The Expo Affair

A True Story by Neil F. Comins

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Three years ago, Neil was contacted by Shuji Abe, the president of movie production studio Robot Communication in Japan. Mr. Abe had just read the Japanese version of Neil's What if the Moon Didn't Exist? Japanese-language version of Neil’s book, What if the Moon Didn’t Exist? Neil's book used as theme for Mitsubishi pavilion, World Expo 2005 and thought that it would be a good theme for the Mitsubishi pavilion at the World Expo 2005.  Mr. Abe (Abe-san, in Japanese) asked if Neil would work with his company to pitch the idea in response to a request for ideas from Mitsubishi.  Neil agreed and the concept was chosen from a field of over 30 proposals. 


L-R, Movie producer Shuji Abe, guide, Producer Chikara Saito, Kyoto station

            Neil went to Japan twice to work with the production team to develop the show. During one of those trips, Abe-san and two of his movie producers, Chikara Saito and Taki Kabuto, took Neil to visit the shrines at Kyoto.  The trip was a moving experience, during which we visited 5 shrines,
Golden Shrine, Kyoto.  Paul McCartney is one of few westerners ever allowed into it. Neil at Golden Shrine, Kyoto
Neil walking thru Fushimi Inari shrine Neil with Movie Producers (l to r) Saito, Abe, and Taki at Fushimi Inari shrine, Kyoto Neil and Taki at Ginkakuji shrine, Kyoto, Japan

Geishas performing at Huragiya Ryokan, Kyoto, Japan Geishas performing at Huragiya Ryokan, Kyoto, Japan stayed in a Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), and were entertained by geishas.   Neil’s room at the Ryokan Neil's room at Huragiya Ryokan, Kyoto Garden view from Neil's room, Hiraguya Ryokan, Kyoto was the room that is used by heads of state, Nobel laureates, major entertainers, and other dignitaries. 

            After the second trip, Neil worked from home on the script and signed off on it in the middle of 2004.  Expo 2005 opened on March 25 and will run through September 25 of this year, 2005.  We were invited to visit Expo during the week of April 3 and so Sue and Neil left for Japan on April 2 and arrived on April 3.  The trip from Detroit to Narita airport took over 13 hours, so flying business class made it much less exhausting and stressful than it would otherwise have been. We arrived around 4 PM local time (2 AM Eastern Standard Time) and caught the Limousine Bus – just a bus, as you can see – to the Imperial Hotel  in Tokyo, about an hour and a half away. 



Nayoshi Yamakawa, Director General of Mitsubishi pavilion and friend of Neil and Sue Commerical image of Shinkansen (bullet train)

On Monday morning, we were met by Yoshi Yamakawa, director general of the Mitsubishi pavilion, who escorted us to the resort/shrine town of Nikko north of Tokyo.  We took the shinkansen (bullet train) first to the industrial town of Utsonomiya, where we stopped for a memorable lunch at a hotel (good restaurants being otherwise hard to find there).  Then we took another shinkansen and finally a local train to Nikko. 

Mt. Nantai from lake Chuzenji, near Nikko, Japan Lake Chuzenji from balcony at Chuzenji Kanaya Hotel

From there we got a limo for a ride to Lake Chuzenji. The drive was rather interesting.  On our way out of town, we saw two golden-colored monkeys lounging near the road.  These Japanese monkeys, numbering over 150,000 throughout the country, are so numerous that they have become a nuisance in some areas, such as Nikko, where feeding them is now banned.  Nevertheless, to a tourist they look exotic and interesting.  The drive up the mountain to Lake Chuzenji is very famous in Japan.  The one-way road has 20 hairpin turns going up and 28 such turns going down.  There are also 48 letters in one of the Japanese alphabets, so each turn is given its own letter.

While the temperature was in the 50s in Tokyo, there was snow on the ground at lake Chuzenji, which is located in a volcanic crater.  We stayed in the Chuzenji Kanaya Hotel, which is built in the style of a western Canadian log-style hotel. Common room in Chuzenji Kanaya Hotel, Lake Chuzenji, Japan Neil in Chuzenji Kanaya Hotel   It has a walk-around fireplace in the common area and a hot spring spa outside.  Getting to the spa requires changing footwear in the hotel, walking outside in the cold for about 30 yards, and then entering the spa building.  As you probably know, the etiquette of using a spa is that you soap and rinse yourself well before entering the water, naked.  As is becoming more the custom, the spa has separate baths for men and women.  These are sulfur spring waters; the odor is an acquired taste.  We soaked first in an inside bath and then went quickly into an outside bath and then back again.  The view of the lake at sunset from the outside bath is really stunning. 

Path to Hot Springs at Chuzenji Kanaya Hotel, near Nikko



The next day we drove first to Kegon Falls. There were very interesting rock formations along the cliffs, which Neil is still trying to identify.
Kegon Falls from top.  Lake Chuzenji, Japan Kegon Falls from bottom, Lake Chuzenji,Japan Cliffs at Kegon Falls, Nikko, Japan

The next stop was the Toshogu shrine at Nikko. It is the mausoleum of the first Tokugawa shogun, Ieyasu, and is an incredible display of art, carpentry, and architecture.
Pagoda near entrance to Toshogu shrine at Nikko Yomei gate within Toshogu shrine, Nikko Entrance to Main Hall, Toshogu shrine, Nikko Ornate woodwork, Toshogu shrine, Nikko Monkeys at Toshogu shrine, Nikko
  It was built around 1616 and has, among other things, the theme of the 3 monkeys: speak no evil, hear no evil, see no evil.  Our guide, a man in his seventies, introduced himself as a “local boy with a high school education.”  He spoke excellent English and was extremely knowledgeable about all the details of the shrine.  As with all the people who helped us on the trip, Sue gave him a small gift after we were done.  Our final stop in Nikko, for a traditional Japanese lunch, was the Nikko Kanaya hotel, which has hosted such notables as Einstein, Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, and several emperors of Japan.

Neil and Nayoshi Yamakawa, director general of Mitsubishi pavilion.  Imperial hotel, Tokyo Teppenyaki chef, Imperial Hotel, Tokyo

The teppenyaki dinner on Tuesday night took place at the Kamon grill back at the Imperial hotel.   Yoshi had invited his wife to join us.  This is actually quite unusual in Japan – business acquaintances rarely get to meet other family members.  She recognized Neil from a TV spot that had been aired that week.
Commercial picture of Kobe beef   Among the other dishes we had was Kobe beef.  You probably know that these are massaged, beer-fed animals whose meat is extremely marbled (read that “especially high in fat and cholesterol”, but very delicious). Dinner was followed by a shinkansen ride to Nagoya the same evening.

Back in 1981, we befriended a Japanese woman, Teruyo Uozomi, and her two children when we were all at Stanford University.  Neil was doing astronomy research and Sue and Teruyo, an English teacher in Japan, were taking a linguistics course.  Sue has kept in touch with Teruyo over the years.  The children are now business people in Tokyo, but Teruyo and her husband, Toshihiro, still live in Nagoya.  We had never really expected to see them again, but because of this trip, we were able to.  Not only that, but they invited us to stay in their house, which is also a rare treat in Japan, where living accommodations are often “cozy” by American standards.  She met us at the station and except for having shorter hair, Teruyo looked very much as she had 24 years ago. 

We took a taxi to their home.  Nagoya, the fourth largest city in Japan, has 2 million people, and like the other big cities, is filled with narrow, winding streets in the residential districts.  Their home was located on a crowded, steep hillside in an extremely affluent neighborhood.  Their home, of about 2000 square feet indoor space plus a thousand square feet of well-tended gardens, filled the lot.  The house was architect-designed and made of poured concrete, rather than traditional wood materials.  It was already quite late, and after an hour of catching up, we went to bed.  Teruyo is a student of the tea ceremony, and we slept in the tatami and bamboo-lined room that she uses for that purpose. 



            Wednesday was scheduled for Neil and Sue to spend with the Uozomis.  One thing that Neil learned early on in his working with Japanese business people is that times are scheduled down to the minute.  Wednesday was our least-scheduled day.  Neil went to the Expo with Toshihiro.  Getting there is a simple matter of taking the original subway to the end of its line and getting on a specially-built subway that goes to the Expo grounds.  What makes the trip special is that the new subway to the Expo uses magnetic levitation to lift and move the carriages. It is called linimo, short for linear induction motor.  The linimo has no wheels.  Rather, it floats above the track and is very powerful and smooth.

Neil in front of Mitsubishi Pavilion

            As at the 1964 World’s Fair, the major attractions at World Expo 2005 are the corporate pavilions.  They only have about 9 corporate pavilions because the fair grounds are relatively small.  Back in ’64, Neil mostly went to corporate pavilions; therefore he decided to spend Wednesday going to the country pavilions.  The Middle East group were closest to the entry to Expo so he and Toshihiro started with them.
Middle East area of World Expo 2005, Nagoya, Japan Neil in front of Mitsubishi and Japan Auto Manu. Assoc. pavilions, World Expo 2005, Nagoya Neil before wall that responds to shadows.  World Expo 2005, Nagoya Neil filming craftsman, Sri Lanka Pavilion, World Expo 2005, Nagoya, Japan Indian Pavilion, World Expo 2005, Nagoya World Expo 2005, Nagoya, Japan Japanese-speaking Mounties at Canadian Pavilion, World Expo 2005, Nagoya Central area of World Expo 2005, Nagoya, Japan
  Each Expo has had a theme.  The theme of this one is “Nature’s Wisdom” and the importance of balancing our global growth with the need to sustain the planet.  While much of the art displayed in many of the pavilions was truly world class, many of these pavilions in the Middle East group were centered on marketing their wares.  Several pavilions each had dozens of people making and selling thousands of pieces of jewelry, clothing, pottery, and art pieces.  It was interesting to get a feel for what the markets in these countries were like, but still… . 

Nayoshi Yamakawa and Neil being interviewed by reporter and photographer from Boston Globe

            The Boston Globe had sent a reporter (stationed in Tokyo) and a photographer (stationed in Boston) to visit the Expo and prepare an article on what to visit for the Globe.  From a Japanese travel agent in Boston, they had learned of Neil’s contribution to the Mitsubishi pavilion and had contacted him about a month before the trip to Japan.  Amazingly, they were going to be “doing” the Expo on this day and they had arranged to meet Neil and go through the Mitsubishi pavilion with him.  Thanks to the power of cell phones, they met on time, at 2 PM, and went through the pavilion together.  English-language portable headsets allow Westerners to make sense of the story.  As with most people visiting the Expo, the reporter and photographer were very impressed with the show, as well as the fact that the pavilion was made of environment-friendly materials that will be easily disposed of when the run of 165 days is over.

            Toshihiro had a 3 PM appointment, so Neil spent the rest of the day by himself at Expo.  He visited all 5 non-corporate areas (zones) of the Expo (there are about 8 zones all together, depending on how you count them).  They are connected by a broad board walk.  For people who need or want to ride, there is a red bus-like affair, similar to the ones that carry visitors from the parking area to the theme parks at Disneyland.  The Expo bus, however, has a person walking in front of it warning pedestrians to get out of the way.

Musicians peforming in Chinese pavilion, World Expo 2005, Nagoya

Neil’s favorite pavilions included the Chinese for the exquisite live music, the Czech Republic for its demonstrations of the relationships between music and art,  the Swiss pavilion, the Australian pavilion, and the Singapore pavilion.  In a cubical theater showing images on all sides except the floor, France’s pavilion had a very edgy, disturbing film about how we are polluting the planet.  Don’t ask about the US pavilion.

Late in the day, Neil took the cable car for a bird’s eye view of the Expo.  The lights were coming on and the Expo looked like it was coming to life.  Later, sitting on a bench and eating a snack (it is not considered good taste to walk around and eat in Japan), Neil was able to bring back vivid images of the NY World’s Fair.  Navigating back to the Chikusa district of Nagoya alone was an adventure, but he arrived back at the Uozomi’s home in time for dinner and a long evening of catching up on the past 24 years.



            Thursday was the beginning of “business,” with Neil, Sue, and Teruyo traveling to the Mitsubishi pavilion at Expo shortly after it opened, at 10 AM.  They were met by a film crew from NHK, who filmed Neil going through the pavilion.  Some of this footage was aired the next evening nationwide. 

            The show consists of 3 parts. Layout of Mitsubishi Pavilion   First is a brief introduction under cover, but not indoors, by two robots of a model called Wakamaru that will be marketed for the first time next year.  This part of the show is just in Japanese, but the rest has the foreign-language translations mentioned above.  Kids are fascinated by the robots that are seen in many pavilions at Expo, most notably Toyota, which has an ensemble of them playing trumpets and other instruments.  Neil enjoyed seeing kids waving to Wakamaru.

            The second part of the show is the science part, in which the What if the Moon Didn’t Exist? question is set up and asked.  Neil had “significantly” reworked the script for the show back in 2004 and he was delighted that the producer had kept the script, and therefore the science in the script, completely intact.  Everything made sense scientifically and the other people working on the project had made a very entertaining show to follow up on the consequences of the “What if?” question. 

The finale takes place in a theater seating 300 people. It is here that the world without the Moon is explored and compared to the world as it is.  Neil has named the moonless Earth Solon.   Solon would have an 8 hour day, winds much higher than we experience, and a surface that would shake violently as Solon occasionally and unpredictably wobbled on its axis.  The idea of the pavilion is to show that compared to other, plausible worlds, like Solon, Earth is a very hospitable place for life and that we need to work hard to keep it that way.  (The collision that created the Moon and helped make the Earth so user-friendly almost didn’t happen.  If that other body had been in an orbit that varied by inches from its actual orbit, then it would have eventually changed its path so much as to miss the Earth.  This is the same science, chaos theory, that explains the unpredictability of the weather.  The point is that if we humans make a small change on Earth today, it could well have major, unpredictable, undesirable consequences.  We must be careful as stewards of the planet.)  BTW, Neil and his son James thought up an interesting sci fi story about Solon that one of them will eventually write as a novel.

The theater has 6 sides, Finale at Theater at Mitsubishi pavilion, World Expo 2005, Nagoya.  Side walls, top, and floor are mirrors. three of which are normal movie theater screens, two of which are mirrors, and the one behind the audience is a normal wall.  Floor and ceiling are also mirrors.  Curtains hide all but the front wall at first.  For the last five or ten minutes, the curtains draw back and if you look at the mirror sides, you can see multiple reflections which gives a 3-D feeling to the show.  While Neil has had TV shows, radio shows, and even planetarium shows developed based on his writings, this pavilion is by far the most spectacular and creative work based on them to date.  They even had music commissioned for the pavilion and the Brothers 4 (remember them?) wrote a piece for the pavilion based on the theme of Neil’s book.  Quite honestly, the whole thing brought tears to our eyes. 

Japanese version of Neil's What if the Moon Didn't Exist?

After the main show is the sales room, where all sorts of edibles, toys, and Neil’s book in Japanese are marketed.  Neil and friend Teruyo Uozomi in Mitsubishi pavilion, World Expo, 2005.  See Neil's name on wall behind them. There is also a picture of Harrison Ford in support of some aspect of the project.
Typical edibles giftwrapped in " What if the Moon Didn't Exist? " Mitsubishi pavilion paper Neil on a Mitsubishi pavilion shopping bag. Close-up of Neil on shopping bag Mitsubishi went so far as to have wrapping paper and shopping bags made in the theme of the pavilion. It’s quite interesting to see your picture on thousands of shopping bags!  Yoshi explained that the marketing people had expected very few of the books to be sold because they are “scientific” rather than entertaining, even though they are written for the public.  It turned out that the marketing people were wrong.  In the first two weeks, over 500 copies of the book were sold at the pavilion. 

Immediately after the show, we were escorted to the Hotel Okura Chinese restaurant for a sumptuous lunch.  In the middle of the meal there was a knock at the door and someone entered and asked Neil if he was expecting guests, which he wasn’t.  He excused himself and went outside to find two women from Hiroshima waiting for him.  He recognized them, but couldn’t believe that they had found him.  Herein lies another story:


In the Fall of 2003, Neil was contacted by one of the 3 directors of the Mitsubishi pavilion, Makoto Ohara, whom Neil had gotten to know on his earlier visits to Japan.  Ohara-san asked if Neil would be willing to give a talk to visitors from Japan who would be coming to the States in the summer of 2004.  If so, some of those visitors would travel to Bangor to stay with American families for 3 nights, visit Acadia National Park, and attend the lecture.  The visits were to be arranged under the auspices of  the John Manjiro-Whitfield Center for International Exchange.  Neil agreed. 

The opening ceremonies for the meeting were held at the JFK Memorial Library in Boston on Thursday, July 15, 2004.  About 75 people had come from Japan for a long weekend visit to the states.  Neil attended the ceremony, where he met Makihara-san, retired CEO of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and other luminaries.  Neil only speaks a little Japanese, but he did understand a simple joke made in Japanese by Makihara-san.  It went like this: After he and Neil talked about the upcoming World Expo, Makihara-san was invited to give a speech.  It was about 7 in the evening and he got up to the microphone and said, “ohayougozaimasu,” [which means, “good morning”] and then in English he added, “I just flew in from Japan and am still on Japanese time”. 

After the opening ceremonies, the participants went to one of about a dozen venues around New England, including Bangor.  On Sunday, Neil gave his talk to seven people from Japan, including Ohara-san, from the Mitsubishi pavilion, and two women from Hiroshima named Setsuko and Keiko, among others.  Following a lunch after the talk, the group returned to Boston and then Japan. 


Quite honestly, Neil never expected to see any of the group that visited Bangor, except Ohara-san, again.  But there Setsuko and Keiko were, at the Hotel Okura pavilion in Nagoya, waiting for him outside the banquet room.  Excited greetings followed and they explained how they knew that Neil would be here.  It turns out that Ohara-san had kept in touch with them after they had returned to Japan the previous summer.  Since he knew Neil’s itinerary, he let them know when Neil and Sue would be at the Expo.  They e-mailed Neil, asking to see him, but that was only the day before the visit to the Expo and Neil didn’t have his computer to check his messages, so he didn’t reply. Neil with Japanese friends, World Expo 2005, Nagoya   Nevertheless, they traveled up to the Expo on the day of Neil’s visit and, with Ohara-san’s help, tracked him down.

After lunch, Sue went off to see different pavilions and Neil, Yoshi, and Teruyo were off to meet the secretary general of the Expo, Toshio Nakamura.  He is the gentlemen who had hands-on supervision of the creation of the Expo.  His waiting room had in it the most wonderfully scented lilies, possibly Stargazer lilies.  Their aroma will always hold a connection to the Expo for Neil. 

Then came a press conference, with about 30 reporters and photographers.  They asked a variety of questions, the last of which was the most interesting, namely what if the Sun didn’t exist?  Then came questions submitted on the internet by children who had visited the Expo.  The press conference ended with a round of applause, which is presumably SOP. 

As soon as the first press conference was over, we went quickly across the Expo grounds to the Global House, where Neil was interviewed by about 20 children who were learning to be reporters.  They had just seen the Mitsubishi pavilion and had prepared questions that he answered through an interpreter.  After the interview, the children went into a production room where they made a newspaper. 

Neil being interviewed by student reporters at World Expo 2005 Neil being interviewed by student reporters at World Expo 2005 Neil being interviewed by student reporters at World Expo 2005 Neil being interviewed by student reporters at World Expo 2005 Yoshi Yamakawa translating Neil's comments to student reporters Neil being interviewed by student reporters at World Expo 2005 Neil being interviewed by student reporters at World Expo 2005 Neil being interviewed by student reporters at World Expo 2005 Neil being interviewed by student reporters at World Expo 2005 Neil being interviewed by student reporters at World Expo 2005

The Global House also contains the remains of a wooly mammoth recovered from Siberia.  Since we were already there, the director of the pavilion took us through to the mammoth exhibit without having to wait on line.  They insure that people don’t spend too long viewing the mammoth by having the viewing line move on a moving floor, like in an airport.  One minute’s viewing time and you are out of there.  On display were the head and one foot of a frozen wooly mammoth, both kept in a refrigerated, glass-lined unit. 

Everyone connected with the Mitsubishi pavilion seemed satisfied with the day’s events.  Around 4 PM, Mitsubishi pavilion architect Yuka Fukahara at Sleeping Rabbit restaurant, Nagoya, Japan Sue returned to the Mitsubishi pavilion and after a final walk around and talk with people, Neil and Sue took their leave of the Expo, accompanied by Teruyo, Yoshi, and Yuka Fukahara, the architect of the pavilion’s interior.  Another ride on the linimo brought them to a waiting van, which drove them to Teruyo’s house to pick up luggage.  This is not a trivial thing, since the house is on a street that is only barely able to fit one car, and on a steep slope, to boot. 

From there, Neil, Sue, Yoshi, and Yuka went to Yume-Usagi restaurant for an exquisite, traditional, many course, One course of meal at Sleeping Rabbit restaurant, Tokyo Japanese dinner.  This restaurant is typical of many in the cities of Japan, in that it is in a tiny, 19th century building completely surrounded by modern apartment and office buildings.  Sue gave Yuka a gift while we were there and, due to a rush at the end to make a train, the gift was left in the restaurant.  In the States, of course, unless we remembered it and called them immediately, the gift would have been lost.  In this case, however, a few minutes after we left, a call came on Yoshi’s cell phone from Ohara-san, that the restaurant had called Ohara and reported that the gift was still there.  Arrangements were then made to have it picked up the next day.  Neil and Yoshi took a late shinkansen back to Tokyo, while Sue spent a final evening with the Uozomis. 

Late that night, Neil moved back into the Imperial Hotel in preparation for a talk the next noontime to a group of 30 of Tokyo’s top business leaders, including the President of Kirin Brewery Co, the Chairman of the Bank of Tokyo, and many Presidents and CEOs of the various Mitsubishi Corporations. 



The talk was on the topic of the pavilion, “What if the Moon Didn’t Exist?”.  Neil wrote it months ahead of time and sent it to Tokyo for translation by a translator who was to accompany him to the meeting.  Neil was told that the talk was the right length.  One thing that Neil wanted to demonstrate to this august group of businessmen (yes, all men) was the way that the Earth’s rotation axis changes direction slowly, over thousands of years.  This effect, called precession, causes the location of the North pole to drift away from Polaris, to return some 26,000 years later.  The reason to show this is because without the Moon, the Earth won’t precess as it does now, but rather will wobble, sometimes violently, causing all kinds of havoc on the Earth’s surface.  To show this, Neil tried to get a toy gyroscope or top, but there wasn’t one to be had in Bangor, Maine.  He notified Tokyo and so you can imagine his surprise when, just before the lunch that preceeded the talk, the director of the talk program emptied a bag of toy tops on the table and asked if any would be appropriate.  One of them was perfect  and Neil practiced spinning it and having it precess, just as the Earth does. 

Minutes before the talk was to begin, Neil was pulled aside by Yoshi and told that the director of the talk program had looked at the talk again and thought that it was too long.  Would he, Neil, please shorten it because it must be done at precisely 1:30 PM.  Paragraphs and phrases were deleted and passed to the translator so that she could annotate her copy.  Then began the first talk by a westerner to this group in its 50 year history.  And it went well!  With only one or two minor pauses throughout, Neil gave a talk to high-powered businessmen.  At the end, Neil invited questions.  Traditionally, none are asked, but he was asked four good ones, and received two rounds of applause. 

Back at the hotel, Neil said farewell to Yoshi.  It was 1:45 and his next meeting, at 2 PM, was with Kiyoshi Asano, book agent in Tokyo.  Kiyoshi had sold one of Neil’s books, Heavenly Errors, to a publisher in Tokyo, Kodansha.  Kiyoshi asked to be allowed to represent any other works Neil cares to sell in Japan.  This may happen.

Sue arrived shortly before 4 PM.  She and a young woman named Miki (the one in the picture of Neil talking to children) had traveled to Tokyo that AM, courtesy of Mitsubishi, and had spent the day shopping and sightseeing.  Their taxi driver had taken them to see the best places for viewing the cherry blossoms.  At 4 PM a limo (Toyota Century) picked us up and took us to the Ebisu district of Tokyo and the new headquarters of Robot Communications Inc., the company owned by Shuji Abe.  You may recall from the beginning of the narrative that Abe-san was the one who started the whole collaboration with Mitsubishi in the first place. 

Abe-san and Neil have become very good friends over the years, having spent several days touring Japan with various luminaries in the Japanese movie industry.  Abe-san has recently built a new office for his entire company, consolidating them from their original two buildings.  He gave Sue and Neil a tour of the building, during which time Neil had the opportunity to see several old friends and Sue got to meet Tatsutoshi Nomura, creator of the Stray Sheep, a Japanese TV cartoon and book series for children.  Nomura-san showed us his latest creation, clay snails with houses on their backs.

Neil's favorite sushi chef with night's sushi fresh from Tsukiji fish market, Tokyo After the tour, Neil, Sue, Abe, and 3 of his staff went to dinner at Ygkou Rakuo sushi restaurant.  This was Neil’s third visit to this tiny establishment, where fresh fish is brought in every day and the food all melts in your mouth.  Among the best sushi on the planet.  After a quick visit to a nearby Shinto shrine, Neil and Sue returned to the hotel for an early evening, as Saturday, our last full day in Japan, was to be busy with a Hato Bus tour.  



Commerical image of Tokyo Tower Tokyo, looking west from Toyko Tower.  Tall building is Roppongi Hills Mori Tower.  Mr. Mori is Tokyo's The Donald Shrine and Cherry blossoms in Tokyo from Tokyo Tower

The tour bus company picked us up at 8 AM in front of our hotel, drove us to their depot, and we transferred to the tour bus.  The trip included a visit to the observation deck of the Tokyo Tower,
Tea ceremony, Tokyo Tea, as served in Japanese tea ceremony.  Tokyo an abbreviated tea ceremony, a barbeque(?!), a drive by the Diet (Parliament building) and through Ginza shopping district, a boat cruise of the Sumida river, a walking tour of the Asakusa Kannon Temple  and the relentless nearby tourist shopping, and a visit to the gates of the Royal Palace.
Japanese barbacue at Chinzan-so garden restaurant, Tokyo Gate at Royal Palace, Tokyo.  Mask was to protect from pollen.

Tokyo is a huge city, measuring some fifteen by fifty-five miles. No two streets are alike. Indeed, no street goes two blocks without completely changing character. It is a very clean city. There was never any hint of danger, even in the middle of the night. A week in Japan and the differences between our culture and theirs begin to become clear. While both have their strengths and weaknesses, seeing other societies that “work” is fascinating and enlightening.



Cherry Blossoms -- Tokyo Shrine and cherry blossoms from Tokyo Tower

            Last day.  We got up late for the first time and spent an hour packing.  Neil wandered around Hibya park, across from the hotel. Did we mention the cherry blossoms?  We arrived at the height of cherry blossom season and the country was everywhere a riot of white and pink-draped trees.  Truly breathtaking.  There are some 60 varieties of cherry blossoms. 
Cherry Blossoms -- Tokyo Sue's companion, Miki, in Tokyo
Chise Uozomi, Friend of Sue and Neil Three hours before we were to leave, we got a wonderful call from Chise Uozomi.  She is Teruyo and Toshihiro’s daughter.  Neil saw her in 2003, but Sue hadn’t seen her since she was 6 years old, back in 1981.  Chise had just returned to Tokyo from a friend’s wedding and was hoping to see us.  We spent our last two hours in Tokyo with her.  It was heartwarming to see her and catch up on her life.  We all left in tears.

            We flew back via San Francisco and Detroit.  On the leg from Narita to SFO, when we were over Seattle, a call came over the aircraft intercom, “If there is a doctor on board, would you please come to the rear of the aircraft.”  When Neil got his doctorate (in astrophysics) back in the late 70’s, he was very self-conscious of people calling him “doctor.” After all, he was not a “doctor” in the usual sense of the word. To overcome this discomfort, he became a registered EMT and worked for 10 years on an ambulance (keeping his “day” job at the University). He retired from the EMT biz when his writing career took off, but that call on the airplane (3rd time he has heard it) always brings him into action.  The patient was a 42 year old woman who was going toward the restroom when she suddenly collapsed.  She had no vital signs (pulse or respirations) when Neil and two (non-ER) MDs reached her.  We began breathing for her and then doing a few heart compressions and she responded by blinking and breathing on her own.  She faded a few times, but by breathing for her using a bag-mask and giving her oxygen, she finally stabilized.  How did Neil know the MDs were not ER-trained?  Neither of them knew how to use the AED defibrillator, standard emergency equipment, which they put aside when they couldn't figure it out. The defibrillator will give a shock to a patient’s heart, but only if they really need it – idiot-proof, but only if you use it!


 © 2005 by Neil F. Comins

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