• A Weekend Break In Snow Country

    Minami Uonuma in southeastern Niigata is an area known for its flavorful rice and deep snow. It is just a short drive north of Yuzawa, where novelist Yasunari Kawabata, who won the 1968 Nobel Prize for Literature, set his famous novel, “Snow Country.” So, when we visited the region in late January, the view from the rotenburo, or open air bath, at our lodgings in Minami Uonuma was not quite what I had expected. The hills in the distance were… Read more »

  • Of samurai and storehouses – Aizu Wakamatsu and Kitakata.

    On the morning of Oct. 23, 1868, 19 young soldiers between the ages of 15 and 17 took their own lives on Mt Iimori in the castle town of Aizu Wakamatsu, Fukushima prefecture. It was the year after Japan’s military government had been overthrown and the Aizu domain, which rebelled against the new government, was under siege. The young soldiers, the sons of Aizu samurai who were members of the Byakkotai (White Tiger Force), had been forced to flee from… Read more »

  • Art, both modern and rustic, beckons in Aomori

    The massive steed stands on powerful hind legs, its forelegs thrashing high above our heads, while its coat — a mosaic of multicolored flowers – brings to mind a horse in a child’s picture book. It is the iconic, 5.5-meter-high monument standing at the entrance of the Towada Art Center, a contemporary art museum that bears the name of the city located deep inside Aomori Prefecture, northern Japan. My friend and I dropped by the museum on our travels through… Read more »

  • Karuizawa – A Tale of Two Shoppers

    The day felt like somewhere between late winter and early spring as we dashed to Tokyo station and jumped on an early Shinkansen train to the mountain resort town of Karuizawa hoping for some retail therapy and much needed relaxation in hotspring baths at Hoshino Onsen. It was the perfect time to visit without the crowds of spring, summer and autumn. We’d heard about the infamous two-hour taxi ride through unreasonable seasonal traffic from Karuizawa station to the outer reaches… Read more »

  • Kumano Kodo – Discovering mysteries of the Kii peninsula

    The mountain path is deep, dark and dense with trees that send their gnarled roots over the verdant forest floor. Some of the moss-covered trunks shoot up to the skies while others, massive and aged, seem to merge with hulking rocks that stand in the way of all but the most intrepid traveler. We are standing at the entrance to an ancient pilgrimage route – one of seven trails that have for centuries led the faithful into these forbidding mountains… Read more »

  • Parks with “Flower Power”

    The Japanese custom of admiring flowers to mark the seasons reaches a high point in early spring when the entire national consciousness seems to be focused on the annual flowering of the cherry blossoms. Once the delicate pale pink blooms of the Somei Yoshino cherry trees have lost their luster and blown away, Japan’s flower fever indeed subsides, but hardly fades away. Instead, late spring and early summer are times for more showy specimens, from the purple clusters of hanging… Read more »

  • Yoshino – Sakura Spectacle

    The ritual procession made its way slowly along the narrow road that weaves its way up Yoshino Mountain in Nara prefecture, as local residents and tourists alike looked on, transfixed with delight at witnessing such a propitious event.  It was the peak of the sakura season in Yoshino, an area famous for its cherry trees, and the long line of mountain priests, men in traditional festival attire or goblin costumes, worshippers and children, was headed to Kinpusenji, the most important… Read more »

  • Yugawara – Ancient Relics, Hot Springs and the Deep, Blue Sea

    Of the many legends about the origins of the hot springs at Yugawara, south of Tokyo, my favorite one tells the story of Gyouki, the high priest of Yakushiji Temple in Nara. According to this tale, while Gyouki was traveling through the country seeking funds for the construction of the Great Buddha of Nara, he met an ailing beggar in the mountains of Hakone, west of Tokyo. Gyouki carried the beggar on his back and, following his directions, descended the… Read more »

  • A Long Weekend in Nara

    Kyoto, with its exquisite gardens, picturesque pagodas and impressive temples, has always been a popular place to revel in the fiery hues of autumn. But with the recent surge in tourism, which has resulted in unmanageable crowds and congested traffic, the city has become almost impossible to enjoy. During one long weekend in autumn, crowds of tourists in Kyoto filled the streets, obstructing traffic and causing general discomfort to local residents and, ironically, to the visitors themselves. Fortunately, the ancient… Read more »

  • History, Hot Springs and a Hamlet from a Bygone Era in Kagoshima

    The mountain seemed to be staring at us wherever we went. It sat quietly spewing an almost indiscernible puff of white smoke, dominating the skyline of Kagoshima city and the coastline that stretches from there in an arc around the eponymous bay to its east. The mountain, known as Sakurajima, or Cherry Blossom Island, sits forbiddingly in the bay on the southern coast of the island of Kyushu, one of Japan’s four main islands. It is the country’s most active… Read more »

  • A Glimpse of Unspoiled Nature in Hokkaido

    “There’s a bear over there!,” the young man seated next to me exclaimed as he pointed excitedly at the shore. “It’s right by the fishing nets on the beach, close to the water,” he added, prompting the other 39 passengers on our boat to pull out their binoculars in a bid to glimpse the furry animal we had all been hoping to see that afternoon. We were on one of the small cruise boats that travel along the coast of… Read more »

  • Enjoying the pageantry of a bygone era – The Soma Nomaoi Festival

    In another age I might have had to prostate myself in front of the samurai warriors mounted on their steeds. But, this was the 21st century and I was a tourist cheerfully snapping pictures as the single column of “warriors” riding their colorfully decorated thoroughbreds passed by. I had journeyed from Tokyo to the northern part of Fukushima Prefecture to see the Soma Nomaoi Festival, which began as a feudal military exercise more than 1,000 years ago. A horse race… Read more »