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Unearthing the hidden charms of Ebisu-Nishi

A little over a year ago my husband and I swapped the vibrant chaos of East London for the cosmopolitan tranquility of Tokyo, seeking to propel ourselves out of our comfort zone and experience life in entirely unfamiliar surroundings. Keen to have more opportunities to practice our fledgling Japanese, we decided to live slightly outside the usual expat circuit of Aoyama and Hiroo, and settled in an area formally known as Ebisu-Nishi, nestled between Ebisu and Daikanyama stations. The wider area is framed by the… 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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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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Edo Kiriko – a Cutting Edge Experience

For centuries, Japanese craftsmen have, with a mix of remarkable dexterity, a keen eye for detail and a finely honed aesthetic sensibility, transformed all manner of material into works of art, in the form of pottery, textiles, basketry and even glass. While it takes countless years of dedicated practice to achieve even a moderate level of success in any type of craft, it is possible these days to find studios all over Japan where complete novices can try their hand… 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 »

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Miya Ando

Artist Miya Ando grew up on the grounds of a Buddhist temple in Japan and in a remote area of California. Her spare and contemplative works in metal, glass and natural materials are filled with light and strength, revealing ancestral influences as the descendent of Nicheren Buddhist monks in Bizen, Japan and the 16th generation of a samurai sword craftsmen family. Her humor and warmth quite possibly come from her father’s Jewish/Russian lineage. Ando was born in the United States… 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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Navigating the Hills and History of Nagasaki

At the top of a particularly steep hill that leads to the historic foreigners’ quarters of Nagasaki, there is an unusual traffic sign with an illustration of a bicycle and a diagonal line running along either side of it, indicating “no bicycles.” It isn’t that the flagstone-paved street is reserved for pedestrians. There are plenty of cars going up and down the hill, known as “Oranda-zaka” or “Hollander Slope,” after the foreign residents who could be seen walking to and… 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 »