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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
Oct 11, 2014
Soaking weary bones and saving a sole on Kyushu's Mount Yufu
It's a rare day that the top of Oita Prefecture's Mount Yufu (or Yufudake) isn't obscured by clouds, claims Lonely Planet's "Hiking in Japan" guidebook. Luckily, our visit happens to coincide with one of those rare days — there is nothing but an unbroken stretch of blue around the peak and the crisp, autumn air is perfect for a hike.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Aug 2, 2014
Slow food and fast water in a rural corner of Kumamoto
It starts off as a dull roar, prompting those of us sitting in the rice paddies to look skyward in anticipation. Then it builds, in the same way an orchestra tunes its instruments: first discordantly out of key before reaching a crescendo of perfect pitch. At noon exactly, the water pours forth and the old Tsujunkyo aqueduct is alive once more.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
May 10, 2014
Takachiho: Gods and gorges in divine Miyazaki
The already cloudy sky darkens perceptibly as our car descends into Takachiho Gorge. This area of extreme scenic beauty — carved out of the earth by lava flow from Kyushu's volatile Mount Aso and further eroded by local rivers such as the Gokase — is already fairly hidden, in an untrampled corner of northern Miyazaki Prefecture. Yet the lower we go in elevation, the more it seems as if the rest of the world has disappeared completely. I feel like we're trapped in a geological time capsule, locked between ancient rock walls.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
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 more than ready to escape the confines of the vehicle.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
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.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Nov 30, 2013
No bridge too far 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.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
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 of its route between this small city on Nagasaki Prefecture's northwestern coast and the nearby island of Oshima. The ship may be different but it's not hard to imagine the Matsuura lords, former rulers of Hirado, with spyglasses pressed eagerly to their eyes as they watched the arrival of a European trading ship.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
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 for the annual Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival). That February, the lush greenery, the beds of marigolds and the elegant rose garden — which in summer marks the park's western end — were all under meters of snow. So it's nice to see the city without shivering my way through it.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
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 States) Period spanning some 150 years from the mid-15th century before the country was unified under the Tokugawa Shogunate.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
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 excitement at the prospect of getting up close and personal with fun and fear in the shape of Japan's famed spies and assassins of history and legend.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Mar 17, 2013
Toddler-toting invaders no match for this castle's defenses
Most visitors are awed by Kumamoto Castle's imposing walls; myself, I am more preoccupied with the stairs. According to the map board just inside the Hazekata Gate, there are many of them, tracing a convoluted path up to the raven-black donjon.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Feb 10, 2013
Winging along to marvel at Izumi's wintering cranes
My eyes have been carefully trained on the barren fields outside Izumi Crane Park Museum for at least 20 minutes, but I've yet to spot any of the locality's most famous feathered friends.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
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 hut the traditions are age-old, as a group of Japan's storied ama (women divers) prepare food, share stories and warm their bodies before a dip in the sea.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Jun 3, 2012
Bashōfu culture weaves its spell in Kijoka
White-caps beat steadily against the northwestern shore of Okinawa's main island. Winds have stirred up the seas, yet the water looks as cerulean and inviting as ever. I should be paying more attention to this enviable vista but I'm preoccupied, indifferent. The circuitous coastal road requires more of my attention, lest I run our car into those scenic waters. And truthfully, after three years as an island resident, the seascape — no matter how stunning — has lost much of its ability to impress.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Mar 18, 2012
Dazaifu's rich past still delights today
The gravel of a path in the garden at Komyozenji Temple has been swirled into the shape of the kanji for "light." It's a bit of an ironic choice for the fall day I visit, as only a few of the sun's rays have managed to penetrate the dense growth surrounding the rear of the temple. Those that do filter through the red-tinged maples, though, bathe the garden in an ethereal glow befitting daybreak rather than the near-noontime it actually is.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Dec 4, 2011
Exploring Yanagawa's watery world
The boatman sings a low-pitched, wistful air as he poles our craft down the watery freeway. Some of my fellow passengers obviously know the melancholic song, and join in on what passes for a chorus as we're propelled otherwise noiselessly down the wide canal.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Sep 18, 2011
Castles and Crafts on the Yomitan Peninsula
Most people come to the Yomitan Peninsula on Okinawa's main island for the sand and the scuba opportunities. I, however, am one of those island residents on whom paradise is wasted — I like neither a sweltering day at the beach nor an afternoon spent exploring the intimidating world beneath the waves. I'm more of a mountain lover, and while Okinawa is a bit short on elevation, recent explorations of my island home had me steering my car to the highest hill I could find in the area.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Jul 17, 2011
Beat the heat in the green hills of Izu
Nobody likes Japan's cities in the summertime — at least not those south of Hokkaido. With heat rising off the tarmac and radiating from the concrete, and humidity that clings like a wet towel, thoughts of escape come readily to mind — and there's no better tonic than getting up into the hills and mountains where fresh air and cooler temperatures await.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
May 15, 2011
Strawberries and shoguns in Shizuoka
It's a clear spring morning and the view over Suruga Bay just outside of Shizuoka City is captivating. At least, that's what my travel companions say.
Japan Times
LIFE / Travel
Mar 13, 2011
From Kurama to Kibune: Hiking in northeastern Kyoto
The Eizan Electric Railway serves a sparsely traveled route — or so I infer from the dinky two-carriage train we board shortly before it lurches out of the terminus at Demachiyanagi Station in Kyoto heading for the mountains on the city's northeastern outskirts.

Longform

Yayoi Kusama’s “Pumpkin,” once the victim of high waves that dragged it into the sea, sits at the end of a pier on the south side of Naoshima.
Why is the most exciting art in Japan so hard to get to?