• Navigating the Hills and History of Nagasaki

    At the top of a particularly steep hill that leads to the historic foreigners’ quarters of Nagasaki, there is an unusual traffic sign with an illustration of a bicycle and a diagonal line running along either side of it, indicating “no bicycles.” It isn’t that the flagstone-paved street is reserved for pedestrians. There are plenty of cars going up and down the hill, known as “Oranda-zaka” or “Hollander Slope,” after the foreign residents who could be seen walking to and… Read more »

  • Jinya – Home to Totoro’s Tree

    Tokyoites in need of a break from the hustle and bustle of city life usually head to the hot springs and scenic comforts of Hakone or Izu, which are within easy reach of the megalopolis by car or train. But relatively few of them may know that there is an onsen, or hot spring town, which is even closer to Tokyo than either of the city’s best-known getaway sanctuaries. Tsurumaki Onsen is a small town in Kanagawa prefecture, which has… Read more »

  • Iya Valley – A Glimpse of Lost Japan

    Soaking in a pool of hot spring water just a couple of meters above a river, engulfed in darkness and surrounded by the sound of water and faintly rustling trees is a wonderful way to commune with nature. But in Iya Valley, on the island of Shikoku, the hot springs around the Iya River lie deep at the bottom of a rocky gorge, which makes them fairly inaccessible to all but the most determined of bathers. Not to worry. Hotel… Read more »

  • Shodoshima – a Scenic Sanctuary in the Inland Sea

    The trees along the mountaintops were just beginning to show hints of autumnal gold and vermillion, the villages dotting the narrow road that wound its way inland from the coast were deserted, and everything seemed as one would have expected on a secluded island long after the summer crowds had gone. But Shodoshima, a small island in the Seto Inland Sea off the southwest coast of Japan’s main island, Honshu, turned out to hold a few surprises when we visited… Read more »

  • Azumino

    The man from the bicycle shop was standing at the street corner waiting for the lights to change, when he saw us waving energetically in his direction. He was clearly puzzled by our outbursts of greeting, but nonetheless smiled broadly and waved back enthusiastically, arms flapping in the air. We had actually been waving to friends walking a fair distance behind him who had not noticed our presence across the street. Soon enough the traffic lights changed, the misunderstanding was… Read more »

  • Au Depart – a stylish wine bar inside Karuizawa station

    On a stopover in the fashionable mountain resort town of Karuizawa in southeastern Nagano prefecture, we noticed a stylish new wine bar that would easily win the award for “most ingenious use of a disused railway platform” – if there were such a prize in Japan. With its understated shop front, Au Depart is conveniently located just outside the Karuizawa station building but within the station compound. The brainchild of some local winemakers and a wine-loving entrepreneur, the goal of the… Read more »

  • Trekking in the Forests of Yakushima

    Even when our car drove up right beside them, the two monkeys sitting on the side of the road pretended to ignore us. The larger one continued to pick fleas off her smaller companion as she cast a surreptitious look our way. But on the whole the monkeys seemed untroubled by our presence. “It’s a mother and child,” our guide informed us. “Monkeys on the island don’t bother people because we don’t feed them,” was his explanation for the animals’… Read more »

  • Tea cups by Hideki Yamashita

    Mashiko Pottery Fair – a Crafts Lovers’ Paradise

    For most of the year, Mashiko is a sleepy little town of kilns, pottery shops and vegetable farms that seems to have been forgotten by the rest of the world. The last time I visited, a few years ago, the main street was deserted, many of the shops appeared to be closed and there were few indications of the legendary fame the town enjoys as the adopted home of Shoji Hamada, a leading figure of Japan’s folk art movement and… Read more »

  • One of the buildings in Hokkeji Temple

    The Slow-Paced Charm of Nara

    Nara, the ancient capital of Japan, is the Yin to Kyoto’s Yang. While Kyoto abounds with grand temples and flamboyant shrines aimed originally at flaunting the wealth and power of the lords and monks that ruled the day, Nara is a quieter, more relaxed and down-to-earth city, perfect for weaving your way through back alleys on a rented bike or taking a leisurely stroll through the old part of town, known as Naramachi. Nara certainly has its share of tourists,… Read more »

  • Sendai Excursion – Pine trees, Kokeshi Dolls and Scrumptious Organic Vegetables

    Traveling in Sendai and environs. If you look hard enough at the two craggy rocks, jutting out of the silvery waters of Matsushima Bay one atop the other, you just might be able to make out the “cigar,” supposedly perched in the mouth of Niou, the wrathful Deva King who guards the entrance to Buddhist temples. Known as Nioujima, or Niou Island, the oddly-shaped natural structure is supposed to look like a Niou statue smoking a cigar in the middle… Read more »

  • Kiln-hopping in Kyushu

    In Japan, you don’t have to go far to find a potter. From Hokkaido to Okinawa, they are here, there and everywhere. Many live and work in beautiful places out in the country. Visiting their workshops can be both fun and fascinating. Plus buying pots directly from the artist not only makes a wonderful souvenir, it also supports a deeply rooted ceramics tradition. On a recent trip to Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, we had the pleasure of kiln-hopping by… Read more »

  • Grand Shrine of Ise

    It is one of the most popular destinations in Japan, visited by more than 7m worshippers and tourists each year and revered as the spiritual home of the Japanese people. But Ise Jingu, or the Grand Shrine of Ise, is also a mystifying site that, to many Japanese, is likely to seem at once familiar and strange. It was this paradox that I found most striking when I visited Ise Jingu recently on a pilgrimage that most Japanese are encouraged… Read more »