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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 »

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DASK -Hidden Treasures in Vibrant Sangenjaya

You vaguely think you’ve seen something like this before — a small, cool shop full of arty objects, clothes and pottery. But step in and you will see that DASK is special, from its carefully curated wares to its ever-changing music and enigmatic proprietor. Tucked away in a retro arcade in vibrant Sangenjaya, this shop-cum-gallery is a reminder of the rewards that await the curious wanderer in Tokyo’s urban sprawl. Sangenjaya, just two train stops and a world away from… Read more »

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Nakazawa – hand-made cards that say it with feeling and artistry

One of the pleasures of walking around local neighborhoods in Tokyo is stumbling upon a store in the most unlikely place that sells one-of-a-kind, beautifully crafted objects. We wrote about Utsuwa Kenshin, a carefully curated ceramics shop in Shibuya, some time back and the treasure house of lacquered leather goods, Indenya, in Aoyama.  A more recent find was Nakazawa, a small shop in the Asakusa area that sells exquisite, hand-made cards. We were on our way to a photo exhibition… Read more »

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A Long Weekend in Nara

Kyoto, with its exquisite gardens, picturesque pagodas and impressive temples, has always been a popular place to revel in the fiery hues of autumn. But with the recent surge in tourism, which has resulted in unmanageable crowds and congested traffic, the city has become almost impossible to enjoy. During one long weekend in autumn, crowds of tourists in Kyoto filled the streets, obstructing traffic and causing general discomfort to local residents and, ironically, to the visitors themselves. Fortunately, the ancient… Read more »