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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 »

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Azumino

The man from the bicycle shop was standing at the street corner waiting for the lights to change, when he saw us waving energetically in his direction. He was clearly puzzled by our outbursts of greeting, but nonetheless smiled broadly and waved back enthusiastically, arms flapping in the air. We had actually been waving to friends walking a fair distance behind him who had not noticed our presence across the street. Soon enough the traffic lights changed, the misunderstanding was… Read more »

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In Search of Autumn’s Fiery Palette

Admiring nature’s colorful transformation in the fall is a time-honored ritual in Japan that draws crowds from far and wide to distant mountainsides, hidden valleys and traditional gardens famed for their fiery autumnal palettes. While Kyoto is, without doubt, everyone’s favorite spot for enjoying fall foliage, there are plenty of other less crowded sites that offer the chance to be mesmerized by the myriad hues of yellow, orange, red and brown that make autumn such a special time in Japan…. Read more »

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Ginza Honokawa

Just a few blocks behind Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel is a cluster of eateries by the train tracks and highway in a thoroughfare known, fittingly, as Korido-gai, or Corridor Road. The pizza, seafood, grilled chicken and countless other joints crammed together along Korido-gai are mostly cheap and cheerful watering holes where salarymen take refuge after a day’s work. One notable exception is Honokawa, a Japanese restaurant with its roots in Osaka serving Kansai-style Japanese cuisine, which is generally lighter and more subtle in… Read more »

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Au Depart – a stylish wine bar inside Karuizawa station

On a stopover in the fashionable mountain resort town of Karuizawa in southeastern Nagano prefecture, we noticed a stylish new wine bar that would easily win the award for “most ingenious use of a disused railway platform” – if there were such a prize in Japan. With its understated shop front, Au Depart is conveniently located just outside the Karuizawa station building but within the station compound. The brainchild of some local winemakers and a wine-loving entrepreneur, the goal of the… Read more »

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Trekking in the Forests of Yakushima

Even when our car drove up right beside them, the two monkeys sitting on the side of the road pretended to ignore us. The larger one continued to pick fleas off her smaller companion as she cast a surreptitious look our way. But on the whole the monkeys seemed untroubled by our presence. “It’s a mother and child,” our guide informed us. “Monkeys on the island don’t bother people because we don’t feed them,” was his explanation for the animals’… Read more »

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Mashiko Pottery Fair – a Crafts Lovers’ Paradise

For most of the year, Mashiko is a sleepy little town of kilns, pottery shops and vegetable farms that seems to have been forgotten by the rest of the world. The last time I visited, a few years ago, the main street was deserted, many of the shops appeared to be closed and there were few indications of the legendary fame the town enjoys as the adopted home of Shoji Hamada, a leading figure of Japan’s folk art movement and… Read more »

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Eclectic Japanese cuisine at Kafuka

It is unusual for japonica to write twice about the same restaurant but Kafuka deserves a follow-up. We recently managed to secure seats there at short notice, and were rewarded with an eclectic meal that was both impressive and entertaining. Chef Ito, who greeted us with a friendly smile and a warm “konbanwa,” or “good evening,” served a tasting menu of creative dishes and comfort food that was a steal at Y6,000. From where we sat at the counter, we were… Read more »

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The Slow-Paced Charm of Nara

Nara, the ancient capital of Japan, is the Yin to Kyoto’s Yang. While Kyoto abounds with grand temples and flamboyant shrines aimed originally at flaunting the wealth and power of the lords and monks that ruled the day, Nara is a quieter, more relaxed and down-to-earth city, perfect for weaving your way through back alleys on a rented bike or taking a leisurely stroll through the old part of town, known as Naramachi. Nara certainly has its share of tourists,… Read more »