan’s First Strip Show in 1947

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the pamphlet for Japan’s first strip show in January, 1947 at the Teitoza theater (images courtesy Noboru Saijo via Asahi)

2017 marks the anniversary of a lot of things. But maybe one of the more unexpected is that it’s the 70th anniversary since burlesque dancing came to Japan. That’s right – in January of 1947 the first ever strip show was held in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district . And there’s a fascinating history, as well as vintage advertisements and documentation, that’s being showcased this month to remember the original tease.

According to cultural critic and media communications professor Noboru Saijou, Japan’s first strip show wasn’t at all what we might imagine it to be. At the time, women weren’t even allowed to work so there was a lot of uncertainty around what they could and couldn’t do. So the first strip show, held at Shinjuku’s Teitoza theater, was called a gakubuchi show (a “picture frame” show) and women would strike poses of famous nudes in art history like “The Birth of Venus” and “Perseus and Andromeda.”

Because the strip shows were held in-between other comedy and literary performances they became associated with literary figures in Japan like author and playwright Kafu Nagai and comic fiction playwright Hisashi Inoue. The theaters gave birth to a generation of Japanese actors and comedians like Beat Takeshi and Kiyoshi Atsumi whose careers began in the strip show theater.

The strip show theater went on to become a cultural phenomenon in Japan. One of the most well-known examples of comedians incorporating strip show culture into their act was Kato Cha’s skit (embedded above) in which he Boo Takagi are the wind and son, competing to see who can get the woman to remove her clothes. No matter how hot the sun would shine, no matter how strong the wind would blow, the woman wouldn’t strip her clothing. But then Kato has the idea to play smooth jazz music that was associated with strip shows and sure enough the woman begins to remove her clothing.

A 70th anniversary commemorative event is taking place on March 18, 2017 at the Asakusa Toyokan in Tokyo. You can read about it more here and get tickets.

a poster for the Rockza strip show theater, which is still in business!

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Crowbeak
122 days ago
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Nakagawa, Hokkaido, Japan
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