All for One in Land of the Rising Sun

By Richard Mineards   |   November 22, 2018
Anne Towbes and her sister, Suzy Farbman, with Hiroko Benko

Condor Express owner Hiroko Benko has been having a whale of a time visiting her native Japan with friends, including Montecito’s Anne Towbes and her sister, Suzy Farbman.

The eclectic itinerary included the Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto, which had particular meaning for Hiroko, given a relative, Kobori Enshu, designed the garden in the Edo period for a younger brother of an emperor.

It is considered one of the country’s most important large-scale cultural treasures.

But Hiroko revealed getting tickets for access was not easy.

A friend, Paul Guido, who was traveling with Stephen Blain and two friends from Palm Springs, tried online from Santa Barbara without success.

“My relatives, the Kobori family, surprisingly failed and even the head monk of Kinkakuji – the Golden Pavilion – had no luck. Finally, our bus driver suggested going to the site directly in the morning, which we did. Fortunately, that did the trick.”

Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto

Other stops in the itinerary included the Hiroshima Peace Park, Osaka Castle, the Osamu Noguchi Museum in Takamatsu, Naoshima Island, and dinner with one of Japan’s most senior geishas, Miharu, in Kyoto, after she performed at Gion Odori.

Hiroko’s trip had a spirited ending with a ghostly visit in her room at Kyoto’s Tawaraya Ryokan.

“I wasn’t surprised, given the 1,300-year history of the old capital of Japan where there were many battles and deaths. My group laughed at me when I recounted the tale.”

Hiroko is planning a return trip after the Tokyo Olympics.


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