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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 »

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Grand Shrine of Ise

It is one of the most popular destinations in Japan, visited by more than 7m worshippers and tourists each year and revered as the spiritual home of the Japanese people. But Ise Jingu, or the Grand Shrine of Ise, is also a mystifying site that, to many Japanese, is likely to seem at once familiar and strange. It was this paradox that I found most striking when I visited Ise Jingu recently on a pilgrimage that most Japanese are encouraged… Read more »

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“Retro-sento,” or how the old Japanese bathhouse is streaming into the 21st century

Bathing is an essential daily ritual in Japan, where the simple act of soaking in a tub of hot water has spawned an entire industry around the communal bath — whether it’s in the form of onsen hot springs, or the neighborhood public bathhouse, known as sento. There are hot springs all over Japan, which epitomize recreational Japanese-style bathing and are popular among tourists and locals alike. But sento, which used to be an intrinsic part of Japanese culture, have… Read more »

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A Long Weekend in Japan’s Snow Country

Best known as a ski resort, Echigo-Yuzawa in Niigata is also a good starting point for exploring Japan’s snow country. Each winter, heavy snowfall transforms the scenery and shrouds the area in tranquility. Soak in an outside rotenburo bath and watch the snow blanket the surrounding landscape. Then, head to dinner for a taste of Niigata’s famous Uonuma rice and local sake.  

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Kodaiji Wakuden

It takes some nerve to start a restaurant business in Kyoto, particularly if you are an outsider. As home to Japan’s imperial court and nobility for over 1,200 years, Kyoto is also the birthplace of Kyo-kaiseki, an elaborate, multi-course meal widely considered the pinnacle of Japanese haute cuisine. What’s more, the people of Kyoto who see themselves as the ultimate arbiters of culinary sophistication, are notoriously dismissive of those who hail from anywhere else. So, it must have been a… Read more »

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Yamadera

There are certain houses of worship that claim to be the site of a miracle or extraordinary phenomenon, inspiring awe in the faithful and cynical amusement in the unbelieving. Naples Cathedral – known in Italy as Cattedrale di San Gennaro — has a vial of the dried-up blood of Saint Januarius , a 3rd-century Catholic martyr, which is said to liquefy twice a year, including on his feast day. At Yamadera, a temple of Japan’s Tendai Buddhist sect in Yamagata… Read more »