TRAVEL April 5, 2017

The Grand Shrine at Ise

Japan’s original, pre-historic religion was a form of nature worship that centered around a number of gods associated with certain natural elements and processes. Chief among them was Amaterasu, the sun god. Unlike most other sun gods around the world, Amaterasu was a female deity. She is the most important Shinto god, and the Japanese […]

ARTS&CULTURE March 29, 2017

Concept of Uchi-Soto: In-Groups and Out-Groups

Japanese social customs are complex and dynamic, and often depend, and change, based on circumstance, social standing, age, professional position, and myriad other considerations. The dichotomy of honne-tatamae – the concept of a public face and a true face – is one expression of this duality. The duality of uchi-soto is another. Uchi literally refers […]

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 […]