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Pan Am Memories of My Adventures to Tokyo and Kyoto

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With the return of the Pan Am series I recalled my visit to Japan...

Landing at Tokyo's airport recalled 1941, the devastation the Japanese reeked upon us. Though I was not yet born, I saw the destruction caused by Pearl Harbor and how our nation would never be able to forget it.

But this was 1966 and my mother and I were hoping to enjoy a layover at Tokyo as the guest of Pan Am. And while she was Pennsylvania Dutch, which is German, and I was making amends to her and forgiving her for any childhood resentments (as I was hoping she'd forgive me), I thought it appropriate to try to forgive the Japanese as well. There had been enough devastation and suffering. Tokyo had been rebuilt and I could rebuild my relationship with my mother.

After having been a stewardess for six months I could take her on a trip around the world. We had just visited Hawaii and its Big Island and were en route to Hong Kong. Tokyo was a pause that we hoped would refresh our 360 degree journey.

At the airport we met a man with red hair who was an American who said, "Can I help you both with your bags?"

Mother and I enjoyed this offer especially since he was handsome and jovial. (Well, at least I enjoyed it.)

"Where are you both going?" he asked.

"We're booked at the Imperial Hotel."

"Great choice," he said. "Frank Lloyd Wright at his finest. The Japanese celebrate weddings there. A ritual. How long will you be staying?"

"A few days."

"Would you permit me to take you both to dinner?"

"But who are you?"

"I'm a broker at Merrill Lynch, live here and returning after a visit to the states."

"Let's meet at our hotel for drinks this evening,' I said, as mother frowned.

"I'm Mrs. Wagner," she said, extending her hand.

Mother did not look too fondly at my picking up men, especially at airports. Her Pennsylvania Dutch roots which were strict Lutheran haunted her. During her childhood in Shoemakersville, Pa., her neighbors slept with bricks for pillows.

As we checked into the Imperial, sure enough a wedding was in progress. I had the feeling that we were on the set of Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Built in 1915, moss clung to the modular brick structure in Maya revival style. It was a tall pyramid-like structure that copied Mayan motifs. The Imperial's corridors wove like a snake as we walked to our room; this was because the hotel was one of the few structures to survive the giant 8.3 Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 due to Wright's ingenious architectural skills in building an earthquake-proof hotel. He designed independent modular units of poured concrete, concrete block and carved oya stone that were not connected so that if one portion reacted to movement, the other portion stayed in tack. Hence, the corridor was curved and snakelike which was enchanting to walk through as one could imagine reliving an earthquake and yet surviving. While the hotel survived, decades later it had to be torn down as it was sinking in the alluvial mud on which Wright had built it with the intention for it to float. Float it did for several decades then it began to sink. This architectural wonder was recreated in the Meiji Mura museum.

Dinner with our freckle-faced, red-headed Merrill Lynch executive whose name was Michael proved a treat with mother treading water with her enthusiasm. The following day we planned to visit Kyoto, Japan's imperial capital with its 1600 Buddhist Temples, 400 Shinto Shrines and palaces, not far from Tokyo. If one took the bullet train, the Tokaido Shinkansen, the trip was about two hours and 20 minutes. This high speed rail linked Tokyo with Kyoto, Yokahama and Nagoya.

Kyoto is located in a valley, the Yamashiro Basin and surrounded by three mountain ranges -- the Higashiyama, the Kitayama, and the Nishiyama. At 9 a.m. on his way to work, Michael dressed in a suit and tie, took us to the train station and helped us board. As he was putting our bags in the overhead rack, the silent train began to move. "Oh, my Lord," he said perspiring. He was now on his way to Kyoto with us without as much as a toothbrush.

"These trains will outsmart you at every turn. I've just returned from the states and forgot how fast they move and how silent like the Japanese they are."

"What are you going to do?"

"Join you, I suppose, if I may."

"Of course," I said, as mother looked at the floor of the train.

"Where are you staying?" he asked.

"The travel agent recommended the Miyako."

"Good. Best hotel in Kyoto."

"What will you do for clothing?" I asked.

"Shop when we arrive. Thank God it's a Friday and I have the weekend to enjoy with you ladies in this splendid hideaway. You know the Miyako is a spiritual retreat of sorts."

"Don't know much about it," I said.

"It had been a temple. Now a five star hotel complete with and a first-rate masseur."

I didn't love that Michael was so well-traveled and knew about masseurs in faraway places. He was a bit too experienced for me; my slowly throbbing heart told me. I was becoming infatuated with him and I sensed he was growing on mother as well.

When we arrived at the Miyako, I felt we were visiting a set of Lost Horizon. A real live temple converted into a hotel was just what Michael had led us to believe. The hotel staff was dressed in kimonos and bowed upon meeting us. Rattan carpets adorned the floors and the entire hotel was decorated in shades of brown and beige. Michael checked into a room next to ours and mother did not make her usual frown.

We dined in the Miyako's sunken restaurant that was called 'the Top of the Miyako' and afforded us a magnificent view of all of Kyoto. Michael ordered for us. He explained each piece of sushi and sashimi.

"This is marinated yellow tail called buri no misozuke miso and is my favorite," he said. I tried it and liked it as well. He ordered mushi zushi for me which was Kyoto-style steamed sushi followed by simmered vegetables with koyadofu and crabmeat sauce. Mother preferred teriyaki chicken and a salad of shimeji mushrooms, persimmons and grapes. For dessert we shared nama yatsuhashi sweets. I wasn't completely sure what I was eating, but this was part of the fun as it all tasted delicious.

After dinner Michael suggested we enjoy a massage. To my amazement, mother did not object.

After the massage, Michael and I cuddled in his room and this was a highlight of my visit to Japan.

The next morning we boarded the bullet train to return. At Tokyo's airport I kissed Michael 'goodbye' and gave him my address in New York, but after a few letters, I never heard from him again. 'Tokyo Michael' was how I remembered him and don't regret one moment we spent together.

Mother and I boarded our Pan Am flight to Hong Kong the following morning. On to the Orient where we would meet Harry, the antique salesman.