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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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Jijinoie: ‘Grandpa’s House,’ new age ideas, traditional roots

I awoke to the feel of soft sheets, the pleasantly grassy smell of tatami, and the sound of… absolutely nothing apart from the rustle of leaves in the breeze. As my eyes grew accustomed to the half-light of sunrise, filtering in through traditional shoji screens, I reflected on why Jijinoie, a rural inn in Chiba prefecture where I was spending my third weekend in under a year, holds such a special place in my Japanese experience. It occurred to me… 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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A Mesmerising Collection of Carp Streamers at the National Art Center, Tokyo.

Higher than the roof-tops are the koinobori The large carp is the father The smaller carp are the children They seem to be having fun swimming. Koinobori song, a popular Japanese children’s song (lyrics by Miyako Kondo) Japanese art lovers have long had a soft spot for Impressionism, which is the subject of the main exhibition at the National Art Center, Tokyo (NACT). “Impressionist Masterpieces from the E.G. Buehrle Collection,” has predictably attracted a large number of visitors eager to… 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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Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Stunning Enoura Observatory

The Odawara Art Foundation’s stunning Enoura Observatory only opened to the public in late 2017, but in that short time has drawn such enthusiastic recommendations that I was eager to see it for myself. I wasn’t disappointed. At Enoura, situated in the Hakone mountains along the coast between Odawara and Atami, architect Hiroshi Sugimoto has created an artistic treat for the eyes and mind in a sprawling citrus grove overlooking the sea. Despite its peaceful rural location, I found Enoura… 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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Creative Vietnamese Cuisine and More at Ăn Di

Given its abundant use of fresh herbs, its relatively delicate yet complex flavors and French-influenced refinement, Vietnamese cuisine would seem to be a natural favorite of Japanese foodies. So, it is seems somewhat surprising that while there are many restaurants in Tokyo that serve Vietnamese dishes, there are few that offer Vietnamese haute cuisine or venture creative interpretations of Vietnamese staples, such as fried and fresh spring rolls or pho noodle soups. Many years ago, we were able to enjoy… 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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Teien Museum Re-opens with an Intriguing Exhibition, “Decoration Never Dies, Anyway”

November marked the long-awaited re-opening of the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, where I recently had the luck of enjoying some behind-the-scenes access to the installation of a lively and challenging new exhibition, the intriguingly entitled “Decoration Never Dies, Anyway.” The exhibition, which brings together contemporary artists from around the world, has turned the museum, a private residence built in the Art Deco style of the 1930s, into a delightful journey of the unexpected, enabling visitors to explore over 60… Read more »

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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 »