A Canadian’s first time visit to New York. A few observations.

Perhaps New York City’s image as rude, dangerous, tough and ridiculously fast paced was redefined since my preconceptions jelled without firsthand experience.  Here are a few observations from a first-time visitor to the place described during the musical Hamilton as “the greatest city in the world”.
-New York is a safe place for tourists.  We walked around Time’s Square, the Theater District, Hell’s Kitchen, Williamsburg Brooklyn and Greenwich Village.  There’s a huge police presence and some of New York’s finest hold automatic rifles. These anti-terrorist units will kindly give tourists accurate directions. (We saw it in person. This really happens.)
* Red or green traffic lights are irrelevant. Traffic lights are only reference points for the millions of pedestrians in Manhattan.  New Yorkers watch traffic and move quickly across crowded intersections whenever possible. Vehicle movement is often standing still due to grid lock.

-Most of the New Yorkers we encountered were polite. They didn’t waste time with unnecessary conversation but their direction and service was courteous.  We visited Manhattan and Brooklyn and found that the phrase that normally replies to “Thank you” was rarely “you are welcome”.  That’s been replaced by sure, certainly, of course and absolutely.

*New Yorkers love their city.  When asked how we found NYC we replied that “we love it.”  It was the right answer.
-If you enjoy walking, the guided tours are value for your money.  The wealth of knowledge and new perceptions gained from participation in the tours was overwhelming.   
For example, what do the following people and things have in common?  Truman Capote, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Bob Dylan, Dylan Thomas, Cary Grant, Hemmingway, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Gay Rights, and Mixed Racial Clubs.  The common denominator is Greenwich Village. This list only skims the surface of the artists and social activities that were inspired by the energy of Greenwich Village.
(Check out the price of real-estate in Greenwich Village now.  Call it gentrification. New York’s narrowest house at 75 ½ Bedford Street sold for $3.25 million)
*Shop carefully for Broadway tickets.  The talent on the stages of Broadway is leading edge.  This is not a revelation but ticket prices for the latest hot shows will shock you. (We needed a second mortgage to pay for tickets to Hamilton.  It was worth it.) There are discount sites available and our guides all stated that “New Yorkers never pay full price for theater tickets.”)
-The magic of Central Park:  running thru Central Park, walking, or relaxing on a Park Bench on a sunny day is worth the visit to NYC. There are hundreds of statues, memorials, the children’s zoo, Belvedere Castle, lovely ponds, paths thru forests, and green meadows.  Don’t miss the “Imagine” monument and Strawberry Fields dedicated to John Lennon across from John and Yoko’s condominium at the Dakota House. 
*Plenty of transportation options: Our choice for transportation methods depended on time and traffic congestion. The subway, Ubur and walking worked well. 

-The NEW YORK Pass is value for your money if you’re a “go getter”. My wife set the alarm early and we enjoyed tours of Wall Street, Greenwich Village, Broadway, Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, a boat trip around the Statue of Liberty, a trip to the top of the Rockefeller Center, the Big Bus Tour, the Natural History Museum, MoMA, The Met, the 9/11 Memorial Museum and The Guggenheim Museum. The pass also offered some fast tracks into each venue.
*The Frank Loyd Wright designed Guggenheim Museum and The Frick House (Collection) constructed by Thomas Hastings are worth visiting to enjoy the architecture alone.
The collections are equally amazing and can be enjoyed when time is limited.  (Be ready for paintings by iconic artists including Vermeer, Renoir, Van Gogh, Turner, Anthony van Dyck, and Picasso.)

-There are hundreds of Irish Bars. We visited the Celtic Pub on a Friday night near Time’s square. It was crowded, most patrons sang along with the club’s guitarist, danced, and chatted loudly with strong Irish accents.  We stepped thru a door and found ourselves in Dublin. (They left the IRA song list to play my request for Brown Eyed Girl by Irishman Van Morrison.)
Dining. We searched the net before visiting New York and used YELP throughout our visit.  The results were terrific.  Almost every meal met expectations and there were several major positive surprises.  Before and after musicals we loved dining at Lillie’s Victorian Bar and Dutch Fred’s near Hell’s Kitchen. 
They served a world class steak at Keens on West 36th and the atmosphere defined over 100 years was simply sensational.  Great options for dining in NYC are countless.
The Top of the Rock: we saved the trip to the top of the Rockefeller Center for late in the evening and avoided line ups. The night views of New York from the viewing stage on the 67th, 69th and 70th floors were remarkable. (Our friends waited at the Empire State Building for three hours before getting the lift to the top.)
May your next trip to New York be safe, exciting, and full of opportunities to meet friendly and engaging people that don’t waste time.



Bistro Oeuf Oeuf is a blue chip experience waiting at Futakotamagawa

We found a Great Bistro in Tokyo and have enjoyed both lunch and dinner there on several occasions.  The Bistro Oeuf Oeuf is now our “go to place.”  It is located at Futakotamagawa and is about a five minute walk from the station.  It’s a blue-chip experience 
Shall we do inventory?
Great food, check. 
Excellent service, check.
Nice selection of wines, check.
Value for your money, check. 
An interesting ambiance and sparkling clean presentation, check.

Tokyo is arguably the world’s greatest city for foodies.  What makes the Bistro Oeuf Oeuf  stand apart amongst the food and beverage giants in Japan’s capital city?

Start with Yuri Souma, the oeuf oeuf’s general manager. (Tencho)  This lady meets you at the door with a big smile, hangs your coat, and continues working to meet your expectations. 
We often order the daily set menu.  Yuri and her colleagues are pleased to assist with selections of wine by the glass or the bottle. They are very capable at the art of pairing wines with meal selections.  Some novel wine introductions have been very pleasant surprises.
Today’s lunch course started with an assorted appetizer plate.  Finely shaved ham, Pâté, pickles, a carrot salad, cured bacon and delicately spiced pork mousse.  We enjoyed it with a glass of sparkling wine.  It was crisp and delicious.
The appetizer was followed by a serving of red seabream carpaccio.  It was carefully seasoned, lightly graced with olive oil and garnished with lily bulb.  The sweet and spicy Pinot Gris from Alsace was  poured by the glass and contributed nicely.
We all selected roasted duck for our entrée.  The portions were generous.  The duck was served rare with mashed potatoes and lightly steamed vegetables.  The red wine sauce was memorable.  Our family enjoyed the duck with a pinot noir from Bourgogne.  Its sour cherry flavor meshed well with the bird and sauce .
Passing on dessert at the oeuf oeuf is a major loss of opportunity.  A combination plate of puddings, chocolate cake, cheese cream mousse with cranberry  and the  fresh vanilla ice cream was worth the mortgage on a few 10 K runs.  Just do it.  The entire concept was enhanced by sipping Calvados Domfrontais  apple brandy. Exquisite.

Little big things:
The kitchen prepared duck for lunch knowing that it was our favorite.
The combination dessert plate was specially prepared as a birthday bonus.
Every member of the oeuf oeuf staff wished me a happy birthday. 

We got lots of extra help with photos
The restaurant doesn’t allow children under 12.  (We were actually rejected a few years ago.) The wait for a wonderful family dining experience was worthwhile.

The oeuf oeuf staff does their very best to work with English speakers

Yuri and the head Chef Konno saw us out of the restaurant and wished us safe travels.
The oeuf oeuf creates courses based on the specialties of various regions of France.  We have ordered items outside of our normal comfort zone and really enjoyed the adventure.

The Bistro Oeuf Oeuf has a sister restaurant in Ebisu called Le Bistro.  The two stores exchange kitchen and service staff to stimulate activity and keep things fresh.

Both the Bistro Oeuf Oeuf and Le Bistro specialize in Japanese produced pork.  They will purchase an entire offering from specialized farms to secure a supply of top quality meat.

We can recommend the oeuf oeuf bistro experience with confidence.  Plan ahead.  You’ll need a reservation.
Bistro oeuf oeuf (Bistro Uhufuhu)
Yamanakoji Nishikicho 1F, 3-13-1 Tamagawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 158-0094, Tokyo
Telephone  03-5717-3585


JUKEN; an Intense Middle School entrance examination preparation method accepted in Japan. It might truly be a form of child abuse.

My daughter turned twelve today.  It’s a Sunday, but there will be no watching weekend morning animated television programs, bicycle riding, playing in the park with friends or any of the usual down time activities associated with a family on the last day of a weekend.  Her alarm went off at 6:00 a.m. and she went thru her morning rituals and ate a quick breakfast.  She put her books and completed homework in a blue knap sack.  After fastening the top flap that is well embellished with large N of the “Nichinoken” cram school logo, she ran out the door.  She will study Math, Science, Japanese and Social Studies with 15 other children and instructors specialized in teaching methods specific to passing Middle School Entrance Examinations.  Today classes start at 9:00 and finish at 17:00.

If my parents had put me thru the Juken program I would have run away from home.  Amnesty International would have received a letter with documented evidence that I had been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.  At the age of 12 it would have been impossible to conceive rhyme or reason for the efforts demanded by my parents and the instructors at the Juku.  The cram school studies are additional to regular school work and can require equal time if not more hourly commitment to class attendance and homework per week.  My daughter spent every day of her summer vacation at the Juku and the program ran from 9:00 to 21:00. (They ate lunch and dinner at the Juku.)   While elementary school is in session, she attends Juku immediately after school until 21:00 , weekends and school holidays.

Yet, there is a justification for the excessive study program  Everyone in Japan must qualify for a High School and even Public High Schools require tuition payments.  Acceptance at a good middle school eliminates the stress and pressure of passing a High School Entrance Examination.  Some schools are affiliated with Universities and the elevator can continue thru to post-secondary education.  The pay forward theory makes sense as does the option to enter a better school.  (I run by the nearest public middle school every morning and the noises and activity at the Government Facility never fail to remind me of feeding time at the zoo.)

There are several good middle school options within a 30 minute commute by train from our home.  Our daughter’s councilors at the Juku identified three schools that meet our criteria and our daughter’s aptitude.  (We’d like our daughter to attend an all-girls school nearby with a good academic reputation and a positive atmosphere.)  Competition is serious for the top schools but we’ve been encouraged by results of weekly and monthly examinations.  These are normally conducted on Saturday mornings and once a month a major “off campus” examination is conducted.  These are open not only to the thirty seven thousand clients of the Nichinoken Juku Franchise but welcome other 12 year olds for a fee.    The venues selected for these monthly trial examinations are often universities or high schools.  A parade of thousands of children, most with blue back packs, march to the auditoriums and write four hours of examinations.  (It’s really quite an impressive sight.)  The results allow for a realistic evaluation of where you place on the bell curve. The experience is Excellent preparation and a confidence booster for the actual exams that will take place next February.  

Our  12 year old daughter has worked diligently and without much complaint.  Her fatigue is obvious and there isn’t much variety in her life.  She’s a great kid and unfortunately has had to demonstrate mental toughness unexpected in someone her age.  All family holidays and weekend activities have been put on hold for the last year to support her efforts.  We look forward to the completion of this phase in our lives. It will be nice to attend her opening ceremony on the first day at her chosen middle school. We project images of a smiling young woman in her new school uniform and ready with all the compulsory accessories.  What I am especially looking forward to is the return of laughter and energy associated with our daughter to breakfast and other family events.  We’re looking forward to getting our little girl back.


Great things a Zombie can do in Tokyo (Kawasaki Halloween 2012)

On Sunday October 28th The 16th Annual Kawasaki Halloween Parade once again attracted huge crowds. The 2012 event centered around the La Cittadella Italian District near Kawasaki Station and was huge fun.  The 3500 extremely well costumed marchers created a sensational spectacle.  All participants in the parade must register on line prior to the event and it fills to the max in just a few days.  This does not negate the opportunity for by-standards to enjoy dressing up.  In fact, my “Walking Dead” inspired costume created unprecedented opportunities from “dawn to dusk”.  Most expatriates (gaijin) will attest that it’s common if not understood to feel different from the crowd in Tokyo.  My day as “zombie” took this isolated social status to another level.
Here are a few great experiences for members of the “walking dead” when visiting Tokyo:

-1-Pay a bill at your local convenience store.  The young cashier wasn’t sure whether it would be appropriate to treat me as a “regular” customer or call an ambulance.
-2-Ride on a JR Train to Kawasaki Station.  Passengers worked hard to pretend that there was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary when a “Zombie” took a seat.  Once a brave student asked for a picture the taciturn façade came down and amateur paparazzi emerged. (This was one popular Zombie.)  Even the conductors expressed concern for my “state of health”.

-3-Donating to the Kiwanis Guide Dog Program.  They didn’t enjoy the exercise but the intrepid volunteers on duty at the Kawasaki Station Mall took my donation.

4.Cruising – “Zombies” can have fun hanging out on escalators, walking thru shopping malls and by all means checking out the crowd at the parade.


5.  Making new friends.  My image was recorded by literally thousands of cameras and cell phones.  No complaints – Zombies need love and attention too!



6. Hanging out with a Goat.  There was only one goat in costume at the event.  I met it!

7. Finding Waldo – a bunch of them!


8.  Wining and dining at the bars and restaurants around La Cittadella.  Zombies are guaranteed great service and everyone in costume gets 10% off.




A Japanese Spring Wedding and the Canadian Family Member

Attending a Japanese Wedding is a rare honor for most foreigners living in Japan. The opportunity shouldn’t be lost on any expatriate fortunate to receive an invitation.  The Wedding I attended last Saturday was a glimpse of Japanese Culture well refined with blended tradition. It met the tastes and trends of modern day Tokyo.  It was my first ever chance to join such an important celebration as a family member.  “What a Blast.”


Every major Japanese Event starts with preparatory research.  Not surprisingly a Japanese Wedding requires proper attire, careful selections of gifts and a punctual arrival.  Simple?  There are a few twists.  My wife is a cousin of the Groom and the sum of our gift of fresh, crisp & new bank notes was determined by a well-defined scale found on the internet. The equation involves the venue, her position as a first cousin to the Groom and the fact that my wife was allowed to bring both her husband and daughter.  

Wedding fashion for men has liberalized as black suits with a white tie standard in 1982 are set aside for stylish morning suits with more modern options for neck wear.  Women have the opportunity to dress suitable to the season and young ladies often chose cocktail dresses flashy enough for an evening in Las Vegas.  Most guests rode the train and were pleased to have access to change rooms at the Wedding “Estate”. We arrived in time for wardrobe and make-up finalization and to participate in obligatory family events. 

There was some trepidation about joining the rituals but my wife’s nuclear family circled around me to prevent any serious & memorable faux pas.  In fact the classy charm of my Wife’s Cousin, her Aunt and Uncle and the staff at the “Q.E.D Wedding Estate” made me feel welcome and comfortable.  (They publicly expressed appreciation for my participation in spite of returning just on time from a business trip to Germany.)  The day started for us in a room set aside for the Groom and his “extended” family members where coffee, tea and soft drinks were served.  When the conversation turned to English to accommodate me I excused myself. (It was the Groom’s Day and shouldn’t be deflected by their foreign guest.) It gave me a chance to explore the venue.

Every couple should be fortunate enough to enjoy a Wedding in a place as convenient and sophisticated as the Q.E.D Estate in Ebisu. This is especially true with the complimentary weather of a beautiful and sunny Spring Day.  The Estate was once home to the Hungarian Embassy in Tokyo.  The building was designed with ecstatically pleasing architecture, plenty of windows and a large garden suitable to wedding ceremonies.  Paintings, antique furniture and an impressive wine cellar were on display.  

Once explored I returned to the “coffee room” where my wife’s Uncle Teruo introduced our entire family to the Bride’s Relatives in detailed and confident fashion by memory. This was reciprocated by the Father of the Groom. We were then taken to the Garden for a Group Photo of “family members” and you won’t have to hire a private detective to find me in the picture.  When finished both families move to the Garden to be seated up front and witness a Christian Wedding.  

Often Japanese Couples elect a pseudo Christian style wedding even when their religious beliefs are more centered around Buddhist and Shinto Practices.  This was the “real thing”.  Eriko and Tsuneto’s Ceremony involved prayer, a reading of Corinthians 13:4-7,  and the hymns titled “Home” and “What a Friend we have in Jesus”.  The Minister reminded me of someone you might see on television on a Sunday Morning in North America but his passion was appreciated by the guests.  He was well supported by a trio of women with beautiful voices contracted to support the vocal efforts of the 100 guests.  It really was nice. Plenty of smiles, tears and eventually laughter when everyone tossed cherry blossom petals like confetti as the new “Man and Wife” walked thru the crowd to end the ceremony and initiate the party.

Previous weddings in Japan required guests to sit thru the first hour of the reception listening to long speeches without the aid of refreshment.  Everyone was handed a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice as they entered the “Banquet Hall”.  The following key note addresses were short and entertaining.  (We’re dealing with an intellectual crowd.  The Groom has a Doctorate in Physics and Graduated from the prestigious Tokyo University.  His Bride has an MBA and is a star at a Fortune 500 company.)  We moved thru to the Toast to the Bride in under 15 minutes and the Sparkling Wine Corks popped marking the beginning of a sumptuous banquet. 


Check out this menu (it was all delicious):
            Caviar with Abalone, Foie-Gras with green asparagus and truffle sauce, Lobster with seasonal vegetables flavored with wine and beet sauce, Iced Sorbet (granite), Filet Mignon and Beef Cheek with Perigueux Sauce.  Each course was complimented by a specific beverage and by the end of the meal everyone was surrounded by glasses of beer, white and red wine.  Add an Excellent piano recital courtesy of The Groom’s Sister and you have a dinner not soon forgotten. It  was all followed by a Dessert Buffet served on the garden lawn in the sunshine.  

 It was a fine setting to complete the day. The Bride and Groom thanked their parents and punctuated their statements with a presentation of flowers. Closing remarks began with speeches by the Fathers of the Bride and Groom. The ceremonies ended with words by the Groom himself who admitted that the Grand Wedding was beyond his expectations and the concept was conceived and executed on behalf of his Bride.  He also stated that he expected to be eternally happy with Eriko. Well done Tsuneto.

There was an underlying sense of humor built into the wedding plan.  The slide show depicting Tsuneto’s impressive career to date ended with his declaration of an ambition to win the Noble Prize and drink away the Award Money.  The Bride and Groom selected up beat music played for effect throughout the banquet and presentations in the Garden.  It included Sting, the Proclaimers, Sheryl Crow, Bon Jovi and ACDC.  The selection of Sheryl Crow’s Every day is a Winding Road and Stings Every Breath You Take were played in time for emotional entrances and departures. (Tsuneto and Eriko later confirmed that they selected the songs with tongue in cheek.)  Even the young children were rocking (and there were quite a few.)

At every place setting the Bride and Groom left a hand written note for their Guests.  I can remember how incredibly dear time became as I geared up for my own wedding and marvel at this kind gesture.  The two remained at the Estate’s front door to wish a fond good-bye to everyone who attended the wedding and gave each one of us a generous present.  If Eriko and Tsuneto act and care for each other in the same way they treated their friends and relatives at their wedding;  they will have a fine life together indeed.  Good luck to this exciting new couple.  Oh, Tsuneto San,  please remember to give me a call when you Win that Nobel Prize.  (A Million Euros buys a lot of Guinness.)

Q.E.D. Club     http://www.qed.co.jp/english/        


Miura Marathon 2012 - more reasons to join the fun

Miura City produced its 30th Half Marathon today.  In conjunction with the 21 Kilometer Race they also hosted a 10K and 5K Run.  The temperature sat at 5.4 degrees Celsius and the winds blowing off the Pacific chilled runners lining up twenty minutes for each event.  Most contestants dressed for the weather with full coverage.  Elite runners were easy to spot in their light racing gear as they flew by the crowds.  

Parking and basic facilities are limited at the Beach Side Starting Line and the weather for the Miura Event is historically terrible. (Some locals feel the event might even be demonized.)  In spite of these disturbing facts, the Miura Marathon Entry quotas fill quickly every year.  Tent Camps on Miura Beach that resemble Refugee Stations make up for limited facilities and people come ready to battle the weather, crowded field and race course elevations. This was my third run at Miura and we will line up for the 10 K again next year.  

   Here are a few reasons to join the fun:

-Penguins:  the Kanagawa Hakejima Sea Park brought a few of the little ones to attract attention to their booth.  What a great photo opportunity.  Try not to smile when you see a living Penguin up close?
   -Racing:  the Miura Course runs thru narrow streets. Passing runners and achieving targeted times is a challenge.  It’s not just a run or time trial; it’s a race.  Come ready to compete.
  -Q-Chan (Naoko Takahashi):  Q-Chan, the 2000 Sydney Olympic Gold Medal Winner was today’s Marathon MC.  She grabbed the microphone, leaned out from the VIP Tower and screamed greetings and wishes of good luck and other motivational phrases at all runners as we started the event.  Later she posted on the side of the road and gave high fives to thousands of runners as they headed into the final 2K of the run.  She has a Great smile and contagious energy. Q-Chan is an Excellent Celebrity Guest.

-Costumes:  my favorite this year was the human daikon (Giant White Radish)

 -Souvenirs:  this year we received a performance shirt, a fresh daikon, a detailed finisher’s certificate and an embroidered neck muffler. (The muffler is puzzling. We all agreed that it would be useful for skiing but certainly not running. Maybe some runners used it immediately to battle frostbite after today’s run.)
  -Scenery and Challenges:  Four kilometers of the ten kilometer race are run up & down steep inclines.  Views along the way include country houses, the beautiful Miura Beach and the ships, wind surfers and other crafts enjoying the waters next to the Peninsula. It’s a great place to visit and an Excellent location for a run.  The Half Marathon offers scenic and panoramic views of farms, bamboo forests, Japanese Shrines, Temples, Cemeteries in addition to the Ocean on the way out and upon return to the finish line.

-Community Support and Regional Specialties:  food stalls are manned by locals serving Wakame Soup (seaweed broth), Oden (Japanese Hot Pot) and Barbecued Maguro (Tuna). (All specialties of Miura).