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Hot Spring Hopping in Tohoku (1 ) – Toshichi Onsen

Hitou, or hidden hot springs, are the holy grail for onsen lovers. Often difficult to access, usually exposed to the elements and generally for mixed bathing, hitou are not for the shy or faint-hearted. But for those with fewer inhibitions who enjoy a steaming soak under open skies, surrounded by pristine nature, hitou are the perfect place to relax and rejuvenate and feel at one with the universe. I had a taste of that sense of abandon and oneness with… Read more »

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Peter Tasker’s Favorite Things

Where do you live and why do you live there? For the last 15 years, I’ve been living in Nakameguro in central Tokyo. It’s outside the Yamanote Line belt, yet amazingly convenient. When the weather allows, I walk to my office near Aoyama Gakuin University (in Shibuya) in about 40 minutes. The Hibiya Line gives easy access to Ginza and the business district. The Toyoko Line express takes you in two stops to Shinjuku 3-chome and entertainment districts, which would… Read more »

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Fran Kuzui’s Favorite Things

Where do you live and why do you choose to live there?  Although I have homes in New York and in Tokyo, I like to think I live in the present moment. It’s certainly where I choose to live rather than being attached to some place. You could say that means there’s very low maintenance. Do you have a local haunt? A cafe or bar? Somewhere you go for comfort food or just a chat with the proprietor? The last… Read more »

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Natsuko Toda’s Favorite Things

1. Where do you live and why did you choose to live there? I was born in Tokyo and lived in Setagaya ward until I was about 20. When Hiroo Garden Hills was developed, it looked like a good place to live. Back then, you could only buy an apartment there if you won a lottery. I was lucky I won the lottery and was able to buy an apartment, probably because it was on the fourth floor. (The number 4 in Japanese is… Read more »

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Autumn in Kyoto Offers a Feast of Colors and Seasonal Dishes

Autumn is one of the best times to enjoy Kyoto in all its glory. The weather is generally mild and the city’s historic temple grounds and gardens are transformed into a kaleidoscope of fiery autumnal colors. It is also the season to sample some of Japanese cuisine’s most beloved ingredients, such as matsutake mushrooms, It is impossible to predict when nature will perform its magic on the maples, gingko and beech trees that adorn Kyoto’s famous architectural sites and surrounding… Read more »

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Yakushi Onsen – Time Travel Back to a Traditional Way of Life

For many people living in Japan today, the sight of smoke swirling over a thatched roof or fish grilling over a hearth is likely to stir a strong sense of nostalgia for a more peaceful and simpler way of life. Such idyllic scenes have all but disappeared from contemporary life, but Hatago, a hot spring resort in Gunma Prefecture, has brought together several traditional houses to form a mini-village reminiscent of a lost Japan. Located in Yakushi Onsen, the grounds… Read more »

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An unexpected gourmet night in Hiroshima: Nikai Sasaki

The name Hiroshima means different things to different people. For most foreigners, the name of this medium-sized city in southwestern Japan immediately evokes images of the devastation caused by the atomic bomb in World War II. To baseball fans in Japan, the name brings to mind the beloved local team, the Hiroshima Carp. And for car buffs, it is the birthplace of Mazda and its legendary rotary engine. One thing the name Hiroshima does not usually bring to mind –… 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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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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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 »