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 Mandy Bartok

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Mandy Bartok
Mandy Bartok currently lives in Kyushu, and she has been a Japan Times contributor since 2009. When not chasing after her exuberant toddler, she blogs about Japan for travelers at uncoveringjapan.com.
For Mandy Bartok's latest contributions to The Japan Times, see below:
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Sep 3, 2016
Strolling the quiet alleyways of Nara, Japan's forgotten capital
It's hard playing second fiddle when you used to be first chair. Just ask Nara, Kyoto's underpraised southern neighbor.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Jun 4, 2016
A waterlogged retreat, deep in the mountains of Gifu
For a town so closely associated with water, it's rather fitting that Gujo-Hachiman is shaped like a fish.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
May 14, 2016
A landscape of life and death in Kyushu
Despite my short stature, I have to bend nearly in half to enter the underground chamber of reconstructed fifth-century tomb in the Kumamoto Prefecture Decorative Tumulus Museum. The entire tomb is modeled after an actual mound in the nearby city of Yamaga, and inside the chamber, a replica stone altar sits under a rocky dome, bold geometric designs gracing its underbelly. Just above the decorations are a triangular black mouth and a pair of what seem to be scarlet eyes, as if to stare down intruders. To the right, a simplified human figure with arms raised stands against a blood-red background. Life in southern Japan during the third to sixth centuries — with violence and disease as a quotidian struggle — may not have been pretty but, if the walls of the chamber are anything to go by, death certainly was.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Apr 9, 2016
Exploring Tabaruzaka's idyllic but forgotten samurai battleground
The gray spring clouds have given way to a gentle drizzle by the time I pull my car into a spacious parking lot bordering the Tabaruzaka battlefield. It's fitting weather, considering the massive battle that took place here in 1877 in this rural corner north of Kumamoto city was fought in similar conditions. Yet despite the 17-day conflict racking up enough casualties to mark it as one of the country's most noted battles, Tabaruzaka sits all but forgotten in its idyllic rural setting.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Jan 30, 2016
The uplifting tones of Okinawan blues
The winter vocabulary of the majority of Japan residents doesn't include the color turquoise. Or aquamarine, azure or the somewhat intellectually pompous "cerulean." This, however, is the palette I attempt to describe with my husband as we turn our tiny rental car onto the bridge leading to Kouri Island, a tiny speck just off the northern coast of Okinawa's Motobu Peninsula.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Jan 23, 2016
Exploring Niigata's snow country
Marred though the view is with power lines and other trappings of modernity, the rainbow that appears at the far end of Tsubame-Sanjo Station seems a rather auspicious beginning. The initial impression that greeted us in front of this largely unpopular station just south of Niigata on the Joetsu Shinkansen line was a panorama of patchy snow, dirtied by tires and car exhaust, pounded down with a light layer of hail. As the clouds break and the multicolor mirage appears, however, I begin to feel slightly optimistic about our escape to snow country.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Jan 2, 2016
Warming to Tsuwano: a wintry visit to the town of fish and foxes
The first official gate to the Taikodani Inari Shrine sits at the turn-off to tiny Tsuwano from the circuitous mountain highway that links Yamaguchi and Shimane prefectures. The shrine's main hall, however, sits on another peak halfway across town, a good five-minute drive away. I let my car idle at the traffic lights near the valley floor, conferring with my travel companion, Elaine, as to our next move. While the town to our right begs us to walk its lantern-lined streets, the threatening clouds above — a complete surprise in the forecast — encourage us to make the final ascent up to the main parking area of Taikodani.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Oct 31, 2015
Sensory overload in Aomori's capital city
I nearly walk by Aomori's Furukawa market on the first pass, expecting something akin to the cacophony of Tokyo's central wholesale fish market (known casually to most as Tsukiji). Sliding open the door to the squat building, however, I am assaulted with the not unwelcome scent of fresh seafood, an encouraging sign that I am in the right place. The ticket booth just inside the door is one more reassurance that this city on the tip of Japan's main island of Honshu still serves up to visitors the freshest fish market-to-table breakfast in the country.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Sep 19, 2015
Kakunodate town: Looking back on historical charm
Despite the fact that we've arrived on a weekend, the parking lot along Kakunodate's river is relatively empty. From our spot under the shady branches, my friends Felicity and Nori and I haul our convenience-store-purchased picnic up to the edge of the walking path that hugs Hinokinai River. The cherry blossoms that make this riverside ramble one of the most renowned hanami destinations in northern Japan have long since deserted the numerous branches. However, the trees' coat of late season green is the perfect backdrop to our impromptu picnic in what is arguably Akita Prefecture's most beautiful town.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Aug 29, 2015
Okinawa: always worth returning to
The island of Okinawa shimmers beneath the wing of our plane, a dark green smudge on the azure seascape. I can't see it well, ensconced as I am in the aisle seat, already subconsciously distancing myself from this visit. But my daughter, on the other end of the row, peers out the window with wide eager eyes, hungry for a glimpse of her first home.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Aug 1, 2015
Arita fires up a love of pottery, both historical and contemporary
The streets of Arita's Uchiyama porcelain district are mostly deserted this overcast Sunday, a boon for me as I am looking anywhere but at the sidewalk in front of me. My eyes are drawn instead to the parade of restored buildings that front the street, a veritable "name that era" of architectural styles. The edifices here might date anywhere from the Edo Period (1603-1868) to the Taisho Era (1912-1926), but the porcelain vessels contained within have a heritage that stretches back centuries.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Jun 13, 2015
Above and below the Yamaguchi plains
Three meters above my head, the rectangular offering box of Motonosumi Inari Shrine seems impossibly out of my reach. For the 23rd time, I wind back my arm and attempt to lob my chosen donation between the narrow slats. For the 23rd time, the coin takes on a trajectory I'm certain I didn't intend ... and soars over the torii gate where the box balances and into the road.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
May 23, 2015
Don't build castles in the air, go see Ehime Prefecture's real ones
I'm more than happy to start my day off on a literal high point, but as we tackle the steep incline up to Matsuyama's hilltop castle, I am beginning to doubt our chosen method of arrival.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
May 2, 2015
The alluring lofty peaks of Iya Valley
It's late afternoon as my family and I motor into the Iya Valley, a remote region of western Tokushima Prefecture. Billed as many things — a lost paradise, a secret hideaway, a rural escape — by the area's tourism brochures, I find that no adjectives can accurately capture the interplay of light and water here. Sure, the rock formations that comprise the walls of the Oboke Gorge are unique enough to comment on themselves, but there is a magic to the way the fading rays of the sun glimmer on the turquoise water of the Yoshino River.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Apr 18, 2015
Kochi doesn't need to fish for compliments
The fire is supposed to be searing my skipjack tuna, but I feel as if it's my cheeks that are cooking instead.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Mar 14, 2015
Fukuoka awash with hina dolls and hidden temples
My daughter, having a little girl's predilection for princesses, turns out to be an excellent spotter of kids in kimono.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Feb 14, 2015
Journey of 'eat, pray, bathe' awaits pilgrims to Mount Koya
Although pilgrims have been coming to this center of Shingon Buddhism since its foundation in 816, the 1,200th anniversary of the monastic settlement promises an increase in curious tourists who have heard of Mount Koya's serenity and want to experience it for themselves.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Jan 31, 2015
The mountain village that tried to disappear
Our arrival at Yunishigawa-Onsen Station in Tochigi Prefecture is more than a little disconcerting.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Dec 20, 2014
Soaking up the very best of Wakayama's hot springs
The two sounds occur almost simultaneously: Just as my cellphone alarm begins its melodious chime to rouse me from sleep, the dark clouds above my guesthouse in the town of Tanabe on the Kii Peninsula burst forth with a pounding rain. Within minutes, it's clear that my plans of spending three days hiking the Nakahechi branch of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail have quite literally gone awash.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Nov 8, 2014
Yamadera: 1,000-step staircase to paradise
We're only a few minutes into our climb up one of Yamagata Prefecture's holy mountains, Mount Hojusan, and already our pace has slowed considerably. Our destination is Risshakuji Temple, more colloquially known as Yamadera (literally: "mountain temple"), a far-north outpost of Tendai Buddhism since 860. To reach the promised vistas from the mountain's peak, however, requires tackling a series of staircases totaling more than 1,000 steps.

Longform

Hideo Shimoju points to a possible site that his fellow neighbors may relocate to. Such relocations have happened before, but not preemptively.
In disaster-prone Japan, some communities consider major moves