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 […]

ARTS&CULTURE January 9, 2017

Elements of a Traditional Japanese Wedding

The whole world around, there is probably no event more important, and more common to every culture, than the wedding ceremony. The Japanese take this ceremony very seriously: The amount of money the Japanese spend on clothes, decorations, food and venue can match a year’s wages, and the attention to detail can be uniquely Japanese. […]

ARTS&CULTURE December 29, 2016

From Food to Flooring: The Many Amazing Uses of Bamboo

If one could create out of thin air a single physical thing that humans could use to create a variety of products, it would be difficult to come up with something better than bamboo. There are other crucial plants in Japan: Rice and rice straw are ubiquitous and fundamental, tea has been bred and processed […]

TRAVEL December 19, 2016

Japan’s Delightful, Traditional Ryokan

Although the traditional Japanese lodging known as the ryokan is often described as a country inn, or as Japan’s version of the French Auberge, many ryokan are more, being beautiful, elegant places that offer a total hospitality experience that is a must-do for any visitor to Japan. Less common in big cities like Tokyo and […]

FOOD&DRINK December 15, 2016

The Unique Qualities of Japanese Whiskey

When the authoritative publication Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible named Suntory’s Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 the “best whisky in the world” in 2015, it was a pronouncement felt around the world of distilling. Despite previous awards for Japanese Scotches, most observers had long assumed that great Scotch could only be made in its native […]