Blog Archives

Tohoku, Japan’s Treasureland

Bodai-ji, Osorezan

Tohoku, 東北 (literal meaning ‘Northeast’) is the northernmost region of Japan’s main Honshu island, consisting of 6 large but relatively sparsely populated prefectures of great natural beauty. It also has a rich folklore tradition and many sites of historical importance, with a recent marketing campaign branding the region –

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Osorezan, Mt Dread

Bodai-ji, Osorezan

For something a little different the Shimokita Peninsula at the northern tip of Japan’s main Honshu island fits the bill. The peninsula’s northern end is formed by the volcano Osorezan, which translates as Mt Fear or Mt Dread. Lake Usori, the caldera lake in the volcano’s crater,

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Yamadera

Yamadera

Yamadera literally means ‘Mountain Temple’, and that’s exactly what Yamadera is. The full name is Risshakuji (立石寺, Standing Stone Temple), but Yamadera’s far more commonly used. Some 1200 years old, it’s one of the coolest temples to visit in all Japan with an upper area accessed via a steep half-hour climb up the mountain.

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Neo Tokyo: dystopian dreams

While I do despise the YouTube algorithm as a radicalisation & bullshit engine that human society would be better off without, I must grudgingly admit that it does occasionally dig you up a gem.

It suggested this beauty recently after I’d been listening to some of the Blade Runner soundtrack:

I knew I’d heard that haunting vocal somewhere before;

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Life in Japan: cicadas and the sound of summer

It’s been a long, hot summer in northeast Asia, with Korea and Japan both suffering record-breaking heatwaves. Things are finally cooling off somewhat here in Seoul, but my recent research trip to Japan coincided with their hottest temperatures on record and it was ridiculous, worse even than the summer I spent in the cauldron of Kyoto while working there a few years ago.

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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, though to be fair that could be described the exact same way!

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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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