Sunday, 11 August 2013

IPP 33 - Narita, Japan - the beginning

Getting there...
The drive down to Heathrow from Birmingham was pretty uneventful until I cut up a black cab who was hiding behind a large truck ... We both survived unscathed. At the check-in desk I asked whether there were any aisle seats as when I'd checked in the night before, there had only been middle seats available. After confirming that the cabin was unfortunately full ... in fact the entire plane had only 3 spare seats on it, the lady at the desk offered to sell me an upgrade to Business class for £499 ... I thanked her and declined and mentioned that I was treating myself on the way back so I'd slum it on the way out (I'd used all of Gill's air miles to upgrade to First on the way back). Hearing that, she hopped on the phone to someone somewhere and in a couple of minutes I'd been upgraded to business class for free... :-) Fantastic!

Had a lovely comfortable flight out to Narita although flying backwards took a little getting used to - especially taking off backwards... I got stopped at customs on the way into Narita and they were quite interested in my boxes of exchange puzzles, until I told them they were puzzles and that I was here for an International Puzzle Party, at which point I got waved through as just another nutter!

I found the hotel shuttle bus and climbed on board to find it totally empty ... until Wil Strijbos climbed on board too! Turned out we'd been on the same flight and I hadn't spotted him in the crowd at boarding .... and I'd stupidly assumed he'd be flying from Germany or the Netherlands!  We caught up quickly on the way to the hotel and duly rebranded it an official IPP bus given that the occupants were all IPP delegates! When we got to the hotel we found that we couldn't check in yet as it was barely 10am so we loitered in the hotel lobby with a few puzzles.

The puzzling begins...
I haul out my copy of Cover Ups for the first time along with my little yellow burr (actually called Four Mirror One, an Osanori Yamamoto design printed by Chris Purssell). While we're enjoying a little light puzzling Hendrik Haak wanders over ... the first of many puzzlers we're going to be bumping into...

We get checked in and have a quick shower before heading into town to visit Torito - Meiko's wonderful emporium of puzzles. I manage to find a bunch of puzzles that I've only ever seen on auctions just lined up on the shelves. They have a terrific stock of Hikimi puzzles, ALL of the Hanayamas, and lots of puzzles by Minoru Abe and Kohfuh Satoh. I spy one last copy of the heavy H-burr and pick that up on my first of several sweeps though the store.

Wil asks Meiko if they can call Teddy at Hanayama to see if they're able to receive a visit from some international puzzlers (which technically I guess we are!). 

While we're waiting for the call to be returned we settle down to play at the puzzling table in the centre of the store. I try and enable a pair of Cast Box puzzles (not particularly successfully) while Hendrik and Wil try and remove the ring from an entanglement puzzle they've discovered lying around. They don't have much success until Hendrik later discovers that someone else had already removed the ring and the bits they were paying with didn't come apart! (I shall pass no comment on the grounds that I will no doubt have done or will do something very similar!)

The call comes from the Hanayama offices down the road that they'd be pleased to have us over so a little while (and a few more purchases) later we head down to the offices. In spite of Meiko having given us directions on our puzzle-hunting map and Wil having been there before, we still don't quite manage to find it without checking with some of the the building the sign boards are all in Japanese so we need of ask some folks standing in the lobby if Hanayama is on the 6th floor and through the international language of nodding and pointing at the number 6 and some Japanese characters they confirm that that's what the sign says! 

Heading upstairs we find the offices and wander in behind Wil who duly greets everyone at the top of his voice and they all return the greeting like they're greeting a long lost friend! We're given cold drinks and shown into the collection / showroom where Teddy Sakamoto joins us for a lovely hour or two's chat and puzzling.

Teddy surprises the three of us with a special edition Cast Cylinder puzzle fresh from its first outing at their speed solving competition on Sunday where the winner took about 19 minutes to solve the puzzle, sight unseen according to Teddy. Unable to restrain ourselves, we take them out and start playing...

Teddy solves Wil's copy reasonably quickly - although he describes the solution as like working with a "black box" while you try and establish which pieces are where and how they behave. Hendrik duly follows suit solving his and I bring up the rear some time later although I fail to reassemble it... all the while we're playing Wil is horsing around taking photo's of Hendrik and I in various states of solving the puzzle, making sure that he has the clock in the background so it's clear just how long it's taken us - I point out a couple of times that he'd better get a calendar in shot as well in order to record my solve time!

We have a really interesting chat with Teddy about the local and export markets for Cast Puzzles and he tells us a bit about some of the upcoming designs, even pulling a brass prototype out of his pocket at one point and passing it around for us to fiddle with.

What seems like really late - in reality only around 7pm - I blame the jet-lag - we head out for a bite to eat and after one or two false starts, Teddy agrees to join us and we head off to a restaurant where Teddy orders a veritable feast for us... while the food may take a little while to start coming - when it does come, it comes in huge quantities and pretty soon the table is groaning with good looking food. Every now and then Teddy would point out what we were eating but we dispensed with that after a few rounds and just ate whatever we'd been presented with, and it was delicious. I disgraced myself several times with horrendous chopstick etiquette, earning myself a gentle lesson from Strijbos on not being rude to our wonderful host.

After dinner we bid Teddy farewell at Akihabara station where we head off back to our hotel - but fail to solve the final puzzle of the day: "return to hotel via express" - we knew what we wanted to do but a combination of misunderstanding some signs at Tokyo station, getting on the wrong train, trains not actually stopping at the airport for some reason we found ourselves in need of some late night travel advice, which was duly provided by a helpful young chap who turned out to be an English teacher. His advice and some further guidance from a friendly conductor who understood no English saw us getting to the station in Narita town where we got a cab back to the hotel... thus completing a day's travel by planes, buses, trains and taxis.

Back at the hotel I took the opportunity to catch up on some emails before crashing for the night ... or at least until 4am at which point I was WIDE AWAKE, so I got up and wrote up my notes of the first day's adventures...

The first day's haul...


  1. OMG, this might give insight into a mystery I never expected to resolve!

    My customs agent was a friendly young man who was immediately curious when I said I was attending a puzzle event--he asked to see what I'd brought. I opened a box containing 16 Peppermint puzzles, all identical, to which he exclaimed "Ah, they are unlike!" He hastily re-stated the last word, "Un-alike!"

    Observing my bewilderment, he tapped the puzzles gestured toward the exit while saying, "These...each...are different. Different to other." I was thoroughly confused because I couldn't discern any differences among them. In hindsight (thanks to your observation) he might have been trying to say he had seen someone else's puzzles previously, and mine were undoubtedly different from any others he had seen.

    He bowed and waved me through with a conciliatory remark, "In Japan we are...we have much love of puzzles. Please enjoy your stay. Please enjoy!"

  2. Excellent!
    I'm looking forward to reading more about you IPP adventure :D

  3. Insanely jealous :-D Enjoy Allard :-D