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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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Kayanoya – an Umami Wonderland

Japanese are their own best food critics, rewarding quality establishments with outstanding success while leaving shoddy places to languish. But some quality restaurants and food businesses have been propelled to even greater heights by the influx of foreign visitors to Japan in recent years. Such is the case of Kayanoya, a Kyushu-based soy sauce brewery specializing in shoyu (soy sauce), dashi (soup stock) and other traditional seasonings. Over nearly 130 years, Kayanoya has built up a devoted following among Japanese…. Read more »

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DASK -Hidden Treasures in Vibrant Sangenjaya

You vaguely think you’ve seen something like this before — a small, cool shop full of arty objects, clothes and pottery. But step in and you will see that DASK is special, from its carefully curated wares to its ever-changing music and enigmatic proprietor. Tucked away in a retro arcade in vibrant Sangenjaya, this shop-cum-gallery is a reminder of the rewards that await the curious wanderer in Tokyo’s urban sprawl. Sangenjaya, just two train stops and a world away from… 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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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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Goldfish Galore – a Dazzling Exhibition of Japan’s Favorite Ornamental Fish

Goldfish have been a staple feature of Japanese summers since at least the Edo period (1603-1868) when wealthy merchants and samurai began to keep them in their ponds as pets. Small and easy to handle, unlike carp, to which they are related, wild goldfish are actually olive green but some turn out to be red,  orange or yellow,  due to a natural genetic mutation. People in ancient China began to selectively breed the brightly-colored and multi-patterned fish more than a thousand years… Read more »

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“The Aesthetics of Japanese Illumination” – Contemporary Japanese Art in a Traditional Setting

Traditional Japanese architecture is best known for its extreme minimalism, as exemplified by the austere but elegant simplicity of the classic tea house and perfected at Katsura Rikyu Imperial Villa in Kyoto, which is considered the quintessence of Japanese taste. But the Japanese architectural aesthetic is certainly not all about earthen walls, simple bamboo lattices and plain washi paper screens. At the other extreme is an aesthetic that celebrates extravagance, intricacy, even garishness, and reflects the same horror vacui, or… 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 »