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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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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 »

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Haseshige – a culinary gem in Tokyo’s outer suburbs

For determined gourmets, part of the appeal of Haseshige is its improbability – its exceedingly drab location in a no man’s land between Tokyo and Yokohama; its unexpectedly stylish yet cosy surroundings, and above all, its excellent food and reasonable prices. We were reluctantly coaxed to undertake the trek from central Tokyo to the distant suburb of Higashi Hakuraku by an enthusiastic friend who had been a Haseshige regular for years. The packed commuter Toyoko line train ride from Tokyo… Read more »

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Maru Aoyama – izakaya comfort with kaiseki roots

Tucked away on a side street off Aoyama-dori, a few blocks from Omotesando subway station, Maru is a rare combination of casual yet sophisticated dining, serving high quality izakaya or bistro fare with a refined kaiseki, or haute cuisine sensibility. We discovered Maru and its warm, stylish basement premises well over a decade ago, and have kept returning over the years. While its style in both food and presentation is consistently high, the most surprising thing about this chic yet… Read more »

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Il Ghiottone – Italian cuisine with a Japanese twist

When I was growing up, going out for Italian food in Tokyo basically meant going for pizza. But in the decades since, Japanese chefs have taken Italian cuisine to a different level — not only in terms of variety and quality but also in presentation. These days, you can find top-notch Italian restaurants in most major Tokyo neighborhoods, some boasting one or more stars from Michelin. Meanwhile, the standard pizzerias of yesteryear in Japan these days offer not just classic… Read more »

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Ryan – a trendy soba restaurant in Shibuya

Shibuya, with its blaring signs, constant traffic clamor and frenetic crowds is not usually the first neighborhood I think of when looking for a place to have a satisfying meal in a pleasant environment. But recently, I have had good reason to head there not once, but twice, for both lunch and dinner – the improbably named Ryan. Situated on a side street just off Miyamasuzaka, an avenue which winds its way uphill from Shibuya station towards Aoyama, Ryan is… Read more »

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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 »

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Ginza Honokawa

Just a few blocks behind Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel is a cluster of eateries by the train tracks and highway in a thoroughfare known, fittingly, as Korido-gai, or Corridor Road. The pizza, seafood, grilled chicken and countless other joints crammed together along Korido-gai are mostly cheap and cheerful watering holes where salarymen take refuge after a day’s work. One notable exception is Honokawa, a Japanese restaurant with its roots in Osaka serving Kansai-style Japanese cuisine, which is generally lighter and more subtle in… Read more »

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Shirosaka – a Japanese restaurant with a difference

Ever since the world woke up to the delights of Japanese cuisine, many western chefs have begun incorporating Japanese ingredients and ways of preparing food into their own cooking. It is no longer surprising to find wasabi, dashi (bonito stock) or yuzu (tangy citrus) in dishes served by creative French or Scandinavian chefs or to find sushi-like offerings on the menus of decidedly western food establishments. The affection has been mutual, with more Japanese chefs, particularly those who have worked… Read more »

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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 »