Originally composed on February 9, 2010–somewhere over the Pacific — It’s the dawn of a brand new day.  I am gazing out the window of our Boeing 777 aircraft and see a crested moon hovering above whipped cream-like clouds. And beyond the horizon, a pink orange stream as if paint-brushed by the sun’s morning rays.  Not really sure as to our approximate location at this moment, but I just felt a real urge to write.

Eleven days ago, my ESCAPESEEKER “Advance Research Team” aka “ART” departed for Japan.  We weren’t exactly sure what we would find—we just knew it was a country that had fascinated all of us for a very long time—and now we had been given the chance of a lifetime to learn from and with those who know her best.  Our home base while exploring Tokyo—The Royal Park Hotel—conveniently located with its own easy access to Tokyo’s transportation systems, and a superb staff willing and able to provide us all the guidance we needed—from walking us through Tokyo’s metro system, to the appropriate etiquette during a formal tea ceremony—to translation services–they were just a phone call away whenever we needed their help.  I can’t begin to express how invaluable it is to have the best “land team”  to whom you know you can turn  for guidance at any time of day.

Our ESCAPESEEKER team is flanked by Hiro Kanno-san (R) and Jintaro Nakayama-san (L), to whom we always turned for guidance.  Without their generous assistance, superb guidance, and excellent bilingual skills, our entire research trip would have been much more challenging indeed.  They are such great teachers that by the end of the week, we were all able to navigate Tokyo’s subway system by ourselves, and ventured out on our own.  (Photo by Peyton McCollum–who is rarely seen because she is generally behind the camera.)

I must be perfectly honest.  Japan is the one place in this world about which I knew very little.  And, when it comes to Japanese cuisine, I’m a huge fan of teriyaki chicken—but that was about it!  As a matter of fact, I have an aversion to eating anything that hasn’t come in contact with heat!  Accepting the invitation to explore Japan I knew would challenge my status quo—but one I was excited and eager to undertake.

Fast forward, it’s 11 days later and I’m sitting on this return flight to America with a smile on my face as I reminisce about our Japan adventure.  Where to begin?

Right off the bat—guess what?  Japanese food as we know it in the U.S.—well, with a few exceptions, I would venture to say most of it has been “Americanized”—a variation on the Japanese theme.  That was discovery #1.  Remember, I’m no rookie when it comes to analyzing cuisine—but I was still very surprised by the dramatic difference between the two styles of cooking.  Don’t take my word for it.  Check out these images captured by our research photographer, Peyton McCollum during our various dining experiences:
Sliced fillets of the freshest uncooked fish crowned with steamed crustaceans was served artfully to our team.  The only accompaniments–soy sauce, wasabi (warning–there’s lots of it), daikon, and maybe a shiso leaf. This was just the beginning of what turned out to be a 16-course dinner.  Talk about instant cultural immersion!  My entire team was amazingly resilient.  Peyton, Mary Harris Pappas,  and Roy Henderson were quick to embrace and savour every single bite, as they followed the example of our exceptional guides–“Hiro-san”and “Jin-san” …I’m actually feeling a little lost without them now.

Of the 3,000 or so varieties of fish eaten in Japan, the most common, available year-round, are maguro (tuna), tai (sea bream), baze (gobies), buri (yellowtail), saba (mackerel).  This particular dried fish variety is quite tasty.  By the way, you eat all of it–including the fish head.  Has a nice crunch to it!

Japan gives whole new meaning to “Haute Cuisine” when it comes to  sweets or “Wagashi” in Japanese.  Japan are serious about their sweets!  The delicate-looking confections, often made of sweet bean paste, are traditionally associated with the tea ceremony,  They are also sold as gifts.  And, my photographer, Peyton, upon realizing I had become addicted to these delicious tasting desserts, (they come in a variety of shapes, styles, and sizes)  gave me a box as a “farewell gift”…and guess what I’m eating at this moment while I’m composing this very caption? Yes, you guessed it–my box full of “Wagashi”–Thanks Peyton.  I already gained 3 pounds while in Japan!!!
Discovery #2:  Tokyo, and Japan as a whole, has to be one of the cleanest places on the planet!  Thanks to excellent hygiene standards, an upset stomach is more likely to happen due to overeating so many of the delicious foods offered!  Even tap water is drinkable throughout Japan.  So remember to keep your eating and drinking in moderation…I have to admit, that’s easier said than done.
Dan Nakamura-san  and his team hosted our ESCAPESEEKER team to a superb “farewell dinner” on our last night at their teppan-yaki-style restaurant, “Sumida” …we had not experienced it previously, and it was an outstanding time to “audition” the Chef for our Japanese “Cooking Segment”… and it proved to be a perfect casting call.  The Chef spoke French and Japanese…so he and I  communicated in French every now and then, which will be a terrific way to demonstrate how perfectly able they are…even the Chefs,  to care for a variety of international guests!  My entire team is still raving about the dinner …I’ve never seen marbled beef steaks as delicious and tender as those served to us.  I can understand now why Japan has more award-winning chefs than any other country in the world!
Discovery #3:  Few allowances are made even for foreigners like ourselves on certain points, mainly relating to Japanese standards of hygiene.  It is a serious mistake to wear shoes indoors, or wear the wrong slippers into or out of a toilet area.  When it comes to table manners, serious errors include touching food in a communal dish with your chopsticks but then not taking it; shoveling food direct from bowl to mouth, and standing chopsticks upright in rice, this latter no-no has something to do with rituals for the dead and is therefore strictly taboo at the dinner table.  However, when it comes to eating noodles or soupy rice dishes–the Japanese slurp with gusto!  I’m told it actually helps to slurp so that some of the air created when you slurp can cool the piping hot noodles.  This definitely took me some getting used to…as a result, it took me twice as long to eat my soba noodles.
Discovery #4:  Our entire team is still  astonished at how quickly we began to adapt to the Japanese ways.  The Japanese take everything they do seriously.  From business, to sports, to other leisure activities…whether it’s bathing in onsens (hot springs) to the ‘art of shopping’ (Tokyo is definitely a shopper’s paradise) to hosting a few invited guests for a ceremonial tea–the point of the ritual is summed up by the samurai notion of “one lifetime, one meeting” (ichigo, ichie)–in other words, this is a unique moment to be treasured.
That is exactly the sentiments we feel about our Japan experience…although it was not just one moment…but many moments woven together that has opened our eyes to a culture we knew so little about when we arrived…yet one we are now eager to delve into even deeper.  The thousands of images we are now sifting through only serve to plant the vivid memories of this ancient yet modern land into our hearts and minds.
And, by the way, don’t let all those serious, somber faces you’ll  likely encounter on Japan’s public transportation systems fool you.  Once you get to know them, and visa versa, you will find you are welcomed with warmth and open arms.  At least, that was our ESCAPESEEKER experience.  We look forward to returning with our entire film team and capturing images such as these below, taken from the rooftop of the Royal Park Hotel one very early chilly morning.  What Peyton and I won’t do for a perfect picture.  But hey, how can we possibly leave without a ‘rising sun’–after all the Japan feature episode is entitled, “Land of the Rising Sun.” 
Peyton and I, along with the Royal Park Hotel night manager, accompanied by the security guard, shivered as we waited for this beautiful sunrise.  So worth it…even if it took us a while to thaw out!
We hope to return in time for the Cherry Blossoms…as you can imagine, these trees that dot the landscape of Japan are pretty spectacular.  We caught a sneak peak of a winter-variety…one that blooms in the winter…and we weren’t the only ones grateful to get a sneak peak.  I tell you, I love how Peyton’s lens always seems to be just at the right place…at the right time.
 A “Royal bird” enjoying the beautiful weather  and Winter Cherry Blossoms on the grounds of the Imperial Palace Garden.

Thank you advance team for a job well done.  And, thank you very much 本当にありがとうございます (arigato gozaimass) to Hiro-san and Jin-san for putting aside all of your many duties for 11 straight days in order to afford us an insider’s look into your remarkable country.  Dan Nakamura-san, we are forever grateful to you and your entire staff for making our experience unforgettable.
Our thanks to the entire Royal Park Hotel team, led by Dan Nakamura-san (second from right) for your tremendous support of our ESCAPESEEKER Travel Series.  The friendliness of the staff,  combined with  the  Royal Park Hotel’s traditional Japanese style of hospitality,  made “coming home” after each day’s exploration a real pleasure.  Also, access to the Executive Level with all of its special privileges  (amazing breakfast buffet) gave our team a healthy head-start each morning.  I so miss the freshly-squeezed orange juice made just the way I like it!  If you’re planning a trip to Tokyo, this is the place to anchor your visit.  Check it out:
Until we meet again, Ki o ts’kete…注意する (“Take Care”..I sure hope that’s correct 🙂


  1. April says:


    What an absolutely wonderful account of your first foray to the wonder and delights that Japan holds.

    Continue to keep me abreast of your escapeseeker adventures.

    Until we see each other again I shall live vicariously through you, your eyes and experiences of the wonders and delights that are all around us.

    With love,

  2. Escapeseeker says:

    Dearest April,

    Your comments are absolutely appreciated…recognizing that they're coming from you…someone deeply entrenched in the world of publishing…you understand the power of the pen…thank you April for your "literary voice" and more importantly, your beautiful, loving friendship.

    I'm so very blessed,


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