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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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Nakazawa – hand-made cards that say it with feeling and artistry

One of the pleasures of walking around local neighborhoods in Tokyo is stumbling upon a store in the most unlikely place that sells one-of-a-kind, beautifully crafted objects. We wrote about Utsuwa Kenshin, a carefully curated ceramics shop in Shibuya, some time back and the treasure house of lacquered leather goods, Indenya, in Aoyama.  A more recent find was Nakazawa, a small shop in the Asakusa area that sells exquisite, hand-made cards. We were on our way to a photo exhibition… 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 »

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A Glimpse of Unspoiled Nature in Hokkaido

“There’s a bear over there!,” the young man seated next to me exclaimed as he pointed excitedly at the shore. “It’s right by the fishing nets on the beach, close to the water,” he added, prompting the other 39 passengers on our boat to pull out their binoculars in a bid to glimpse the furry animal we had all been hoping to see that afternoon. We were on one of the small cruise boats that travel along the coast of… Read more »

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Enjoying the pageantry of a bygone era – The Soma Nomaoi Festival

In another age I might have had to prostate myself in front of the samurai warriors mounted on their steeds. But, this was the 21st century and I was a tourist cheerfully snapping pictures as the single column of “warriors” riding their colorfully decorated thoroughbreds passed by. I had journeyed from Tokyo to the northern part of Fukushima Prefecture to see the Soma Nomaoi Festival, which began as a feudal military exercise more than 1,000 years ago. A horse race… Read more »

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Feeling Footloose and Bohemian in Kichijoji

When visiting Japan from abroad, style-conscious friends frequently ask to visit the “Brooklyn” of Tokyo, hoping to find a myriad of alternative clothing boutiques and stellar dining. I always have to resist the urge to tell them there is no Brooklyn, because there’s no Manhattan nearby. Instead Tokyo is a fascinating urban sprawl with no focal center. There are instead 23 wards being “modernized” by the large corporations that operate the train stations along lines intersecting and connecting the vastness… Read more »

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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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TeamLab: Borderless at the Mori Building Digital Art Museum

“Wander, Explore, Discover” is the invitation — or is it the challenge? — that greets visitors as they cross the threshold of the new Mori Building Digital Art Museum in Tokyo’s Odaiba district. In this brand new venture, the urban development giant Mori Building – which owns the site — has teamed up with teamLab, a tech-art collective, to create teamLab Borderless, a series of immersive art installations that aim to transcend barriers between art and technology, the physical and… Read more »

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“Japan in Architecture” – exploring the traditions and transformations of Japanese architecture

In its ongoing exhibition (until Sept. 17 2018) “Japan in Architecture : Genealogies of its Transformation,” the Mori Art Museum takes on a daunting task – to define the distinguishing features of Japanese architecture and illustrate their influence on the contemporary architectural scene. Curated by Fumio Nanjo, director of MAM, and his team, along with two Japanese architectural historians, the exhibition assembles a vast array of superbly-crafted models and photographs of architectural sites, from the Jomon period (14,000-300 BCE) to… Read more »