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).


Testa-Coda Italian in Shinjuku

When our family is looking for convenience, Excellent Choices from antipasti to dolce and good service at a reasonable price we visit the testa-coda restaurant. The restaurant is well designed to give a modern and spacious feeling even when every table is full.

Location: Shinjuku Station: 6th Floor Lumine Building 1 (Phone: 03-5909-1931)

We optioned for the Dinner Set and feel it offers best value. Two set courses were more than enough for my wife, 9 year old daughter and myself. Our favorite item for the evening was a sautéed pork entre served with a gorgonzola sauce. It edged out a lovely roast duck, spicy Penne All’arabbiata, and a seafood pasta combination. (No complaints; we’d order all these items again.) The Penne is our family’s restaurant acid test. My daughter refuses to eat pasta that isn’t al dente. (Let’s pray for the young man that one day takes her to the “macaroni grill” on a first date.)

The anti-pasta weren’t bad. A tempura like “fritto misto” was well received and as usual my daughter loved her Prosciutto (Parma-Ham). The Bagna Calda (Italian hot anchovy garlic dip for vegetables) was passable as were the yogurt sherbet and tiramisu we shared at dessert. The wine list has several nice options at varying price levels. We selected a 2006 Barolo and were not disappointed. It was our third trip to the testa-coda and we’ve enjoyed quick and energetic service each visit. The atmosphere is more enthusiastic than professional and some nuisances such as wine etiquette seem to have been lost. This didn’t stop us from enjoying the evening. We’ll visit the testa-coda again. Hopefully soon.

Testa-Coda http://r.gnavi.co.jp/g030049/map/

Japanese only with coupon - print this page out to get the complimentary offering below:

1) One complimentary drink with course menu, or 2) 1 complimentary bottle of wine with 4 people’s ordering 3800 yen course each.


The Bangkok Marathon: a Surreal Experience

“Mr. Jooky” is an English Speaking Taxi Driver with a world of experience.  He picked me up at 4:00 a.m. and we traveled to the starting line of the Standard Chartered 21 Kilometer Race. (The Venue has five runs including  a short 2.5 K run and the full 42.195 K Marathon.)  “Mr. Jooky” is quite representative of the people occupying  the “Land of a Thousand Smiles”; positive,  friendly and hard working.  On the way to the Royal Palace where the start and finish lines are located he pointed out a monument erected to the “one thousand” students gunned down by the Thai Army in 1973.  “One hundred thousand marched in protest of the government.  Two of my friends died before my eyes.  Most of us escaped and took refuge in the King’s Palace.”  (This was the Thammasat University Massacre.) His explanation finished as we pulled up to the corner of an intersection.  “Your starting line is just down this street. Have a good run.”

It was a great run.  A very international crowd full of Europeans, North Americans and large numbers of Japanese, Singaporeans, Hong Kong(ers) and other South East Asian Countries.  The local Thais were well represented and thousands of volunteers made everyone feel welcome.  The course was relatively flat but challenges come from the humidity and pollution.  The course is impressively scenic but a large portion of the race is run on one side of the highway and the opposite side of the road was packed with vehicles.  (I started an asthma like wheeze while on the freeway and was very pleased when it diminished once away from the traffic.)

Let me list the things to like and love about the Bangkok Marathon:

-1-  Starting at the Royal Grand Palace a 5:00 a.m. when the weather is most temperate.  The Thai Band entertaining runners lining up for the half marathon was pretty good.  Their rendition of Maroon 5’s Moves like Jagger was terrific.

-2-  Crossing the Rama VIII Bridge lit up and beautiful before sunrise. 

-3- Being saluted by Thai Imperial Guards in full dress uniform as we passed the Ministry of Defense.

-4- Water Stations every 2 K with watermelon venues positioned in two locations along the race route.

-5- Observing the “Elite Runners” mostly from Africa as they warm-upped.  (They float and glide; inspiring.)   Other races isolate the Invited Professionals but at the Bangkok Marathon they were one of the crowd. They had to fight their way to the front of the pack before the starting gun fired.  

-6-  The 25 degree weather. It’s much better to run when it’s warm at my age.  Caveat: temperatures rose noticeably as the race progressed making the last 5 K much more difficult than the first 16 K. (We passed an elite runner as he walked back to the starting gate. He didn’t look happy & I thought this might be a very bad omen.)  Add suspect traffic control & the need to dodge the odd motor bike and you really do have a tougher last half.

-7- Sponsors distributed beverages and burgers as you departed the course.  Once off the Marathon Site, I gave my Filet of Fish and Cheese Burger to a tuk-tuks driver who then ungratefully refused me a ride. (This was after an offer of twice the normal fare. I think he didn’t know the location of my hotel.)  I watched him drive off with the sandwiches and looked for a taxi.

-8- The start was as exciting as any race I’ve ever entered but finishing was probably the most gratifying.  (Did I mention the last 5 K were really tough for this Canadian?)  Finishing also allows me to have some fun discussions with friends who offered advice and concern for the heat, humidity, stomach devastating bacteria and jet lag.  One of my positive “comrades” even offered this tidbit in an email:  I don't want to see you on TV with some Para-Medic over you doing compressions!!!! Ha! Ha!”  Hey Guys! I finished and am still standing.  Thanks for the help.

We’ll recommend the Bangkok Marathon to anyone who can make it to Thailand. On line registration was easy and the race package pick up was straight forward.  The goodies included a pink running shirt, number and time chip, a shoe and tote bag with the race logo and general information.  Would I do the run again next year?  Let’s let the blisters heal and we’ll think about it.  In the mean-time there’s some delicious Thai Curry and a Singha Beer waiting  for me.  


Don’t miss a meal when you visit Hamburg

Last week we were treated to three Excellent Restaurant Experiences in the February Cold and Beautiful City of Hamburg, Germany.  All the establishments offered sensational scenery, creative décor, extensive menus/wine lists and first rate service.  Hamburg is built around two lakes, the inner and outer Alster, & lines up against the very busy and scenic River Elbe. Hundreds of canals run thru Hamburg creating the necessary infrastructure of bridges. (Hamburg has more bridges than Venice.)  The City is known for its greenery in spring and summer but this winter it was covered in snow.

The FISHclub
The FISHclub offers you tables facing Bay Windows that allow views of huge Cargo, Cruise and Sailing Vessels.  The frosty weather made our dinner especially picturesque as thousands of little icebergs floated down the Elbe from the North Sea and ground up against the nearby dock.  You can reach the FISHclub by Ferry Boat starting near “Speicherstadt” the former Brick Warehouse Area near the River. (It’s now home to tourist attractions including the world famous “Minatur-Wunderland’ and ‘Hamburg Dungeon.”)  We drove to the Wittenbergen (White Hills) Restaurant Location and admired the beautiful large homes originally founded by Sea Captains stationed in Hamburg. Three of us shared a mixed grill of local catches and a rump steak.  Nothing was left on our plates.  


The Fischereihafen
The Fischereihafen Restaurant is located just outside the huge Hamburg Fish Market and has been run by one family for over 60 years.  This restaurant’s view of the Elbe and the impressive “Dockland” Office Building resembling a huge glass ship make a cocktail at the Oyster Bar a must if you don’t have time to dine .  Meals at the Fischereihafen are exquisite. I sampled the lobster bisque while my colleagues favored the popular Hamburg smoked eel soup.  The menu included something  for anyone who loves seafood.  My pouched sole was served with a light safarin based sauce delicious. Especially matched to a crisp glass of Riesling.  Caveat: you’ll enjoy everything from start to the highly recommended Tiramisu but might suffer sticker shock when the check is politely dropped at your table.


Die Bank
If the raw beauty of the partially frozen Elbe River was dynamically impressive at the FISHclub and the stately views of modern architecture enhance  the charms of the Fischereihafen Restaurant, the “Die Bank” has the best sense of humor.  The popular Dining Venue is built in a large retired bank building in Central Hamburg. An old vault is used as a cloak room, pictures of famous American Bank Robbers grace the walls and modern art is strategically placed around the room.  We all selected the “Wild German Venison” and were not disappointed by this course.  We preceded the Venison with a selection of appetizers prepared upon special request.  Everyone finished the evening with a satisfied smile.




Miki Sumiyoshi’s (Nude) Challenge; “Wow”

The lovely and charismatic Miki Sumiyoshi was the MC at our Wedding.  She’s my Wife’s friend; (Best Friend) at College and Miki is well recognized in Japan.  Her success as an NHK Television Host has made her a “House Hold Word”. She’s interviewed intellectuals and Sports Stars for over a decade.  (Her interview of Japan’s National Hero and Seattle Mariner Great “Ichiro” was referenced daily for months after its broadcast on Japanese Television.)  This Lady is a Professional and essence of Class. 

 I’ve never been associated with anyone “qualified” or with enough fame to pose & sell  National Magazines.  At one time in my life the bragging rights would have given me “my 15 minutes” of fame.  Miki Sumiyoshi’s venture into the “photographic forum” created an opportunity for dialog. It helped defined values at our home.  I’m pleased with the ebb and flow of our discussions.  My wife stood by her friend and published honest compliments on Facebook.  My critique is more favorable.  Miki Sumiyoshi collaborated with her photographer to create a tasteful and interesting portrait of an intelligent and beautiful woman. She is comfortable in her own skin at 38 years old and the photos are honest.

 The Entertainment World is a strange place for most of the World’s Population.  The difference between the “Gei no Kai” and common citizen in Japan is well defined.  Miki Sumiyoshi bridges the gap for our family and we are proud of her.  Keep fighting the Good Fight Miki.  You are “Brilliant”. 


My wife, daughter & I left for a vacation in Spain the day after work & school finished.  Our preparation consisted of booking flights, hotels and rent-a-cars.  Standard stuff for the seasoned traveler.

What we didn’t do was research places of interest, cultural specifics such as dining, language or common manners.  Our saving grace was the purchase of a couple of travel guide books including the Lonely Planet. (We read them on the plane.)  Add a little positive energy to these powerful travel digests and you’ve got a great holiday. 
Lonely Planet Travel Guides and Travel Information   http://www.lonelyplanet.com/
Everything we enjoyed in Spain is well documented in travel books and on the Web. If you’re going for the first time you might review the following list of “no brainers” and compare them to your sources.  These are our favorites:

-1-The Beautiful City of Caragena: Walking the Port, Roman Ruins and finishing with Lunch in the main square of Cartagena.   The warm January morning was perfect for a stroll along the Port, thru the town full of “rich Modernista Buildings” and finishing with lunch outside in the main square.  We loved the restored Roman Theatre, dating back to the 2nd Century AD.  Caveat: plenty of stairs to walk but worth it for the views.
Cartagena Roman Theatre Museum

-2-The Restaurant Cuines Santa Caterina in Barcelona:  The venue has a choice of a nice Tapas Bar or table seating.  Menus come in English and their simple matrix style allows for selections free of misunderstanding and stress.  Everything ordered was delicious and came quickly.  The recommended house wine was reasonably priced and suited the occasion very well. Our favorites were the Sea Food Paella, the Calamari with Vegetables and a Lamb Roast that cut with a fork. 

-3-The La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.  Everything you read and learn in documentaries can only understate a visit to this incredible Cathedral.  We found the following essential to a comfortable and enjoyable visit:  booking tickets on line to reserve a time to enter the Cathedral Grounds, a trip up to the top of a Tower by Elevator and the thrill of the walk down the tight & steep staircase, and the portable audio-guide that connected the history, science and economics of the Antoni Gaudi’s magical architecture and intricate façade.

Sagrada Familia                           http://www.sagradafamilia.cat/sf-eng/

-4-A Guided Tour of the Museo del Prado in Madrid: our knowledgeable art tour director Maria ran us thru 90 minutes with Goya, Velazquez, El Greco and other European Masters.  She made it understandable and fun for our 9 year old daughter while directing us thru a maze of hallways.  After this education we walked 20 minutes to the “Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia to see Pablo Picasso’s Master Piece; Guernica, 1937. 
Museo Nacional Del Prado        http://www.museodelprado.es/en/

-5-Running along the Beach as the first Sun Rise of 2012 brightens the Mediterranean.  Joggers starting the first morning early are in good company as many people enjoyed finishing their New Year’s Celebration by the Sea Side.  Barcelona is an exciting city by night and the Skyline is beautiful in the morning.