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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 »

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A Soothing Summer Walk in the Oirase River Gorge

Attracted by the prospect of a ramble by a mountain stream shaded by lush trees, I planned a trip to Oirase, a scenic area of Aomori Prefecture at the northern tip of Honshu in May. In my view this is one of the best months to travel in terms of the climate, but the weather forecast grew increasingly bleak as the date of my trip approached: overcast and cold, was the prediction, with temperatures expected to plunge to near zero…. Read more »

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Kinugawa Onsen

The Kinugawa River weaves its way south from Japan’s highest marshland, more than 2,000 meters above sea level, in a remote hinterland where Tochigi and Gunma prefectures meet. As it meanders south, the river skirts some of Japan’s best-known sites, such as the eponymous Kinugawa Onsen hot springs, Kawachi Onsen and Nikko before spilling into the larger Tone River 177 kilometers from its source. Kinugawa is better known for its tendency to flood — as it did most recently in… 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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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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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 »

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Snow-capped Peaks and Flower Gardens in Hokkaido

The first time I heard the name Biei was when we were driving through an expansive landscape of rolling hills and open skies in the middle of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island that is famous for its powder snow, rugged terrain and unspoiled nature. Not only had I never heard of this small town, the name, like those of many areas in Hokkaido, sounded distinctly un-Japanese, giving the place an exotic feel, even though all the signs were in Japanese and… Read more »

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Jinya – Home to Totoro’s Tree

Tokyoites in need of a break from the hustle and bustle of city life usually head to the hot springs and scenic comforts of Hakone or Izu, which are within easy reach of the megalopolis by car or train. But relatively few of them may know that there is an onsen, or hot spring town, which is even closer to Tokyo than either of the city’s best-known getaway sanctuaries. Tsurumaki Onsen is a small town in Kanagawa prefecture, which has… Read more »

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From Kitsch to Cool – Sayonara Shopping at Narita

Air travel is an essential part of 21st century life, especially for residents of the island nation of Japan. An overseas trip can mean jetlag ranging from a few hours to the better part of a day and many hours of forced stillness while cramped into a small space. While passing through Terminal 1 at Narita Airport on a recent occasion, I realized that the newly updated shopping arcade there might be the perfect place to actively flex one’s ”retail… Read more »

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Shodoshima – a Scenic Sanctuary in the Inland Sea

The trees along the mountaintops were just beginning to show hints of autumnal gold and vermillion, the villages dotting the narrow road that wound its way inland from the coast were deserted, and everything seemed as one would have expected on a secluded island long after the summer crowds had gone. But Shodoshima, a small island in the Seto Inland Sea off the southwest coast of Japan’s main island, Honshu, turned out to hold a few surprises when we visited… 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 »