Blog Archives

Hozukyo Station

A train stopped at Hozukyo Station

From this distance the train appears to be suspended in the air across the valley, high above the river and motionless with its lights standing out like beacons against the backdrop of brooding forest in the deepening gloom. The tinny sounds of station announcements and departure chimes waft over on the breeze,

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Yokai: the monsters and demons of Japanese folklore

Tengu at Yakuo-in temple, Mt Takao

Japanese folklore is a rich tapestry of mischievous spirits, child-eating monsters, and shape-shifting animals, a little knowledge of which can give great insight into the culture when you visit.

Most trips to Japan will involve visiting some (usually many) temples, shrines,

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Which Shrines & Temples Should You Visit in Kyoto?

Torii gates at Fushimi Inari

Kyoto has so many shrines & temples, where do you even start?

There’s no way you can see them all in a short visit (I haven’t come close even after many visits and living there for over a year), and if you tried you’d soon find yourself suffering from a bad case of temple fatigue.

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A Few Random Things to Do in Tokyo

Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo Bay

If it’s your first few days in Tokyo, chances are you have a to-do list including the usual spots like Asakusa, Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Meiji Shrine. But how about if you’ve done all that before? If that’s the case, here are a few random ideas for some cool stuff to do or places to check out in Tokyo –

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Tokyo’s Niche Shopping Districts

Tokyo’s quite an amazing city for shopping – if you’re looking for electronics, home furnishings, toiletries, medicine, beauty products, luggage, clothes, etc, you can find them all over the city; the myriad department stores and big chains like Uniqlo, BIC Camera, and Donki Hotei make it easy to find whatever you’re looking for.

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Gundam Got An Upgrade

The new Gundam statue in Odaiba

Having never seen an episode, I know very little about Gundam other than that it’s a classic Japanese anime about giant mecha robots defending the Earth, or something like that (I’m more of an Evangelion fan).

The new Gundam statue in Odaiba

But you don’t really need to know the show to appreciate a giant life-sized robot statue (especially one that does light displays while it transforms),

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Kowloon Walled City, Kawasaki

Reproduction of Kowloon Walled City at Anata-no-warehouse, Kawasaki

I first heard of Hong Kong’s old Kowloon Walled City in William Gibson’s Idoru (which is a great novel if you’re interested in sci-fi & Japan), which features a virtual reality community based on it.

Reproduction of Kowloon Walled City at Anata-no-warehouse, Kawasaki

A lawless, ramshackle, and insanely densely populated corner of Hong Kong,

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The Best Places to See the Autumn Colours in Tokyo

Autumn colours at Tokyo Imperial Palace East Gardens

Seeing the cherry blossoms in spring probably tops the wishlist for most travellers visiting Tokyo, but an equally awesome time to visit the Japanese capital is during the autumn colours (the Japanese word is koyo, 紅葉, literally ‘red leaves’). The cherry trees are first (and least spectacular),

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The Best Places to See the Autumn Colours in Kyoto

Seeing the spring cherry blossoms in Kyoto is on many a bucket list, but an equally awesome time to visit the city is during the autumn colours (the Japanese word is koyo, 紅葉, lit. red leaves). The cherry trees go first, starting in mid-October, and by November the hillsides are mottled with varying shades and colours;

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Fushimi Inari to Tofukuji Hike

When visiting the incredible Fushimi Inari shrine in southern Kyoto for the first time, there are too many routes to check them all out; most visitors simply follow part or all of the main trail up, and perhaps the loop trail around the summit of the mountain. And if that’s what you do,

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Fushimi Inari: Complete Guide

Torii gates at Fushimi Inari

Fushimi Inari is hands down my favourite place in Kyoto, and my favourite place in Japan that isn’t a ski resort! When I first lived in Kyoto, my apartment was between Fushimi Inari and Tofukuji Temple, near one of the back routes up Mt Inari – and what a back garden Fushimi Inari makes.

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Tokyo, Blade Runner, and 2049

I first came across this lovely video montage of Tokyo cityscape footage set to the mournful tones of the Blade Runner score while writing this post about Ghost In The Shell; with the Blade Runner sequel, Blade Runner 2049, about to be released, the gods of the Youtube algorithm just (perhaps not so) randomly served it up again as part of my morning Youtube spiral (recommend hitting play and listening while you read):

The footage is great,

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Viewing the Disputed Kuril Islands from the Shiretoko Peninsula

Hokkaido’s remote Shiretoko Peninsula in the far northeastern corner of Japan was a place I’d wanted to go ever since I spent a ski season in Sapporo. At the time I’d made a trip out that way to Abashiri (famous for its once-notorious prison) and taken an ice-breaker cruise out on the frozen Sea of Okhotsk,

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Crossing the Great Seto Bridge (Seto Ohashi) from Okayama to Takamatsu

(I wrote this during my last visit to Japan, but only just getting around to sorting the pics and posting it now!)

Today I crossed the Seto Inland Sea from Okuyama to Shikoku via the Seto Ohashi (瀬戸大橋, Great Seto Bridge), for no real purpose other than to do so (ah,

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The JR Pass: is it worth it?

A shinkansen bullet train passing through Maibara Station

So, the JR Pass; man, how I always looked on with envy at all the tourists (including family & friends when they visited) just breezing through the Shinkansen gates, flashing their JR Passes like a wave of a wand, to be whisked away here, there, and everywhere at high speed on Japan’s iconic bullet trains.

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Life in Taipei: Remnants of the Empire of the Sun

Rinzai Zen Temple, Yuanshan, Taipei

As a former resident of Japan who moved to Taipei, it was fascinating to see the Japanese influence on this originally Chinese culture, Taiwan having been a Japanese colony for 50 years from 1895 to 1945; this influence is actually most obviously present in the cuisine (and also if you dig in to the linguistics there are plenty of Japanese loanwords in Taiwanese Mandarin),

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One of Those Days: a comedy of errors when taking the JR Beetle

So the other week I had one of those travel days where everything fucks up – and it was mostly my own fault. I’d done the JR Beetle hydrofoil trip between Busan (South Korea) and Fukuoka (Japan) several times before,

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A Suggested Hokkaido Ski Tour Route

Rusutsu ski resort, Hokkaido

Hokkaido’s powder is legendary, and the larger resorts like Niseko and Furano have been popular for years now with international powder hounds, especially those from Australia and New Zealand (what with the opposite hemisphere seasons and the lack of jet lag involved between there and Japan).

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Drunk Sleeping on the Train in Japan – and Getting Stranded in the Wrong Prefecture!

The cool air wafting across my face, combined with the train’s extended lack of motion, coaxed me out of my slumber.

“Shit,” I thought, “where the hell am I?”

To which the answer was: I was drunk and jet-lagged on an empty train in the Japanese countryside,

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Kyoto City Walk: Tetsugaku-no-michi (The Philosopher’s Path), Keage Incline, Nanzenji and the Silver Temple, and Mt Daimonji

Tetsugaku-no-michi during cherry blossom season

Tetsugaku-no-michi, the Philosopher’s Path, is a pretty 2km path alongside a canal in northeast Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan. It’s named for the early-20th Century philosopher Kitaro Nishida, who used to stroll along it in quiet contemplation on his way to work at Kyoto University.

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