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Feeling Footloose and Bohemian in Kichijoji

When visiting Japan from abroad, style-conscious friends frequently ask to visit the “Brooklyn” of Tokyo, hoping to find a myriad of alternative clothing boutiques and stellar dining. I always have to resist the urge to tell them there is no Brooklyn, because there’s no Manhattan nearby. Instead Tokyo is a fascinating urban sprawl with no focal center. There are instead 23 wards being “modernized” by the large corporations that operate the train stations along lines intersecting and connecting the vastness… Read more »

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Goldfish Galore – a Dazzling Exhibition of Japan’s Favorite Ornamental Fish

Goldfish have been a staple feature of Japanese summers since at least the Edo period (1603-1868) when wealthy merchants and samurai began to keep them in their ponds as pets. Small and easy to handle, unlike carp, to which they are related, wild goldfish are actually olive green but some turn out to be red,  orange or yellow,  due to a natural genetic mutation. People in ancient China began to selectively breed the brightly-colored and multi-patterned fish more than a thousand years… Read more »

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“The Aesthetics of Japanese Illumination” – Contemporary Japanese Art in a Traditional Setting

Traditional Japanese architecture is best known for its extreme minimalism, as exemplified by the austere but elegant simplicity of the classic tea house and perfected at Katsura Rikyu Imperial Villa in Kyoto, which is considered the quintessence of Japanese taste. But the Japanese architectural aesthetic is certainly not all about earthen walls, simple bamboo lattices and plain washi paper screens. At the other extreme is an aesthetic that celebrates extravagance, intricacy, even garishness, and reflects the same horror vacui, or… Read more »

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Vegan Cafe : simple, healthy fare for eclectic tastes

The name, with its connotations of strict rules against dairy and meat products, may not thrill carnivores. But the newest addition to Hiroo’s diverse array of eateries and shops may  pleasantly surprise even the meat eaters. Vegan Cafe is perched up several stairs just two minutes walk from Hiroo station, on the right-hand side of the road leading from Hiroo crossing to Arisugawa Park. Inside you find a light, airy room, with wooden furniture and potted plants. At lunchtimes, the… Read more »

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Taking in Sea, Sand and a Storm in Okinawa

With its aquamarine waters, white-sand beaches, abundant marine life and tropical climate, Okinawa is attracting an ever-growing population of holiday-makers – not just from the rest of Japan but from all over the world. Since I last visited Okinawa more than 20 years ago, the number of tourists visiting Japan’s southernmost prefecture has more than doubled from 4.5m in 2000 to 9.58m in the year to March, 2017, when Okinawa surpassed Hawaii, which drew 9.3m visitors last year. Luxury hotels… Read more »

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A Soothing Summer Walk in the Oirase River Gorge

Attracted by the prospect of a ramble by a mountain stream shaded by lush trees, I planned a trip to Oirase, a scenic area of Aomori Prefecture at the northern tip of Honshu in May. In my view this is one of the best months to travel in terms of the climate, but the weather forecast grew increasingly bleak as the date of my trip approached: overcast and cold, was the prediction, with temperatures expected to plunge to near zero…. Read more »

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Kinugawa Onsen

The Kinugawa River weaves its way south from Japan’s highest marshland, more than 2,000 meters above sea level, in a remote hinterland where Tochigi and Gunma prefectures meet. As it meanders south, the river skirts some of Japan’s best-known sites, such as the eponymous Kinugawa Onsen hot springs, Kawachi Onsen and Nikko before spilling into the larger Tone River 177 kilometers from its source. Kinugawa is better known for its tendency to flood — as it did most recently in… Read more »

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TeamLab: Borderless at the Mori Building Digital Art Museum

“Wander, Explore, Discover” is the invitation — or is it the challenge? — that greets visitors as they cross the threshold of the new Mori Building Digital Art Museum in Tokyo’s Odaiba district. In this brand new venture, the urban development giant Mori Building – which owns the site — has teamed up with teamLab, a tech-art collective, to create teamLab Borderless, a series of immersive art installations that aim to transcend barriers between art and technology, the physical and… Read more »

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“Japan in Architecture” – exploring the traditions and transformations of Japanese architecture

In its ongoing exhibition (until Sept. 17 2018) “Japan in Architecture : Genealogies of its Transformation,” the Mori Art Museum takes on a daunting task – to define the distinguishing features of Japanese architecture and illustrate their influence on the contemporary architectural scene. Curated by Fumio Nanjo, director of MAM, and his team, along with two Japanese architectural historians, the exhibition assembles a vast array of superbly-crafted models and photographs of architectural sites, from the Jomon period (14,000-300 BCE) to… Read more »

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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 »

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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 »

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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 »