Tuesday, December 21, 2021

A Pina Colada at Trader Vics

Some people have interesting traditions. In something of a different era, I once called a friend on the last Friday before Christmas. People were out of town and truth be told I was somewhat bored so calling around those still in situ. One friend answered thinking it was his girlfriend (let's not get into what he actually said when he found out it was me...) and we decided to catch up. He had something with him I'd never seen before, and it held a lot of music. The iPod had been launched to the world some two months prior and so I've always been able to date that last Friday to his shiny white headphone attachment.

And hence a traditions was born. On the last Friday before Christmas each year I host a small lunch for a few friends who don't necessarily know each other but I think they'll enjoy meeting new friends. And I also somewhat define what actually is the "Last Friday". Given the habit of many to leave Japan toward the year end for their homeward journey I've decided I'm allowed to opt for alternative dates to enjoy their company, though these days there are the obvious restrictions of airborne bugs and lack of airplanes.

And so on Friday 17th a few friends met up. We were all vaxed and asked the staff not to approach the table but allow beverages to reside on a side counter where we could select the range ourselves to avoid them having to expose themselves to any potential risks (total count in Japan that day, 56). They didn't do this of course as service is their pride. For which we are extremely grateful. One day we are going to be back to abnormal times, but I'd still like to thank the staff of Trader Vics for kindly welcoming us again. See you next year. With a Pina Colada. And yes, you have to figure that one out...


Tuesday, December 14, 2021

A Namamugi Incident

More years ago than I care to remember I walked "The Kiso Way" from Magome to Tsumago in Nagano-ken, one of the few remaining sections of the Tokaido, the Edo Period stone highway connecting Tokyo and Kyoto. At least I thought I did. Researching this article I've found I'd strolled the Nakasendo, the other road from Tokyo to Kyoto. Which somewhat negates the flow of this article that last weekend I walked the other end of the Tokaido, but this time I'm sure. I had a historian with me. And he had a map.

Setting off from Hachiko in central Tokyo at 6.00AM beating the noise and heat of day (admittedly in December so we somewhat embraced the chill of the morning) with a purpose in mind. I enjoy a good walk and my destination was the Gaijin Botchi (Foreigners' Cemetery) on the bluff overlooking Yokohama, some thirty-five kilometers to the south. I had a detour in mind this time, I'd known of the Namamugi Incident when an Englishman took on the 700 strong retinue of a homeward bound Daimyo with a somewhat predictable outcome. But at least they put up a plaque to him and erected a small (and quite quaint) memorial right next to the Spring Valley Brewery (interestingly founded next to our destination for the day).

Strolling in the morning light we passed through Magome again, this one a suburb of Tokyo (no offense to the residents but, don't go there) and caught up with the third of our party. And then age and sore hips started to take their hold and a detour via a morning cafe where wine and painkillers would be gratefully quaffed became something of a necessity (en-route to which we came across a rusted Nissan Skyline shooting break carrying a tax disk that showed it hadn't been driven in over thirty years, about the same time I was walking through the peace and beauty of the first Magome. And strangely a sign on the side announcing "For Public Use Only"). 

Sustenance received and we moved on. To the train station from where we advanced to Namamugi of said incident only to find the wall and the plaque had succumbed to a wrecking crew less than a week before and the memorial had been relocated (but this one we found). We did find a red footprint and decided this must be the spot of the epic battle and so declared the first objective of the day duly successfully achieved and boarded our train bound for the Gaijin Botchi, a few stops beyond Yokohama Station.

Climbing the steep rise to upper plateaux of the Bluff (actually, there's an escalator concealed inside the hill) we reached the destination of our eventful day. To find it locked. But what a beautiful day, December and people were picnicking on the lawns with a bridal pair thanking their lucky stars for the photo-op. So we crossed from the view of Fuji to the other side of the hilltop and took in the view of Yokohama Bay, thinking of those days before escalators had been invented. And then we went home. By train. No reason to be silly about it.

Thanks go to Rory and Marty!

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

A Horse to Hokkaido

In 1878 the (yet to be) empire of Japan had not only opened to foreigners for the first time in nearly 300 years but had been through a civil war, embraced a new (actually its first) constitution placing the Emperor (Mikado) at the center of both political and religious helms but also relocated said foreigners from Shimoda (where they could count the ships supplying supplies to Tokyo) to the sleepy port town of Yokohama (where they could be seen but not heard). And then Isabella Bird arrived.

Leaving England to find balmier climes for health reasons (and not enjoying Australia too much) she arrived in Yokohama to start a quite remarkable journey. The limited foreign residence ensured she quickly had the opportunity to embrace international society in Japan including the interesting (and, one day to be, ambassador) Ernest Satow (who had arguably, accidentally, set of the civil war mentioned above by noting that foreign powers needed a central government for negotiations rather than a loose affiliation of warring factions). Her purpose was to ride a horse to Hakodate. A distance of some 800km to the north on the (extremely remote at that time) island of Hokkaido.

She hired a guide, stayed with local people, was viewed as a exhibit to be seen, met and dined with Ainu, experienced a typhoon whilst returning home and all of this by the age of 47. Almost exactly 100 years later an Englishman by the name of Alan Booth reversed the journey walking from Cape Soya in Northern Hokkaido to Cape Sata, the very southern most point of Kyushu. And much of their tales ring with resemblance. The kindness of people, the beauty of the country, the isolation (and the revenge of the fish). And this weekend I'm planning to take a walk from Hachiko in central Tokyo to the Gaijin Botchi in Yokohama. It'll be interesting to see how much of the journey remains.