Easy does it on Taketomi

Jun 17, 2012

Easy does it on Taketomi

Consulting a map of Okinawa, you might be forgiven for thinking that the Yaeyama Islands group comprises fragments of Japan and China that have become loosened and detached. It’s an impression confirmed at every turn once you set foot on these remote littorals. Ferries ...

Matsue: 'City of Water ' with a history set in stone

Jun 10, 2012

Matsue: 'City of Water ' with a history set in stone

The train from Okayama to Matsue took nowhere near as long as the one the English writer Sacheverell Sitwell boarded in 1959 to the same destination: “Nine hours from Osaka, into a remote and little-visited part.” The region still feels faintly remote, the train ...

Making a life after surviving the war

Jun 3, 2012

Making a life after surviving the war

My Postwar Life: New Writings From Japan and Okinawa, edited by Elizabeth McKenzie. Chicago Quarterly Review Books, 324 pp., $19.95 (hardcover) The first entry in this new anthology begins with the blackened image of a watch, its hands stalled at 11:02 a.m., the precise ...

May 20, 2012

A tour de Japan

Japan on Foot, by Mary King. Fine Line Press, 2012, 236 pp., $23.00 (paperback) The Japanese like to think of themselves as a small people living within snug, but territorially confined boundaries. Scale, of course, is relative. If you come from Russia, then Japan ...

Kamakura's historic 'flowering garden'

Apr 29, 2012

Kamakura's historic 'flowering garden'

When I meander through the gardens of Zuisen-ji Temple, I’m always reminded of a particular haiku by the 17th-century poet Matsuo Basho, which goes: Fading temple bell / The fragrance of flowers strikes / At evening. I’m not sure if its bell actually strikes ...

Chinese National Army and the Golden Triangle

Apr 22, 2012

Chinese National Army and the Golden Triangle

The Secret Army: Chiang Kai-shek and the Drug Warlords of the Golden Triangle, by Richard M. Gibson with Wenhua Chen. Wiley, 2011, 384 pp., $32.95 (paperback) Anyone who has stared into the devitalized eyes of an opium addict will know how grave the legacy ...

Yonaguni: Japan's most westerly isle

Apr 1, 2012

Yonaguni: Japan's most westerly isle

A colossal, dark-skinned man rides along the sidewalk on a motorbike: no helmet, two small children aboard — a vision of life in the laconic Tropics. There are times here too on Yonaguni, the westernmost land mass in Okinawa Prefecture, when you see a ...

Fiction that binds: Japan's hope after disaster

Apr 1, 2012

Fiction that binds: Japan's hope after disaster

Kizuna: Fiction for Japan, edited by Brent Millis. CreateSpace, 2011, 228 pp., $15.99 (e-book) It’s no coincidence that the Chinese character chosen to represent the most expressive sentiment of the year in Japan, one that signifies hope after disaster and misery, was kizuna, meaning ...

Feb 26, 2012

Fuji-san: reflections on Japan's iconic mother mountain

MOUNT FUJI: Icon of Japan, by H. Byron Earhart. The University of South Carolina Press, 2011, 238 pp., $40 (hardcover) It is significant that in a country where nature has long been transfused with the numinous, that Japan’s most iconic image is neither a ...

A glint of copper hints at Fukiya's mining past

Feb 12, 2012

A glint of copper hints at Fukiya's mining past

Sitting in sublime obscurity in a raised valley one hour by bus from Bitchu-Takahashi, Fukiya Furusato Mura in Okayama Prefecture must surely be one of Japan’s most under-appreciated rural destinations. Mention the name even to Japanese travelers and you are likely to draw blank ...