How Iron Man 3 should’ve ended!

I love the Iron man franchise.

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There is no way around it. Everything from the toys (if you want to see the cost) to the house (if you want to buy it) to the suits to the the way the genius RDJ brings the character to life, it is all sensational.

There are few movies that get me as excited as Iron Man, maybe a new Bond but that’s about it. So when Iron Man is challenged on any level I get a little defensive, except when its done this well.

These dudes have managed to mock the movie is such a smart way I can barely complain, you just have to watch this.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUYW0JyzydA

(love the way the kids t-shirt says ‘target demographic’)

Like all geniuses, I only fully appreciate Steve Jobs now that he’s gone . . .

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When I started my first full time job I was a sales rep. I basically spent my day on the road driving from store to store doing the mindless crap that sales reps do. I also quickly realized that you tend to eat on the run which means you eat crap, and when I swelled to an almost unrecognizable size I decided the best way to get back in shape was to stop eating lunch completely, most days this excluded breakfast too! You can imagine how bad this was for my body. Since then I have pretty much not eaten lunch for 10 years scarred by the fact that lunch would turn me into a fat bastard again. This of course, for an averagely intelligent human being (I’m hoping I am), is *&%$ing stupid to say the least. Today I sit in a nice office, I have an assistant who guards my diary and I really have no excuse to order something every day that is healthy and fairly quick to eat. Why have I told you this stupidly long uninteresting story? Well for about a week I’ve been eating lunch in my office and I have about 10 – 15 min when I cannot play on my phone or computer but have to sit there and eat. With my ADHD this can become a bit of a problem so I’ve started to watch ‘educational’ Youtube clips. The first one I found posted somewhere online, and it’s a ‘lost’ interview with Steve Jobs from the early 90s so I decided to watch it. He doesn’t have very many of these types of interviews and I wanted to see the genius before he became the all-powerful savior of us all. I was totally blown away by the vision of the man, I mean he basically predicted 25 years ago what the future of computers was, where they were going and how they would change our lives. It really was remarkable to see how he completely got the lifespan and evolution of a product that barely existed yet. Here’s the interview, its fairly long but certainly worth it.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMK_z5c0XLw

After that, as you do on Youtube, I started going from link to link. I spotted Steve Jobs introducing the iPod and couldn’t resist. I mean it was like being able to watch the telephone or the TV being introduced for the first time and knowing that no one in that room knew just how incredible this thing they were seeing was and how much it was about to change the world around them. What struck me immediately was the small number of people in the room, the parochial set, and small screen, the poor presentation effects and just the all-round amateurish feel but then I had to remind myself this was way before Apple became anything remotely resembling the Apple thy are today. In fact the product that Steve Jobs introduced to relative skepticism and lack of excitement was the key that was about to unlock the golden castle of Apple.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mc_FiHTITHE

So then I decided to skip forward a bit to the next real game changer, the iPhone. In just a few years the difference was immediately noticeable  The crowd was massive and you can feel the excitement in the room. The presentation was slick and mostly what we have come to expect from Apple, but the most impressive thing, was the crowd’s reaction. In the first video where they seemed to be there just for a free lunch, now they were willing to kill the person next to them to be in that room and when Jobs introduces that Apple would be launching a phone, the crowd goes mad! Without him showing the phone, without him explaining what it does and without any knowledge other than this product was now in existence, these people were in euphoria. I stopped the video for a while and tried to imagine the feeling of being able to create a brand, and its products that people want so badly and deeply that when you announce a new one it creates a frenzy of happiness among its consumers and an almost instant petrification of your competitors. I couldn’t think of another brand or product in the world that I could put in the same category.

It’s amazing to see, in a few short years, how much more confident Steve Jobs has become, how comfortable with the crowd entertainment he is and just how excited he is to be showing the world his newest creation. Lastly, what is absolutely amazing for me to watch are things that we completely take for granted now, like the swipe unlock of an iPhone and how something that simple completely blew people’s minds. But I completely get it, the first time I unlocked my iPhone I did it about 20 times. Re-living these feelings was really cool!

Watch this and wait until you hear the first iPhone ring, a sound you instantly know now.

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Lastly I skipped ahead to the iPad and again the differences are clear. Firstly my heart sank when I saw Steve Jobs. He is tremendously thin and has moved from being the conductor of the total orchestra to only the main attraction and now hands over the mic for a large portion of the session. The second thing is that the crowd is still impressed by the innovation but less so than the iPhone and it almost seems like this level of innovation has now become the norm for Apple and Jobs. Imagine that, a space that quantum leaps in innovation would become expected from a company. Incredible standards he set for us all! The mood almost moved from the adoration of a young rockstar in the iPhone to the longer term appreciation and respect for a rock god. Lastly the collaboration with other suppliers is evident more than ever. I attribute this to the fact that companies in the periphery of any Apple device understands its ‘with us or against us’ with Apple and if you are against us then you are nothing. Its clear to see the companies clamoring to get into Apples good books from Yahoo to the NY Times to EA sports, all of them want to be lit up by the Jobs glow.

Have a watch.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jj6q_z2Ni9M

I’ve written a few time about Apple but when Steve Jobs died I wrote a letter of thanks, an open honest and truthful recognition of a man who literally changed the entire world, little did I know just how much we would miss him. Since then we have no doubt seen Apple slip, their usual state security like ability to keep new products under wraps has melted away. Their steps forward in innovation have slowed and their delivery of devices has become questionable. We have watched Samsung innovate and win more and more and we have seen just how influential a man like Jobs was on all of us. After spending a few weeks, in 10 minutes intervals over lunch, watching my self-made mini-series of Steve Jobs’s gifts to the world I feel less and less excited by the future of Apple and indeed the industry that will never be pushed quite as hard as it was under Jobs.

We will all lose in his absence, of that there is no doubt!

Don’t blame Kleinfontein!

For those of you who don’t know, or cannot pronounce Kleinfontein (CLAIN-FON-TEEN) it is a small agricultural gated community outside of Pretoria South Africa that has hit the news recently for being a ‘white only / Afrikaaner only’ colony branded as racists.

I wouldn’t get involved in this story in any way or for any reason normally but I had to have a chuckle on my way to work this morning reading this because for some reason it seems that gated communities based on wealth are totally accepted yet gated communities based on the community itself’s rules are not.

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My chuckle started to turn to a fist clenched fist when I started to think that the people with enough money to justify a community are not frowned upon  not even for their blatant mockery of the poor merely by their existence yet a community who says it follows a set of moral codes guided by heritage is now deemed to be evil, just for the record I don’t agree with the latter either!

Don’t get me wrong, as a Jew I understand very clearly what the effects of keeping people in or out based on ‘cultural beliefs’ can be and therefor I’m not saying that these Kleinfonteiners are right but what I am saying is why are the CEOs that live in more luxurious, less sustainable and less socially aware circumstances not being punished by public opinion.

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Sure the people of Kleinfontein can hide behind some twisted logic of being part of the Afrikaaner heritage but really they are just trying to keep out certain races – lets not bullshit here but at least they accept poor people who are allocated resource, allowed to live and given work. They buy their services in bulk and allocate them honestly and fairly. They contribute to their own sustainability and they control their consumption and waste – they in effect are a functioning local municipality.

As I started thinking through this my fist clench grew into teeth clench as I started to realize once again the real problem was neither of these two communities. Both should be allowed to close their gates and operate independently because for the sole reason that they exist in a system that doesn’t work. We all do (well before I moved to Shanghai I did).

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I wont bore you with everything that is wrong with local and national government but the simple summary is it does not work! It cannot balance the gap  between rich and poor, it cannot provide services efficiently, it cannot control crime and it certainly cannot maintain resources. So, you would think the government would welcome gated communities, a bunch less people to have to look after?

The bottom line is you cannot finger the ‘citizens’ of Kleinfontein because they have tried to opt out of society, you can frown upon them for the reasons they do so but surely you have to understand why they have done it? You have to agree, as someone whose power no doubt goes out, garbage sometimes doesn’t get collected, potholes don’t get fixed, electricity price increases, has to be wary of getting hijacked etc that this actually is a viable option. If you can get a bunch of friends together and form a community that is self-sustaining, whatever your reason is maybe its because you are all left handed for &*$# sake, one that is crime free and fully functioning, you tell me that doesn’t sound like a neighborhood you want to live in?

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Sounds like a no brainer to me!

 

Goodbye Sir Alex . . .

I have been delaying writing this for a while now. I guess I’ve been trying to plan it in my head since the room silencing news that Old Trafford would lose its greatest driving force in the clubs history, but until now I’ve yet to find the words, which if you know me, seems barely possible on any subject.

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I’ve followed football for more than two decades now, from a kid with a United-poster strewn bedroom to an adult living half way around the world and waking up at horrific hours of the morning to watch my team play – they are My Manchester United. I have seen United win, lose and everything in between. I have seen legends start their first game and end their last. I have seen opposition sides strengthen and weaken through decades. I have seen the game itself change along with every team in the leagues managers, kits and players. Suffice to say I have seen a lot happen in football over the last 22 years.

One thing I have never seen is a Manchester United sideline without Sir Alex Ferguson on it.

After the last home game against Swansea I battled to fight back the tears. It may sound stupid to those of you who aren’t emotionally invested in sports but to watch a man (or woman) lead a sporting team to greatness somehow resonates with me on a very deep level, but to watch someone have the hunger and passion to do it for 25 years plus is something that has been a privilege and an honor to be able to share in and something I doubt I will ever feel again.

At the start of the season I predicted glory but then again as a United supporter we have almost come to expect this. That’s the magic of Fergie. From his first interview at the club you can feel the humility, focus and the pride that drives the man. You can see in his eyes that he wasn’t in it for the glory or the money, which in todays game seems impossible, he was in it to build something great, to create and shape the future of club that would stand as a legacy never to be overshadowed.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUibDibXfUI

He built this legacy day by day, year by year and not with lavish sums of money nor plain luck but with hard hard work, determination and a hunger to win that inspires me as a human being. He never took anything for granted and he never let the name and honor of Manchester United Football Club be tarnished not for a second, unlike some of our greatest historical rivals. He created and shaped the greatest players in the world, not ONE of which having left the club went on to be more successful.

Even in his final interview, on an occasion that so many people would have taken, rightly so, to bathe in their own glory he thanked everyone for helping him build the Manchester United legend that exists today and he heaped praise on players, coaching staff and fans, and with his final words he gave an instruction to the fans to support his successor. Its men like him that inspire me and moments like these that reduce me to tears.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lT68Fx11ocw

I wont go through his countless achievements and his honor role of trophies and accolades but suffice to say he pretty much did it all and if, like we so often wish in life, time wasn’t catching up with him he probably would continue to scale even greater heights.

So Sir Alex, from an anonymous Manchester United supporter I want to thank you.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7c8wxdEkz8

Thank you from the boy who got to admire the teams you created, whose images were stuck to his wall only to be replaced by wave after wave of players you built and created. Thank you for the moments of highs and of lows and for your unwavering commitment and dedication to the success of the club above all else. Thank you for being a leader I can ultimately be proud of in every respect and who just by sheer virtue of who you are inspires me to be better. Thank you for creating Fergie time and for allowing me to fundamentally believe nothing is ever done until it’s done. Thank you for never allowing anyone to be bigger than the club and what it represents and for never allowing any ego or actions to over shadow the honor of the club. Thank you for allowing us, the fans, to be part of something magical and historical for all these years. Thank you for it all Sir!

I hope by some slim miracle I have the honor of shaking your hand one day and looking you in the eye to deliver this thank you in person.

Goodbye Sir Alex, you will remain in our hearts and our stories always and we will forever be your Red Army!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYRG3YDGLUM

A fun few weeks in the big city!

As 2012 slipped away I was fairly ambivalent about what I had achieved last year and so I promised myself I would do more, travel more (for pleasure) and experience more, I mean lets be fair living in shanghai is an opportunity that needs to be grabbed by the proverbial balls. This seems to be gaining some good traction!

One of the greatest things about living in a big city is that there is constantly something happening in the city. That is besides the 500 restaurants and bars opening and closing every month, Shanghai fashion week, auto show etc.

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April was a rather busy month all in all. I moved from a serviced apartment in Xintiandi which is basically like living in an apartment sized hotel room inside Melrose Arch, which is basically the upper East Side of Manhattan. This sounds like a great setup, and it is, in the beginning, but when you have seen the breakfast room and the hotel sized gym for the 300th time it starts to get rather claustrophobic!

A traditional Chinese lane house is the new destination for a year. This is basically a small lane off a normal road in the old French concession with blocks of 6 story houses on either side of it, you can either take a floor, two floors or the whole thing! Ours has been renovated for the last 6 months so it is all Chinese (including the very loud, very communal neighbors) and all modern Laowai on the inside!

In between that there were a few surprise events. The first was the Shanghai GP. I’m not a massive F1 fan, I’m not sure why I guess I just never got into it really but from a day at the races I can clearly see what all the fuss is about.

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From the parade of the drivers around the track to hearing those cars roar around the track at speeds that are barely comprehensible I have to say this does seem like something I could get used to. The only down side I would have to say was the spectacle!

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The Chinese are generally pretty good putting on a fairly decent show but in this particular instance there was very little to show off. The stands outside were poor, the big screens were not existent and you had to rely on the ever present iPhone to work out who was even in the lead.

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Lastly the crashes were terrible, meaning there were none but I suppose that’s uncontrollable

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After that it was off to an orchid festival at the Shanghai botanical garden which is basically four monumental glass cocoon type structures filled with 30 000 orchid displays from countries around the world, apparently orchid displays are big in the competitive world, similar to competitive cup stacking or roshambo.

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Every possible shape size and color of orchid in existence is housed in these massive human sculptures and needless to say was seriously impressive!

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One main hall just had individual entries. Bouquets and single displays of orchids lead you through a room filled with personal creation from around the world until one solitary orchid stood alone in a room, the one orchid to rule them all, the winner!! I have no idea why it won and I have no idea why anyone cares but here it is!

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Outside of this is a garden path that looks like something Willy Wonka created, with flowers of type and color I’ve never seen in my life, leading into a modern designed gargantuan stone quarry.

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It’s nice to get a little out of the city and get a bit of fresh air especially when you see the greatest of Chinese innovation in toiletry. A public moveable toilet that counts the amount of time you spend in there (the electronic board above the sign) – as if there wasn’t enough pressure, apparently it’s called a ‘Emiction Compartment’

IMG_9717Lastly this month was the grandiose Shanghai auto show. It pretty much consists of 20 of the biggest halls I’ve ever seen in my life housing every car manufacturer I’ve seen, heard of and couldn’t make up.

From the glamorous Lambos, Ferraris, Bentlys, Porches, Astons and on and on, to the genius’s at SMART car who probably were the most fun.

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Then of course there are the extras! Mercedes and BMW fly in their cleaning crews for the show cars from Germany to the Italian companies who more importantly fly in their models.

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One stand out mention does have to go to the home grown Chinese supercar. It may have been ugly as hell from the front but the rest of it was seriously slick – they catch up quick over here!

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For me though the winners were quite simple. The Koenigsegg in matte white, carbon fibre and baby blue was simply sensational, that car just is something to be marveled at. The new Range Rover sport is for me currently the best 4×4 vehicle alive out there and then finally the new Jag F type (not in this crap colour) which I think may need to be purchased along side the Range sport if I ever return home! 

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All in all it is a massively sexy day of dream cars, fun cars and futuristic jetpacks from every corner on earth!







 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Japan, Ryokans and the Cherry Blossoms . . .

Five days, two 150 year old Ryokans, The height of Cherry Blossoms blooming, 9 tasting menus, The Ritz and a train or two.

Let me break the experience down into pieces . . .

Japan in general . . .

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After being in Shanghai a year you start to ignore and forget the daily things that used to seriously piss me off when I first arrived. The pushing into elevators when people haven’t come out, the lack of courtesy walking down a street and the snort and spit on the pavement.

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When you go to Japan though, in my limited experience, you quite quickly start to realize what a humble and polite people they are (this may get me kicked out of China but still). They are gentle, kind, helpful and endearing! They have a way about them that feels like you are consistently somewhere you are wanted, liked and appreciated!

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The way they express things and the way they talk is calm and to the point but in a loving way. There expressions are charming yet ancient and their outlook on life is everlasting!

Ryokans and Hotels . . .

To stay in a Ryokan is something quite special. The two I chose were Seikoro and Sumiya as they are quintessential representations of the ancient culture and civilization of Japan. When you arrive and are greeted you immediately feel the humble nature of the people and the history and heritage in the institution that has been around for 150 years.

You sit, slowly take off your shows and slip on traditional Japanese in door slippers. You transition into a world long gone, instantly.

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The room is simple, cozy and leads onto the most exquisite Japanese garden outside. The seats are on the floor and in the afternoon are quickly removed and replaced by your bed. Western luxuries exist but are hidden away for those who don’t want the distraction.

Wake up is early, if you want or rather is expected, with a traditional style bath (they prefer you to use the communal baths as this is customary – for R10 000 a night I really preferred my own bathroom, call me a snob but I’m just not a fan of the communal showers since my boarding house or prison days) which consists of sitting on a midget stool while washing and hand showering and then climbing into a hot deep wooden bath – this process can be repeated several times.

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While you are getting ready your room is re-transformed into a seated breakfast room with and array of dishes in every shape color and form, freshly prepared, clean and healthy (more on this later) served by what us Westerners term a butler, a term that has been horribly bastardised from the noble profession it once was (thanks Downton Abbey). This was a quiet, humble, educated and traditional women (who did sound a little like Mogwai from Gremlins when she spoke)

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You head out for the day to what I will explain a little later and return for evening green tea, authentically made in powder form and mixed into a sweet, bitter combination of intense flavor accompanied by a sweet biscuit. No extreme cookies or cupcakes of decadence, the main focus is the simplicity of elegance and natural beauty, I guess this could be a framework for Japan in general.

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Dinner is then served in the same quantity and variety as breakfast . . .

Then you head out for the blossoms and temples by night!

After four days in Ryokans the change to the Ritz Carlton in Osaka was happily anticlimactic if that makes any sense. It was nice to get to the absolute decadence of a corner suite at the Ritz but it was completely over shadowed by the quiet peaceful elegance of these small 150 year old establishments.

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Never the less a when you get out of the full sized standing shower and put on those massive Ritz white robes it’s hard not to appreciate it!

The Food.

I live to eat, I always have (except this week I’m currently on a liquid only detox for the first time in my life) but this trip was never planned around the eating and yet somehow it managed to be a massive highlight. Like I said every morning and night in the Ryokans was a feast of tasting menu perfection.

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First though a surprising stumble around the neighborhood to see a nighttime feast of blossoms down one of the streets meant we stumbled across a quaint looking restaurant, being 10 at night and they were still open we stumbled in sat down (actually they only took cash so they made one of there 7 chefs walk us ten minutes to an ATM) and quickly realized this was something special. As soon as a restaurant tells you they have one menu for tasting, they have 10 seats and 7 chefs you know something magical is happening. We managed to get a table at one of the best restaurants in the country called Guilo Guilo off the street while the friendly Aussies next to us booked 2 months in advance and could only get a 10pm seating. Sometimes I feel I’m destined to eat!

Epicurean splendor ensued . . .

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From there in to 8 Ryokan menus was absolutely hedonistic-ally fantastic. This is pretty much what every breakfast and dinner looked like from then for the next few days!

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IMG_8544As a treat, as food markets always are, we hit the ‘kitchen of Kyoto’ or Niishiki market for a few hours. This single street that spans 8 blocks houses every fresh, dried, smoked and cooked thing possible to purchase (including a little delicious donut surprise!).  I decided to partake in the sweet teriyaki baby octopus on a stick complete with pickled quale’s egg stuffed in its head!

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After escaping roughly 100 courses later we thought we could slow the consumption rate by getting to the Ritz and quietly sneaking off to a local sushi place. Needless to say the suggestion from the concierge was closed and turning to city guides for advice in a sudden rain storm proved to be fruitful as we were directed to XEX, again by coincidence and again one of the best in the city, for another tasting menu!

By this point I had been so full for so long I could barely take pics of the ice bar, fresh sashimi and another 10 courses. It was only lunchtime!

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After passing out from lack of blood to the brain for a few hours it was on to what was supposed to be the ONLY pre planned culinary event. The Michelin starred IPPOH tempura restaurant. Complete with private room, private chef and a tasting menu through every kind of tempura possible, of course coupled with a few bottles of saki and once again served by a humble women in traditional dress.

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The blossoms . . .

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I can barely explain a cherry blossom tree if you haven’t seen a real one. I don’t mean a half arsed one that exists in most places in the world, I mean a tree so packed with blossoms it looks like it’s going to explode into a cloud of white and pink fluff!

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These trees are mesmerizing in their pearl white and candy floss pink and as they blow in the wind they shed these beautiful flowers. I have seen few things in the world this surreal and beautiful.

There are a few highlights.

Philosophers walk is a canal that stretches about 3 kilometers and down almost all of it are these perfect blossoms lining the canal and falling slowly down into the water creating a white blanket over the water.

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IMG_9088Maruyama Park is another magical place. Below the trees everyone sets up picnics or for drinking games or to relax with their family, mostly students drinking games, then the restaurants setup tables to lie down, drink your body weight in Asahi beer and stare up at the magical white blossoms with the sun shining perfectly through. Not a bad place to spend a day!

 

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Lastly Kiyomidzu Temple at night is enthralling, it sits on a cliff overlooking the city and the scaffolding built hundreds of years ago supporting the entire structure is made without a single nail, did I mention the Japanese are genius designers in every respect. The Temples lit up at night are unbelievable to go along with the lit up blossoms all around the mountain.

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As a final word on these amazing trees I have to say that the biggest surprise is how they look at night. The trees are all lit from below at night making every street look like an old black and white movie. There cannot be many more places on this earth better to be for 10 days during Cherry Blossom season!

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