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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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We are the Farm – an organic restaurant run by farmers

There has been a flurry of building activity this past year in Tokyo’s Azabu Jyuban neighborhood, where long-time mom-and-pop stores have been steadily replaced by flashier outfits. But it is not just the small, family-run businesses that are being pushed out – in the past year, one of the few, local supermarkets in the area was replaced by upscale French frozen and organic foods stores and a Tully’s coffee shop turned into a Dean and Deluca outlet. Among the more… 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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Maru Aoyama – izakaya comfort with kaiseki roots

Tucked away on a side street off Aoyama-dori, a few blocks from Omotesando subway station, Maru is a rare combination of casual yet sophisticated dining, serving high quality izakaya or bistro fare with a refined kaiseki, or haute cuisine sensibility. We discovered Maru and its warm, stylish basement premises well over a decade ago, and have kept returning over the years. While its style in both food and presentation is consistently high, the most surprising thing about this chic yet… Read more »

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Jinya – Home to Totoro’s Tree

Tokyoites in need of a break from the hustle and bustle of city life usually head to the hot springs and scenic comforts of Hakone or Izu, which are within easy reach of the megalopolis by car or train. But relatively few of them may know that there is an onsen, or hot spring town, which is even closer to Tokyo than either of the city’s best-known getaway sanctuaries. Tsurumaki Onsen is a small town in Kanagawa prefecture, which has… 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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Il Ghiottone – Italian cuisine with a Japanese twist

When I was growing up, going out for Italian food in Tokyo basically meant going for pizza. But in the decades since, Japanese chefs have taken Italian cuisine to a different level — not only in terms of variety and quality but also in presentation. These days, you can find top-notch Italian restaurants in most major Tokyo neighborhoods, some boasting one or more stars from Michelin. Meanwhile, the standard pizzerias of yesteryear in Japan these days offer not just classic… 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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Inden-ya

Deer, in Japan, are not a widely used source of food or leather, so it often surprises a visitor, — and even many Japanese — to come across Inden-ya, which specializes in beautifully crafted leather goods made of lacquered deerskin. Although cows have long replaced deer as the favored source of leather, it is believed that deerskin was used in Japan for protective clothing as far back as the 4th century B.C. In the heyday of the samurai, deerskin was… Read more »

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Chojuan – Eating Soba Noodles in Style

Soba noodles, which are made of buckwheat, have been a favorite fast-food meal of busy Tokyoites ever since the early days of the bustling capital, in the 17th and 18th centuries, when it was still known as Edo. Today, time-pressed diners in Tokyo can still duck into one of many soba stands found all over the city, slurp their noodles at the counter and be gone within minutes. But those who prefer to eat their soba in a more relaxed… Read more »