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Unearthing the hidden charms of Ebisu-Nishi

A little over a year ago my husband and I swapped the vibrant chaos of East London for the cosmopolitan tranquility of Tokyo, seeking to propel ourselves out of our comfort zone and experience life in entirely unfamiliar surroundings. Keen to have more opportunities to practice our fledgling Japanese, we decided to live slightly outside the usual expat circuit of Aoyama and Hiroo, and settled in an area formally known as Ebisu-Nishi, nestled between Ebisu and Daikanyama stations. The wider area is framed by the… Read more »

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Urabandai – A Burst of Colors Before the Snow

By the end of the year, snow will be on the ground and fine sheets of ice will cover the lakes in this scenic part of northeastern Japan. But in late October, autumn foliage lent a splash of vibrant color to the landscape. We had come to Urabandai in Fukushima Prefecture specifically to enjoy the autumn colors. We were not disappointed. At first I wondered if we had come too early, but as the hotel shuttle bus that came 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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Edo Kiriko – a Cutting Edge Experience

For centuries, Japanese craftsmen have, with a mix of remarkable dexterity, a keen eye for detail and a finely honed aesthetic sensibility, transformed all manner of material into works of art, in the form of pottery, textiles, basketry and even glass. While it takes countless years of dedicated practice to achieve even a moderate level of success in any type of craft, it is possible these days to find studios all over Japan where complete novices can try their hand… Read more »

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We are the Farm – an organic restaurant run by farmers

There has been a flurry of building activity this past year in Tokyo’s Azabu Jyuban neighborhood, where long-time mom-and-pop stores have been steadily replaced by flashier outfits. But it is not just the small, family-run businesses that are being pushed out – in the past year, one of the few, local supermarkets in the area was replaced by upscale French frozen and organic foods stores and a Tully’s coffee shop turned into a Dean and Deluca outlet. Among the more… Read more »

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Miya Ando

Artist Miya Ando grew up on the grounds of a Buddhist temple in Japan and in a remote area of California. Her spare and contemplative works in metal, glass and natural materials are filled with light and strength, revealing ancestral influences as the descendent of Nicheren Buddhist monks in Bizen, Japan and the 16th generation of a samurai sword craftsmen family. Her humor and warmth quite possibly come from her father’s Jewish/Russian lineage. Ando was born in the United States… 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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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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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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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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Ma-suya – a Salty Heaven in Azabu Juban

I used to wonder about my salt obsessed friends. Why didn’t they worry about high blood pressure and hypertension? Instead, there didn’t seem to be a meal during which they didn’t fret over which salt to best lavish on what. And then, it happened to me. It began with flakes, progressed to powdered varieties; pink, crystal forms from far-away lands; deep sea — including the widely-revered Maldon flakes; and eventually, a romance with more exotic flavors such as truffle infused… Read more »