Hey sports fans!! Thanks for stopping by my blog! I am a self admitted “rink rat” so a lot of this blog will be about figure skating and hockey, however as an ex-figure skater, ex-varsity athlete and a sports fan in general, I usually have thoughts and opinions about alot of different sports I follow, so visit often!
I have now attended my very first ice show in Japan: Fantasy On Ice (Nagano). It was quite different than the ice shows held in Canada. I have never been to an ice show with skaters performing programs with live music collaborations. I especially liked the collaborations with pianist, Kotaro Fukuma. This is very unique, and it was a great combination. Of all the skaters the night I attended, the ones that stood out for me were Akiko Suzuki and Nobinari Oda. Oh and Jeff Buttle was good too.
When Yuzu announced his withdrawal, I was disappointed but still decided to go to Japan and FaOI for the experience. While the show was very good, it didn’t have that special magic that Yuzu would have brought to the event. The audience was supportive and appreciative of the skaters, but you could feel in the air that there was a sense of resignation. There was no excitement and anticipation for Yuzu to appear since we knew he was not there.
However, in the second half of the program, when the show put up a video of Yuzu on the monitor, and he gave his message, there was not a sound in the entire arena. It was one of those surreal moments where you think maybe, just maybe he will pop out from behind the curtain and surprise us, but that didn’t happen. Nonetheless, the show was nice to see and I hope I can get tickets in the future when Yuzu will be able to skate.
Prior to the ice show, we went to the Japanese Soba Noodle house (Yamashiro-ya) where Yuzu had visited last year after NHK trophy. We ordered the same meal that Yuzu ate (duck on soba noodles) and tried the 2 Japanese sweets that Yuzu also ate. While we were eating, fans lined up at the door to come and see the table where Yuzu sat and took photos of his autograph. While that on the surface doesn’t seem that strange to me (I took my own photo as well), what was very funny was all of these fans gasping at the site of the chair Yuzu sat on, and making reservations to sit at that table and “the” chair. I have never seen anything like it. It is a very funny memory for me.
One last observation about FaOI. While we were waiting for the doors to open, all of the fans lined up in an orderly fashion to enter the arena. While the stairs to enter the arena were about 300 feet wide, no one entered out of order, or used the entire width of the stairs. We all lined up 6 people wide and walked up in a straight line. While I attend many hockey games where there are over 18,000 fans, if the stairs are wide enough, fans will just rush up the stairs in any order and funnel towards the doors. Here in Nagano, there was no pushing or shoving, and a lot of patience on display. I had to keep looking around to see if anyone was breaking the rules, but no one did. It was very different from what I know and experience in North America.
So, back in Tokyo I did a few more Yuzu related things. Across from Tokyo Station was a very large bookstore that was recommended to me. I went and saw the figure skating magazine section. I think they should just name this section the Hanyu Collection. It was awesome to see this many books all with Yuzu covers!!! The shelf above where I took the picture was loaded with Yuzu magazines!! Every one I pulled out was a Yuzu magazine! It was like heaven! Here in Canada you generally cannot find any figure skating magazines in any bookstores.
Also in Tokyo, I found the Phiten store in Ginza and could not resist buying some Yuzu socks!! The shop owner was super nice, and gave me some Yuzu bags as well, and put the Yuzu bags in yet another bag to protect them for me.
One other Yuzu stop I made, was to visit a department store that carried the Cool Sleep bedding products. These are the items that you buy in order to get more clear folders of Yuzu as a free gift. I did not understand what was so special about this bedding, but once I got to touch it, I understood. It is actually cool to the touch, and stays cool!!! Unfortunately for me, since I live in Canada, I’m always cold, so I had no use case for this product.
So during the week, we also covered a lot of touristy stops and the things that made the biggest impression on me about Japan are:
Cleanliness: The number one thing I noticed throughout my stay in Japan is how wonderfully clean everything is. The streets, even the gutters are spotless!! This is so impressive. No one litters, there aren’t a lot of garbage cans around, yet no trash is to be found on the streets. This is very refreshing!!
Friendliness: The other thing you will notice right away is how friendly the people are! Everywhere you go, everyone is always bowing and greeting you. When you ask for assistance, they try to help even if they don’t understand what you are saying. Now that I have been back home for a week, I actually miss all the bowing since I got so used to seeing and doing it all the time.
Shinkansen trains: I was really impressed when I was waiting to hop onto the bullet train to Sendai. There was a lady holding a trash bag for exiting passengers. Then afterwards, 5 cleaners got on the train and cleaned anything they could find, manually scrubbed the entrances and upon exiting the train, they lined up and bowed before they left. All of this occurred during the short stop at the terminal station! No passenger tried to get on the train and interrupt them. In fact, for every train, people lined up between the lines painted on the cement for boarding queues, and everyone waited patiently to board. It was so different than everyone rushing and squeezing to the doors of the train. So orderly and organized, I was amazed and impressed again! When on the train, we found that the chairs spun around 360 degrees, even the three seaters! Cool! Ok, admittedly, I don’t ride a lot of trains at home, but this was taking commuting on trains to a whole new cool level!!
Japanese taxis: There is no need to open and close the taxi doors. The drivers control this. This is so very nice. Also, when we were in Kanazawa, the taxi drivers presented us with small gifts (packages of tissues) at the end of our rides!! Both of these experiences are unheard of where I come from!!
Washrooms: There are no paper towels or hand dryers in the public washrooms in Japan. So after washing my hands I wasn’t sure what to do. I later learned that kids are taught from an early age to carry small hand towels with them (size of facecloth) and use that to dry their hands. Ok, by the third day, I figured this out and was better prepared. In keeping with the topic of washrooms, the whole “heated toilet seats” everywhere was a nice touch. I see more use of this in the winter rather than the hot humid summer, but I wish this was a standard in North America.
Old Japan vs New Japan: What intrigued me during our trip to Kanazawa; we went to the Geisha district (where I was accidentally photobombed by a real life Geisha coming out of her training building), and then we also walked through the Samurai district. They have preserved and maintained these areas very nicely and you can see and enjoy the rich history. When we were leaving the Samurai district and its’ old buildings, not one block away, was the main road, upon where I immediately saw a modern Louis Vuitton and Gucci store. Talk about old Japan versus new Japan just by virtue of one city block difference.
Food: Holy cow!! You will never go hungry in Japan! There is food and treats everywhere, even floors dedicated to Japanese sweets in the department stores. They are so meticulously wrapped, and designed so nicely that you almost don’t want to eat them. The food was delicious and the service was amazing wherever we went!! I especially love the “button” idea to get the servers attention!! I will definitely miss this!
It was also a really unique experience to see girls wearing everyday kimonos in the streets. It is very noticeable amongst the crowds all wearing school uniforms or the business mens attire (black pants, white shirt and dark tie). It is very eye catching and stunning and the first one I saw in Tokyo Station when we arrived just made me turn my head in appreciation! This picture is actually from my day trip to Sendai.
The one thing I wanted to see for sure in Tokyo was the Shibuya Street crossing/scramble. My Japanese friend did not really understand why I wanted to see this busy street intersection. It’s famous – like Times Square is to New York City!!! The street crossing is in the movie The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, where the main characters are doing the drift through Shibuya crossing when it is super busy at night. We crossed the street twice (we experienced the “scramble”) and went to the 2nd floor of the Starbucks across the way to take this picture. It is amazing to watch how it all works in all directions, very calm and orderly. The volume of people at every single light that cross the road is mind blowing!!
Bear in mind that this picture was taken on a Sunday afternoon so it wasn’t that busy! Can you imagine what this is like during regular rush hour?? I also would love to see it in the evening, but we didn’t have time.
Here is the link to the 1 minute video that I took of the Shibuya Street Scramble:
I tried to find the square watermelon that Japan is famous for, but I wasn’t able to find the square ones (picture of square watermelon below is from the internet) but I did find a triangle shaped watermelon and bottle shaped watermelon at the Tsukiji fish market. Having trouble getting the photo I took from my camera to my computer to show the picture I took. These are so cool but I was told that they are probably not as tasty as normal watermelons!
Speaking of the Tsukiji fish market, the coolest thing I got to see was watching 3 fish market guys using a samurai sword to cut a huge tuna. They did not allow photos at their station but it was a very cool thing to see. The fish market was interesting and I am glad we got to see it before it gets moved to the new location.
On the topic of food, do you remember when as a kid, Yuzu talked about putting gold flakes in his water to drink?? I didn’t find the gold flakes, however, when we were in Kanazawa we actually tried an ice cream wrapped in gold. The gold did not have any taste, but the ice cream tasted very yummy!
Other highlights was the Kit Kat Chocolatory where we tried strawberry, cantaloupe, green tea, and matcha flavoured Kit Kats. I also bought some “Yuzu” flavoured Kit Kats but haven’t tried them yet. Oh, and I stumbled across the fruit speakers (found at Tokyo Sky Tree Tower) that Yuzu learned about on the variety show last year year.
We also went to the Museum of Emerging Science and got to see the robot, Asimo (Honda)!! I took a video of the 10 minute demo but it is so large (over 1 Gig) that I am not sure how to get it onto youtube yet! It was so cool, I highly recommend to see him if you have the chance!! Asimo actually runs out of the gate (initial surprise is awesome), and then shows you his tricks which includes walking sideways and kicking a ball to a target!
The following photos are not Asimo. They are of a little guy called Pepper (who does not move). I loved the little robots that I found in various places that talked to people, supposedly interactively – but I could not tell because it only spoke Japanese. I asked it if it spoke any english, but it just kinda raised its arms at me as if to shrug at me, and continued to speak in Japanese. He and his voice were sooooo cute!!!
For every country that I visit, I usually go to Mcdonalds once to see if the McNuggets taste the same. Well, I can report that in Tokyo the McNuggets taste the same as they do in North America! Ha ha.
And lastly, I saw something really cool. For anyone who wears flat shoes and uses the little sock liners. Well, mine keep falling down at the heels, however, the ones I bought in Japan have a non-slip sticky on the inside of the heel. How smart!!! And, to make things even better, I saw a lady at the train station wearing these sock liners for womens’ shoes and the sock liner even had a soft anklet strap to prevent them from falling down. How cool is that? I couldn’t find those specific ones in the stores though, next time!!!
Tokyo itself has over 13 million people, and during my trip, out of nowhere I actually ran into 2 people from Japan I had met previously only once before! One of them was in Nagano, and one of them was on a train, what are the odds of that?? Yuzu, and being a Yuzu fan sure has the ability to pull people from around the world together!!
By the end of my first Japan trip (Tokyo, Sendai, Kanazawa, Nagano), I never got to see Yuzu skate in FaOI, but what I did come away with was wonderful memories and such unique experiences in Japan! Hopefully the next time, I can actually see Yuzu too!!
Go Yuzu Go!! Doki Doki!!