Dec 26, 2010

Exploring historic Nagasaki

The gate in front of me once opened to the world. Steps — now long gone — formerly led down from there to a quay in Nagasaki’s sheltered harbor where, in centuries past, visiting trading ships tied up. It was here that European mariners ...

Taking a tea break in Shizuoka

Aug 15, 2010

Taking a tea break in Shizuoka

It’s no secret what the cash crop of Shizuoka Prefecture is: tea. Green and generally reckoned to be healthful, this brew has fueled Japan for close on 1,500 years since being introduced from the Asian mainland. Now, as my Hamamatsu-bound train winds its way ...

Brides, boats and blooms

Jun 13, 2010

Brides, boats and blooms

The bride in the garden is a vision in white, her snowy dress contrasting sharply with the brilliant purple of the irises around her. “Beautiful!” sighs the gaggle of Japanese women around me, with that classic, high-pitched exhalation of breath and wistful looks in ...

Warming to Ryukyu culture

Apr 4, 2010

Warming to Ryukyu culture

The air is stifling in the cement interior of the Ishikawa Dome, despite the sides being open to the weather. I shift my limbs, in danger of losing circulation on the unforgiving benches, while my right arm furiously works my paper program as a ...

Go to where your cup runneth over

Feb 7, 2010

Go to where your cup runneth over

The green and white taxis are lined up outside Katsunuma-Budokyo Station like the stripes on a holiday peppermint stick. I readjust the contents of my daypack after the 90-minute train trip from Tokyo, take out my map, and hop into the back of the ...

Shades of Greece on the Inland Sea

Nov 15, 2009

Shades of Greece on the Inland Sea

The windmill is the first thing I notice, its delicate white blades gleaming against the cloud- flecked sky. Nearby, a semi-circle of polished Doric-style columns occupies prime position overlooking the glassy sea. As a breeze blows gently through olive trees on the shady hillside, ...

Diving with dolphins in the Izu Islands

Oct 4, 2009

Diving with dolphins in the Izu Islands

It’s Saturday morning and I’m sitting on the beach, struggling to strap on a pair of oversize flippers. When they are securely in place, I waddle down to the water’s edge and gingerly step into the sparkling, crystal ocean lapping Miyake Island. “Ready to ...

Serving up soba and shrines

Sep 13, 2009

Serving up soba and shrines

The lump of dough in the large mixing bowl in front of me doesn’t look like much, but soba-making instructor Hatuko Tokutake isn’t concerned. “You have to knead it at least 150 times,” she coaches me, confident in her 10 years experience as a ...

Striking it rich on the Izu Peninsula

Aug 16, 2009

Striking it rich on the Izu Peninsula

Gold may be heavier than water, but all that’s rattling around the bottom of my panning bowl are lots of multicolored pebbles. “Slowly, very slowly, or you’ll shake the gold out,” says my instructor Noriko Yamamoto, a seven-year employee of Toi Kinzan, a restored ...

All aboard for Saitama's splendors

Jun 7, 2009

All aboard for Saitama's splendors

“Get ready!” comes the call from Kato, our river guide who is standing at his post in the stern of our wooden longboat. My gaze snaps forward, scanning the waterway. Up until this point, our cruise on the Arakawa (Ara River) in Saitama Prefecture ...