Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter weekend with friends in Japan

Just between you and me, I really like staying in Manila during Holy Week, as it's quiet and nice, and a wonderful change from a never-ending Travelife. Or if I'm at all somewhere, in the past years it's been southern Europe where spring is mild and the tourists have still not arrived in droves.


But this year, with 39 friends and relatives visiting Japan to take care of and have fun with over a period of 2.5 weeks, I decided to pack up and set up shop in Tokyo and Mount Fuji, making my homes a sort of central base for luggages, children, yayas and meals.

People have been and will be coming and going in and out of my houses, depositing bags while waiting for flights if they're checked out of their hotels, dropping off shopping bags in the course of days of all-you-can-fit-into-the-luggage shopping, and bringing children over. Yes, my house has been turned into a temporary daycare. While the parents enjoy some fancy meals, the children head over to my house for kiddie meals and videos with the yaya.


The other day, there were five children at home for spaghetti in Tokyo; and when we all returned from our Michelin-starred meal, we found them laughing and giggling going up and down the stairs that leads to the rooftop terrace. While having our fancy lunch, we'd been slightly worried about how they'd keep themselves occupied and how the yaya could manage them all, but they were pretty able to entertain themselves with no problems.

And next week, I think there will be a time when there'll be 12 kids in the house.


But for Easter weekend, we all took off for Mount Fuji for some fresh air, good food and beautiful scenery. What luck we had, as on Saturday we all woke up to the most amazing view of Mount Fuji right before us, shining like a cake with delicious white icing. The sky was a perfect blue, the sun was out and the mountain literally sparkled.

In the evenings, we had the benefit of a full moon right on Fuji, which also gave it a most ethereal effect. A couple of friends woke up at 3 AM to take photos of the full moon slowly going down over Mount Fuji.


Then we did some sightseeing, including a walk through an old village that looks straight out of a movie set, and a visit to a thousand-year-old Fuji shrine with the biggest thousand-year-old trees anyone has ever seen.

Of course, we couldn't resist making a pit stop at a nearby and very large 100 yen store, which -- as far as I have seen -- is a genuine delight to every Filipino, from the wealthiest down. I haven't seen any Filipino walk out of a 100 yen store empty-handed yet. There must be something truly delightful about finding something you never knew you wanted or needed, and it costs only P50.


As we were driving back to my lake area, where I'd arranged a special kaiseki dinner at my favorite restaurant in the world, the weather changed in 30 seconds and it started snowing so heavily we felt we were driving in a snowstorm. It suddenly was zero degrees or less in April, and we had a few inches of snow on the ground. Of course, all the children were beside themselves with joy.


Then it was on to dinner at my favorite restaurant in the world. Nothing fancy, in the middle of nowhere and so very under-the-radar that you will hardly find anything written about it, especially in the English world.

But the food is amazing, and the Filipinos who've been here swear by the chef. In fact, my friends over the weekend wanted to fly him over to Manila for a gourmet dinner. He's already been, actually, as he cooked dinner for 40 members of the IWFS last year at our invitation, and he'd become fast friends with everyone.

So everyone had Saturday dinner here in a private room that could happily hold adults, kids and yayas very comfortably. We were just about to start our first course when the door slides open and a kindly old man looked in to say hello to us.


It was my old neighbor in Mount Fuji, who also happens to be Japan's richest man. We sometimes eat dinner together in Fuji and once he and his wife took us to their favorite soba place also in the middle of nowhere.

"Actually he's not Japan's richest man anymore. Uniqlo's CEO is now number one," my cousin-in-law corrected me. My old neighbor in Mount Fuji was Japan's richest man for a very long time and I haven't really kept track of Japan's Rich List in the last two years or so; but my cousin-in-law just happened to have the latest issue of an international business magazine with him in Fuji, which he'd been reading at nights, and it had a list of Japan's richest people in it.

He took it out and there was my old neighbor's photo and a blurb about him in the Top 5 Richest of Japan. He'd sold some holdings so his assets had decreased and meanwhile Uniqlo had become super successful so there had been a bit of musical chairs in the Japan Rich List this year.


A couple of other gentlemen came in to say hello as we haven't been to Fuji in a very long time, and it just so happened that everyone from Tokyo was at their weekend houses in Fuji this weekend. One of them owned one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in Japan and the other headed a major financial multinational. And everyone was having dinner in this restaurant run out of a home in the middle of nowhere.

Anyway, everyone simply loved the food. The ingredients are simple and the taste is truly sublime. At the end, the chef came in bringing a tray of wine for a blind tasting. Over the years, he'd met so many of my Filipino wine friends either in Manila or when they've stayed with me in Mount Fuji, that he now assumes that every Filipino is a wine connoisseur.


Now this group -- which I like to call Group #1 in my 39 pax in Japan this month -- likes wine but they're not fanatics like some others I know.

But anyway, everyone gamely drank the wine he so generously provided as a treat, and the chef happily waited for us to begin giving a medley of wrong answers.

This is a blind tasting, after all, so of course very few people will get things right when there are no parameters -- the wine can be from anywhere, any vintage, any year, anything at all, in a blind tasting.

Basically you're being asked to guess a bottle of wine from a pool of about a million different choices including country, area, and vintage. Impossible task, I'm sure you will agree.

But one of the guys said: "Pommerol." And then the wife said: "1998." Oh my. The chef fell of his seat. We hadn't been given any clues at all but it was spot on. A Pommerol 1998.

So you can imagine how his image of the Philippines and Filipinos has changed in the course of meeting all these wine-loving Filipinos we've brought to Fuji, or that we've introduced to him in Manila over the years. I'm pretty sure he probably now thinks that the Philippines grows grapes for wine and that Wine 101 is a mandatory subject in college in Manila.

On Sunday we had an Easter egg hunt in the garden, a Korean lunch at home, and a shabu-shabu dinner in Tokyo.

More later, after another Michelin-starred lunch and dinner in Tokyo, where the weather is perfect. Just perfect. And just another weekend in a never-endingly eventful Travelife.



1 comment:

  1. Not so many years ago there was no simpler or more intelligible notion than that of going on a journey. Travel --movement through space --provided the universal metaphor for change. One of the subtle confusions --perhaps one of the secret terrors --of modern life is that we have lost this refuge. No longer do we move through space as we once did.

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