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History, Hot Springs and a Hamlet from a Bygone Era in Kagoshima

The mountain seemed to be staring at us wherever we went. It sat quietly spewing an almost indiscernible puff of white smoke, dominating the skyline of Kagoshima city and the coastline that stretches from there in an arc around the eponymous bay to its east. The mountain, known as Sakurajima, or Cherry Blossom Island, sits forbiddingly in the bay on the southern coast of the island of Kyushu, one of Japan’s four main islands. It is the country’s most active… Read more »

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A Glimpse of Unspoiled Nature in Hokkaido

“There’s a bear over there!,” the young man seated next to me exclaimed as he pointed excitedly at the shore. “It’s right by the fishing nets on the beach, close to the water,” he added, prompting the other 39 passengers on our boat to pull out their binoculars in a bid to glimpse the furry animal we had all been hoping to see that afternoon. We were on one of the small cruise boats that travel along the coast of… 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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Hakone When it Rains

There are many reasons to visit Hakone, a mountain resort within easy access of Tokyo, from the delightful striking sculpture gardens of the Hakone Open-Air Museum and the spectacular vistas across the Suruga Bay to the region’s famous onsen, or hot spring, baths. But many hapless visitors have found themselves wandering the windy mountain roads of Hakone in downpours so heavy that they render any outdoor activities virtually impossible. Hakone is one of the wettest places in Japan, with an… Read more »

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Refined Japanese Cuisine and Accommodations at the Foot of Mt Fuji

The area around the five lakes at the foot of Mt Fuji, collectively known as Fujigoko, boasts some of the most breathtaking scenery in Japan. On a clear, calm day or early evening, the majestic mountain’s reflection on the lakes’ crystal surface produces a mirror effect, which is affectionately referred to as “sakasa-Fuji”, or “upside-down Fuji.” The spring water that trickles down from Mt Fuji is so fresh and thirst-quenching that many visitors come equipped with empty plastic bottles to… Read more »

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Hakone – a Mountain Refuge for Weary Urbanites

The mountain resort of Hakone is to Tokyoites what Long Island is to New Yorkers – a tranquil refuge for work-weary urbanites in need of physical and spiritual restoration. Just a two-hour drive from the Japanese capital, Hakone is celebrated for its panoramic views, therapeutic hot-spring baths, diverse cultural institutions and abundance of luxurious accommodations – although its range of more modest inns, hostels and day-visit baths also makes it a popular choice for those on tighter budgets. In past… Read more »

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Snow-capped Peaks and Flower Gardens in Hokkaido

The first time I heard the name Biei was when we were driving through an expansive landscape of rolling hills and open skies in the middle of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island that is famous for its powder snow, rugged terrain and unspoiled nature. Not only had I never heard of this small town, the name, like those of many areas in Hokkaido, sounded distinctly un-Japanese, giving the place an exotic feel, even though all the signs were in Japanese and… Read more »

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Navigating the Hills and History of Nagasaki

At the top of a particularly steep hill that leads to the historic foreigners’ quarters of Nagasaki, there is an unusual traffic sign with an illustration of a bicycle and a diagonal line running along either side of it, indicating “no bicycles.” It isn’t that the flagstone-paved street is reserved for pedestrians. There are plenty of cars going up and down the hill, known as “Oranda-zaka” or “Hollander Slope,” after the foreign residents who could be seen walking to and… Read more »

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Jinya – Home to Totoro’s Tree

Tokyoites in need of a break from the hustle and bustle of city life usually head to the hot springs and scenic comforts of Hakone or Izu, which are within easy reach of the megalopolis by car or train. But relatively few of them may know that there is an onsen, or hot spring town, which is even closer to Tokyo than either of the city’s best-known getaway sanctuaries. Tsurumaki Onsen is a small town in Kanagawa prefecture, which has… 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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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 »