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Ristorante Honda – An Italian Take on Japan’s Seasonal Fare

As we walked through the front door of Ristorante Honda, an elegant Michelin-starred restaurant in Tokyo’s Gaienmae neighborhood, I was struck by the realization that eating out may never be quite the same again. Inside the restaurant’s stylish dining room, with its neutral tones and white table linen, stood two men wearing face shields over their masks, looking like characters out of a Star Wars film. “Some customers are quite concerned about contagion,” explained the maitre d’ from behind his… 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 »

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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 »