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Saturday, November 22, 2014

FALL CIRCLE PACIFIC ADVENTURE 2014: Day #19--Shinjuku Park and Jindai Botanical Park

The posting today will be utterly boring for most.  I will only provide a tour through two parks.  They both are fabulous for cherry blossoms in the Spring, so this will be my first experience for the Fall colors.  

First, Shinjuku Gyoen (Park), Japan's National Garden (above).  Mind you, I'm taking a chance with my health, for this attraction was closed a few weeks ago for fear of dengue mosquitos.  As you enter, there are signs to watch out for mosquitos.

All in all, not as beautiful as I expected, for the peak is still to come.  However, a few photos:

Note my shadow above.  Interesting that the reflection is clearer than the actual tree:

Somehow, my final shot reminds me of myself.

I don't understand, but as I left, less than an hour before the sun sets, there was still a line of people getting in.  There are no lights.

I also went to Jindai Botanical Park and had a fabulous bento (Asahi beer and sake in those two bags to the left):

There is, of course, a memorable story about "Pearl's" statue and the park itself.  To quickly summarize, Dr. Fumio Ito of Tokyo Electric Power, who led the team that succeeded in producing OTEC power on Nauru Island, found out that Pearl and I were coming into town, so insisted that he show us "his" sakura park, which was Jindaiji.  He picked us up in a taxi and we saw what is still to me the most extraordinary cherry blossom assortment in the world.  Turns out that he had gotten out of a sick bed in a hospital to show us around, and two weeks later passed away.  Then, three months later Pearl died.  When I returned to the park a year later I virtually bumped into a statue that looked exactly like Pearl in 1962 when the sculptor, Bushi, completed this work:

This is now the third time I've gone to the office and asked them to please find the name of the model.  They still have not found this information, but, again, I left my business card.

"Pearl" is in a rose garden close by a large outdoor instrument that chimes tunes every hour.  There are hundreds of rose plants.  The Fall colors are just about peaking:

I show this because it looks like a green rose.  Here are the front and back views of the same statue:

A young girl and more scenes:


Friday, November 21, 2014

FALL CIRCLE PACIFIC ADVENTURE: Day #18--Could the Tokyo Ritz-Carlton Club Lounge be Heaven?

A few months ago I posted on "Could 15 Craigside be Purgatory?"  Last year I effused "Craigside is Close to Heaven."  Well, I might have just found heaven in the form of the Tokyo Ritz-Carlton Club Lounge.

On check-in I was taken to the 53rd floor Club Lounge and led to a table with an incredible view and served some champagne with nuts.  Half an hour later I was shown to my 52nd floor room with a view of Tokyo Skytree, at 2080 feet the highest structure in Japan.  Only Dubai's Burj Khalifa at 2722 feet is taller.  

Check-in for the hoi polloi rich is on the 45th floor, and even though this is about as luxurious as you can get, it was Grand Central Terminal, with hordes of people.  The Club Lounge is quiet, with soft music and entirely relaxed.  The Park Hyatt in Tokyo (left) is similar, but without that heavenly lounge.  The Sheraton D-Cube City (right), my stay a few days ago, does have this special floor, and is very similar to this Ritz-Carlton.

I then had a sunset drink in the Club Lounge, and as it is obscure, a second shot showing Mount Fuji:

I asked Club Manager Desiree what was the best place for dinner within close walking distance.  She sent me to Roppongi Robataya:

I thought, gee, this looks familiar, and it turns out that there is a competitor, Inakaya, which I frequented when I stayed at the Akasaka Prince (designed by Kenjo Tange, and is now being slowly  deconstructed)  nearly thirty years ago.  Kaoru Watanabe said he was a manager there, and now has his own Robataya:

The meal began with a fine assortment of sashimi, with taruzake and Sapporo beer:

Then asparagus and mushrooms:

Next was beef:

Followed by grilled musubi (teriyaki and ume flavored) and yellowtail collar:

Very satisfying, with splashes of Japanese theater, as the staff yelled out comments when things are ordered, when customers came and went, and for reasons I don't understand.  Kaoru saw me out when I left:

On my walk back I was astonished at the layout around the hotel.  Seven years ago a $3 billion complex. Tokyo Midtown, was built in Akasaka/Roppongi, about a half mile from Roppongi Hills, kind of like Seoul's D-Cube City, and has the tallest building in Tokyo, with the Ritz-Carlton occupying the top, 45th-53rd floors.  The grounds around my hotel were all blue lights:

I then went back to the Ritz-Carlton Club Lounge for their Evening Hors d'oeuvres, followed by two hours of sweets and cordials.  I thought I had not gained that much weight on the Crystal Symphony, but I'm afraid I'm losing that battle in Japan. I might add that the Club lounge begins serving alcoholic drinks from breakfast.  So down I came and had this incredible Japanese breakfast, with champagne:

Again, it's hard to see, but here is Mount Fuji in the background:

Finally, Desiree came by to wish me goodbye:

If there is a heaven, I now know you can also enjoy sunsets and a snow-capped  view of Mount Fuji.  And who says you can't return from Heaven?

I'm next on to the Tokyo Westin, then a one week Shinkansen journey around Japan to catch the Fall colors.  My timing is near perfection, as the peak on Honshu and Kyushu should be here this coming week.

Among the coming highlights will be dinner at Hajime (it had 3 Michelin stars a couple of years ago, but just noticed it lost a star) in Osaka, the Nagasaki Peace Park in the Fall, and the Ocean Resort in Miyazaki.  I'm being somewhat sarcastic about that Sheraton because I've now already been there twice and this spacious complex has close to nobody staying there.  But there is an onset and excellent bio-park.  On the way back I'll stop by Matsumoto Castle and say hi to Pearl's Gold Koi.

Well, hate to shock you, but the Dow Jones Industrial Average, again, broke an all-time high, up 91 to 17,810.  Why?  Something to do with better news from China and Europe.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

FALL CIRCLE PACIFIC ADVENTURE: Day #17--Goodbye Thailand, Hello Japan

If you are planning a trip to Thailand and will land in Bangkok (there are 11 international airports in Thailand, versus one for Singapore), you will arrive at the hard to remember Suvarnabhumi Airport.  The former international airport, Don Muang, is now for domestic flights.  There are myriad ways to find your way into town, around 20 miles away.  There are 13 million vehicles in the city, and traffic jams can be grievous.  There are various toll charges and you can click on THIS for more information.  However, to simplify:
  • As I usually arrive late at night, to avoid the scams, touts and general hassles, I immediately go to the AOT official airport limousine desk and pay 1200 baht ($32), and they will lead you to your vehicle to be transported to your hotel in Bangkok.  It can cost a little less and a lot more, depending on the type of car you select.  No tipping necessary.
  • When I need to return to the international airport, I simply catch a metered taxi from my hotel, and pay anywhere from $7 to $15, depending on your taxi driver.  Not worth the debate to insist on the meter price.  No tipping necessary.
  • With little baggage, try the Airport Rail Link Line, which runs every 15 minutes, takes 25 minutes and costs a bit more than a buck.   There is an express option which is quicker and more expensive.  Then catch a cab to your hotel.   Never tried this system. 
  • Yes, there are buses, too.
I did a "comprehensive poll of attitudes" while here, and here are the results:
  • Americans are most liked.
  • Australians are up there with us.
  • The Japanese are okay.
  • Vietnamese are also okay.
  • There is ambivalence about South Koreans.
  • Russians are rare but not well liked.
  • There is discomfort with the Chinese.
  • There is negativity towards Indians, something to do with too many coming here to live.
Oh, I should mention that the above info came from my taxi driver taking me to the airport.  But, they do well represent public opinion in any city.

There is military rule prevailing in Thailand today.  Government sensitivity can affect lifestyle.  For example, the plug was pulled on Hunger Games:  Mockingjay, Part 1, because there was potential for a "Raise Three Fingers, Bring Popcorn and Go to Theatre" campaign.  Leaders felt that the dystopian setting of the film would lead to more protests.

I enjoyed a snack at the Thai Airlines lounge:

It was a particularly pleasant flight from Bangkok to Haneda Airport on Thai Air.  This was a two class Boeing 777, where business class was not unlike first class on United Airllines international.

The taxi ride from Haneda to the Sheraton Miyako cost around $85.  There are cheaper ways but it was nearly midnight.  This Sheraton is old and limited.  My room view to the right.  The internet works well, but I'm moving later today to the Ritz-Carleton. 

Travel is educational, for you talk to people and read the local papers.  Here is my take on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe:

  • He has called a snap election for December 14, where members of the lower house (the upper house is mostly ceremonial, and the cost of this nonsense just for the House will be 60 billion yen, or around $500 million) of their Diet need to all run for re-election.  Abe's Liberal Democratic Party coalition (partner Komeito, logo, right, is really a religious group) will prevail, mostly because there are too many opposition parties and they are in shambles.  If all the opposition factions unite, they would control the country.  But Abe knows this won't happen, and wants to use this mandate to push other matters not related to taxes and the economy.
  • Ostensibly, this is to gain approval to delay the second phase of the consumer tax, but this makes no sense.
  • Why?  He can simply delay the tax without going to the waste of time and money to hold elections.
  • As William Pesek (right) recently said, "What Japan needs is action, not another election."
  • Abe's popularity during the past month has dropped from 52% to 44%.
  • The Japanese economy is now officially in recession.
  • The dollar exchange is now about 120 yen to the dollar.  Two years ago, it was 78:1.  In other words Japan's currency is 54% lower today.  This means their exports are 54% cheaper and a tourist from America to Japan gets an equivalent value of $1.54 for the dollar, or a $10 meal two years ago can be had today for $6.50.
  • Abe, against all public opinion, continues to:
    • Push for restoration of nuclear power
    • Piss off his regional competitors (note China Xi's facial attitude when shaking hands with Japan's Abe)
    • Want to spend more money for military upgrades
  • Abe has been to 50 countries the past two years, but has not once gone to South Korea.  China refuses to negotiate "peace."  Why?
    • For South Korea, this mostly has to do with comfort women.
    • For China, official visits to Yasukuni Shrine grate.
    • For both, recognition of disputed territories irritate.
I have another simple solution for Japan and Abe.  More than three years ago I wrote in the Huffington Post:

Well, did they listen to me?  Nope.  Instead, with little sun and meager winds, the government went crazy over solar PV and wind machines.  Fukushima set the table for a failing Japanese economy, and there is not enough sun and winds to cost-effectively solve Japan's energy problem.

  • Convene a summit with China, South Korea and Russia, and negotiate to share all those disputed territories.  If any kind of agreement can be reached, even transitional, there would be little need for a stronger military to posture and threat...for ALL those countries.  The money saved can go to more beneficial priorities.  In Japan, maybe there might be no need to raise consumer taxes.  Mind you, the 5% tax was raised to 8% this spring, and was supposed to go up to 10%.
  • Move the remains of war criminals away from Yasukuni Shrine to another shrine.  Mind you, there are 2,466,532 people interred here, including 1068 convicted of war crimes.  The State Shinto philosophy and policies, of course, will be difficult to rationalize, but, what the heck, this action will go a long way to mending hard feelings from World War II.
  • Admit "some" fault for using comfort women, and compensate those still living.