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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 »

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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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Jean Georges’ Asian-Inspired French Cuisine

I was thrilled when invited to the “soft opening” of the newly revamped JG, the Tokyo outpost of New York’s celebrated Jean-Georges restaurant. I’d been a fan of French-born chef Jean Georges Vongerichten and his Alsatian-inspired cooking for perhaps  25 years and gladly accepted the summons I received from new General Manager (and old associate) Takenori Nakazato. I reminded myself that a “soft opening” is when the restaurant isn’t officially open and friends and family are invited to dine so… Read more »

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MAMMA MIA! WHAT A MEAL AT MAMMA LUISA’S TABLE

When my Tuscan friend Gabriella feels enthusiastic about something she rolls her eyes toward the heavens and exclaims, “Mamma mia!” No, she’s not an Abba impersonator.  In this particular case it was an apt reaction to finding Mamma Luisa’s Table, a tiny Tuscan gem of a restaurant tucked away in the backstreets that fringe Tokyo’s vibrant Shibuya shopping district. It was just cooling down on a late summer evening and definitely time for a chilled glass of wine as we… Read more »

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Enjoying the pageantry of a bygone era – The Soma Nomaoi Festival

In another age I might have had to prostate myself in front of the samurai warriors mounted on their steeds. But, this was the 21st century and I was a tourist cheerfully snapping pictures as the single column of “warriors” riding their colorfully decorated thoroughbreds passed by. I had journeyed from Tokyo to the northern part of Fukushima Prefecture to see the Soma Nomaoi Festival, which began as a feudal military exercise more than 1,000 years ago. A horse race… Read more »

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Feeling Footloose and Bohemian in Kichijoji

When visiting Japan from abroad, style-conscious friends frequently ask to visit the “Brooklyn” of Tokyo, hoping to find a myriad of alternative clothing boutiques and stellar dining. I always have to resist the urge to tell them there is no Brooklyn, because there’s no Manhattan nearby. Instead Tokyo is a fascinating urban sprawl with no focal center. There are instead 23 wards being “modernized” by the large corporations that operate the train stations along lines intersecting and connecting the vastness… Read more »

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Goldfish Galore – a Dazzling Exhibition of Japan’s Favorite Ornamental Fish

Goldfish have been a staple feature of Japanese summers since at least the Edo period (1603-1868) when wealthy merchants and samurai began to keep them in their ponds as pets. Small and easy to handle, unlike carp, to which they are related, wild goldfish are actually olive green but some turn out to be red,  orange or yellow,  due to a natural genetic mutation. People in ancient China began to selectively breed the brightly-colored and multi-patterned fish more than a thousand years… Read more »

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“The Aesthetics of Japanese Illumination” – Contemporary Japanese Art in a Traditional Setting

Traditional Japanese architecture is best known for its extreme minimalism, as exemplified by the austere but elegant simplicity of the classic tea house and perfected at Katsura Rikyu Imperial Villa in Kyoto, which is considered the quintessence of Japanese taste. But the Japanese architectural aesthetic is certainly not all about earthen walls, simple bamboo lattices and plain washi paper screens. At the other extreme is an aesthetic that celebrates extravagance, intricacy, even garishness, and reflects the same horror vacui, or… Read more »

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Vegan Cafe : simple, healthy fare for eclectic tastes

The name, with its connotations of strict rules against dairy and meat products, may not thrill carnivores. But the newest addition to Hiroo’s diverse array of eateries and shops may  pleasantly surprise even the meat eaters. Vegan Cafe is perched up several stairs just two minutes walk from Hiroo station, on the right-hand side of the road leading from Hiroo crossing to Arisugawa Park. Inside you find a light, airy room, with wooden furniture and potted plants. At lunchtimes, the… 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 »