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Akasaka Toda

The first thing that strikes you on descending the staircase to Akasaka Toda, tucked down a vibrant sidestreet in the entertainment and business district of Akasaka, is a feeling of comfort. The soft lamp light and the understated entrance live up to the restaurant’s simple but well appointed premises, spread over a series of koshitsu, or private rooms, with tables seating from 4 people up to larger groups of 10 or more. Shigenao Toda is a low-key chef and now restaurateur… Read more »

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A Taste of Fukui in Aoyama – Bouyourou

Fukui prefecture, on Japan’s west-central coast , is one of those places that conjures up images of rough oceans, rugged cliffs and punishing winter weather. Sandwiched between its more famous neighbors – to the south, Kyoto prefecture, and to the north, Ishikawa prefecture – Fukui seems to have little going for it, except for the bounty of its moderately long coastline, which stretches 400 kilometers along the Sea of Japan. The waters off the coast of Fukui are rich in… Read more »

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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 »

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Zakka – last chance to delve into “goods and things”

The first thing to catch the eye when you walk into the extraordinary Zakka exhibition at 21_21 Design Sight is the stylized sign bearing the English translation of “zakka” as “goods and things.” What is a “good” and what is a “thing?” I wondered. In the end, this wide-ranging exhibit of retro-paraphernalia, contemporary design, with displays of everything from six-decades old cardboard packaging for toothpaste tubes and mosquito coils, plastic ice cream spoons (yes, really – my main thought was, who… Read more »

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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 »

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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 »

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Fruit-Flavored Soy Sauce

Shoyu, or soy sauce, is an essential seasoning in Japanese cuisine that has found a place on tables around the world together with popular Japanese dishes, ranging from sushi and tempura to teppanyaki. But even with the growing eclecticism of contemporary cooking, which has encouraged creative chefs from San Francisco to Stockholm to experiment with Japanese ingredients such as wasabi (Japanese horseradish) and yuzu (Japanese citron), it is still rare to find shoyu or shoyu-based seasonings in western-style meals. Toshihiko… Read more »

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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 »

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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 »

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“Retro-sento,” or how the old Japanese bathhouse is streaming into the 21st century

Bathing is an essential daily ritual in Japan, where the simple act of soaking in a tub of hot water has spawned an entire industry around the communal bath — whether it’s in the form of onsen hot springs, or the neighborhood public bathhouse, known as sento. There are hot springs all over Japan, which epitomize recreational Japanese-style bathing and are popular among tourists and locals alike. But sento, which used to be an intrinsic part of Japanese culture, have… Read more »

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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 »