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Natsuko Toda’s Favorite Things

1. Where do you live and why did you choose to live there? I was born in Tokyo and lived in Setagaya ward until I was about 20. When Hiroo Garden Hills was developed, it looked like a good place to live. Back then, you could only buy an apartment there if you won a lottery. I was lucky I won the lottery and was able to buy an apartment, probably because it was on the fourth floor. (The number 4 in Japanese is… Read more »

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Takato Tamagami’s Favorite Things

We asked Takato Tamagami, a Tokyo-based architect, about his favorite places, pastimes and more. Where do you live and why did you choose that neighborhood? I live with my wife and two children in Hatsudai, which is where my office is. What I like about this neighborhood is that it’s easy to get to both Shibuya and Shinjuku, so it’s very convenient and there are lots of places to eat. Hatsudai also retains the atmosphere of shitamachi, densely populated old Tokyo… Read more »

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A Stroll Amid Rustic Houses and Temples at Yokohama Sankeien

The Meiji Era (1868-1912) was a time of tumultuous change in Japan that brought rapid industrial development and western ideas to a feudal society. The social and economic upheaval of the time provided unprecedented opportunities for several astute industrialists and businessmen, who not only amassed huge fortunes but also left their mark as patrons of the arts. There is Kaichiro Nezu (1860-1940), who was both a successful businessman and tea ceremony connoisseur and used the wealth he made in railways… Read more »

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Yakushi Onsen – Time Travel Back to a Traditional Way of Life

For many people living in Japan today, the sight of smoke swirling over a thatched roof or fish grilling over a hearth is likely to stir a strong sense of nostalgia for a more peaceful and simpler way of life. Such idyllic scenes have all but disappeared from contemporary life, but Hatago, a hot spring resort in Gunma Prefecture, has brought together several traditional houses to form a mini-village reminiscent of a lost Japan. Located in Yakushi Onsen, the grounds… Read more »

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A Weekend Break In Snow Country

Minami Uonuma in southeastern Niigata is an area known for its flavorful rice and deep snow. It is just a short drive north of Yuzawa, where novelist Yasunari Kawabata, who won the 1968 Nobel Prize for Literature, set his famous novel, “Snow Country.” So, when we visited the region in late January, the view from the rotenburo, or open air bath, at our lodgings in Minami Uonuma was not quite what I had expected. The hills in the distance were… Read more »

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Of samurai and storehouses – Aizu Wakamatsu and Kitakata.

On the morning of Oct. 23, 1868, 19 young soldiers between the ages of 15 and 17 took their own lives on Mt Iimori in the castle town of Aizu Wakamatsu, Fukushima prefecture. It was the year after Japan’s military government had been overthrown and the Aizu domain, which rebelled against the new government, was under siege. The young soldiers, the sons of Aizu samurai who were members of the Byakkotai (White Tiger Force), had been forced to flee from… Read more »

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Karuizawa – A Tale of Two Shoppers

The day felt like somewhere between late winter and early spring as we dashed to Tokyo station and jumped on an early Shinkansen train to the mountain resort town of Karuizawa hoping for some retail therapy and much needed relaxation in hotspring baths at Hoshino Onsen. It was the perfect time to visit without the crowds of spring, summer and autumn. We’d heard about the infamous two-hour taxi ride through unreasonable seasonal traffic from Karuizawa station to the outer reaches… Read more »

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Parks with “Flower Power”

The Japanese custom of admiring flowers to mark the seasons reaches a high point in early spring when the entire national consciousness seems to be focused on the annual flowering of the cherry blossoms. Once the delicate pale pink blooms of the Somei Yoshino cherry trees have lost their luster and blown away, Japan’s flower fever indeed subsides, but hardly fades away. Instead, late spring and early summer are times for more showy specimens, from the purple clusters of hanging… Read more »

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Yoshino – Sakura Spectacle

The ritual procession made its way slowly along the narrow road that weaves its way up Yoshino Mountain in Nara prefecture, as local residents and tourists alike looked on, transfixed with delight at witnessing such a propitious event.  It was the peak of the sakura season in Yoshino, an area famous for its cherry trees, and the long line of mountain priests, men in traditional festival attire or goblin costumes, worshippers and children, was headed to Kinpusenji, the most important… Read more »

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Yugawara – Ancient Relics, Hot Springs and the Deep, Blue Sea

Of the many legends about the origins of the hot springs at Yugawara, south of Tokyo, my favorite one tells the story of Gyouki, the high priest of Yakushiji Temple in Nara. According to this tale, while Gyouki was traveling through the country seeking funds for the construction of the Great Buddha of Nara, he met an ailing beggar in the mountains of Hakone, west of Tokyo. Gyouki carried the beggar on his back and, following his directions, descended the… 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 »