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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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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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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 »