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Karuizawa – A Tale of Two Shoppers

The day felt like somewhere between late winter and early spring as we dashed to Tokyo station and jumped on an early Shinkansen train to the mountain resort town of Karuizawa hoping for some retail therapy and much needed relaxation in hotspring baths at Hoshino Onsen. It was the perfect time to visit without the crowds of spring, summer and autumn. We’d heard about the infamous two-hour taxi ride through unreasonable seasonal traffic from Karuizawa station to the outer reaches… Read more »

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Tenoshima – Contemporary Japanese Cuisine in a Relaxed Atmosphere

The casual, stylish atmosphere and friendliness of the staff mask a seriousness and dedication to a mission of modernizing Japanese haute cuisine that is at the core of Tenoshima, a promising, newish kaiseki-style restaurant in Aoyama. On meeting the affable chef and co-proprietor, Ryohei Hayashi, it is hard to imagine that such a seemingly easy-going person could have spent many years training at one of Japan’s most prominent kaiseki restaurants under the grueling tutelage of proprietor chef Yoshihiro Murata.  In… Read more »

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Kumano Kodo – Discovering mysteries of the Kii peninsula

The mountain path is deep, dark and dense with trees that send their gnarled roots over the verdant forest floor. Some of the moss-covered trunks shoot up to the skies while others, massive and aged, seem to merge with hulking rocks that stand in the way of all but the most intrepid traveler. We are standing at the entrance to an ancient pilgrimage route – one of seven trails that have for centuries led the faithful into these forbidding mountains… Read more »

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Parks with “Flower Power”

The Japanese custom of admiring flowers to mark the seasons reaches a high point in early spring when the entire national consciousness seems to be focused on the annual flowering of the cherry blossoms. Once the delicate pale pink blooms of the Somei Yoshino cherry trees have lost their luster and blown away, Japan’s flower fever indeed subsides, but hardly fades away. Instead, late spring and early summer are times for more showy specimens, from the purple clusters of hanging… Read more »

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Out with Tsukiji, In with Toyosu and (who knew), Adachi?

After the demise last year of one of the world’s best-loved wholesale fish markets at Tsukiji in Tokyo (and its relocation across the river to a soulless, gleaming building at Toyosu), the biggest surprise has been the continuing appeal – for tourists and locals alike — of the myriad shops and restaurants tucked in the narrow lanes that comprise Tsukiji’s old “outer market.”  The specialty shops and stalls here initially sprang up to cater to the culinary needs of wholesalers,… Read more »

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Yoshino – Sakura Spectacle

The ritual procession made its way slowly along the narrow road that weaves its way up Yoshino Mountain in Nara prefecture, as local residents and tourists alike looked on, transfixed with delight at witnessing such a propitious event.  It was the peak of the sakura season in Yoshino, an area famous for its cherry trees, and the long line of mountain priests, men in traditional festival attire or goblin costumes, worshippers and children, was headed to Kinpusenji, the most important… Read more »

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Yugawara – Ancient Relics, Hot Springs and the Deep, Blue Sea

Of the many legends about the origins of the hot springs at Yugawara, south of Tokyo, my favorite one tells the story of Gyouki, the high priest of Yakushiji Temple in Nara. According to this tale, while Gyouki was traveling through the country seeking funds for the construction of the Great Buddha of Nara, he met an ailing beggar in the mountains of Hakone, west of Tokyo. Gyouki carried the beggar on his back and, following his directions, descended the… Read more »

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Konpeki No Umi – Fresh Seafood in the Heart of Roppongi

If you happen to be in Roppongi at lunch time, looking for a high-quality yet reasonably priced lunch in comfortable surroundings, try Konpeki No Umi in the Piramide Building just behind the Roppongi subway station. Loosely translated as “deep blue sea,” Konpeki No Umi is a Japanese restaurant that highlights seafood and serves both traditional and contemporary dishes in a minimalist setting of light wood and white walls decorated with ceramic art work. Although the restaurant’s promotional brochure says it is… Read more »

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Kayanoya – an Umami Wonderland

Japanese are their own best food critics, rewarding quality establishments with outstanding success while leaving shoddy places to languish. But some quality restaurants and food businesses have been propelled to even greater heights by the influx of foreign visitors to Japan in recent years. Such is the case of Kayanoya, a Kyushu-based soy sauce brewery specializing in shoyu (soy sauce), dashi (soup stock) and other traditional seasonings. Over nearly 130 years, Kayanoya has built up a devoted following among Japanese…. Read more »

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Mamianazaka Honoka – Traditional Cuisine Meets Contemporary Cool in Azabu

Tokyo has no shortage of high-end restaurants but sometimes a simple meal of sophisticated but unpretentious dishes served in stylish yet comfortable surroundings is preferable to an elaborate multi-course kaiseki meal, meticulously prepared and painstakingly presented. So, it was a great joy to discover Mamianazaka Honoka, a Japanese restaurant tucked away in a residential neighborhood in Higashi-Azabu. In a reminder of what the area used to be like, the unwieldy name literally translates as badger hole. Honoka is hidden from street… Read more »

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R.N.S.Q. – Refined French Cuisine in Relaxed Surroundings

An eatery with a name like R.N.S.Q. (pronounced “erunesque” in Japanese) which claims to be neither a bistro nor a restaurant but a “bistaurant,” might sound too puzzling for the average diner to want to check out. Does it serve French cuisine or some unfathomable new style of  fare? And what kind of atmosphere could you expect in a place that is, presumably, more formal than a bistro yet more casual than a restaurant? But don’t let such minor matters… Read more »

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Tantansai – Delicious Fare in Beautiful Wares

Japan can elevate the simple form of counter dining to lofty levels or turn it into part of the entertainment. Whether a rowdy izakaya bistro, rarefied sushi bar or a top-end kaiseki restaurant serving traditional haute cuisine, the counter (if available) usually affords a ring-side view of chefs plying their trade. It is a place where diners can interact and chat with the chefs, watching them slice, grill or assemble ingredients into the dishes of the day. At Tantansai (full… Read more »