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Ristorante Honda – An Italian Take on Japan’s Seasonal Fare

As we walked through the front door of Ristorante Honda, an elegant Michelin-starred restaurant in Tokyo’s Gaienmae neighborhood, I was struck by the realization that eating out may never be quite the same again. Inside the restaurant’s stylish dining room, with its neutral tones and white table linen, stood two men wearing face shields over their masks, looking like characters out of a Star Wars film. “Some customers are quite concerned about contagion,” explained the maitre d’ from behind his… Read more »

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A Weekend Break In Snow Country

Minami Uonuma in southeastern Niigata is an area known for its flavorful rice and deep snow. It is just a short drive north of Yuzawa, where novelist Yasunari Kawabata, who won the 1968 Nobel Prize for Literature, set his famous novel, “Snow Country.” So, when we visited the region in late January, the view from the rotenburo, or open air bath, at our lodgings in Minami Uonuma was not quite what I had expected. The hills in the distance were… Read more »

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Of samurai and storehouses – Aizu Wakamatsu and Kitakata.

On the morning of Oct. 23, 1868, 19 young soldiers between the ages of 15 and 17 took their own lives on Mt Iimori in the castle town of Aizu Wakamatsu, Fukushima prefecture. It was the year after Japan’s military government had been overthrown and the Aizu domain, which rebelled against the new government, was under siege. The young soldiers, the sons of Aizu samurai who were members of the Byakkotai (White Tiger Force), had been forced to flee from… Read more »

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Annual Show Celebrates Japan’s Print-Making Tradition.

Of all forms of artistic expression, ukiyo-e woodblock prints depicting life in the “floating world” of Edo Japan (1603-1868) have probably done the most to popularize Japanese art beyond its borders. Ever since they were discovered by western travelers when Japan opened its doors to trade and diplomatic relations after more than two centuries of an isolationist policy, Japanese woodblock prints, with their stylized, unapologetically two dimensional portrayals of a pleasure-seeking lifestyle, have been valued and beloved worldwide for their… Read more »

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Art, both modern and rustic, beckons in Aomori

The massive steed stands on powerful hind legs, its forelegs thrashing high above our heads, while its coat — a mosaic of multicolored flowers – brings to mind a horse in a child’s picture book. It is the iconic, 5.5-meter-high monument standing at the entrance of the Towada Art Center, a contemporary art museum that bears the name of the city located deep inside Aomori Prefecture, northern Japan. My friend and I dropped by the museum on our travels through… Read more »

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Akito Katsumura’s Ceramic Art Marries Tradition with Contemporary Cool

Japan is a ceramic lover’s paradise, where there are countless talented artists working in clay to create a vast and varied range of goods, from everyday dinnerware and tea ceremony utensils to sculptures and decorative objets. Yet, many of these works, despite commanding a high level of technical expertise and aesthetic sensibility, can only be found at some random pottery fair or a small specialist shop in a remote provincial town. So, it was a delight to receive a postcard… Read more »

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Karuizawa – A Tale of Two Shoppers

The day felt like somewhere between late winter and early spring as we dashed to Tokyo station and jumped on an early Shinkansen train to the mountain resort town of Karuizawa hoping for some retail therapy and much needed relaxation in hotspring baths at Hoshino Onsen. It was the perfect time to visit without the crowds of spring, summer and autumn. We’d heard about the infamous two-hour taxi ride through unreasonable seasonal traffic from Karuizawa station to the outer reaches… Read more »

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Kumano Kodo – Discovering mysteries of the Kii peninsula

The mountain path is deep, dark and dense with trees that send their gnarled roots over the verdant forest floor. Some of the moss-covered trunks shoot up to the skies while others, massive and aged, seem to merge with hulking rocks that stand in the way of all but the most intrepid traveler. We are standing at the entrance to an ancient pilgrimage route – one of seven trails that have for centuries led the faithful into these forbidding mountains… Read more »

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Parks with “Flower Power”

The Japanese custom of admiring flowers to mark the seasons reaches a high point in early spring when the entire national consciousness seems to be focused on the annual flowering of the cherry blossoms. Once the delicate pale pink blooms of the Somei Yoshino cherry trees have lost their luster and blown away, Japan’s flower fever indeed subsides, but hardly fades away. Instead, late spring and early summer are times for more showy specimens, from the purple clusters of hanging… Read more »

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Out with Tsukiji, In with Toyosu and (who knew), Adachi?

After the demise last year of one of the world’s best-loved wholesale fish markets at Tsukiji in Tokyo (and its relocation across the river to a soulless, gleaming building at Toyosu), the biggest surprise has been the continuing appeal – for tourists and locals alike — of the myriad shops and restaurants tucked in the narrow lanes that comprise Tsukiji’s old “outer market.”  The specialty shops and stalls here initially sprang up to cater to the culinary needs of wholesalers,… Read more »

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Yoshino – Sakura Spectacle

The ritual procession made its way slowly along the narrow road that weaves its way up Yoshino Mountain in Nara prefecture, as local residents and tourists alike looked on, transfixed with delight at witnessing such a propitious event.  It was the peak of the sakura season in Yoshino, an area famous for its cherry trees, and the long line of mountain priests, men in traditional festival attire or goblin costumes, worshippers and children, was headed to Kinpusenji, the most important… Read more »

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Farewell Aoyama Maru, Hello Maru Bengara

It’s sad when an outstanding restaurant closes its doors. Such is the case of  Aoyama Maru, one of our favorite Tokyo eateries for relaxed yet high quality dining that combines contemporary twists with traditional kaiseki or haute cuisine concepts, at remarkably reasonable prices. After 15 years in its warm, stylish basement premises off Aoyama Dori, Maru is closing due to building renovation. Owner and executive chef, Keiji Mori says he plans to reopen next year in a new location. But… Read more »