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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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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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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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Jean Georges’ Asian-Inspired French Cuisine

I was thrilled when invited to the “soft opening” of the newly revamped JG, the Tokyo outpost of New York’s celebrated Jean-Georges restaurant. I’d been a fan of French-born chef Jean Georges Vongerichten and his Alsatian-inspired cooking for perhaps  25 years and gladly accepted the summons I received from new General Manager (and old associate) Takenori Nakazato. I reminded myself that a “soft opening” is when the restaurant isn’t officially open and friends and family are invited to dine so… Read more »

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MAMMA MIA! WHAT A MEAL AT MAMMA LUISA’S TABLE

When my Tuscan friend Gabriella feels enthusiastic about something she rolls her eyes toward the heavens and exclaims, “Mamma mia!” No, she’s not an Abba impersonator.  In this particular case it was an apt reaction to finding Mamma Luisa’s Table, a tiny Tuscan gem of a restaurant tucked away in the backstreets that fringe Tokyo’s vibrant Shibuya shopping district. It was just cooling down on a late summer evening and definitely time for a chilled glass of wine as we… 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 »