Cultural tour in Tokyo for 2 Israelis… Visite guidée culturelle à Tokyo pour 2 israéliens… イスラエル夫婦と東京の文化ツアー…

[EN-FR] Koma-inu. [JP] 狛犬。

[EN] Among hundreds of ancient wooden sculptures of Arhats, before a statue of Buddha covered with gold, at a wedding centre, across Shibuya Crossing, in little streets, through the Thunder Gate, at Senso-ji Buddhist temple and Asakusa Shinto shrine, beside splendid azaleas and dancing carps, near Tokyo Sky Tree tower… guiding a couple of nice Israeli travellers wishing to discover the Japanese culture in Tokyo today! During this tour, I avoided long walks and stairs (lady with a weak knee), and ordered lunch at a Japanese restaurant based on Jewish religious dietary laws (think vegetable sushi). We had a great time, and the Israelis carefully listened to my explanations about Japan as well as Hinokuma brothers’ legend 🙂 Thanks to my former customer Avraham G. for recommending me to this couple 😀

[FR] Entouré de centaines d’anciennes sculptures en bois d’Arhats, devant une statue de Bouddha couverte d’or, à un centre de mariages, dans de petites rues, à travers le carrefour Hachiko et la Porte du Tonnerre, au temple bouddhique Senso-ji et sanctuaire Shintoïste d’Asakusa, à côté de splendides azalées et de carpes dansantes, près de la tour Tokyo Sky Tree… à guider un sympathique couple de voyageurs israéliens souhaitant découvrir la culture japonaise à Tokyo aujourd’hui ! Lors de cette visite guidée, j’ai évité les escaliers et longues marches (dame ayant un genou faible), et ai commandé nos déjeuners à un restaurant japonais en me basant sur le code alimentaire juif (grand succès des sushis aux légumes). Ce fut une excellent journée et les israéliens apprécièrent beaucoup mes explications sur le Japon et mon récit de la légende des frères Hinokuma 🙂 Merci à mon ancien client Avraham G. de m’avoir recommandé à ce couple 😀

[JP] 何百もの阿羅漢の江戸時代木像の間に、金で覆われた仏像の前に、結婚式場で、小さな通りで、渋谷駅前のスクランブル交差点そして雷門を通して、浅草寺と浅草神社で、綺麗なツツジと賑やかな鯉の隣に、東京スカイツリーの近く… 日本文化を知りたい優しいイスラエル夫婦の旅行者をガイドした。この一日ツアー中、長い散歩と階段を避けて(奥様の弱い膝のため)、和食レストランでユダヤ教戒律の上にランチを注文した(野菜寿司大成功)。イスラエル人のお客さんが、日本について説明と檜前兄弟の伝説をよく聴きました :) この夫婦に私を紹介した昔のお客さん(アブラハム様)に感謝します 🙂

[EN] Azaleas. [FR] Azalées. [JP] ツツジ。

[EN] Carps + azaleas. [FR] Carpes + azalées. [JP] 鯉とツツジ。

[EN-FR] Sushis. [JP] 巻き寿司。

I tested SGRS Tourism Agency‘s Sumida river cruise and Walk with Geisha in Asakusa area (Tokyo, Japan)!

Invited by SGRS Tourism Agency to test its tours for foreign tourists in Tokyo, I enjoyed this afternoon a fun Sweet & Sound Cruise on the Sumida river and a Walk with Geisha in Asakusa area then attended its business presentation and a funny show (see next post). As a tourism professional and former preschool teacher, I believe these tours will be great once refined, providing fond memories of Japan to Western adults and children alike! I now look forward to a walk with a Japanese warrior, ninja or samurai 😉

Odaiba island (Minato ward, Tokyo, Japan) from the Sweet & Sound Cruise boat on 18 April 2015.

Geisha Otoki-san in kimono with Sébastien Duval holding her fan at Asakusa Shrine (Taito ward, Tokyo, Japan) on 18 April 2015. Photo by Eri.

I had a great time all along: Ken (from Hawaii) and Miki (from Japan) sang in English and Japanese during the cruise while Oui played the piano and Nanako the violin, Harusa (from ???) guided us in the streets of Asakusa accompanied by the “geisha” Otoki-san… Bilingual and wearing a kimono, Harusa motivated us to look for statues on rooftops (e.g. the thief Nezumi-kozo) and portraits of Japanese movie stars (e.g. Takeshi Kitano), touch a giant straw sandal at Senso-ji Buddhist temple, pray under cherry blossoms… Under a big blue sky, we took splendid photos of Odaiba island from the platform of our boat as well as cool photos with the staff here and there 🙂

Miki & Ken singing with a piano and violin during a Sweet & Sound Cruise (Minato ward, Tokyo, Japan) on 18 April 2015.

Harusa Matsuyama in kimono with Sébastien Duval at Asakusa Shrine (Taito ward, Tokyo, Japan) on 18 April 2015. Photo by Eri.

The cruise is fine for Westerners but would be even more exciting with albums containing old maps, photos or ukiyo-e woodblock prints placed on the tables, with sale of traditional Japanese sweets/snacks like wagashi and karinto (plus a list of ingredients for allergic travellers), and with more Japanese songs (adding a lullaby would be great to transmit the Japanese culture).

The walk requires a method to avoid losing participants in the crowds and to prevent interruptions by bystanders jumping in for a photo with the geisha! To enhance the tour, the guide may bring a piece of kimono fabric to freely touch and may introduce holy seals at the last spot (Asakusa Shrine): watching a Shinto/Buddhist calligrapher write a goshuin is amazing but few Westerners know that! Finally, the guide may give maps introducing local restaurants and shops (see the Get Japan maps for examples).

I hope this feedback will help SGRS Tourism Agency make a better world, happier people 🙂 I just e-mailed the team!

Ken with Sébastien Duval on the Sweet & Sound Cruise boat (Minato ward, Tokyo, Japan) on 18 April 2015.

New project: East of the Imperial Palace map in English for tourists in Tokyo (Japan)

Tomorrow, my team will start preparing its first “East of the Imperial Palace” walking map in English to support foreigners in Tokyo city and promote local gems using help from local communities, our expertise, and our human networks. Contact me before June 2015 if you wish to advertise or recommend an exceptional business near Ginza, Nihombashi, Shimbashi, Tsukiji, or Tokyo station 🙂

As Travel Stand Japan‘s inbound manager, I mainly search businesses that interest foreign tourists and residents, that provide high-quality products or services for adults and children, that are unique or characterize the area, and that make the local communities proud! I thus favour old local businesses with eco-friendly Japanese-style products by Japanese designers and handmade in Japan, Japanese companies with headquarters in the area, event organizers, stores with friendly bilingual staff accepting payments by credit card, and tax-free shops open 24 hours a day. If needed, our travel agency can design menus/labels (translations, explanations, pictures…) and train staff to better interact with tourists (language & culture). Of course, the team also happily guides tourists to the great places on our maps to help them buy or order what they dream of during Yes in Japan tours 🙂

Making this online and paper map should be fun and rewarding but exhausting like when I prepared the “North of the Imperial Palace” map of spring/summer 2015. I enjoyed cycling in small streets, discussing with hotel staff, informing and learning from various shopkeepers and owners in Japanese language, clarifying my values while honing my sales/negotiation skills… but that took much time and energy! Wish me exceptional holidays afterwards 😉

Sales to business owners in Chiyoda ward (Tokyo, Japan) for autumn/winter 2014

Manager at Travel Stand Japan, I sold advertising spots on a map promoting Chiyoda ward (Tokyo, Japan) to business owners/representatives this week. We will give this Yes in Japan map in English to foreign tourists, businessmen, students, and residents near Jimbocho station in autumn and winter 2014. I do the sales in Japanese language by myself because typhoons keep my colleagues from the travel agency busy: cancelled flights, rescheduled trips… I secured 19 advertisers so far while broadening my human network and learning about the local businesses!

I visited former advertisers (Nago café, Otsumami-kaasan…) and new places such as the exciting cultural centre Origami-kaikan promoting origami and Japanese paper since 1858, the luxurious restaurant Shozantei and the new restaurant Mokuchi Jimbocho.

To attract more customers, Nago café now proposes food from Italy in addition to Okinawa (I savoured the “black cabbage and pork stew” for lunch). I will update the English menu then give a copy to the nearby hotels, starting with Hotel Niwa Tokyo.

Dining at Otsumami-kaasan, I happily met a Japanese gentleman from Kyoto who discovered the restaurant on the summer map and has already dined there 4 times! Unexpected proof of return on investment 🙂 I am now writing an English menu to ease interactions with foreigners staying at e.g. the nearby Hotel Villa Fontaine Kudanshita Tokyo.

The setting of Shozantei impressed me: beautiful tatami mats, good lighting, big decorations with flowers, top-quality meat, menus in English… Expensive but exceptional!

Finally, I did not know the restaurant chain Mokuchi but had a great time at its Jimbocho branch: friendly smiley staff, delicious fried chicken, an English-speaking chef translating his menu, cheap lunch boxes…

Japanese photomontage with flowers and products of businesses in 千代田区 (Chiyoda ward, Tokyo) on 06-10 October 2014.

This interesting week was crowned with a morning tour in Bunkyo ward, guiding a British couple to discover the Japanese gods. They loved that touch of inner Japan 🙂

Half-day tour in Tokyo with a couple from Mexico: washi, lucky charms, fake food…

As Travel Stand Japan‘s inbound manager, I spent half of my day in Tokyo with a friendly Mexican couple interested in graphic design, disaster risk management, and Japanese life. This personalized tour on 11 September 2014 let me introduce diverse objects made in Japan and taught me about Mexico!

I had planned the tour to meet Japanese people, present everyday life objects and Japanese architecture, and end somewhere allowing fun tourism by oneself afterwards. The joyful director of the Origami-kaikan demonstrated his origami skills and an artist from the workshop told us about colouring traditional Japanese paper “washi”. We saw an origami exhibition, old photos, pilgrimage marks, lucky charms, votive plaques, high-school uniforms and trophies, cooking utensils, restaurant signboards, fake food for display, a vending machine selling umbrellas… We followed an ancient moat, walked in backstreets, crossed streets using an aerial maze, spotted old narrow apartments and large modern offices, entered small shops…

No problem arose during this private tour but the couple unexpectedly bought lots of washi to cover a wall of their house in Mexico so I must get information about appropriate glue 🙂 The shopping list also included a flattening tool for origami, lucky charms for good health, and a pair of chopsticks for kids (with rings to properly place the fingers).

We met at the travel agency, walked to the Origami-kaikan, Kanda-myojin and Akihabara station, shortly rode a train for Ueno station then walked again to Kappabashi “Kitchen Town” and Asakusa. I guided, informed, introduced the people we met, translated in English and Japanese, and requested origami demonstrations 🙂

The Mexican wife just e-mailed me; it feels so good to make a better world:

To: Duval Sébastien
Thanks for everything its a blessing I found you to show us japan
Warm regards

Our Mexican customers increasing, should I get ready to discuss about Japan in Spanish?

Japanese photomontage of a tour related to washi in 東京 (Tokyo) on 11 September 2014.

More at 11 September 2014: Tour at Origami-kaikan, Kanda-myojin & Kappabashi (Tokyo) on Inner Japan.

10-day tour in Japan with a family from Oman: Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto, Osaka!

As Travel Stand Japan‘s inbound manager, I just spent 10 exciting days with an Omani family (2 parents, 5 children, 2 maids) on holidays in Japan for the first time. This great experience on 19-28 August 2014 let me for the first time meet people from the Sultanate of Oman, spend more than a week with customers, and guide travellers in Kyoto and Osaka.

I had planned the stay to have fun, provide new experiences, discover Japanese nature, introduce traditional and modern Japan, and eat food suitable for Muslims. We explored 3 theme parks, went to a zoo, enjoyed a Cirque du Soleil show, got caricatures from Japanese artists, spent much time shopping, wrote prayers in kanji and katakana alphabet, rode a shinkansen (notable because Oman has no high-speed train), cruised on a river and lake, drove along the sea and in forests, saw Mount Fuji, ate among the clouds on a mountain, entered a bamboo grove, observed rice fields, walked in ancient streets… The bus drivers and my colleagues at the travel agency helped wonderfully!

No big problem arose during this private tour beyond an insect bite (fixed at a pharmacy), crowds at the theme parks (summer holidays!), and an American Express card unusable at Universal Studios Japan (fixed with cash). As my colleagues had requested, every hotel provided 3 rooms on the same floor, near each other, and the staff of Hotel Nikko Princess Kyoto prepared a delicious birthday cake for one of the daughters.

We met at Narita international airport when the family arrived in Japan, immediately went to Tokyo and spent every day together until the departure from Japan. I personalized the itinerary as I learnt more about everybody, informed, translated in English and Japanese, requested massages and a private room with open-air bath (Hakone is perfect for that), carried luggage, played with the children (my experience as a preschool teacher came in handy)… and learnt some Arabic from the elder son! The goodbye at Narita airport was poignant: the elder son held me tightly for a long time and the 1 y.o. daughter waved goodbye to her parents instead of saying goodbye to me 😉

I promised to visit the family in Oman; shall I go just after spending Christmas in France with my parents?

Japanese photomontage of a tour in 東京 (Tokyo), 箱根 (Hakone), 京都 (Kyoto), and 大阪 (Osaka) on 19-28 August 2014.

More at 19-28 August 2014: Tour in Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto, Osaka on Inner Japan.