ARTS&CULTURE March 22, 2017

The Kimono, Japan’s Traditional Garment

The kimono may be a cultural marker as familiar as the baseball cap, and it has been adapted for continued use in a country that long ago adopted Western clothing by Imperial edict. The kimono is a simple visual shorthand that says “Japan” as strongly as do sushi or anime. But the actual kimono, whether […]

ARTS&CULTURE March 16, 2017

Sumo Wrestlers: A Life of A True Warrior

Along with the samurai and the geisha, one of Japan’s iconic character types is the massive sumo wrestler, a figure of great cultural, as well as physical, heft. In Japanese, of course, this sport is not called “sumo wrestling”; it is simply sumo, which literally means ”striking one another.” But unlike various forms of boxing […]

EXPERIENCE March 7, 2017

Hanami: Enjoying the most iconic Japanese scenery

Life is beautiful, fragile and fleeting: This is one of the central understandings that underpins much Japanese art and culture, from ikebana to calligraphy to fresh sushi. Nature and its seasonal, ever-changing beauty is crucial to Japanese life and culture, and one of the events in Japanese life where that is most apparent is in […]

TRAVEL February 27, 2017

The Subtle, Confounding Zen Koan

The Zen koan is one of the least understood of Japanese creations, by either foreigners or even many Japanese – but that is by design. The essence of a koan is that it is not comprehensible by the rational mind, but instead works subtly, over time, on the subconscious. The koan – based on the […]

TRAVEL February 22, 2017

Four “Little Kyotos” in Japan: Kanazawa, Nara, Takayama and Kamakura

After a few days or so in Tokyo, most visitors to Japan find great relief in visiting Kyoto, which offers many contrasts to the modern megalopolis. Where Tokyo is huge and sprawling, Kyoto is smaller and ringed by mountains, which help a visitor feel oriented. Where Tokyo is all lights and traffic and modern architecture, […]

EXPERIENCE February 13, 2017

Vending Machines in Japan

If you’ve not yet been to Japan, you may have trouble picturing the ubiquity of vending machines, which stand in their dozens on seemingly every street, in every public space – even in forests, along hiking trails, selling insect repellent! Vending machines are so ubiquitous, even in picturesque scenes from which they’d be banned in […]

TRAVEL February 6, 2017

Nikko and the Area

In the early 20th century, foreigners such as Albert Einstein, Helen Keller and Frank Lloyd Wright discovered first hand what the Japanese have known for centuries: That you should never say kekkou – a word that means “I am satisfied” – until one has seen Nikko. Though still little-known outside of the country, within Japan […]

ARTS&CULTURE January 30, 2017

The Heian Period: Japan’s Classic

Japan’s “classical” period, when what we now know as Japanese culture first flowered, came later than classical periods in the West, China and India. But once it began in the late eighth century C.E., the four centuries of the Heian period saw the archipelago transformed. The Heian period – named for the original name for […]

ARTS&CULTURE January 24, 2017

Amaterasu and the Gods of Ancient Japan

The early myths of Japan were first compiled beginning in the fifth and eighth centuries C.E., in books known as the Kojiki and the Nihongi. This is rather late compared to the myths of nearby China, not to mention Greek and Rome. But perhaps because of their relatively recent vintage, these myths seem to resonate […]

ARTS&CULTURE January 17, 2017

Honne vs. Tatemae

In English, it is called a “white lie”: the not-quite-true fabrication, or shading of the truth, that is designed to soften what would otherwise be a hurtful comment or uncomfortable social reality. Most cultures around the world recognize that giving an unvarnished opinion or stating a truth plainly can cause not just personal distress, but […]