He then moved on to one of Asakusa’s most famous destinations: Kaminarimon. As he looked at the impressive red gate and the shopping streets leading towards the Sensoji Temple, he was pleased to see so many young people wearing kimono and enjoying the fine weather.
Émile then went in for a very different experience at Kawarana, where he took on the challenge of smashing ceramic tiles with his bare hands. After a quick introduction and training session, he put on a karate gi and belt and went at it. He was blown away by the experience: “This is so much fun! I thought it would be quite difficult, but it was rather easy and not painful at all.”
Moving on to a culinary experience, Émile dropped by at Chagohan Tokyo. First, he learned how dashi (Japanese broth) is made. Then, he had the chance to make his own Osaka-style okonomiyaki (savory Japanese pancake), using a variety of ingredients. He was even able to make his own sauce!
A Slow Boat Ride
The next stop was a sake tasting shop in Ryogoku, which is also known as the home of sumo wrestling. At the shop, Émile met up with Andy Gomarsall MBE, who used to play scrum-half for the England national rugby team, Leeds Carnegie, and Gloucester Rugby. The two former players sampled a few varieties of sake, and they both tried warm sake for the first time.
After this, Émile and Andy boarded a yakatabune (a low, barge-style boat with tatami flooring inside the cabin) where they set off on the Sumida River. Andy and Émile enjoyed a delicious meal of sashimi, tempura, and soba. Émile said, “It was fantastic. All of the different fish and vegetables are wonderfully fresh and delicious.” Andy added, “My family loves sashimi, so they would be very jealous of me right now—on a boat, in Tokyo, with tons of sashimi.”
The yakatabune made its way out to the Odaiba area and stopped near Rainbow Bridge. They went out on to the deck of the yakatabune, where they took pictures of the stunning skyline.
As the yakatabune headed back to Asakusa, Andy and Émile were in for a special treat. Joining them in the tatami room of the yakatabune was a musician who played the shamisen, a traditional three-stringed instrument. Both of the rugby greats were impressed by the performance.
Andy said, “It was so unique—powerful and impactful. I feel that music always tells a story, and this really expresses Japan in such a beautiful way.” Émile added, “It was my first time hearing music like this. You had some songs that were melancholic, and other songs that were very dynamic. It was fantastic!” It was a perfect end to a very busy day.
Dropping in on Ginza
Émile began the next morning by picking up some souvenirs for his friends and family at a shop in Ginza.
Later, he visited the celebrated Japanese lacquerware shop, Yamada Heiando. The shop’s customers include the Emperor of Japan and the Imperial Family, and Émile was awestruck by the craftsmanship that was on display there.
Then it was time for a quick lunch at Tempura Abe, a popular tempura restaurant. Émile was surprised by just how popular it was: “It’s small and in a basement, but people are lining up just to get in. Wow, this is amazing!” He was even more amazed by the food, and exclaimed, “The food is light and delicious and freshly served straight from the kitchen by the chef! My culinary experience in Japan is never-ending; I continue to be surprised each day.”
Calligraphy, Sushi, and Art
We then caught up with Andy, who was at the famous YANESEN Tourist Information Center in Taito Ward. He was there for a lesson in calligraphy. First, he learned the proper way to write strokes in kanji—Japanese characters. Then, after a bit of practice, he started learning how to write the characters for “friend” and “Japan.” Andy said, “It was tough—there were so many things to remember, but it was such a wonderful experience.” For his part, the calligraphy master was impressed by Andy’s patience and dedication to getting his characters right.
Next up was a visit to Sushi Gonpachi, the restaurant made famous by the movie Kill Bill. Andy got to see some of the places in the restaurant where some of the movie’s scenes were shot. He also had sushi there, and he said, “It was just extraordinary to witness the chef making the sushi with such attention to detail—it was incredible.”
Finally, Andy went to MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM: teamLab Borderless, which he thought was completely spectacular. “This was simply amazing,” he said. “The creativity and conceptualization by the creators are fascinating. You could spend the whole day here and not got bored—the variety of the artwork and how you interact with it is brilliant.”