This Month on Maction Planet – February 2024

February is typically the quietest month on Maction Planet in terms of tours, but that just means we’re at 80% capacity instead of 100% capacity! Of course, the remaining time is spent on the trip planning we have been commissioned to do for later in the year… and to prepare for Hanami season. What better preparation than to be as busy as possible?! We continue…

Featured image: So good to guide Ira and Courtney again – they were guests of mine in February 2019. Now, 4 years on, they were back in Tokyo and better than ever, with sons Max and Niko in tow. I was very proud to see them sporting Tokyo Yakult Swallows gear! Can’t wait until we are together again for the first time… again!

February is Plum Blossom season in the World’s Greatest Metropolis. I love the plum bonsai trees at Yushima Tenjin. Many people associate bonsai with pine, but there are others!

I wrote extensively about the history and cultural significance of Plum Blossom season in my ‘Ode to Ume‘, so head there to find out more about the importance of this most beautiful of blossoms.

Before Japan switched from the Chinese zodiac to the Gregorian calendar in 1873, Setsubun – which is almost always celebrated on 3 February – was thought of not only as ushering in the start of spring but of the New Year itself. It was effectively New Year’s Eve, so many Setsubun traditions are associated with bringing good luck for the coming year, and banishing bad luck away. The practice of mamemaki, for example, is meant to chase bad spirits away. “Mamemaki” literally means “bean scattering”, and it’s a central part of Setsubun. At temples and in homes across the country, people throw roasted soybeans while shouting, “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (“Devils out, fortune in”), sometimes at a person in a mask (in a home, usually the father) playing the part of an oni, an evil spirit that brings bad luck and ill health. The beans are supposed to scare them away, and help usher in good fortune instead. Afterwards, people eat the number of beans that corresponds to their age, or the age they’ll turn in the coming year, which is thought to bring good luck.

For more about this fun tradition, check out our Ode to Setsubun!

Hanging out with the Pretschs for four full days was a real pleasure. And by full, I mean full! We still found time though to execute a Maction Planet tradition under the Kaminarimon lantern at Sensoji.

While Pretschs were away in Hakone, I headed to teamLab Borderless. I was honoured to be invited to the Presss Day, which was held a few days before its Grand Opening on 9 February. I used this photo as the Featured image for my post celebrating the seventh anniversary of our website, Thank you for all your support!

What is teamLab Borderless? I dropped 80 minutes of teamLab ASMR for your viewing pleasure!

Every few years Tokyo gets a lot of snow. 2024 was one of those years. Not quite the 2018 epic, but fun nonetheless, unless your travel plans were messed up. It did lead to some photos of our major sites, like this shot I snapped while guiding at Meiji Jingu.

Taylor Swift’s opening night in Tokyo with the Pretschs. ‘Nuff said.

I am normally pretty strict about including only one photo per event/tour, as otherwise, these blog posts would be insanely long. Taylor is one of the very few who can command a second shot. The “Swiftonomics” effect on Japan from her four days of shows in Tokyo from 7-10 February was estimated at around ¥34 bn ($230 million), according to the Economic Impact Research Laboratory.

I collaborated with Venture Whisky and Chichibu Tourism to bring two incredible tours to drinks fans, allowing them to visit the normally closed-to-the-public Chichibu Distillery… and much more! Our tour on 7-9 February 2024 was a more in-depth exploration of the Chichubu area, including a Nagatoro River Cruise, drinks coaster making, sake brewery tour and tasting, stunning icicle landscapes, devastatingly good meals… and more! One of the highlights was a Special BBQ lunch in a private campsite surrounded by nature hosted by BBQ master Asaga, whose skills are endorsed by the US Embassy! He prepared an exclusive, locally sourced menu – spare ribs with Chichibu miso sauce, anyone – washed down with all-you-can-drink Chichibu Craft Beer on DRAFT – it’s normally only available in bottles. Post BBQ, we sipped on Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu Red Wine Cask 2023 Single Malt and their Mizunara Wood Reserve (which goes well with a bonfire!)

Scrooge McDuckGreat meeting with Scrooge McDuck at Tokyo DisneySea earlier this week. The first step towards Maction x McDuck World Domination. Stay tuned!

Queen and Adam Lambert were in town on 13 and 14 February. I went on the opening night and bumped into this legend!

Don’t mind me, just hanging out at the Hakushu Distillery warehouse…

The 2024 Chichibu Whisky Matsuri was held on 18 February 2024. An incredible time was had by all.

Look who I bumped into while I was wandering the streets taking some downtime from the drams: Ichiro Akuto, Founder of the Chichibu Distillery!

On 16 February, I was treated to an evening of “Oto x Anko”, a collaboration event between the trailblazing koto player Asuka and Takeno to Ohagi, who brought ohagi for everyone in attendance at Streamer Coffee in Nakameguro. In addition to DJ performances by DJ 246 and Azumi (Wyolica), the highlight was seeing the Takeno to Ohagi staff decorating Ohagi while Asuka played live on the koto, which resulted in an arrangement inspired by the music. Truly a delight for all the senses!

One of these individuals is a tour guide, one likes posing for selfies and the other enjoys hot baths. Guess who is who!

Yes, this is a ‘hotel’ that you can stay in, just like I did. Thank you to Nazuna Kyoto Tsubaki St. for inviting me to experience their wonderful luxury ryokan renovated from an entire L-shaped alleyway of machiya (traditional Japanese townhouses) spanning 1,400 sqm, built over 110 years ago!

I was honoured to participate in the launch event for the KI NOH BI 28th Edition, a special cask-aged gin released by the Kyoto Dsitlerry as part of their Noh series, at the historic residence of Genho-in in Kyoto on 23 February. Guests enjoyed a mesmerizing dance performance of ‘Sho-jo’ by a Kongo school Noh performer, a tasting of the KI NOH BI 28th Edition, and an exquisite pairing kaiseki dinner by the renowned Michelin restaurant “Shimogamo Saryo,” established in 1856, with cocktails from KI NO BI Global Advocacy Manager Marcy Sakuma. We also got to take away a limited edition label bottle of the KI NOH BI 28th Edition created exclusively for this night!

I enjoyed a dramatic encounter at Tokyo’s National Stadium on Wednesday, Japan edged out North Korea 2-1, thereby cementing their spot at the Paris Olympic Games for Futoshi Ikeda’s team. Despite settling for a goalless tie in the first leg in Jeddah on Saturday, Japan surged ahead with goals from Hana Takahashi and Aoba Fujino. However, a late goal from North Korea’s Kim Hye Yong made for a tense finale. This victory ensures Japan’s presence as one of the two Asian representatives at the Olympics, alongside Australia, who secured their position with a decisive victory over Uzbekistan in the qualification for the 12-team tournament in Paris. Spectacular pre-match drone show too!

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