Tuesday, May 27, 2014

From Dinosaurs to Wobbly Chopsticks - Tokyo Arrival

Arrival in Narita Airport - Tokyo
From the city of blues and barbecue to the city of salt (SLC) to the city of raindrops (Seattle) to the Land of the Rising Sun was quite a task to accomplish in 20 hours of travel. We left early and arrived early battling gusty winds and storms but nothing dampened the excitement of Caroline’s and my first adventure to Japan.  Only Caroline slept through the night hours which were really the daytime crossing of the International Date Line.  My son James, who is giving us this gift, and I were absorbed in the most heart grasping movie I’ve ever seen - Lone Survivor - that felt like being dragged through sharp boulders in the teeth of a tiger. All should see this movie that shows the truth of combat in Afghanistan and what it means to defend and trust your squadron. It’s a loyalty  through hell and high water surpassing our saints’ faithfulness to God. You will never forget, too, the concept of “Pashtunwali”.  To my beloved friends at the MPD, see this movie.

As if deja vu, 30 years ago, when James was 11, and a student at Dunn School in San Ysidro Valley, where bicycling was a passion, John and Lynn Siegal-Boettner took James and 4 of his classmates for a summer of bicycling through Japan. We lived in Montecito at the time and all became admirers of Japanese food (although my first experience was at Robata in New York City in the early 1970s when I was fashion editor for the Press-Scimitar.)  So, this trip is not only an amazing gift from my amazing son for my upcoming 75th birthday, he has brought along my granddaughter, precious Caroline, just turned 10, to see the places her dad experienced at the same age in this graceful country, so much a part of our American history. With all my travels, this is my first trip on Japanese soil. Thank you, son.

Wind Iris
chef at work
We landed in crossfire winds and gray clouds at Narita Airport. It is about an hour’s freeway trip into Tokyo to the Palace Hotel, a huge structure at the edge of the Imperial Palace, an oasis of gardens and royal residences which keeps the public at bay most of the time. Tokyo is a huge city of steel and glass architecture: bridges - the Tokyo Gate Bridge which from a distance looks like two Dinosaurs heads kissing each other and the Rainbow Bridge; two of the world’s largest ferris wheels lit up like Las Vegas, and a gigantic Disney World! However, green pervades in and around it all - incredible tightly packed bunches of velvet like trees and trimmed shrubs and a hint of azaleas now finishing their frolic.

Once we had arrived at the splendid hotel, we were struck by the silence inside - the peace, the respect, the modest bows as a song of greeting, the abstractness of the interior decor, the limit of color to browns, whites, blacks, grays so nothing clashes or distracts. Yet, on a table near the reception desk are tiny paper forms in various colors on top of stalks - wind irises. Orihana is a paper diffuser (smells sensuous) on a single sheet of colored paper combining Japanese arts of origami and Kirie to create flowerlike forms. So simple, so delicate, a soft gift for each of us by the Orihana Master Motoi Mitani.  In Japan, a visitor is surrounded by a framework of service and respect, of pleasing us, not for gain or points or their own satisfaction. We are the focus and hospitality still thrives here, something almost totally lost in the United States, where egotism and entitlement are our costumes. No tips are expected nor accepted here.

veggies - there's an okra too
Although our eyelids were heavy (it was quickly 7 p.m. and our stomachs needed a boost) we found our way to the restaurant floor, so tastefully arranged, we had to find our point of interest with a map. We could only get into the Teppanyaki GO, sort of a tiny Benihana style turned into an art form. I wish you could have seen the delicacy and skill of the chefs. There were only  8 seats around a single flat grill in a small bamboo room.  We ordered scallops to be grilled before our eyes.  I tried the appetizers - an assortment of tiny gustatorial experiences I did not recognize, and steamed vegetables, cooked on the grill under a brass top: a single asparagus the size of  a fat knife; 2 slices of eggplant, one long okra, a single matsutaki mushroom, a slice of sweet potato, a slice of pink daikon - once again simplicity, excellence, full of crunch and flavor, each sliced into a work of art by an experienced chef with a knife so sharp it slides through everything it is asked to cut and putting his all into delighting these 3 Americans a bit wobbly with the chopsticks so we enjoy the experience.  Welcome to Japan.

1 comment:

lsb said...

Your trip to Japan is a lovely gift from Jimmy and your blog is a lovely gift to us. Reading your blog brings back a flood of memories from our 1985 adventure. Grateful!