How Big Is Tokyo?

This week I was updating The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had, and I thought you might enjoy seeing how big it is compared to your city! (Scroll down to see Tokyo’s main subway line superimposed on maps of major cities all over the world.) Anyone who wants to be somewhere on time in Tokyo takesContinue reading “How Big Is Tokyo?”

Let’s walk out to Miyajima’s famous floating gate!

Before now, you’d have to be able to walk on water to see Miyajima’s famous “floating torii gate” up close and personal, but thanks to a brief window of lingering construction access, the only superpower we mere mortals need is the ability to stand in line! For the past three years, this World Heritage siteContinue reading “Let’s walk out to Miyajima’s famous floating gate!”

What do you need for cherry blossom season? Your own light-up Lego cherry tree!

Remember when I ordered all those fab Lego village kits? Well, the Buildiverse folks sent me one that I missed (or I would have already bought it instantly): this light-up pinkness of pinknesses! If you can’t be in Japan right now to see the real cherry trees put on their signature splendor, this is totallyContinue reading “What do you need for cherry blossom season? Your own light-up Lego cherry tree!”

Girls’ Day dolls with a side of quirky

Every March 3rd, families with daughters display a set of Girls’ Day dolls that represent the Imperial court at its Heian Era finest… …but these days, you don’t have to be a nobleman or a shrine maiden to ascend the vermilion steps! I saw all these sets in the town of Katsuura, which is famousContinue reading “Girls’ Day dolls with a side of quirky”

Where To See The Best Holiday Illuminations In Tokyo 2019!

The frenzy of building bigger, newer, better illuminations with which to charm shoppers during the holiday season has died back a bit in Tokyo, but there are still plenty of amazing free displays, if you know where to look! Here are my must-sees for 2019: • New for 2019! HIBIYA MIDTOWN This is the firstContinue reading “Where To See The Best Holiday Illuminations In Tokyo 2019!”

Where To See The Best Autumn Leaves In Tokyo…Lit Up At Night!

The hot new trend of holiday illuminations in Tokyo has spread to the gardens and parks, with more and more lighting up their naturally spectacular autumn leaves and opening for special evening viewing! Here are my current favorites: • SHOWA KINEN PARK near Tachikawa Station There are two areas lit up at night: 1: TheContinue reading “Where To See The Best Autumn Leaves In Tokyo…Lit Up At Night!”

The Most Beautiful Autumn Leaves In Japan

Last fall on this exact day, I was ogling some of the most gorgeous autumn leaves in Japan, and I’ve been WAITING for the season to roll around again, so I can show you! All these places are within shouting distance of Tokyo, but while the leaves are still maddeningly green in the city, they’reContinue reading “The Most Beautiful Autumn Leaves In Japan”

Smart Illumination Yokohama 2019: WOW

This year, there were fewer artworks at the Yokohama Smart Illuminations, but the ones on exhibit were SO worth seeing! Or – more accurately – worth DOING. Because this year the participation element was front and center, and quite a few of them required serious athletic juice from the audience to power them. Here’s aContinue reading “Smart Illumination Yokohama 2019: WOW”

3-D Goldfish Art: Wait, Those Are PAINTINGS?

Riusuke Fukahori paints 3-D goldfish so real you can’t believe they’re not wriggling. And I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but the exhibit of his work going on RIGHT NOW at the Sano Art Museum in Mishima is so astounding, that in real life, the fish look more real than in the photos. HisContinue reading “3-D Goldfish Art: Wait, Those Are PAINTINGS?”

When The Gods Decide To Plant A Lotus Garden, They Don’t Mess Around

It was construction as usual in the town of Gyoda, until an excavation for a new building hit a layer of lotus plants that had been dead for thousands of years. They didn’t think much of it, until the rain came, and the ancient lotus seeds began to sprout. When the plants bloomed, the flowersContinue reading “When The Gods Decide To Plant A Lotus Garden, They Don’t Mess Around”

Rice Field Art

In what has to be the weirdest creative medium next to the Seed Art Pavilion at the Minnesosta State Fair, Japanese farmers have taken to making large-scale art by planting some of their fields in different strains of rice. The only problem is, in order to even see what the picture is of, you haveContinue reading “Rice Field Art”

The Enchanted Hydrangea Forest

The spring rainy season isn’t the most delightful time to be in Japan…unless you’re hiking through a shady forest, surrounded by heaps and heaps of blue hydrangeas! Minamisawa Ajisai Mountain’s groomed trails wind up the side of a mountain, through a silent and stately cedar forest that’s robed in countless poufs of cooling blue andContinue reading “The Enchanted Hydrangea Forest”

Shirakawago In The Snow

For years, I’ve wanted to see the old-fashioned farmhouse hamlet of Shirakawa-go all lit up at night in the snow, and this week I got half my wish. It turns out that ever since it was named a Unesco World Heritage Site, viewing the farmhouses lit up at night has become such a crazy tourist madhouseContinue reading “Shirakawago In The Snow”

“Digitized Lakeside and Forest” Outdoor Art Installation

If ogling giant resonating eggs and gawking at color-changing trees isn’t what you’re planning to do this weekend, cancel your plans and get thee out to Hanno to see this new digital art installation instead! It meanders halfway around the small lake in the Metsa Village recreation area, and it’s everything glow-in-the-dark entertainment should be.Continue reading ““Digitized Lakeside and Forest” Outdoor Art Installation”

Lighting Up The Winter Night

Because I’m helplessly drawn to things that glow in the dark (gee, ya think?), I recently returned to two of my favorite lit-up-for-winter amusement parks, because I’d heard that they’d updated their gazillion-fairy-twinkle extravaganzas. (And you can check them out too, if you’re anywhere near Tokyo, until Valentines Day!) SAGAMIKO “ILLUMILLIONS” THEME PARK Fair warning:Continue reading “Lighting Up The Winter Night”

Where To See The Best Illuminations In Tokyo 2018

Free displays of holiday illuminations have become a huge attraction in Tokyo  – probably because they’re the most instabae invention since selfie sticks – and every year they get bigger and better. Here are this year’s offerings from my favorite places to see them… • • Most Entertaining • TOKYO MIDTOWN But let’s not mess aroundContinue reading “Where To See The Best Illuminations In Tokyo 2018”

Smart Illumination Yokohama 2018: ALL THE YES

Woo hoo, it’s time for the annual art-as-entertainment Yokohama Smart Illumination 2018! This year, for some reason it took a giant leap in quality, and although the artspeak “explaining” each piece is equally opaque in Japanese and English, you don’t need to know what the artist was trying to say in order to have aContinue reading “Smart Illumination Yokohama 2018: ALL THE YES”

Instabae

That’s what you call this in Japan. It’s an experience that looks way better shared on social media than in real life. But I gotta say, Japan is genius at it. But even though they did a pretty decent job of selling orange as the new amber, this team gets a certain number of #instabaeContinue reading “Instabae”

Yokohama Smart Illumination 2017: Even More & Better Than Before

I know it seems like all I do these days is frant about looking at stuff lit up at night, but there’s been a sudden rash of illuminations events in & around Tokyo lately, and they’ve all been worth staying up way past bedtime for! Last time I went to the Yokohama Smart Illuminations, youContinue reading “Yokohama Smart Illumination 2017: Even More & Better Than Before”

Mobbed By Lemurs At The Exotic Animal Petting Zoo!

Who can say they never clutched the fence at their local zoo’s lemur exhibit and didn’t long to sneak over the top just for a few minutes (or, okay, in my case, A FEW HOURS) to cavort with those frisky, big-eyed, long-tailed cuties? Admit it – you’ve always secretly wanted to, haven’t you? Well, nowContinue reading “Mobbed By Lemurs At The Exotic Animal Petting Zoo!”

Where To See Magical Red Autumn Lilies In Tokyo

These Japanese amaryllis bloom once a year for only a few days, right at the fall equinox. If you move fast, you can still catch the higanbana in their full glory right now! Here’s where: • KINCHAKUDA near Koma Station Kinchakuda is a little over an hour by train from Shinjuku Station, then a fifteenContinue reading “Where To See Magical Red Autumn Lilies In Tokyo”

When You REALLY Hate Your Neighbors

Making my way back to Kamakura Station after tossing a  few plates at the Dish-Breaking Shrine, I was walking through a totally normal-looking neighborhood when I chanced upon this. A hedge. But not just any old hedge – isn’t this the freakin’ unfriendliest alt picket fence you’ve ever seen? I mean, it’s all thorns, all theContinue reading “When You REALLY Hate Your Neighbors”

Secret Flower Seasons of Japan

So, everybody knows about the cherry blossoms, and I bet you flower mavens even know about the glories of the plums, wisteria, azaleas and iris. But recently a bunch of parks & gardens have figured out that the best way to attract crowds of wallet-carrying camera-toters in the off-season is to plant lots and lotsContinue reading “Secret Flower Seasons of Japan”

Endless Fields Of Blue

Every once in a while you discover a place where the photos that made you run to the nearest station and jump on godzilla-knows-how-many-trains to get there did not lie. Not even a little bit. Those pictures of hills swathed in an unbroken carpet of blue flowers at Hitachi Seaside Park? REAL. Where I come from, these little pieces ofContinue reading “Endless Fields Of Blue”

Where To See The Most Beautiful Wisteria In Tokyo

It’s purple season again! Yes, the wisteria are blooming, and (did you even have to ask?) of course Japan has over-the-top displays of the good purple stuff. Peak season is mid-April to mid-May, so get thee to these spots right now to see the most eye-popping ones around… ASHIKAGA FLOWER PARK I admit that even if you totallyContinue reading “Where To See The Most Beautiful Wisteria In Tokyo”

If I Were A Thousand Years Old, I Would Not Be Putting Out Like This

I mean, look at it. This tree is a THOUSAND years old. It has cranked out cascades of blossoms like this every spring, a thousand times. And if yesterday was any indication, the grand old lady is showing no signs of shirking anytime soon. Just imagine a fast forward of this tree’s life, with generations of cherry blossom viewers ebbing and flowing all around it, asContinue reading “If I Were A Thousand Years Old, I Would Not Be Putting Out Like This”

What’s Blooming In Japan Right Now?

So, around this time of year, I get to thinking about how everybody is about to crowd into Japan to see the fluffy pink things, but that cherry blossom season is far from the only time that this place delivers yowzah-level flower extravaganzas. So I made a thing. Here’s what’s blooming when, and the best places to take photosContinue reading “What’s Blooming In Japan Right Now?”

Lost In A Forest Of Blooming Plum Trees

Yesterday I got to stumble around doing a 360˚ gawk in a forest of plum trees wearing all their favorite clothes at once. Kairakuen Garden in Mito was planted by a genius of a daimyo who totally got that too much of a good thing is never enough. 2,490 fluffy-branched trees later, I think I can safely say that this is the plum blossom extravaganza to end allContinue reading “Lost In A Forest Of Blooming Plum Trees”

Girls’ Day Dolls…On Steroids

There’s a little town about two hours from Tokyo called Katsuura, where one a year, dolls rule. 12,000 of them, to be exact. So, how did Katsuura get so many dolls? The truth is, pretty much every Japanese girlbaby is given a set on her first New Year’s, but if you run out of girls to hand them down to, they’re really hard toContinue reading “Girls’ Day Dolls…On Steroids”

The Werewolf Shrine

High on top of a snowy mountain in Chichibu – so far from any train station that you’ll be eligible for a senior citizen discount by the time you get off the bus – is the Mitsumine Jinja. At first it looks like a typical Shinto shrine with fox messengers at the gate… …but a closerContinue reading “The Werewolf Shrine”

Fox Village Videos!

Here’s what it’s like to visit Fox Village in the snow, when the foxes are at their fattest & fluffiest! I have to confess, when it comes to which animals would get to sit in business class in my ark, it’s all about the tails. Foxes, of course, have the most magnificent fruffy tails in all of the animalContinue reading “Fox Village Videos!”

Fox Village: Even Better With Snow On Top!

I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when I finally made it to Zao Fox Village last spring, but it’s a good thing I didn’t actually shuffle off this mortal coil due to fox-induced bliss, because then I would have missed seeing all these fluffy vixen in the SNOW! This is just the first installment of fox-centric posts, because the second I walked throughContinue reading “Fox Village: Even Better With Snow On Top!”

Yomiuriland Illuminations

By the time I took four trains and a bus to the gates of the aging amusement park Yomiuri Land, I had already decided that no illuminations could possibly be worth the schlep. Good thing I was SO WRONG! Hats off to whoever produced this kerbillion-light extravaganza – it totally exceeded expectations. Best ¥1000 entertainment I’ve seen in ages. I’m sure my impression wasContinue reading “Yomiuriland Illuminations”

My Worst Foreigner Moment

Okay, in the interest of not being That Hellishly Smug Foreigner, it’s only fair that I confess my most cringeworthy moment in Japan. Not that there haven’t been plenty of other times I’ve been secretly branded a henna gaijin by phalanxes of nice Japanese people averting their eyes and backing away slowly, but this one is a classic because it involves, yes, Mt.Continue reading “My Worst Foreigner Moment”

Let’s Go To Bunny Island!

If your squee-meter isn’t totally burnt out after Fox Village, it certainly will be, after we check out BUNNY ISLAND! Okunoshima isn’t easy to get to, but that’s why there’s an entire chunk of land off the coast of Japan where adorable bunnies run free, without fear of being eaten (or, obviously, having their natural urges curbed in any way). Okay, admitContinue reading “Let’s Go To Bunny Island!”

How To Go To Zao Fox Village: Squeeee Capital Of The World

Jaded denizen of the interwebz that I am, there’s not much that makes me leap out of my chair and scream “WANT!” but when I first saw a picture taken at Zao Fox Village, I had to drop everything and figure out a way to get there. It’s far from Tokyo – five hours by car –Continue reading “How To Go To Zao Fox Village: Squeeee Capital Of The World”

The Fox Shrine To End All Fox Shrines

I knew I was going to love the Sasuke Inari Shrine from the moment I saw the long tunnel of red lacquer torii gates leading into the deep, dark woods. But nothing prepared me for the mossy, foxy, wonders that lay beyond!   If you’d like to visit the Sasuke Inari Shrine the next timeContinue reading “The Fox Shrine To End All Fox Shrines”

Vast Carpets Of Lawn Cherries!

Outside of Japan, nobody has heard of shibazakura, but they should! Check out the rolling hills covered with pink flowers that bloom in the middle of May! (They’re actually a variety of phlox, so I’m guessing the “sakura” part of the name is a feeble-ish attempt to ride the coattails of Japan’s more famous flower season, but they DO deliverContinue reading “Vast Carpets Of Lawn Cherries!”

The Mother Of All Illuminations Theme Parks

When I was a kid, every year in mid-December we’d all pile into the car and drive around to find the house with the most over-the-top Xmas decorations. No surprise, I am a total, total sucker for Xmas lights. But I never saw anything that even came close to the amazing, blazing Illuminations displays that Tokyo neighborhoods started puttingContinue reading “The Mother Of All Illuminations Theme Parks”

「Yokohama Smart Illuminations」: Wow. Just…wow.

Last night I went to see what I thought was going to be a modest art-light event on the Yokohama waterfront, secretly expecting that the photos from past years were exaggerating the quality of the illuminations. I was SO WRONG! This event was spectacular. See for yourself! •

Up To My Knees In A Vermilion Sea

As you may have guessed by now, in Japan no flower is safe from being planted together en masse, in order to deliver total sensory overload at the appointed moment. It’s no surprise that cherry blossoms, wisteria and azaleas all vie to attract record crowds as they burst into bloom, but who knew that lesser-known denizens have their ownContinue reading “Up To My Knees In A Vermilion Sea”

Furry Elephants. With Claws.

Do you think the artist who carved these beasties had ever actually seen one? I guess it doesn’t matter, as long as the guy who paid the bill hadn’t either. These elephants are carved on one of the main buildings at the Tōshōgū Shrine in Nikko, built by the first shogun, Ieyasu Tokugawa. •

Yes, This Is One Wisteria Plant!

In case you need proof that “the harder a garden is to get to, the more spectacular it is,” look no further than Ashikaga Flower Park. Two solid hours from Tokyo by car (or two and a half hours hopping on and off four different trains), I didn’t believe any flowers could be worth the trip. But as youContinue reading “Yes, This Is One Wisteria Plant!”

Firewalking 101

I’m not sure who first thought that walking across burning coals would be an awesome superpower to have, but sometime in the distant past, that’s exactly what a bunch of more-rugged-then-thou Japanese warrior priests learned to do. Firewalking is still done once a year at the foot of Mt. Takao by practitioners of shugendo, aContinue reading “Firewalking 101”

At The Ise Shrine, Everything New Is Old

The god of rice’s building at the Ise Shrine sits next to a vacant lot. Or, actually, a construction site. Because every twenty years, a replica of the rice god’s shrine is lovingly built right next door. In the twentieth year, the god of rice is moved from the old shrine to the new, andContinue reading “At The Ise Shrine, Everything New Is Old”