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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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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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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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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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Taking in Sea, Sand and a Storm in Okinawa

With its aquamarine waters, white-sand beaches, abundant marine life and tropical climate, Okinawa is attracting an ever-growing population of holiday-makers – not just from the rest of Japan but from all over the world. Since I last visited Okinawa more than 20 years ago, the number of tourists visiting Japan’s southernmost prefecture has more than doubled from 4.5m in 2000 to 9.58m in the year to March, 2017, when Okinawa surpassed Hawaii, which drew 9.3m visitors last year. Luxury hotels… 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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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 »