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A Stroll Amid Rustic Houses and Temples at Yokohama Sankeien

The Meiji Era (1868-1912) was a time of tumultuous change in Japan that brought rapid industrial development and western ideas to a feudal society. The social and economic upheaval of the time provided unprecedented opportunities for several astute industrialists and businessmen, who not only amassed huge fortunes but also left their mark as patrons of the arts. There is Kaichiro Nezu (1860-1940), who was both a successful businessman and tea ceremony connoisseur and used the wealth he made in railways… Read more »

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Yakushi Onsen – Time Travel Back to a Traditional Way of Life

For many people living in Japan today, the sight of smoke swirling over a thatched roof or fish grilling over a hearth is likely to stir a strong sense of nostalgia for a more peaceful and simpler way of life. Such idyllic scenes have all but disappeared from contemporary life, but Hatago, a hot spring resort in Gunma Prefecture, has brought together several traditional houses to form a mini-village reminiscent of a lost Japan. Located in Yakushi Onsen, the grounds… Read more »

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An unexpected gourmet night in Hiroshima: Nikai Sasaki

The name Hiroshima means different things to different people. For most foreigners, the name of this medium-sized city in southwestern Japan immediately evokes images of the devastation caused by the atomic bomb in World War II. To baseball fans in Japan, the name brings to mind the beloved local team, the Hiroshima Carp. And for car buffs, it is the birthplace of Mazda and its legendary rotary engine. One thing the name Hiroshima does not usually bring to mind –… Read more »

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Tradition Meets the 21st Century in the World of Wagashi Confectionery

At first bite, there is a distinct flavor and aroma of raspberry. Then there are strong hints of lychee and rose as the smooth, sweet jelly dissolves in the mouth. The ingredients and flavors, as well as the name, Ispahan, suggest that this block of dark magenta confectionery is an exotic Middle Eastern delicacy. In fact, Petite Yokan Ispahan is a Japanese sweet made by a traditional confectioner, Toraya, founded in the early 16th century, which built its reputation on… Read more »

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How the Pandemic Threatens Japan’s Culinary Culture

TOKYO — Hanasato, a high-end Japanese restaurant housed in a sprawling mansion surrounded by lush gardens, has been serving traditional multi-course kaiseki cuisine in the suburbs of Yokohama for decades. But on July 19, Hanasato welcomed diners for the last time, ending its 40-year history as a purveyor of traditional Japanese fine dining. Hanasato’s decision to close its doors follows in the footsteps of Tokyo Mimiu, a Japanese restaurant famous for its udon sukiyaki, which closed its six restaurants in… Read more »

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Narisawa – Cuisine Inspired by the Japanese Countryside

Before the coronavirus put a virtual halt to dining out in Tokyo, we visited Narisawa in Tokyo’s chic Aoyama neighborhood on an unseasonably warm day in early March with a cloudless sky and a light spring breeze. I had not been to chef Yoshihiro Narisawa’s innovative restaurant for several years, partly due to the frustrations of trying to get a table at this expensive yet highly popular establishment with its 2 Michelin stars and partly because I was not confident I could… Read more »

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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 »

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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 »

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Hanare, basement haven in Ebisu

With its fine balance between contemporary and traditional home-style Japanese cuisine, Hanare, a cosy yet refined izakaya in Ebisu, was an ideal venue for a small, casual dinner on a chilly autumn night. While rooted in traditional concepts, this low-key establishment echoes the quality of its more creative and western-oriented big sister, Au Gamin de Tokio, which is two flights up on the second floor of the building they share. Trattoria Mode, a casual Italian eatery in the same Au Gamin… Read more »

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Annual Show Celebrates Japan’s Print-Making Tradition.

Of all forms of artistic expression, ukiyo-e woodblock prints depicting life in the “floating world” of Edo Japan (1603-1868) have probably done the most to popularize Japanese art beyond its borders. Ever since they were discovered by western travelers when Japan opened its doors to trade and diplomatic relations after more than two centuries of an isolationist policy, Japanese woodblock prints, with their stylized, unapologetically two dimensional portrayals of a pleasure-seeking lifestyle, have been valued and beloved worldwide for their… Read more »

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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 »

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Akito Katsumura’s Ceramic Art Marries Tradition with Contemporary Cool

Japan is a ceramic lover’s paradise, where there are countless talented artists working in clay to create a vast and varied range of goods, from everyday dinnerware and tea ceremony utensils to sculptures and decorative objets. Yet, many of these works, despite commanding a high level of technical expertise and aesthetic sensibility, can only be found at some random pottery fair or a small specialist shop in a remote provincial town. So, it was a delight to receive a postcard… Read more »