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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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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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Stylish Ceramic Tableware and More at Utsuwa Kenshin

Despite being the capital of a nation obsessed with ceramics and contemporary design, Tokyo hosts surprisingly few shops that specialize in contemporary ceramic ware made by artists who, rather than following a time-honored aesthetic tradition, have developed their own distinctive style. So, it is always a joy to visit Utsuwa Kenshin, a small store located halfway between Shibuya and Omotesando in Tokyo. Here, the owner, Kenshin Sato, displays a carefully curated selection of handcrafted ceramics by artists whom he has… 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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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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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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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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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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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 »