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SEEING STARS IN KYOTO

We couldn’t resist the email invitation that heralded the arrival of summer: “Come join us in Kyoto for hanabi fireworks this June.” Within a day, we had booked our shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo and a hotel near Kyoto station.  The invitation had come from Makoto Fukuda, a charismatic former rock’n’roll impresario who had managed some top Japanese bands in the 1990s. He retired from the music scene some years ago and began producing hanabi, or fireworks extravaganzas, throughout Japan,… Read more »

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Restaurant Asai – innovative Japanese haute cuisine

Japanese haute cuisine is an art form that takes many years to master, so it is heartening to see young chefs trained in this rigorous tradition using their well-honed skills to come up with contemporary takes on time-honored dishes. One of the best of these inventive chefs I encountered recently is Taichi Asai, whose eponymous kaiseki restaurant is located on a quiet back street off Roppongi-dori in the Nishi Azabu neighborhood. Restaurant Asai, as it is called in English, is… 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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Oshima – Sophisticated Kaga Cuisine in the Heart of Shinjuku

When it comes to the total number of eateries concentrated in one neighborhood, few places are likely to beat Shinjuku. Whether it is along an underground passageway to the subway or amid the vast forest of high-rise buildings, every available space in Shinjuku seems to be inhabited by a noodle shop, izakaya, café or fast-food joint ready to fill an empty tummy. Many of these eateries cater to the busy commuter or harried shopper, eager to tame their hunger pangs… Read more »

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Café California – a French-Japanese collaboration

At the risk of sounding slightly elitist, I must confess that I see hotel restaurants as places to be avoided. This is not only because hotel restaurants tend to be overpriced, they often serve uninspired food in anodyne surroundings. Only if I am staying overnight in unfamiliar territory and am desperate for a bite before retiring for the day, or need a foolproof meeting place, do I take the “easy option” of dining in-house. So, I was pleasantly surprised when… Read more »

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A Tofu Education at Kamakura Atelier

Home cooking in Tokyo is a challenge for many expats. Faced with small kitchens, unfamiliar foodstuffs, indecipherable labels, inexplicably expensive groceries, alien ovens, a culture which prioritizes eating out over entertaining at home, and a bountiful array of excellent and inexpensive restaurants, most foreigners in Japan dine out far more often than they would elsewhere. In my case, being an inexperienced and somewhat talentless cook adds to my reluctance to be adventurous in my pocket-sized Japanese kitchen. However, I also… 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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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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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 »