Subject: Our trip to Japan
Greetings Travelziners,

We returned from travels in Japan recently and wanted to share the highlights of this trip with you.

The 747 that took us from LAX to Narita on November 3 may have been the oldest still flying. People must have been smaller when the plane began flying and generally it was a very uncomfortable flight. We took a bus directly from the airport to our hotel for three nights in Tokyo.

Awoke very very early the next morning and took a walk in Hibiya Park, the first European style park in Japan and then through adjacent parts of the Imperial Plaza. After breakfast, a choice of Western or Japanese or both, we went off to explore the Shibuya area. Armed with a map and the subway directions provided by the hotel, we somewhat nervously set out. The subway was very easy to manage. Tickets from a bilingual machine, Japaneses and English, and with the help of excellent subway signage we got to our destintion. We continued to travel via subway through all the various sections of Tokyo without any problem. Our only error in three days was exiting the giant Tokyo train station at the wrong end and then having to trek around the station to get where we wanted to go.

We loved the the lights, the street activity, the stores and all the urban qualities of Tokyo. Each section of Tokyo has a different feel or ambiance. At a shrine in the Asakusa area we discovered a traditional November celebration for children who were 3,5 and 7. Children in traditional clothes, and dancing and singing in the temple courtyard.

We had dinner one night in the Park Hyatt in the Shinjuku section. That is the hotel that some of you saw in the film "Lost in Translation". The hotel was even stranger in reality than in the film. Fog and mist swirling around the top of the building and an almost airplane view of Tokyo from the skylobby and restaurants. One of us suffered from the same long term jet lag insomnia that afflicted the Bill Murray character in the film. The food in the restaurant was excellent and only one of us knows how much the bill was.

November 7 two trains to Kanazawa a city of 400,000 on the Sea of Japan. We stayed in the wonderful Asadaya Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) across from the old market. We slept on futons on the tatami floor, used the traditional bath, and had a very elaborate kaiseki dinner. Walked the next morning to the Kenrokuen Garden, considered to be one of Japan's "big three" gardens. Weather was a little blustery. Wandering through the garden and castle grounds with wind gusting, spits of rain, falling leaves and crows circling and cawing I felt like I was walking through one of Kurosawa's samurai films.

Then we went to the Museum of the 21st Century, a museum for Contemporary Art which won the Leone d'Oro prize at the 2004 Venice Biennale. The building, which resembles a huge glass wheel, has a number of remarkable works commissioned especially for the museum.

We also visited the old restored samurai neighborhood and some of the lacquerware shops and artists workshops for which the city is renowned.

Bullet train to Kyoto. Huge decorated evergreen tree in the train station with red neon proclaiming "MERRY XMAS". We were surprised in Tokyo to learn that Christmas is celebrated in Japan with carols, decorations, trees, Santa, gifts, special food and all the the other familiar features of the holiday. Stayed two nights in a ryokan and another in a hotel near the railroad starion

In Kyoto the highpoint of the traditional sites was the Katsura Rikyu Imperial Villa. We also visited several other famous gardens/temples/shrines as well as the market and geisha district. Also visited the Kawai Kanjiro Memorial Hall, the former home and studio of a famous folk potter.

We went to the Miho Museum outside of Kyoto This I.M Pei designed museum was displaying ancient Chinese art. The museum is tucked into a pine covered mountain forest and en route we drove through a countryside with traditional farmhouses, rice paddies, and fruit orchards and the up into the mountains.

Three trains and a ferry to Naoshima Island in the Seto Inland Sea. Two nights at Benesse House - a stunning museum- hotel in and on a hilltop with a panoramic view of the sea. This complex and another nearby museum was designed by Tadao Ando. Our room had specially commissioned wall paintings and a view over the inland sea. A guest lives, sleeps and dines in the museum among the art works. The island has the two Ando museums which house commissioned works and works by artists such as Frank Stella, Cy Twombley, Bruce Nauman and Yayoi Kusama as well as art installations in some of the homes and buildings in the nearby 200 year old fishing village (The Naoshima Art House Project) and there are also art installations scattered along the beach.

Our stay at Benesse House was perhaps our lifetime travel peak experience.

Returned to Tokyo - ferry and two trains - for an overnight stay. Spent time in the stores of the Ginza. November 16 took train to Narita and flew an Airbus nonstop back to Toronto.

Hotel and other service people provided excellent service - not just the "have a nice day" variety. Whenever we looked confused on the street staring at a map and trying to determine exactly where we were, a frequent event because there are very few street signs and no building numbers in Japan, someone would stop and point us in the right direction. In Kyoto we got a restauarant suggestion, an escort to the restaurant, and help with the all in Japanese menu from someone who saw us reading a map. We made all our connections even when there was only two minutes between the arrival of one train and the departure of the next.

Japan, the old and the new, was more exciting and interesting than we ever imagined.

Regards, Neil and Myra Wiener