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Chojuan – Eating Soba Noodles in Style

Soba noodles, which are made of buckwheat, have been a favorite fast-food meal of busy Tokyoites ever since the early days of the bustling capital, in the 17th and 18th centuries, when it was still known as Edo. Today, time-pressed diners in Tokyo can still duck into one of many soba stands found all over the city, slurp their noodles at the counter and be gone within minutes. But those who prefer to eat their soba in a more relaxed… Read more »

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Azumino

The man from the bicycle shop was standing at the street corner waiting for the lights to change, when he saw us waving energetically in his direction. He was clearly puzzled by our outbursts of greeting, but nonetheless smiled broadly and waved back enthusiastically, arms flapping in the air. We had actually been waving to friends walking a fair distance behind him who had not noticed our presence across the street. Soon enough the traffic lights changed, the misunderstanding was… Read more »

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In Search of Autumn’s Fiery Palette

Admiring nature’s colorful transformation in the fall is a time-honored ritual in Japan that draws crowds from far and wide to distant mountainsides, hidden valleys and traditional gardens famed for their fiery autumnal palettes. While Kyoto is, without doubt, everyone’s favorite spot for enjoying fall foliage, there are plenty of other less crowded sites that offer the chance to be mesmerized by the myriad hues of yellow, orange, red and brown that make autumn such a special time in Japan…. Read more »

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Ginza Honokawa

Just a few blocks behind Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel is a cluster of eateries by the train tracks and highway in a thoroughfare known, fittingly, as Korido-gai, or Corridor Road. The pizza, seafood, grilled chicken and countless other joints crammed together along Korido-gai are mostly cheap and cheerful watering holes where salarymen take refuge after a day’s work. One notable exception is Honokawa, a Japanese restaurant with its roots in Osaka serving Kansai-style Japanese cuisine, which is generally lighter and more subtle in… Read more »

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Au Depart – a stylish wine bar inside Karuizawa station

On a stopover in the fashionable mountain resort town of Karuizawa in southeastern Nagano prefecture, we noticed a stylish new wine bar that would easily win the award for “most ingenious use of a disused railway platform” – if there were such a prize in Japan. With its understated shop front, Au Depart is conveniently located just outside the Karuizawa station building but within the station compound. The brainchild of some local winemakers and a wine-loving entrepreneur, the goal of the… Read more »

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Shirosaka – a Japanese restaurant with a difference

Ever since the world woke up to the delights of Japanese cuisine, many western chefs have begun incorporating Japanese ingredients and ways of preparing food into their own cooking. It is no longer surprising to find wasabi, dashi (bonito stock) or yuzu (tangy citrus) in dishes served by creative French or Scandinavian chefs or to find sushi-like offerings on the menus of decidedly western food establishments. The affection has been mutual, with more Japanese chefs, particularly those who have worked… Read more »

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Akasaka Toda

The first thing that strikes you on descending the staircase to Akasaka Toda, tucked down a vibrant sidestreet in the entertainment and business district of Akasaka, is a feeling of comfort. The soft lamp light and the understated entrance live up to the restaurant’s simple but well appointed premises, spread over a series of koshitsu, or private rooms, with tables seating from 4 people up to larger groups of 10 or more. Shigenao Toda is a low-key chef and now restaurateur… Read more »

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Trekking in the Forests of Yakushima

Even when our car drove up right beside them, the two monkeys sitting on the side of the road pretended to ignore us. The larger one continued to pick fleas off her smaller companion as she cast a surreptitious look our way. But on the whole the monkeys seemed untroubled by our presence. “It’s a mother and child,” our guide informed us. “Monkeys on the island don’t bother people because we don’t feed them,” was his explanation for the animals’… Read more »

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Mashiko Pottery Fair – a Crafts Lovers’ Paradise

For most of the year, Mashiko is a sleepy little town of kilns, pottery shops and vegetable farms that seems to have been forgotten by the rest of the world. The last time I visited, a few years ago, the main street was deserted, many of the shops appeared to be closed and there were few indications of the legendary fame the town enjoys as the adopted home of Shoji Hamada, a leading figure of Japan’s folk art movement and… Read more »

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Eclectic Japanese cuisine at Kafuka

It is unusual for japonica to write twice about the same restaurant but Kafuka deserves a follow-up. We recently managed to secure seats there at short notice, and were rewarded with an eclectic meal that was both impressive and entertaining. Chef Ito, who greeted us with a friendly smile and a warm “konbanwa,” or “good evening,” served a tasting menu of creative dishes and comfort food that was a steal at Y6,000. From where we sat at the counter, we were… Read more »

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The Slow-Paced Charm of Nara

Nara, the ancient capital of Japan, is the Yin to Kyoto’s Yang. While Kyoto abounds with grand temples and flamboyant shrines aimed originally at flaunting the wealth and power of the lords and monks that ruled the day, Nara is a quieter, more relaxed and down-to-earth city, perfect for weaving your way through back alleys on a rented bike or taking a leisurely stroll through the old part of town, known as Naramachi. Nara certainly has its share of tourists,… Read more »

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Kiln-hopping in Kyushu

In Japan, you don’t have to go far to find a potter. From Hokkaido to Okinawa, they are here, there and everywhere. Many live and work in beautiful places out in the country. Visiting their workshops can be both fun and fascinating. Plus buying pots directly from the artist not only makes a wonderful souvenir, it also supports a deeply rooted ceramics tradition. On a recent trip to Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, we had the pleasure of kiln-hopping by… Read more »