Hitoyoshi: Kyushu's 'little Kyoto'

Apr 12, 2014

Hitoyoshi: Kyushu's 'little Kyoto'

There are 24 tunnels on the expressway between Kumamoto and Hitoyoshi, 23 more than my claustrophobic mother is comfortable with. By the time we pull off at the small city in southern Kumamoto Prefecture that bills itself as a “little Kyoto,” my navigator is ...

Hot times in the realm of Mount Aso

Dec 21, 2013

Hot times in the realm of Mount Aso

I used to think that only Mount Fuji was massive enough to have its own weather patterns, but 1,592-meter Mount Aso in Kyushu proved me wrong. The clear skies and perfect late-September temperatures we were reveling in at the base of the hill dissipated ...

Autumn escape in the home of the Heike clan

Nov 30, 2013

Autumn escape in the home of the Heike clan

The road has thankfully just widened — and by that I mean it’s more than 2 meters across — when we meet our first oncoming car. I’ve been dreading this moment since we turned onto Route 445, a twisting “highway” that leads up into ...

Tracing the path of history in northern Nagasaki

Sep 7, 2013

Tracing the path of history in northern Nagasaki

The horn blast from the incoming ferry echoes clearly through the top-floor hall of Hirado Castle. From the donjon’s vantage point, my husband and I can clearly see the large passenger ship as it enters the sheltered bay of Hirado’s port, marking the end ...

Treats galore in summertime Sapporo

Aug 31, 2013

Treats galore in summertime Sapporo

I barely recognize Sapporo’s Odori Park clothed in its summer coat of flowers. The last time I journeyed north to Hokkaido, this dozen-block strip of land running straight as a die through the middle of its capital city was sporting massive artistic creations fashioned ...

Theaters of war and peace in Kumamoto

Jul 20, 2013

Theaters of war and peace in Kumamoto

The pamphlet tells me this is a “castle” — but the structure in front of me defies that description. Granted, my frame of reference is greatly informed by the impressive edifices of Kumamoto, Himeji and Matsumoto that date back to the gory Sengoku (Warring ...

On the trail of ninja in Iga's shadowy past

May 12, 2013

On the trail of ninja in Iga's shadowy past

The bright-pink ninja-emblazoned train isn’t exactly the epitome of stealth as it cuts through the forested hills and rice paddies of Mie Prefecture. Neither are visitors’ pint-size offspring who race excitedly up the paths of Ueno Park in the city of Iga shrieking their ...

Diving into Ise-Shima's ancient womanly traditions

Aug 12, 2012

Diving into Ise-Shima's ancient womanly traditions

The hut of the pearl divers is more modern than I’d expected. Here, in the village of Osatsu along the craggy coast of the Ise-Shima region in Mie Prefecture, the small concrete building named Hachimankamado blends in with its 21st-century surroundings. But inside the ...