Imperial Gardens

Our walk that first morning in Tokyo took us to the Imperial Gardens, Shinjuko-gyoen Park, where the annual chrysanthemum festival was in progress. Here amidst one of the world's largest cities was a large park dripping in tranquillity and adorned in elegance. Many of the great trees had been destroyed in the fire bombing of WWII, but the park had been rebuilt and restored. Laid out within it were various sections such as the English and French Gardens, the tree promenade, the rose gardens, and of course the Japanese gardens featuring ponds filled with graceful coy fish, rock bridges, wooden walkways, and sculpted hedges.

Its educational value was made even more prominent when we met Professor Dr. Elena Georgieva Gavrilova, a visiting Bulgarian mathematics professor. We instantly hit it off when she giggled at our testing of Cassidy's reading comprehension at one of the signs, and later she proved to be a godsend when she was able to help Samantha with her advanced mathematics school work where none of the rest of us had a clue.

One of our interesting discoveries was that almost nowhere in this giant park could we find a garbage can—yet unlike American city parks, we saw almost no tossed garbage. The park was as spotless and unmarred as a true wilderness. Throughout the park we watched as workmen quietly swept up leaves with motions that looked like Tai Chi. One of these men, an older fellow, was wearing a U.S. Arizona Memorial hat, and we pondered the synchronicity of it all.

The other high point of our walk in the park was going into a tea house. Nestled in a tranquil grove of trees, simple but elegant, we were greeted at the door by our hostess in traditional kimono with a full, slow bow. She pointed to the vending machine outside and indicated that was how we were to buy our tickets for tea. We entered the quiet space adorned with a very simple flower arrangement and a few low tables and sat down. After a few minutes the hostess reappeared and placed a beautifully shaped pasty tea cake and very small wooden knife in front of each of us with a slow, deep bow. (The knife looked like a Barbie sword, Cassidy observed, and both of the girls thought the cakes tasted a bit like sugar cookie dough). She showed us how to cut and eat the cakes (cut them in half, and stab each piece), then retired to a back room.

When we were done she removed the plates and knives, and returned with our bowls of frothy green tea. Each bowl was turned before handing it to us, and again she showed us how we were to turn the bowl three quarter turns then begin sipping the frothy fresh tea. This was not a complete tea ceremony, which involved special steps of whisking the powdered tea, creating special symbols, and many other elaborate parts, but it was special to us none-the-less, especially here in the heart of Tokyo. We later learned that almost all Japanese girls are trained in the 'art of tea' during their regular schooling.

Somehow, our sipping the tea was like breaking a champagne bottle over the bow of a launched ship. As soon as we each had finished our bowls we looked at each other and smiled. Our journey was official, the adventure had begun, we were launched on a tranquil green sea of tea.

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