December 1996 to Japan and a Special Meeting with an Old Friend

Well, our whirlwind trip to Japan has come and gone and was a successful both from a business standpoint for Mike and a mini vacation for us both.

Mike departed for San Jose, CA for business meetings on Sunday, December 8th and on a wet and windy Wednesday (December 11th he flew down to Los Angeles and I flew up to LA where we collapsed at a Comfort Inn at the Airport in preparation for our trip to Japan. On Thursday morning, December 12th we headed for the airport with the thought in mind that we could grab a bite to eat once we checked in and got through customs. Well, we got checked in just fine, ended up having to check our luggage which we hadn’t planned on, got through all the red tape and found ourselves with no place for breakfast! Oh well. Before we knew it however we boarded our Varig Airlines (Brazil) flight to Narita Airport in Japan. A long 12 hours later (with only 2 small meals) we arrived at Narita at approximately 1:45pm Tokyo time (17 hour time difference ahead of California) and began the process of working our way to our meeting point with Kazuko.

Kazuko and I had exchanged pictures prior to the trip so that we knew who to look for and I had faxed her and let her know that I would be wearing a bright red Christmas Sweater with candy canes on it. Once we claimed our luggage we met Kazuko and her oldest daughter Rieko, enjoyed a quick cold drink, and some conversation and then they put us on the airport shuttle to the hotel. It takes approximately 2 hours to travel 40 miles so you have to be absolutely sure you are back in Los Angeles!

We checked into the New Otani (2100 rooms, banquet facilities, lounges, shops, restaurants and a wonderful, peaceful, 10-acre manicured garden) and quickly made our way to our room to freshen up for dinner that evening with Takashi & Tani Kimura (Kimura-san is the owner of the company sponsoring the seminar Mike was to speak at). Well, if I ended up having to do sushi, at least I did it in true Japanese style….. on mats, on the floor, It was an experience I will remember for many years to come. Tani and I talked a little bit about what we would be seeing while Kimura-san, Albert Liu (a representative from Fore Systems) and Mike talked “tekkie” about the seminar to be held on Monday.

On Saturday we got to sleep in a little bit, enjoyed a relaxing breakfast overlooking the wonderful gardens of the hotel and then met Kazuko and Mr. Ono (a representative from Mr. Kimura’s company) in the lobby for our sightseeing around Tokyo. Kazuko only marginally speaks English and we often times relied on Mr. Ono to translate but we did manage on many occasions to understand each other.

Our first stop was the gardens of the Imperial Palace District. The Imperial Palace occupies what were once the grounds of the Edo Castle. The first feudal lord here was assassinated in 1486 and the castle he built was abandoned for more than 100 years. When Tokugawa chose the site for his castle in 1590 he had two goals in mind: First it would have to be impregnable; second it would have to reflect the power and glory of his position. He was lord of the Kanto, the richest fief in Japan, and would soon be shogun, the military head of state. The walls of the Edo Castle and its moats were made of stone from the Izu Peninsula about 60 miles to the southwest. The great slabs were brought by barge to the port of Edo (now Tokyo) and hauled through the streets on sledges by teams of 100 men or more. Thousands of stonemasons were brought from all over the country to finish the work. As the present day Imperial Palace is open only twice a year (January 2nd (New Years) and December 23rd (Emperor’s Birthday) we “confined” our explorations to the gardens. While many of the flowers were no longer in bloom and others were still waiting to bloom in February/March, the changing seasons were very much in evidence through the glorious reds and golds of the trees. We walked through various parts of the gardens enjoying the beautiful weather, getting reacquainted with Kazuko and talking with Mr. Ono about the sights we were seeing.

We stopped for lunch at Happo-en a restaurant and banquet facility with wonderful gardens of their own. The name Happoen conjures up legends. Like Hikozaemon Okubo, the fabled samurai who spent his closing years enjoying this picturesque garden. The name Happoen means beautiful from any angle. There are stone lanterns, monuments and miniature trees throughout its rolling 50,000 square acres. There are cherry blossoms in spring, colorful azaleas and rhododendrons in summer and definitely fiery shades of autumn. Our lunch in this restful and beautiful place was typically Japanese (while I explained yet again that I am allergic to tea) which we enjoyed tremendously. The lunch presented to us was as beautifully prepared as were the gardens we viewed through the windows. After lunch we had the opportunity to walk through these gardens with their ponds and miniature waterfalls and a profusion of reds and golds offered by the changing leaves of the trees. Following our time at Happoen, we stopped at the Nezu Institute of Fine Arts which was founded in 1940. The core of the museum’s collection consists of Oriental art objects assembled by the founder and include works of art from different periods and categories: paintings, calligraphy, sculpture, ceramics, textiles and archaeological materials as well as objects in lacquer, metal, wood and Buddhist art. The collection’s Chinese bronzes of the Shang and Zhou dynasties are also of international renown.

On Sunday, we met up with Tom Lettington (also a partner in Mike’s company of ATMNet) and together journeyed in a rented vehicle to the train station to pick up Kimura-san and his wife Tani for our trip into the Hakone Mountains. It was on a journey to the train station that we caught our first glimpse of Mt. Fuji. It was a great view of the fabled volcano with no clouds to obscure the site. How I wished we had been able to stop for pictures then and there! After meeting the train and picking up Tani & Tak we journeyed first to the Hakone Open Air Museum. Outside there are numerous sculptures by the masters such as Rodin and Moore. Inside are works by Picasso, Leger and Kotaro Takamura among others.

From the museum, we journeyed upward to an area of the mountains were we could view the volcanic activity on the ground with sulfurous steam escaping through the holes from an inferno deep within the earth. Unfortunately, by that time, the clouds were fast claiming the top of Mt. Fuji and by the time we made our way down the mountain in the cable car, that majestic view was lost from site. We stopped for lunch at a relaxing hotel/restaurant with a view of Lake Ashi and then headed for our final stop of the day – The Hakone Check Point.

The Hakone Check Point and others were established by the shogunate (circa 1619) to prevent daimyos from plotting rebellion. In order to do this, the families of the daimyos were forced to live in Edo and their movement as well as the secret transport of military equipment was strictly forbidden. The Hakone Check Point primarily targeted female family members. The wives of the daimyos were required to remain in Edo all the time and therefore the checkpoint was a barrier to prevent wives from returning to their husbands. If the daimyo stepped out of line, he did so at the risk of his wife’s head.

On Monday, Mike, Tom and I enjoyed the view of the gardens at the hotel from the breakfast room and then Mike and Tom were off to work. I was off for a day of sightseeing with Tani and Kazuko. Tani arrived at the hotel and we journeyed via subway and met up with Kazuko. From there we traveled via the subway to Kamakura. This ancient city is about 25 miles southwest of Tokyo and represents a 141-year period when the city was the seat of Japan’s first shoguns. Our first stop in this ancient city of 65 Buddhist temples and 19 Shinto Shrines is Engakuji. This Buddhist temple adheres to the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism which was introduced into Japan from China between 1192 and 1333. It was a religion quickly accepted by the samurai class. As we roamed through the grounds of this peaceful site, it was easy to marvel at the glorious autumn colors that surrounded us.

Our next stop was Tokeiji, founded in 1285. This temple located on Mt. Shoko used to be known as one of the five nunneries in Kamakura. In former days when women had no right to seek a divorce, the Shogunate designated Tokeiji a sanctuary for women, where a woman petitioner could obtain a divorce from her husband if she spent three calendar years at that temple. From there we traveled to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, Kamakura’s most important Shinto shrine

Hase became the next area we explored. Here we found the Daibutsu (Great Buddha of Kamakura) . The dignified image of the holy Buddha has been exposed to the sunshine, storms and snowy weather for the last 730 years. This statue was made from the funds collected by the priest Johko in accordance with the wishes of Yoritomo, the first Shogun and the Emperor Shi-Jo. This colossal statue was once enclosed by a spacious temple, but this was destroyed by a tidal wave in 1495. Since then the statute has been left in the open air. Its height is 42 feet and its weight is 210,000 pounds.

Our final stop of the day took us to Enoshima Island. To reach the island we walked from Enoshima Station for about 2 miles. The island is only 2.5 miles in circumference and peaks with a hill at its center. Part way up the hill is the shrine, at which fishermen would pray for a bountiful catch – before it became a tourist attraction. It used to be a very big hike up to the shrine, but we were fortunately able to take the escalators to the top. Unfortunately, haze and cloud cover obscured our view of the other islands in the area and Mt. Fuji but the view looking back to the mainland was spectacular as well.

Tuesday brought a somewhat slower pace. Mike and Tom were off to meetings and Tani and I off shopping. She took me to a local shop were I was able to purchase the cotton kimonos known as yukata for Mike, my mother and I, a T-shirt for Brittany and a fan for my sister. Good purchases all and I didn’t have to pay a complete fortune for them. From there we walked and windows shopped and then truly went window shopping at Ginza, the first entertainment and shopping district in Tokyo dating back to the Edo period (1603-1868). Tokyo’s first department store, Mitsukoshi was founded here and it was in this store we window shopped some more and stopped and had tempura for lunch.

Wednesday I began packing while Mike and Tom were off on business and then I joined them along with Tani & Tak, and Mr. Ono at Trader Vics for Polynesian before beginning our homeward bound journey. I will never again complain about Mike’s penchant for arriving at the airport early!!!!! We left the hotel at 2pm for a 7pm flight. It took 2 hours to get to the airport and close to three hours to get through check in and customs. Then there was an hour and a half delay in our departure due to computer problems at the terminal. Fortunately, our bodies were ready for sleep by the time we were served supper and we were able to nap a bit on the plane during the return. A change of planes to Delta/Sky West in Los Angeles and we were home and snuggled into our own bed by 6pm!

It was certainly a memorable trip for us both and a successful business trip for Tom and Mike (Tom ended up having to travel on to Hong Kong so he didn’t get to come right home). The trip for me was made more memorable because I was able to renew a friendship with Kazuko and enjoyed the company of Tani during our sightseeing and dinner adventures.

On September 5, 1997 Mike was lucky enough to be in Japan when Kazuko’s daughter Rieko performed her first piano concert. I wish I could have been there. I understand she performed outstandingly. Here is the flyer Kazuko sent me announcing the concert.

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