Tardy Tokyo Tales #2: 11/15/11

Dear Friends,

It is a blog-fest competition between Ana and me– who can write the longest posts! I think Ana won in the last one. If you read all of it, kudos! It’s pretty miraculous that this blog started as an illness blog in 2007 and has transformed into a travel log! So, on that note, please feel free to read the rest of my tales from Tokyo… if your time and attention permit!! Yes, we know we rambling, and no, we don’t spend a great deal of time editing or actually formulating our writing. Hence, it’s purely blabbing!

Tokyo, Day 3: 10/24/11
On Monday, Andrew and I were free. Misako had to go to her work but Naomi and Marc went to TIFF COMM, a marketplace of buyers, sales agents, distributors for films all over Asia. The Power Of Two had a booth decorated with posters and postcards together with a DVD playing the film in a TV on a table. Naomi was a woman on a mission. Together with Marc, they mixed and mingled with people from Malaysia, Korea, Thailand, all over Japan, and spread the word about The Power Of Two with everyone they set eyes on.

Andrew and I, on the other hand, woke up late, packed our bags for a change of hotel, and met Marc and Naomi at TIFF COMM. Just as we boarded the elevator, I saw a familiar face… a man named Tetsuki from Santa Fe!! That previous Wednesday, Ana and I went to the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival office and waited to pick up our film passes. Just as we were about to leave, a man walked in to deliver postcards for another film. We noticed he was Japanese, and talked to him about TIFF. He couldn’t see the film in Santa Fe because he was leaving for Tokyo… and here he was!!! What a small world… another new friend from Santa Fe lands in front of us here in Tokyo!

Andrew and I had a leisurely afternoon. We saw a screening of “Tokyo Story” from 1954, by the famous director Ozu. Without intention, it was very emotional for me as it reminded me of my grandmother and her life post-war, and my mother’s early years in Tokyo growing up. The film carried a bittersweet message about grown kids who leave their homes in the countryside for careers in Tokyo, while neglecting and forgetting about their aging parents. There was a side story of a woman who was widowed in the war and her parents were urging her to get married. That reminded me of the pressure my grandmother probably felt after she lost her husband in 1945.

Later that day, we saw another film called, “Anotoki no Inochi” or “Life Back Then.” This was a heavy movie about a good looking young man who takes a job cleaning out apartments/homes of people who die alone in Japan. Apparently this happens in Japan- lonely people who don’t want to be a burden die alone… He meets another woman and they share their troubled pasts with each other: suicide attempts, bullying, murder, suicide witness, rape… and the budding romance ends with the girl getting hit by a car and dying. Needless to say, it was a very depressing movie. The only good part was when the actors and actresses came on stage before the performance, the school girls in the audience shrieked and literally shook in their seats with excitement.

In the evening, we enjoyed a nice dinner with Marc and Naomi at “yakitori (chicken on skewers).” Then Andrew and I checked into Misako’s wonderful guest room at her parents’ apartment complex in Takanawa. It was on the 46th floor, overlooking the Rainbow Bridge on the edge of the city and Tokyo Tower on the other end. We had two beds, a kitchenette and flat screen TV. Ms. Kitaoka stocked us up with breakfast and sandwich items in the fridge—how kind!!

On Tuesday, 10/25/11, after visiting Marc and Naomi working their asses off at TIFF COMM, Andrew insisted we see happier films. So, we saw a heart-warming Japanese family film called “Quartet,” and then another Japanese comedy called “Japanese Salaryman.” The latter poked fun at Japanese businessmen in a hilarious plot with excellent acting. In between the films, we roamed the streets of nearby and ate a vegetarian lunch at a very elegant restaurant at Azubu-jiban. After a TIFFCOMM reception of mixing and mingling (sort of my nightmare), Andrew and I took off ourselves and went to a wonderful sushi place in Roppongi called ITAMAE. I ordered the tuna plate with tekkamaki, maguro, and several types of toro. I contributed to overfishing by eating this, but it was to die for!

On Wednesday, Andrew and I were tired of movies, and since it wasn’t appropriate to go to our “Industry Screening” of The Power Of Two for buyers and distributors, we decided on a whim to do something different. We decided to go to Kabuki theater at the newly build “National Theater.” This was a once in a lifetime cultural experience. Though the price was similar to an opera in the US, I had never seen kabuki, and thought we could go on this ‘hot date’ to enjoy a truly Japanese cultural experience. Andrew was one of the few white men there, and I was about 12+ inches taller than most of the ladies who attended (kabuki tends to attract an older crowd). After 3 hours and 40 minutes, Andrew described the play appropriately as “mind-numbing.” But, thanks to English headsets, we could sort of figure out the storyline of ancient warring Japanese clans and their need to find revenge, honor, spiritual guidance and adventure. The costumes were colorful, ornate and very impressive. At one point a white tiger flew above us across the audience, with a white angelic “Sun Queen” riding it. The ancient Japanese language was hard to follow, but I loved the facial expressions of these actors. Only men perform in Kabuki, and to act as a woman takes tremendous training. The “women” were indeed quite convincing.

We checked into our new hotel, the Sheraton Miyako, and settled in again. The moving around was tough but we were incredibly grateful for our friends who paid for our hotel stay! Andrew and I were exhausted. This was our most relaxing trip to Tokyo, but somehow we couldn’t get enough sleep. Andrew and I spent every minute together, and this indeed was our romantic vacation! We wandered through the subways together, ate meals together, watched movies and just hung out. It was a very nice break from our usual hectic full pace. After 17 years with Andrew, I still very much enjoy his company and truly feel like we are best friends. I know how lucky we both are. And it felt good to be in charge, to know how to get to places and to have the ‘power’ to interpret things Andrew couldn’t understand.

We ended our day with another dinner at the ITAMAE sushi place in Roppongi with Pierre, a French-Canadian writer and new friend of Marc, as well as Naomi, Misako and a new friend Yabe-san, who is making a documentary about Fumiko Hemingway, a half-Japanese prominent piano player.

Thursday the 27th was our second and final public screening in the evening. Again, we slept in and made our way leisurely to meet Naomi and Marc in the afternoon. We had another two interviews with the US Army in Japan online newspaper as well as with the Japan Times. The Press and media opportunities were impressively organized by TIFF staff. Everything was perfectly arranged. So Japanese!

Our screening started around 5:15pm. Again, the theater filled up slowly but surely, and I’d guess about 250 people were there. We were very impressed that so many people had interest in the story. We watched the film for the n-th time, and then had a brief Q&A. A nurse spoke in tears and asked several good questions, including, “what advice do you have for health care providers?” I was proud to say I was able to answer all of the questions in Japanese. It just rolled out of my mouth. I think watching Japanese films was the best education! And, appropriately, someone in the audience asked, “how do I sign up to be an organ donor?” Yeah!

After the film screening, we headed downstairs for a reception that Naomi had organized. The event was emcee’ed by our friend Akemi Takeuchi. A large number of people attended, included the politician Taro Kono, Juntaro Ashikari and Ohkubo-san (our host in 2009) of Japan Organ Transplant Network, Bruce Batten from Obirin University, many prominent faces in the Japanese transplant community, large numbers of distant friends and friends of my parents; the list goes on and on. I was deeply touched by the turnout and interest. Marc, Ohkubo-san, and I all gave short speeches. People mixed and mingled and we had a wonderful time. I wished I could’ve talked to more people but I felt quite overwhelmed. Sometimes I literally would have an out-of-body experience, wondering if this was real, or just a dream. I couldn’t believe I was in Japan, speaking Japanese, connecting to so many Japanese people. Is this really my life?

After our reception, Andrew and I joined Naomi, Akemi and her parents for another warm and wonderful meal of mostly fish while Marc and Misako went out to bars with other Americans. I felt so old since I had no energy for late-night partying! Apparently, Misako and Marc were up until 3AM!

On Friday, 10/28/11, we checked out of our hotel, and had a nice brunch with Marc (though the food was way too Western!). Misako soon joined us while Naomi worked that day. Marc was leaving and was high as a kite… he was so fulfilled about how things went at TIFF. Then, on Friday afternoon, Andrew and I head out to Kaihimmakunari, a town halfway to Narita airport. We left the Sheraton after a morning of shopping nearby at Meguro station, where I didn’t buy anything and just wandered the shops to soak in Japan. Andrew is so sweet- he doesn’t protest or complain; he just follows me around like a puppy dog! I am spoiled, I know. But I think he enjoyed touring the town as well. Everything feels so novel and interesting—the shops, the department stores, the restaurants, the people.

After an hour-long bus ride, we arrived at our hotel, “APA Hotel” in Makunari. It was right on the coast, and our room was on the 35th floor overlooking the shoreline. We prayed for no earthquake (or tsunami)! We settled into our room, and our adrenalin kept us at a fast pace. We got ready to get back on the train for 30 minutes to head to Tokyo Disneyland! After 6PM, we could get in for only 3600 yen; so there we pushed through our fatigue to see the Magic Kingdom. Around 6PM we waited at the gate with hundreds of other bargain hunters. Most of the people in line were schoolgirls dressed in Minnie, Alice in Wonderland, Pooh and Stitch outfits. It was hilarious—and added to our convictions that Japanese people like to act much younger than their age! In only four hours, we managed to go on Space Mountain, Pirates of the Carribean, Enchanted Tiki Room, Country Bear Jamboree, Small World, and several other rides. Not bad for 4 hours! We enjoyed a yummy curry dinner and I enjoyed a manju (dessert) shaped like an eyeball from the movie “Monster’s Inc.” Though many of the rides were the same as in the USA, there were very limited uses of characters on the rides. For example, Space Mountain had no Star Wars characters. The music was different too. It was funny to hear the narrators all in Japanese. The park was insanely crowded and when we left at 10PM we followed a rush of black-haired people to the train station, piled into a train and head back to Makunari.

Exhausted, we crashed to bed, with our alarms set for early morning.

On our final full day, Saturday, 11/29/11 Andrew and I arrived at Tokyo Disneyland’s unique park called “Disney Sea” around 9AM. It was indeed a sea of black hair… it was so crowded! It reminded me of Los Angeles Disneyland on New Year’s Eve 1999—where if you didn’t focus, you could start to panic and flip out.

Because of the long day, and my very sore foot (which was still in a boot cast), I borrowed a wheelchair and had Andrew push me around. There were hardly any people in wheelchairs… maybe it was a stigma or shame thing, but I was happy not to wear out my foot. And, thank God for the “Guest Assistance Pass!” Andrew and I were essentially able to use the guest pass like a “fast pass” on every ride… all day long. During the 120 -140 minute waits, we could go on other rides with “shorter” waits of 30-40 minutes. With these crowds, I bet that most park visitors could only go on 4-5 rides each visit after a full day in the park. With the pass, Andrew and I went on about 10 rides/attractions. Thank God for a Jones fracture! We visited “Indiana Jones” which was all narrated in Japanese, Tower of Terror, a little ride based on “Aladdin,” a unique roller coaster called “Raging Spirit” which included a 360 degree loop; a “Ten Thousand Leagues Under The Sea” ride, Stormrider, and a cute ride in the children’s section that was an indoor area filled with small rides all modeled after “Little Mermaid.” This area was decorated with underwater themes, and had blue light. It was beautiful, and we rode a cute ride in “hot air balloon” puffer fish.

We enjoyed people-watching as much as the rides. Everyone was wearing something Disney. There were long lines for popcorn stations- where they served chocolate popcorn, miso popcorn, furikake popcorn, caramel popcorn, and every type you could imagine. Many people wore popcorn buckets around their shoulders. Kids were dressed up and young lovers wore matching Mickey ears. Groups of girls wore the same outfits, dressed up as Alice from ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ Tigger and Eeyore, Minnie, etc. Interestingly, about 80% of all park attendees were carrying around a teddybear called “Duffy.” Duffy is apparently a new teddybear that Minnie gave Mickey for his birthday. The stores that sold Duffy were so packed, there was a long line to get into the stores. Andrew and I were baffled by this non-Disney character, thinking it was a Japanese creation. How clever the marketers are to introduce a new faddish character and make tons of money off of it. What a profit over this silly little plain looking bear. Then, later we learned, that “Duffy,” exists in America. Our neice, Reese, went to Disney World in Orland just a few days later for Halloween and sent us a photo of her holding Duffy! What in the world happened to good ol’ fashion Mickey???

The day passed quickly as we strategized our time very efficiently. We had to get our money’s worth, and try all the big, novel rides. Funny thing was- hardly anyone screamed on the roller coasters. Perhaps Japanese are too reserved and controlled for such emotional outbursts. Andrew and I didn’t hesitate one bit, and I let my healthy lungs get a workout from my screaming. The only exception to the quiet Japanese was when we rode the “Tower of Terror” along with about 15 schoolgirls who basically screamed at the top of their lungs from the moment they sat down. It was as entertaining as the ride itself!

Andrew’s exhaustion caught up with him, after pushing me around all day. We couldn’t find a place to eat that didn’t have a 90+ minute wait to get seated, so we settled for an informal take out pasta place. The Japanese food options were limited in this park that prided itself on being “Western.” The food was so-so, and I was bummed my last dinner in Japan was Italian. Oh well…- it was Disneyland. We left the park before closing around 9pm, and this lifelong Disney fanatic of my husband collapsed in the hotel. I still had some energy to pack and organize. What a full day. Going to Tokyo Disneyland was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’m not going to vote to go again, but if you go, make sure you break a bone or do something to get a disabled guest pass☺.

In the morning, I had a strict agenda to go shopping for Christmas gifts. Poor Andrew followed me obediently and we explored the shops, which were packed with people. Japanese sure love to shop! There was an outlet mall of American shops, which I didn’t care for. Yet, sadly, most of the goods were also Made in China. You just can’t escape that in many developed countries… to the demise of our own economies. I was looking for a specific Japanese dessert, but couldn’t find it. I did find what I needed for friends and family, while Andrew rested and got a foot-massage from two outgoing ladies… who turned out to be Chinese. I didn’t think Japanese women would be so social.

We head out in time to catch our bus to Narita Airport. Our travels were uneventful, and we completed our time in Japan with huge bowels of ramen noodles and gyoza and then the purchase of several boxes of manju. I left beautiful Japan with tremendous gratitude. My life is so normal, so full and engaged, that I feel like I’m dreaming. I never asked for this, or expected to be part of a documentary. I’m so blessed to have the resources to go on a film tour. For all this activity, for just a little time, I can forget about my life of sickness, my fears of mortality, my grief over friends lost, and just enjoy the moment. And in this 9 day trip, I was feeling very Japanese, and very hopeful that our film would be able to impact a large number of Japanese transplant candidates and chronically ill people. Hopefully, distributors will be interested. The prospects look good.

Thank you for reading this very long blog. This is my own travel record, and if you can gleam any meaningful messages from it, I’d be surprised. But thanks for reading it anyway.

May you be blessed in your life as I am….
Love,
Isa

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