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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 »

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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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Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Stunning Enoura Observatory

The Odawara Art Foundation’s stunning Enoura Observatory only opened to the public in late 2017, but in that short time has drawn such enthusiastic recommendations that I was eager to see it for myself. I wasn’t disappointed. At Enoura, situated in the Hakone mountains along the coast between Odawara and Atami, architect Hiroshi Sugimoto has created an artistic treat for the eyes and mind in a sprawling citrus grove overlooking the sea. Despite its peaceful rural location, I found Enoura… Read more »

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Hakone – a Mountain Refuge for Weary Urbanites

The mountain resort of Hakone is to Tokyoites what Long Island is to New Yorkers – a tranquil refuge for work-weary urbanites in need of physical and spiritual restoration. Just a two-hour drive from the Japanese capital, Hakone is celebrated for its panoramic views, therapeutic hot-spring baths, diverse cultural institutions and abundance of luxurious accommodations – although its range of more modest inns, hostels and day-visit baths also makes it a popular choice for those on tighter budgets. In past… Read more »

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Bijinga – The World of Shoen Uemura’s Beautiful Women

Whenever I host foreign visitors in Tokyo, they invariably comment on the meticulous appearance of Japanese women. Depending on their viewpoint, my friends see this adherence to a particularly Japanese idea of beauty – elegant, modest, and feminine – as (usually) something admirable and aspirational, or (occasionally), evidence of a patriarchal society in which women are encouraged to conform to a tightly-defined aesthetic standard. Regardless of whether you think a focus on appearance is liberating or restricting for women, I… Read more »