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Well, all that anticipation last week paid off and
Frank and I had a great visit over a meal of shabushabu. There
were nine of us last
Tuesday evening: FRANK (I'm sure you all may have guessed that
this would be the title
of this week's travelogue), his son Brian, Diane, me, Merle, Linda, Art
his last night in Tokyo and he loves shabushabu), and the newlywed
auditors Michelle and Chip. They are both out of LSU and new to
the past couple of years. They knew each other at LSU and both
joining IBM (LSU has a good auditing curriculum) and both ended up on
the AP (Asia
Pacific) team. Well, love bloomed and they got married recently
Australia. Michelle has taken a leave of absence from work for
now to travel with Chip
around Asia. Good decision on her part. ;-) Well,
was great. Brian and Frank enjoyed the evening as we ate much
more beef than is allowed, I'm
sure, and drank our fair share of beer and sake. Art had a
camera with him, so here are a couple of photos at my favorite dining
Let me tell you something about Frank and our
Frank and I were boyhood friends. We met each other way back in
grade. We both came from humble, but strong, families. Both
of our dads worked hard
to move us out to Long Island and out of the city. We played
together in our
younger years, but moved into different social circles through high
there was still a bond between us, probably because of our earlier
elementary school and weekly religious instruction at St. James.
Both of us were athletic and that also
Frank was a wrestler and I was a baseball player. I remember
yelling at those
wrestling matches until I was hoarse. What a great spectator
sport. You can
really get wrapped up in the matches, especially when it's your school
chums that are on
the mat either about to pin someone or about to get pinned.
I ended up moving away from Long Island and up to the Hudson Valley (Newburgh) the day I graduated since my folks had already moved upstate several months earlier. I stayed behind with a neighbor so I could finish out my senior year, plus I didn't want to miss my final season on the baseball team (we made it to the LI playoffs that year, too, but didn't win). As things would have it, Frank and I lost touch until the 20 year reunion. After that, we traded Christmas cards but didn't see each other for the next 15 years. Then, as fate would have it, he sent me his email address in the Christmas card of 1995. I find moments like this strange, weird, coincidence, whatever you would like to call it, because my dad got cancer in January of 1996 and Frank became a very important part of my support team that year until my dad died in October. We even got the opportunity to visit once in Chicago when we both found ourselves in the city at the same time. Then Frank got an assignment in Atlanta for a year in 1998. We only got to see each other a couple of times that year because I had re-joined the audit team and was again traveling 100% and only home weekends. He also went home to Massachusetts on weekends, so we didn't see too much of each other that year.
If you have ever read the Celestine Prophecy, the writer says that there is no such thing as coincidence. Everything that happens does so because it is intended to happen. If there is meaning to such events, then it is up to us to find it. I don't know if there is any meaning to both Frank and I being in Japan at the same time, but to be able to visit with each other in Japan is a bit incredible. You need to understand that this is actually twice that there has been a 'coincidence' with Frank. The first was supplying me with his email address only weeks before I got the horrible news that my dad had cancer. The second is this meeting in Japan. You see, I was scheduled to be working with the Singapore team. Then, out of the blue, my manager decides that he needed my skills in Japan. It just happened that I would be there at the same time Frank and his family would be here on vacation. Weird? Coincidence? Good fortune? Who knows? Who cares? It was great to see him again and in Japan of all places.
Frank and Brian spent Wednesday and Thursday together, so Diane and I didn't see him again until Friday after Brian left to go back to NYC. On Wednesday evenings from 6:30 - 8:00 PM at the New Otani, there is a reception to which the IBM audit teams are always welcomed. I didn't go to the reception the week before last and Okano-san, the guest relations guy who runs it, asked Merle where was Emond-san (they do know some of us by name). Merle said I had a previous commitment and Okano-san made Merle promise that he would bring me the following week, which would be my last week in the New Otani. So Diane and I went and mingled with the folks and had some snacks. They also have an open bar with wine, beer, liquor, soft drinks. We met three guys who worked for IBM, two from Austin and one from Poughkeepsie. Diane and I were getting ready to leave for dinner at about 7:30 when Okano-san rang his little bell, which he does when he wants to say something. He starts talking about one of the hotel's customers who is probably there for the last time and I go 'uh oh'. He then proceeds to call me up and his female assistant gives me a wrapped single red rose. Then he asks me to say something. So Merle and the other IBMers, nice guys that they are, start yelling 'speech, speech'. So I figure the best thing to say is that the New Otani was 'home' for me whenever I came to Japan, which was for 23 weeks on 5 trips, and it was the only hotel to stay at when one visits Tokyo. Needless to say, that was the right thing to say. ;-) I thought it was very nice of the hotel to do such recognition. I even enjoyed it.
Peter, this one's for you (remember all those 'small world' occurrences when we traveled together from 93-96?). After that little gig, I went back to chat with the three other IBMers and the guy from Poughkeepsie, Tony Fiore, says to me "Do you know Charlie Emond". I told him that Charlie is my brother. He goes on to say how he and Charlie worked together many many years ago in
Sterling Forest and had just recently bumped into Charlie at the Raleigh airport as Charlie was heading up to NY for vacation. They ended up on the same flight. It truly is a small world and, the older one gets, the smaller the world seems to get.
I worked the July 4th holiday, so I took last Friday as the replacement. Frank, Diane, and I spent the day together and went to a park and gardens in Shinjuku. We spent a few hours walking around and talking and reminiscing about old times. Truly a great day. Frank wasn't feeling well, so we headed back to the hotel a bit early because he wanted to rest up since we had planned a full day in Kamakura on Saturday. He had checked out of the New Otani and moved over to the Fairmont Hotel.
On Saturday we met at the Shimbashi station to get a JR (Japan Railways) train to Kamakura. One can do a lot of walking in Kamakura and we ended up doing just that. We actually got off at Kita-Kamakura to visit the Engakuji Temple. There are actually some 18 temples on the site, so it's pretty big. The Hall of the Holy Relics of Buddha is located here and is one of Japan's national treasures. From there we walked across the tracks to the Tokeiji Temple, also known as the Divorce Temple founded in 1285. In early Japan, the husband could get a divorce by sending the wife away. There was no way for a wife to get a divorce regardless of the treatment she received from her husband. However, if she could run away and get to the temple, she could become a nun for three years and then be declared divorced.
We then walked about 15-20 minutes to Kamakura to visit the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. Diane and I have usually done this walk in the reverse order from the way we did it this time (i.e., starting at Kamakura Station). This shrine is at the end of a long street that starts near the station. It is four lanes and divided by a tree-shaded sidewalk up the middle of the street. Lots of shops on both sides. Once inside the grounds of the shrine, there are 62 steps up to the shrine. On the left side of the stairs is a 700 year old ginkgo tree.
We continued on down the street to Kamakura station where we found a restaurant to have lunch. There is a large plaza outside the station from which one can take a bus to many places in Kamakura. We took a bus to the Daibutsu (Big Buddha). The statue is made of bronze and is 37 feet tall. The Amida Buddha sits cross-legged and smiles down on his audience. The statue was cast in 1292, three centuries before Europeans reached Japan. The other Daibutsu is located in Nara and is housed in a temple. This one in Kamakura used to be housed in a wooden temple, but it was washed away in 1495 in a tidal wave.
As we made our way to the train station for the private Edoden line, we stopped at the Hasedera Temple (also referred to as the Hase Kannon Temple). On the grounds are many small stone images of Jizobosatsu, which represents the bodhisattva who stand between this life and the next. At Hasedera, these small statues represent stillborn children and now includes aborted children. Mothers who have lost children dedicate these statues to their unborn children and many have scarves or hats on them prepared by the mothers. One gets a strange feeling when viewing these statues because there are so many of them. We headed back to Kamakura to connect with the JR train back to Shimbashi.
Back at the hotel Diane and I watched the sumo telecast and then headed out to Belle Vie to eat yakitori one more time. We bumped into Merle coming into the hotel. He said Linda was over at Belle Vie, so we went over there and they joined us for dinner.
Yoyogi Park is back! Well, sort of. You may remember from an earlier travelogue that I reminisced about how Yoyogi Park used to shut down the main street on Sunday afternoons and some 40-50 bands would get there early to claim their spot and play from about 1-4 PM. A new local government shut down the practice and Yoyogi became sort of a ghost town on Sundays. This past Sunday, Frank, Diane, and I did the usual Sunday routine of visiting the Meiji Jingu Shrine, Yoyogi Park, and the Harajuku and Omotesando area (i.e., the Oriental Bazaar). The usual activity on the plaza between the Harajuku Station and the torii for the shrine was going on with mostly teenage girls done up in outlandish costumes and makeup. Some would pose with the tourists, both gaijin and Japanese.
We made our way into Meiji Jingu and we got to see two wedding parties. Both brides were dressed in kimonos with hoods. It's always great to witness a traditional Japanese wedding party. The brides are usually very pretty and look great with their white faces and beautiful white wedding kimono. The family and friends follow the Shinto monks along the pathway that crosses in front of the shrine. One of the monks (or servant, not sure) walks along side the bride and holds a large umbrella over her to shade her from the sun (it really was a beautiful weekend, albeit very hot and humid). Almost all the men were dressed in black suits, which seems to be the standard formal attire at weddings, even western style weddings that we see in the New Otani. Most of the women were wearing black kimonos. The party walks to an area where bleacher seats and some chairs are set up for the formal photos. Attendants fuss with the bride and groom, but mostly with the bride, to make sure every crease in her kimono is perfect and that her makeup is perfect. Only then can the photographers take their pictures.
After we came out of Meiji Jingu, we went over to Yoyogi Park. We noticed right away there were more people than usual due to people selling used goods along the sidewalk. Then we spotted a band setting up, which was encouraging. They even had a sign saying they would be playing at 1:30, 2:30, 3:30. We continued on towards the main part of the park and saw another band setting up. At the main area, there was a huge flea market going on that covered the entire area from street to stage area. Diane and I got our normal Sunday fair at Yoyogi, fried noodles and a coke. Frank wandered around in the flea market and then all three of us walked around for a while before heading over to the Oriental Bazaar. We saw a few other bands setting up, and one was just finishing a song in the distance. None were on the street. They were inside the park on a very wide walkway where there used to be lots of food vendors.
As we walked back along the sidewalk towards Hirajuku Station, the band that was setting up as we came in was now in full swing. They had a small audience in front of the band that brought back many memories of the Yoyogi Park of 1993-94. This audience consisted of about a dozen teenage girls dressed as though they were going on dates, high heels and all, and an old guy bouncing to the music. There's a whole other story about him, so hang on. I said to Diane that I would bet that some, or all, of these girls were the same ones that were the teeny boppers we used to see in front of the bands in 93-94. At that time, we guessed that the girls were probably 9-12 years old and these girls all looked to be more in the 15-17 range. The band was pretty good and consisted of four teenage boys (2 guitars, drummer, lead singer). The girls knew the hand moves and did them in unison and in time with the music.
Now, you ask, what's the deal with the old guy? I was taking video from behind him and across the band so I could get them and the girls, and Frank, who was on the other side, in the frame. Diane moved over to the other side and then I did, too. The old guy saw us with the cameras and seemed to be signaling that he wanted us to take his picture. So we did. Then I could see him start to come around the girls over to our side and I said, "uh oh". We thought he wanted his picture taken close up. NOT! He wanted to take DIANE's picture, but he wasn't satisfied with her just posing in front of the band. He pulled her over to where the girls were doing their dancing and motioned for Diane to dance. SO SHE DID! ;-) He went back around to the other side and took her picture. I have all this on video and it should be a riot when we watch it. Diane got into it and had a fun time with it. He met her about half way around the semi-circle in front of the band and gave Diane back her camera and said something to her. Unfortunately, it was in Japanese and she had no idea what he said. Watching Frank enjoy the sites brought back many memories of when Peter and I frequented Yoyogi Park on Sunday afternoons and enjoyed watching the sites and also watching the tourists watching the sites. You could almost pick out the folks who were experiencing it for the first time. Great time, great fun. Great day.
Sunday evening was our last meal in Tokyo and, for all I know, my last meal ever in Tokyo. We contacted our friends Tad and Teruko to see if they would like to join us for the same dining experience we had during our March trip here. At the time, I was sure it was called Monja, but apparently I mis-understood something. First, it is spelled 'monnjya', at least that is how it is spelled on the sign that says 'Tskishima Monnjya Association' right near the exit from the subway to Tskishima. Apparently, there is no name for the dining experience. It is just a number of courses of different dishes. I got the names of the courses right and we had the same courses this time: two types of monnjya (one noodle, one seafood with rice cakes), teppanyaki, okonomiyaki, yakisoba, and anzumake (dessert). There were eight of us for dinner: Tad & Teruko, Merle & Linda, Frank & Mutsuko, and me & Diane. I would, however, suggest that it is better done in cool weather, as when we were here in March, than in the summer. It involves cooking on a hot grill and it was hot and muggy outside and not air conditioned very well inside. But it was still a great evening and it was lots of fun.
After dinner, we headed back to the subway station and, once again, I have video of Tad and Teruko waving good-bye to us as we descended the stairs into the subway. I think that this was my last trip to Japan, but I thought the same in March. Who knows, I guess as long as I'm employed there is always a chance that something will come up to bring me back to Japan once again. I guess it's true that one should never say never.
Our departure day was different this time than past trips. The flight was delayed about four hours and didn't take off until 8:30 PM instead of the scheduled 4:20 PM. I was sort of annoyed that Delta didn't contact me to inform me of the delay. However, when we got home, there were two messages on our machine where Delta tried to reach us to inform us of the delay. So it was actually 'user error' since I forgot to call Delta to give them a local number at the New Otani. So we sat in the Business Class lounge. It is a nice lounge and even had work areas where one could hook up a PC. I was able to connect via a local number and then I was a happy camper and the time went by quickly. Diane likes to read, so she got a lot of her book read.
There's one more thing I want to mention and that was at the airport. I have never seen so many 747s in one place as I do at Narita. When they pushed back a plane, the 4-5 people that guide the plane out onto the tarmac move back towards the building and then line up facing the plane as it begins to taxi to the runway. They wave to the plane and then bow. This was a standard procedure and was pretty cool. Can you even imagine any of the workers at a USA airport lining up to wave to a plane much less bow to it? That would be a site, I'm sure. Anyway, it was a nice touch.
I didn't get to Singapore, but this was sure one great trip to Tokyo. Next up is Europe for five weeks in August. There are a few trips left before the well dries up. Then it'll be time to see the USA at ground level.
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