Great Art Fireworks

SEEING STARS IN KYOTO

We couldn’t resist the email invitation that heralded the arrival of summer: “Come join us in Kyoto for hanabi fireworks this June.” Within a day, we had booked our shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo and a hotel near Kyoto station.  The invitation had come from Makoto Fukuda, a charismatic former rock’n’roll impresario who had managed some top Japanese bands in the 1990s. He retired from the music scene some years ago and began producing hanabi, or fireworks extravaganzas, throughout Japan,… Read more »

Jijinoie: ‘Grandpa’s House,’ new age ideas, traditional roots

I awoke to the feel of soft sheets, the pleasantly grassy smell of tatami, and the sound of… absolutely nothing apart from the rustle of leaves in the breeze. As my eyes grew accustomed to the half-light of sunrise, filtering in through traditional shoji screens, I reflected on why Jijinoie, a rural inn in Chiba prefecture where I was spending my third weekend in under a year, holds such a special place in my Japanese experience. It occurred to me… Read more »

Unearthing the hidden charms of Ebisu-Nishi

A little over a year ago my husband and I swapped the vibrant chaos of East London for the cosmopolitan tranquility of Tokyo, seeking to propel ourselves out of our comfort zone and experience life in entirely unfamiliar surroundings. Keen to have more opportunities to practice our fledgling Japanese, we decided to live slightly outside the usual expat circuit of Aoyama and Hiroo, and settled in an area formally known as Ebisu-Nishi, nestled between Ebisu and Daikanyama stations. The wider area is framed by the… Read more »

From Kitsch to Cool – Sayonara Shopping at Narita

Air travel is an essential part of 21st century life, especially for residents of the island nation of Japan. An overseas trip can mean jetlag ranging from a few hours to the better part of a day and many hours of forced stillness while cramped into a small space. While passing through Terminal 1 at Narita Airport on a recent occasion, I realized that the newly updated shopping arcade there might be the perfect place to actively flex one’s ”retail… Read more »

Great Art Fireworks

SEEING STARS IN KYOTO

We couldn’t resist the email invitation that heralded the arrival of summer: “Come join us in Kyoto for hanabi fireworks this June.” Within a day, we had booked our shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo and a hotel near Kyoto station.  The invitation had come from Makoto Fukuda, a charismatic former rock’n’roll impresario who had managed some top Japanese bands in the 1990s. He retired from the music scene some years ago and began producing hanabi, or fireworks extravaganzas, throughout Japan,… Read more »

Asai lunch - dessert

Restaurant Asai – innovative Japanese haute cuisine

Japanese haute cuisine is an art form that takes many years to master, so it is heartening to see young chefs trained in this rigorous tradition using their well-honed skills to come up with contemporary takes on time-honored dishes. One of the best of these inventive chefs I encountered recently is Taichi Asai, whose eponymous kaiseki restaurant is located on a quiet back street off Roppongi-dori in the Nishi Azabu neighborhood. Restaurant Asai, as it is called in English, is… Read more »

streamer movement

A Mesmerising Collection of Carp Streamers at the National Art Center, Tokyo.

Higher than the roof-tops are the koinobori The large carp is the father The smaller carp are the children They seem to be having fun swimming. Koinobori song, a popular Japanese children’s song (lyrics by Miyako Kondo) Japanese art lovers have long had a soft spot for Impressionism, which is the subject of the main exhibition at the National Art Center, Tokyo (NACT). “Impressionist Masterpieces from the E.G. Buehrle Collection,” has predictably attracted a large number of visitors eager to… Read more »

tofu plate

A Tofu Education at Kamakura Atelier

Home cooking in Tokyo is a challenge for many expats. Faced with small kitchens, unfamiliar foodstuffs, indecipherable labels, inexplicably expensive groceries, alien ovens, a culture which prioritizes eating out over entertaining at home, and a bountiful array of excellent and inexpensive restaurants, most foreigners in Japan dine out far more often than they would elsewhere. In my case, being an inexperienced and somewhat talentless cook adds to my reluctance to be adventurous in my pocket-sized Japanese kitchen. However, I also… Read more »

  • Great Art Fireworks

    SEEING STARS IN KYOTO

    We couldn’t resist the email invitation that heralded the arrival of summer: “Come join us in Kyoto for hanabi fireworks this June.” Within a day, we had booked our shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo and a hotel near Kyoto station.  The invitation had come from Makoto Fukuda, a charismatic former rock’n’roll impresario who had managed some top Japanese bands in the 1990s. He retired from the music scene some years ago and began producing hanabi, or fireworks extravaganzas, throughout Japan,… Read more »

  • Jijinoie: ‘Grandpa’s House,’ new age ideas, traditional roots

    I awoke to the feel of soft sheets, the pleasantly grassy smell of tatami, and the sound of… absolutely nothing apart from the rustle of leaves in the breeze. As my eyes grew accustomed to the half-light of sunrise, filtering in through traditional shoji screens, I reflected on why Jijinoie, a rural inn in Chiba prefecture where I was spending my third weekend in under a year, holds such a special place in my Japanese experience. It occurred to me… Read more »

  • Asai lunch - dessert

    Restaurant Asai – innovative Japanese haute cuisine

    Japanese haute cuisine is an art form that takes many years to master, so it is heartening to see young chefs trained in this rigorous tradition using their well-honed skills to come up with contemporary takes on time-honored dishes. One of the best of these inventive chefs I encountered recently is Taichi Asai, whose eponymous kaiseki restaurant is located on a quiet back street off Roppongi-dori in the Nishi Azabu neighborhood. Restaurant Asai, as it is called in English, is… Read more »

  • Hakone When it Rains

    There are many reasons to visit Hakone, a mountain resort within easy access of Tokyo, from the delightful striking sculpture gardens of the Hakone Open-Air Museum and the spectacular vistas across the Suruga Bay to the region’s famous onsen, or hot spring, baths. But many hapless visitors have found themselves wandering the windy mountain roads of Hakone in downpours so heavy that they render any outdoor activities virtually impossible. Hakone is one of the wettest places in Japan, with an… Read more »

  • Haseshige – a culinary gem in Tokyo’s outer suburbs

    For determined gourmets, part of the appeal of Haseshige is its improbability – its exceedingly drab location in a no man’s land between Tokyo and Yokohama; its unexpectedly stylish yet cosy surroundings, and above all, its excellent food and reasonable prices. We were reluctantly coaxed to undertake the trek from central Tokyo to the distant suburb of Higashi Hakuraku by an enthusiastic friend who had been a Haseshige regular for years. The packed commuter Toyoko line train ride from Tokyo… Read more »

  • streamer movement

    A Mesmerising Collection of Carp Streamers at the National Art Center, Tokyo.

    Higher than the roof-tops are the koinobori The large carp is the father The smaller carp are the children They seem to be having fun swimming. Koinobori song, a popular Japanese children’s song (lyrics by Miyako Kondo) Japanese art lovers have long had a soft spot for Impressionism, which is the subject of the main exhibition at the National Art Center, Tokyo (NACT). “Impressionist Masterpieces from the E.G. Buehrle Collection,” has predictably attracted a large number of visitors eager to… Read more »

  • Refined Japanese Cuisine and Accommodations at the Foot of Mt Fuji

    The area around the five lakes at the foot of Mt Fuji, collectively known as Fujigoko, boasts some of the most breathtaking scenery in Japan. On a clear, calm day or early evening, the majestic mountain’s reflection on the lakes’ crystal surface produces a mirror effect, which is affectionately referred to as “sakasa-Fuji”, or “upside-down Fuji.” The spring water that trickles down from Mt Fuji is so fresh and thirst-quenching that many visitors come equipped with empty plastic bottles to… Read more »

  • Enoura Observatory glass stage

    Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Stunning Enoura Observatory

    The Odawara Art Foundation’s stunning Enoura Observatory only opened to the public in late 2017, but in that short time has drawn such enthusiastic recommendations that I was eager to see it for myself. I wasn’t disappointed. At Enoura, situated in the Hakone mountains along the coast between Odawara and Atami, architect Hiroshi Sugimoto has created an artistic treat for the eyes and mind in a sprawling citrus grove overlooking the sea. Despite its peaceful rural location, I found Enoura… Read more »

  • Oshima – Sophisticated Kaga Cuisine in the Heart of Shinjuku

    When it comes to the total number of eateries concentrated in one neighborhood, few places are likely to beat Shinjuku. Whether it is along an underground passageway to the subway or amid the vast forest of high-rise buildings, every available space in Shinjuku seems to be inhabited by a noodle shop, izakaya, café or fast-food joint ready to fill an empty tummy. Many of these eateries cater to the busy commuter or harried shopper, eager to tame their hunger pangs… Read more »

  • Café California – a French-Japanese collaboration

    At the risk of sounding slightly elitist, I must confess that I see hotel restaurants as places to be avoided. This is not only because hotel restaurants tend to be overpriced, they often serve uninspired food in anodyne surroundings. Only if I am staying overnight in unfamiliar territory and am desperate for a bite before retiring for the day, or need a foolproof meeting place, do I take the “easy option” of dining in-house. So, I was pleasantly surprised when… Read more »

  • Creative Vietnamese Cuisine and More at Ăn Di

    Given its abundant use of fresh herbs, its relatively delicate yet complex flavors and French-influenced refinement, Vietnamese cuisine would seem to be a natural favorite of Japanese foodies. So, it is seems somewhat surprising that while there are many restaurants in Tokyo that serve Vietnamese dishes, there are few that offer Vietnamese haute cuisine or venture creative interpretations of Vietnamese staples, such as fried and fresh spring rolls or pho noodle soups. Many years ago, we were able to enjoy… Read more »

  • tofu plate

    A Tofu Education at Kamakura Atelier

    Home cooking in Tokyo is a challenge for many expats. Faced with small kitchens, unfamiliar foodstuffs, indecipherable labels, inexplicably expensive groceries, alien ovens, a culture which prioritizes eating out over entertaining at home, and a bountiful array of excellent and inexpensive restaurants, most foreigners in Japan dine out far more often than they would elsewhere. In my case, being an inexperienced and somewhat talentless cook adds to my reluctance to be adventurous in my pocket-sized Japanese kitchen. However, I also… Read more »