Traveling with Tennessee in Japan

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Years ago we told our grandchildren that we would take them anywhere in the world when they become teenagers if they could come up with a plan and help with the planning. We are now embarking on our third such adventure.

Laura and Tucker’s oldest is Tennessee, or Tenn, and he chose Japan for his ‘becoming a teenager’ trip with his grandparents. He is interested in anime teen culture and adventurous Japanese eating. He and Leslie worked out a three part trip utilizing Audley Travel and their Japan specialist, Carter Reed. Over the course of nearly a year, a plan developed with input from Tenn and Leslie and ideas and detailed planning by Carter with his Discova team based in Tokyo.

We stayed in downtown Tokyo under the gaze of Godzilla who hung around our extremely tall hotel, The Gracery Shinjuku. 

‘Connie’, our guide, oriented us to Tokyo. Her real name is Yuki, but she told us that if we call ‘Yuki’ in a train station, many people will answer to her name. But, not so with ‘Connie’. She helped us understand a bit about the Shinjuku Station (the busiest in the world) which is near our hotel, caught an important error in our rail pass, and got us into a tiny 8 seat ramen shop for lunch with the best noodles ever.  The secret:  add a bit of fresh lemon juice to the rich chicken broth. She also took us to an anime studio and the three of us took a manga drawing lesson.  The lesson was very detailed and we managed to create characters who looked (sort of….) like so many of the toys, ads and general graphics which we saw all over Japan.

The region around our hotel is a center for youth culture in Japan and with a new guide, Saori, Tenn wandered into many used clothes shops, seeking treasures. Some of the shops are so popular that young people line up outside and are admitted one by one as other customers leave. And, after several hours, Tenn scored a Bape t-shirt which pleased him immensely.

Meanwhile, Leslie and Val parked themselves at an outdoor coffee shop with iced lattes, people-watching and taking photographs. We observed that most girls were pretty dressed up. Boys, not so much….

As late afternoon approached, Saori set us off to change trains on our own in one of the biggest train stations in the world.  This was a rather scary and daunting assignment, but we made it to our event and then, at night, back to our hotel without feeling too frazzled because many train signs are in Japanese and English. And, Tennessee made frequent use of Google Maps and Google Translate on his phone. {This was to be a role which he kept during the entire trip, as he is masterful at orienting and using technology to get us from A to B and sometimes C.} Several million people pass through Tokyo Station each day in this city of almost 36 million people.  With so many individuals coming and going, it is amazing that bumping into someone is somehow almost always avoided.

Dusk found us at an art/installation museum, Team Lab Planets, where we and many others wandered through forests of hanging LED lights in a huge room made of mirrors.  There were also rooms with moving images of clouds of butterflies and floating flowers swirling around on the ceiling, walls and ‘ground’.  We waded through water up to our knees in the dark and plunged into a room of giant beanbags the size of a badminton court. A guard tried to convince us two 80-year-olds to come back out and take the detour because we were struggling and making little progress, but somehow persevered. Tenn helped us a lot by helping us get to a wall where we could get a bit of support as groped and stumbled to the nearest exit.

We also spent a morning at a pottery school where broken pottery is mended using a modern version of an ancient technique called kintsugi. Perhaps you have seen displays of ancient restored pottery in an Asian art museum. We eventually each created a simple restoration. Val says that he will no longer only use super glue to try to make invisible repairs. He will use this new old technique of filing the edges of the crack, mending the broken area with super glue first, and then adding a band of tree resin. His final step will be sprinkling the crack with a thin band of powdered gold, silver or platinum, and then brushing the extra dust away reveal an artful crack. Finally, check out the group photo of us with the main kintsugi instructor, who said that he’d had a major accident and had to mend some of his broken bones.

Here are our repaired dishes

We completed our visit to Tokyo by spending an evening with Risae and her family: husband Kenji, son Yuma and daughter Reina. Risae was a visiting teacher in Colorado Springs years ago where she worked with our good friend Beth Carlson. Beth has stayed in touch and e-introduced us which allowed us to interact with an entire Japanese family. We had lots of smiles and laughs and use of Google Translate while we shared a traditional Japanese tempura dinner. We ate in a tiny private room in a little restaurant which had two such rooms on each of 4 floors. There was a dumbwaiter shuttling food and trays up and down and a server attentively handing us plate after plate of special tempura delicacies..

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. It sounds like a truly wonderful trip! I hope Tenn felt it lived up to his expectations. Congratulations on your introducing your grands to world experiences.

  2. Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience. The pottery mending definitely notes the tactile visual skills of many Japanese, and also their attention to detail. So fun for us to see Risae again, with you, and her lovely family! I hope the dinner experience went smoothly. We remembered some funny incidents from her two-week stay with us, as well as her friend (they were sent to families in twos). Beth & Bob

  3. What a wonderful trip and such great memories for both you and Tenn. How long was it??

  4. Our trip was nearly 2 weeks. We will soon post a report of our stay in Takayama and the Japanese Alps. Part 3 post will follow on Kyoto and our day visit to Hiroshima, so please stay tuned.

  5. Indeed! We want more

  6. Yes, Please send more.
    Virginia and Bob

  7. Oh my gosh! Such fun to see these beautiful photos and read your wild descriptions! Tenn is so tall and handsome and grown-up-looking, I can’t even believe it. He is one lucky kid to have you two tireless grandparents and this incredible trip. I’m sure you must have seen this piece in the NYT a few months ago? It seems your “Connie” is one of MANY. The pottery-repair guy is super tall! Haha, good thing he’s standing a step below you all. I love your repaired dishes. And those crazy high-heels! I hope you got yourselves some pairs? Off to read the next entry. So impressed with your stamina, Leslie and Val.

  8. What a wonderful trip with so many amazing photos and descriptions. I loved the variety of interactive activities. It will make memories for life!

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