• 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 »

  • A Long Weekend in Japan’s Snow Country

    Best known as a ski resort, Echigo-Yuzawa in Niigata is also a good starting point for exploring Japan’s snow country. Each winter, heavy snowfall transforms the scenery and shrouds the area in tranquility. Soak in an outside rotenburo bath and watch the snow blanket the surrounding landscape. Then, head to dinner for a taste of Niigata’s famous Uonuma rice and local sake.  

  • Onomichi and its Uber-Cool Hotel for Cyclists

    Onomichi may be a little past its prime, a little over the hill, and a little overlooked by development. But therein lies the charm of this Hiroshima Prefecture town perched at the edge of the Inland Sea. Though once known for its port, Onomichi today is a launch point for the Shimanami Kaido, an island-hopping bike course connecting the islands of Honshu and Shikoku 45-miles away. Catering to that crowd, Onomichi U2 is an uber cool hotel created by the wunderkind… Read more »

  • Autumn in Oyama

    Oyama (丹沢:大山), which is part of the Tanzawa mountain range, has splendid hiking trails and mountain views,  even though it is only a 2-hour trip from central Tokyo. The area is famous for its tofu dishes, pure water and colorful spinning tops.  But the best reasons to go there are the spectacular views from the mountain top  and the natural beauty that each season offers. Experienced hikers will enjoy the men’s trail(男坂), while intermediate hikers should opt for the women’s trail (女坂)…. Read more »

  • Yamadera

    There are certain houses of worship that claim to be the site of a miracle or extraordinary phenomenon, inspiring awe in the faithful and cynical amusement in the unbelieving. Naples Cathedral – known in Italy as Cattedrale di San Gennaro — has a vial of the dried-up blood of Saint Januarius , a 3rd-century Catholic martyr, which is said to liquefy twice a year, including on his feast day. At Yamadera, a temple of Japan’s Tendai Buddhist sect in Yamagata… Read more »

  • Autumn on Mt Fuji

    Autumn arrives early on Mt Fuji where the Karamatsu (Japanese Larch) in the “oniwa,” or garden, and “oku-oniwa,” or inner garden, are stunted, making for a strange landscape reminiscent of Hobbit Land. Those who make it to the one of the viewpoints are rewarded with stunning views of clouds above a mountain range in the distance and, if lucky, the Southern Alps of Japan further afield.

  • Myojinkan

    A half-hour drive from Matsumoto city in Nagano prefecture, along snaking roads with countless twists and turns through densely forested mountain terrain, lies Myojinkan(明神館), a secluded Japanese-style ryokan, or upscale inn, with a difference. Like many quality ryokan, Myojinkan offers spacious rooms tastefully decorated in a contemporary Japanese minimalist style, several communal baths and meals worthy of at least a couple of Michelin stars, served in elegant dining rooms. The distinctive aspect of Myojinkan is its location deep in the… Read more »

  • Ryokan Kurashiki – a taste of 19th century Japan

    Towards the end of World War Two, when US bombs rained over many Japanese cities, Kurashiki was spared, the story goes, thanks to the presence of the Ohara Museum. A high-ranking US general with a passion for art prevented Kurashiki from being destroyed because he wanted to preserve the Ohara Museum and its collection of paintings by El Greco, Monet, Renoir and Gauguin, among others. That, at least, is the story we were told by our guide and skipper on… Read more »

  • Hitachi Seaside Park

    A taste of early autumn at Hitachi Seaside Park (ひたち海浜公園) in Ibaraki Prefecture. The crimson colored Kochia (broom) plants are in season and can be leisurely enjoyed, along with other beautiful flowers, as one strolls through the vast park. Play areas for children and a disc golf area for the young at heart, are also available.