Monday, April 30, 2012

Our Last Couple of Days in Tokyo

“Own only what you can always carry with you: know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag.”
Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn

The weather over our final two days in Tokyo was rainy, so not too much sightseeing. We did however, explore Tokyo's vibrant food scene. On Saturday, I met a very nice Japanese businessman named Jun Kato. He lives in Tokyo but was staying at our hotel for one night to celebrate his wife's birthday, which was April 20th, the same day as mine. When he told me that they had dinner at a restaurant called "Ukai-te", I told him that I had reserved at the same restaurant for Sunday (too much of a coincidence). He then called the Manager of Ukai-te and told him that his American friend was coming to the restaurant and that he should give us special treatment.

Ukai-te is a "teppanyaki" restaurant. It is what we mistakenly call "hibachi" in the United States. Teppanyaki means (teppan "iron plate" + yaki "grilled) where the food is cooked by a chef on a flat iron surface in front of you. In the United States, it is more of a show where the chefs perform with their various knives and other utensils, whereas in Japan, it is all about the quality of the food and the way that it is seasoned and cooked. It was a very delicious meal and the steak was among the best that I have ever eaten in my life. The Manager treated us very well.

I called Mr.Kato and thanked him and he proceeded to invite us out to dinner with his family on Monday night. He took us to a cozy restaurant which was well known to the locals which is a "yakitori" style restaurant (yaki "grilled" + tori "chicken or bird"). We were accompanied by Mr. Kato's lovely wife and his 5 year old son. In a yakitori restaurant, a cook prepares mini-skewers of chicken and grilled vegetables. They will grill every part of the chicken for which us Americans is interesting if not novel (thanks in part to Andrew Zimmern's "Bizarre Foods" television show). The most interesting part was when they brought us something which they called "fresh chicken" with soy sauce, which I quickly learned was "fresh" in the sense of "raw". Next course, please!  Overall, the meal and the experience was great thanks to Mr. Kato, his wife and son. THANK YOU KATO FAMILY!!!!!!

Tonight, we will leave Tokyo for the 5 hour flight to Hong Kong. We will miss Tokyo and want to return. I leave you some pictures of the restaurant and the Shangri-La Tokyo Hotel, which has been our home for the last few days.

BTW, Mr. Kato drove us to the airport (such a nice person) Enjoy the pictures!!

Celebrating my birthday in Tokyo (the  best gift- a rich chocolate cake)

My friend,  businessman  Mr. Jun Kato, He and his lovely family entertained us while in Tokyo.

Mr." Hiro" and Ms. Tomoko from the  Concierge Lounge, the "Horizon Club"

The girl dressed in red, Shion, made sure that we never got lost while navigating the labyrinthian Tokyo train station
Ashley at her Origami class

The finished product-she has become a true master of the art

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A trip to Kamakura

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

Today we took a day trip to Kamakura, which is about an hour outside of Tokyo. The Japanese subway and rail system is extremely efficient, immaculately clean and gets you to wherever you want to go in Japan. In Kamakura we visited 2 main areas. The first was the Kotokuin Temple which houses the statue of the Great Buddha. To get there we took a five minute light rail train from Kamakura to the Hase station. The statue is one of the largest of Buddha anywhere and is a very important religious and sacred sight for Buddhists. One has to clean his or her hands at a religious washing area prior to entering the site so as to enter in a clean state. From the Great Buddha statue, we went back to the Kamakura station by light rail and walked about 10 minutes to the main Buddhist shrine of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, where there are very beautiful shrines and temples to Buddha as well as beautiful gardens (and yes, there were still 2 or 3 beautiful pastel pink/lavender cherry blossom trees which had not yet turned green.) On the long Komachi Dori shopping street which one follows to get to the temples, we even found an oddity, the Catholic Church of Saint Michael. I think that I am in good hands on this trip!

Ashley at the Great Buddha Statue
A family picture
The hand cleaning area
Just missed the full cherry blossom bloom by about a week
The Rickshaw, an historic form of transportation in Japan, still used today
A Japanese wedding taking place at the entrance to the Shrine/temple area
The steps to reach the temple
We're halfway there!
We made it ....
to the Top!
A nice view!
Back down to the bottom
A lovely Japanese garden
Saint Michael's Church
Ashley relaxes with a friend on the way back to the train station
The train is arriving
Home at last!

Friday, April 20, 2012

On the new ANA 777-300 aircraft aka "the Inspiration of Japan" everything is top flight!

“To get away from one’s working environment is, in a sense, to get away from one’s self; and this is often the chief advantage of travel and change.” – Charles Horton Cooley

The plane was super comfortable- i.e.,if any plane could be on a 14 hour flight. Arrived at the Shangri-la Hotel which occupies the top 11 floors of the Marinouchi Trust Bldg. Remember, in Tokyo there is not much room so everything is built vertically. Jet lag kicking in, I was up at 3:30 am but not as bad as usual. Kids are much more immune to jet lag. That being said, what must one do to pacify an 9 year old girl after a 14 hour flight? ....Disney of course. And not just any Disney. Tokyo is the only place that has a Disney Sea as well as a Disneyland. One Tokyo the best place to stay is near the Tokyo hotel has an entrance from inside the station and from this station anything in Japan is easily accessible. Enjoy the pics. PS: my hotel has a view of the Imperial Gardens but a real bummer that the cherry blossom bloom has already finished and most trees are now green from their beautiful pinkish lavender.
The seat

Great selection of champagne, wine and food
Ashley relaxing pre-flight
Visiting Ashley's suite
Ashley taking a nap
The seat reclines and converts to a 6 foot bed complete with duvet and a selection of pillows. They even give you pajamas and slippers
Our route from NYC to Tokyo. Note the 23 inch screen with a wide selection of movies, games, music and television.

A view from our room in the Shangri-La Hotel

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

On the plane

A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu

A family photo before take off

At the Lounge

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs

Too bad our flight is at noon...they have a spa with free massages and facials which opens at 4pm...with 2 girls that turns into great cost savings! See you in Tokyo!

Ready to take off!

“Of the gladdest moments in human life, methinks, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands. Shaking off with one mighty effort the fetters of Habit, the leaden weight of Routine, the cloak of many Cares and the slavery of Civilization, man feels once more happy.” 

Just arrived at JFK....Only took 30 minutes from Fort Lee ....that'll never happen again in my lifetime! Ready to board the 14 hour flight to Tokyo, non-stop on ANA airline. Getting a quick bite at the British  Airways lounge.....and mixing with a few old friends...see picture!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Our Journey is about to begin!

 “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

After more than 20 years of practicing law, I decided it was time to step back and do something that I really wanted to do. As we all know there are always more good reasons to not do something if you listen to everything and everyone except your heart. So I decided to take a trip around the world: 90 days, 3 continents, 4 regions, 11 countries.  I am going with Aracelis, my wife, and Ashley, my 9 year old daughter on what we hope will be a life changing, eye opening, once in a lifetime experience. Flying first from New York to Tokyo, Japan tomorrow and finishing up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in July we will also stay in Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Dubai,  the Al Liwa Desert, Milan, Venice, Florence, Monaco, Geneva and Frankfurt. This blog will be a way for us to share our trip with our family and friends. I will have to warn you that I am not a techie, so don't expect any fancy bells and whistles. This is my first blog. But we hope to share with you some written words and pictures as we travel on our journey.

                                                                               Richard Toscano