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Falling in love with Tokyo.

No, it wasn't love at first sight. In fact, I've been to Japan several times (sometimes with good friend Raoul Tidalgo as companion) but mostly for interviews (among them Britney Spears who wore a kimono during a one-on-one; Tobey Maguire for Spider-Man; Rihanna for Battleship, her first movie; the late Robin Williams for Patch Adams; Tom Hanks and Ron Howard for Angels and Demons; and Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried and Cameron Mackintosh for Les Miserables).

Last month, together with a family of five that included smart five-year-old Don Julio, Raoul and I were back in this wintry cold city where everything is so clean and so organized, and the people so gentle and so nice, purposely for a well-earned five-day pre-Christmas holiday.

'Go before Christmas because rates might go higher after Christmas,' advised Lilibeth Tan of Uni-Orient Travel who booked our plane tickets and hotel (in the heart of Shinjuku). 'And don't forget to bring thick jackets.' (For inquiries about Uni-Orient, call 243-3888.)

Our fascination with Tokyo soon developed into a love affair so memorably beautiful that, back home tired but happy, we felt that we didn't see enough even if we really did, thanks to our good friend Bobby Valle, the singer who married a Japanese, Chieko Kimura with whom he used to perform in Kabuki shows before they put up a club-restaurant which featured cultural dancers from the Philippines. The couple has closed the business and Bobby now manages the rmv Japanlocaltour. (If interested, numbers to call are +63904-9434567, +81-90-49434567 and +63908-3985999.)

Do you need a van for sight-seeing around Tokyo? Do you need a driver going to Mt. Fuji or Hakone? Driver speaks Bisaya, Tagalog, English and Japanese. Driver is very hospitable, honest and trusted.

Those are printed at the back of Bobby's business card and, trust us, he's all that A- and much, much more. Our group called him 'The host with the most.' Offers include bus rates with VIP service, no time limit in every tour, van or car on stand-by for guests to finish the tour (three cars: one for two, one for eight and one for 14).

Bobby served as our Cupid in our love affair with Tokyo. He would sing along the way, relate stories about scenic spots, suggest stops for photo ops (even if it's not in the itinerary), and doesn't show any signs of wear and tear even after a 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. schedule.

Day One was spent at Disneysea, a stone's throw from Disneyland (which we crossed out in our itinerary because, after Anaheim in California and Hong Kong, what else is there to discover?). As friends who have been there told us, one whole day was hardly enough to explore the man-made paradise which Don Julio enjoyed to the hilt, screaming his little lungs out every time the volcano would 'erupt' and the Disney characters wowed the thick crowd every two hours. It's Christmastime!!! Think of exciting rides and 'wondrous caves' and Disneysea has them.

Day Two: Trip to Mt. Fuji. After a quick breakfast at a roadside row of coffee shops, we proceeded to First Step where the five year old gasped at his first sight of snow and rolled on it, had groufies at Third Step with the panoramic view as backdrop, and felt a new high at Fifth Station ('Some 2,780 feet above ground,' noted Bobby), then drove down to the swan lake at Yamanakako, had a quick lunch at a Hamasushi restaurant where a robot greeted us at the entrance and requested us to wait for an empty table, took more groufies at a mountain with windmills, rode in a galleon boat at Hakone Togendai before proceeding to Motohskuni and marveled at the temples and a 3,000-year-old tree. (Would you believe that a portion of the road to Mt. Fuji turned musical as soon as the tires hit it?) Last stop was the Gotimba Premium, an outlet center where we merely window-shopped (yen-scrimping, you know).

Day Three was spent on a tour of Tokyo: A leisurely stroll around the Imperial Palace grounds; look-see at Akihabara, the electronic capital of the city; Asakusa temple for little souvenirs (key chains, magnets and the like); Sky Tree Tower (for cookies and other Japanese goodies); Ginza by night; a quick stop at a store where every item costs 100 yen and; insisted Bobby, 'You must experience the Shibuya crossing,' featured in a Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift, where hundreds crisscross (as traffic lights turn red) from four corners of the junction. Unbelievable? 'Organized chaos,' according to a trend writer. See it to believe it...and not just on the big screen! According to the Teriyaki Boyz song (featured on the movie's music video): I wonder if you know/How they live in Tokyo/If you seen it then you mean it/Then you know you have to go...

On the way to the Haneda Airport for the flight back to Manila, Bobby brought us to the Toyota City Showcase where our eyes popped out at the rows and rows of 'Cars of the Future,' hydrogen-powered all, and I picked the one with a body made of wood as my 'future car'...if I can afford it, hehehe!!!

Next time we go to Tokyo, for sure love will be rekindled - lovelier the second time around!
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Publication:Philippines Star (Manila, Philippines)
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Jan 7, 2018
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