Santa Blasphemy returns

Don’t let the name of this Santa costume fool you—there’s nothing sacrosanct about Santa when it comes to dressing up like the jolly old elf in Japan! Even the most stalwart child might hesitate before climbing into the lap of a Holy Basic Santa who looks like he might demand a confession before hearing aboutContinue reading “Santa Blasphemy returns”

Japan’s borders are finally opening! When are YOU going?

After two and a half looong years, the Japanese government finally announced that from October 11, 2022, you don’t have to be on a tour or book your tickets through a Japanese travel agent or get a visa, as long as you can prove you are vaccinated and boosted!* If you’ve been itching to goContinue reading “Japan’s borders are finally opening! When are YOU going?”

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”

Live eel sushi rolls

Just in time for Setsubun—the Japanese holiday on which demons are exorcized with dry beans and smelly sardines—the Sendai Umino-Mori Aquarium built this hilarious (and twisted!) ehōmaki sushi roll hideout for its garden eels. You’ll get the joke immediately if you know that ehōmaki rolls are only sold on Setsubun (which happens to fall onContinue reading “Live eel sushi rolls”

Speed Tribes come of age, Yanki style

Every year in the city of Kitakyushu, Coming-of-Age Day is celebrated in over-the top style by 20-year-olds kitted out in outlandish versions of Japanese formalwear. The second Monday in January (the holiday on which all Japanese twenty-year-olds become legal adults) is well known by kimono-spotters all over Japan as the best day all year toContinue reading “Speed Tribes come of age, Yanki style”

Tokyo’s best-dressed nude statue: It’s that Santa time of year

Tokyo’s best-dressed nude statue changes into the jolly old elf for the month of December, but sometimes his costumers get a bit…creative. When they started in the year 2000, the first few years were pretty tame… Then someone gave him a pet reindeer Which ushered in a period of hog-wild experimentation… that provoked some sortContinue reading “Tokyo’s best-dressed nude statue: It’s that Santa time of year”

Perfect 2020 Halloween costumes from Japan

If you’re desperate to get out after months of quarantining and can’t resist that invite to a good old-fashioned Halloween party, the ace variety store Don Kihote suggests some costumes that will enforce that social distancing with a vengeance! •

These lovely Tokyo sites light up at night

One of the most entertaining things you can do in Tokyo is wander around the city after the sun goes down, if you know where to look. The wizards of stagecraft have worked their magic all over town, and all kinds of interesting stuff lights up after dark, in dramatic and technologically inventive ways. AndContinue reading “These lovely Tokyo sites light up at night”

Five Japanese flower seasons that will make you happy you missed the cherry blossoms

If you have to postpone your Japan trip and miss the cherry blossoms this spring, don’t despair! There are other flower seasons you can catch after the current contagion dies down that deliver just as much flowers-as-far-as-the-eye-can-see amazement, without the crowds. If eye-popping flowers are what you’re longing to see, here are my five favorites,Continue reading “Five Japanese flower seasons that will make you happy you missed the cherry blossoms”

Spring Arrives Early: Flowers by Naked 2020

Just when you’re beginning to long for spring but it’s still shivery and damp and gray outside…Flowers By Naked arrives! The projection-mapping environment group Naked is staging its annual flower-themed extravaganza again for the whole month of February, so hop on over there and get a dose of spring fever. Open: Every day from January 30Continue reading “Spring Arrives Early: Flowers by Naked 2020”

Fresh Acts Of Santa Blasphemy

Once again, Japanese costume purveyors are outdoing themselves with even more WTF ways to impersonate Saint Nick, which (I think you’ll have to agree) is a pretty heroic effort if you dispense with the red suit, the beard, and even the tiniest nod to jolly… Happy holidays, fellow Japan warriors! And don’t forget that… •

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!”

Killer Chrysanthemums 2019

It’s that time of year again, when the chrysanthemum wranglers of Tokyo liberate their flower-of-choice from ragtag funeral bouquets and show the world they can hold their own with far more glamorous blooms! Here’s what’s new for 2019: • YUSHIMA TENJIN SHRINE The rest of the displays at the Yushima Shrine are here: Where ToContinue reading “Killer Chrysanthemums 2019”

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”

The Most Only-In-Japan Halloween Costumes Ever

Tired of being the same old sexy skunk or slightly NSFW goose in a tutu for Halloween? Keep your fellow costume partiers guessing with these only-in-Japan puzzlers! I found these at the always-entertaining Don Kihote megastore in Shibuya. And if you still haven’t hit on your dream costume, you can always check out what theContinue reading “The Most Only-In-Japan Halloween Costumes Ever”

This Year’s Burning October Question: What’s The Peeing Statue Wearing For Halloween?

I had to go check to make sure that the best-dressed nude statue in Tokyo made it through the typhoon safely. And he did! Not only that, he already knows what he’s going to be for Halloween. But…huh? As you can see, “witch” costumes in Japan are subject to the same considerable creative interpretation that hasContinue reading “This Year’s Burning October Question: What’s The Peeing Statue Wearing For Halloween?”

Dahlia Bonanza At The Toshogu Shrine

Every fall, this exquisitely curated exhibition happens at the Toshogu Shrine in Ueno Park, at the same place that hosts the eye-popping peony specimens in May. If you haven’t got your dahlia fix quite yet, check out these beauties from when I went to the same exhibit two years ago: In The Japanese Dahlia GardenContinue reading “Dahlia Bonanza At The Toshogu Shrine”

Giant Paper Lanterns On Wheels

Usually you’d have to hie yourself all the way up to rural Aomori* to catch a glimpse of these epic glowing floats, but lucky for me, last fall I happened across an outpost of the Nebuta Festival right in my own backyard! For some mysterious reason, six of the outrageously great floats were swanning down the shopping street near NakanobuContinue reading “Giant Paper Lanterns On Wheels”

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”

If Only Japanese Rock Gardens Were Filled With Cooling Mist & Illuminations…

Oh. Wait. At Tokyo Midtown this summer, they are! On the lawn that hosts those amazing winter illuminations, they’ve constructed a wide wooden veranda enclosing a “rock garden,” complete with clouds of mist and a fireworks-themed lightshow. And the best part is, you can sit and dangle your feet for as long as you like,Continue reading “If Only Japanese Rock Gardens Were Filled With Cooling Mist & Illuminations…”

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”

Floating Lanterns

Candle-lit lanterns floating across a pond in the moonlight? Yes, please! This Toro Nagashi lantern ceremony was at the Ueno temple that sits amid the nodding lotus heads of Shinobazu Pond, and it was lovely. What I didn’t know was that it signals the end of annual O-bon festivities, the three days in summer when theContinue reading “Floating Lanterns”

Where To See The Most Divine Lotus Blossoms In Tokyo

Most flower seasons in Japan are like hitting the jackpot, but lotus season is more of a treasure hunt. Instead of fields of I-can’t-believe-my-eyes color, you have to hunt for the sublime pinkness amid a sea of green. But when you find it… Lotus flowers open at first light, are at their best from aboutContinue reading “Where To See The Most Divine Lotus Blossoms In Tokyo”

Things I Did Not Know You Could Do With A Lotus Leaf

This morning I was at the Sankei-en garden in Yokohama at the ungodly hour of 7:00 a.m. to see their field of lotus in bloom, but it was the bonus attractions that really made my day! Sankei-en has special early weekend opening hours during The Season, because (who knew?) lotus flowers only bloom in theContinue reading “Things I Did Not Know You Could Do With A Lotus Leaf”

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”

Under The Umbrella Sky

If there’s a better way to celebrate Japan’s summer rainy season, show me! This is the latest environmental art exhibit at Metsa Village, the same place where Digitized Lakeside and Forest happened last winter. And best of all…it’s free! This path is the entrance to the paying areas of Moomin Village and other attractions, butContinue reading “Under The Umbrella Sky”

Azalea Pilgrimage 2019

I know you’re exhausted after elbowing your way through the crazy crowds instagramming the cherry blossoms, which is why you should take a deep breath and go see the azaleas. Like cherry blossoms, the all-flowers-all-the-time spectacle will knock your socks off, but unlike the famous fluffy things, you can enjoy them in blissful near-solitude. HereContinue reading “Azalea Pilgrimage 2019”

The Best Places To See Pink Rivers of Cherry Blossom Petals

The leaves are greening, hangovers cured, blue tarps furled, the madness over. Right? Wrong! Because as soon as the petals begin to fall, it’s hana-ikada season: “rafts of flowers” that float atop cherry tree-lined bodies of water, turning them into pink rivers! It’s a little trickier to catch the magic of the fallen petals thanContinue reading “The Best Places To See Pink Rivers of Cherry Blossom Petals”

The Scourge Of The Orange Jacket

Okay, I know you think I’m a whiner because I went off on this guy wearing an orange jacket, sitting right in the middle of a shot I wanted to take during cherry blossom season at Shinjuku Gyōen. I mean, one guy, minding his own business—so what if his head’s inside his phone instead ofContinue reading “The Scourge Of The Orange Jacket”

Hacking Hanami: How To Get Yourself Invited To A Cherry Blossom Party

Kicking back under clouds of pink blossoms in the warm spring sun, eating a picnic and drinking with friends – it’s something you always dreamed of doing in Japan, isn’t it? And then you get here, and you discover that unless you’re a member of a work group that puts on a hanami party, you’ll beContinue reading “Hacking Hanami: How To Get Yourself Invited To A Cherry Blossom Party”

Plum Blossoms Lit Up At Night

The Yushima Shrine is famous for its plum blossoms, and until the end of February, you can see them lit up at night! Even if you’re a cherry blossom loyalist (in which case I sentence you to visiting all my favorite plum tree gardens and upgrading your flower preferences JUST SAYIN’) it’s a grand opportunity toContinue reading “Plum Blossoms Lit Up At Night”

Flowers By Naked 2019

This year’s Flowers by Naked (at the same Coredo venue that hosts Art Aquarium during the summer) was better than last year but not as engaging as the first year I saw it. The art of projection mapped animation has taken such huge strides in three years that it kind of amazes me how wowed I wasContinue reading “Flowers By Naked 2019”

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”

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”

Dogs In Kimonos: Shiba Edition!

The only thing in all of Japan that might be cuter than huskies in kimonos is a parade of shiba inus in kimono. Shibas are well-known for making like the Petrified Forest and refusing to budge until even the tiniest hint of humiliating costumery is removed, but the noble beasts I caught making their first shrineContinue reading “Dogs In Kimonos: Shiba Edition!”

Top Ten Crazy Holiday Gifts From Japan 2018

These days, everyone wants “experiences,” not “stuff,” so how about digging into your Santa sack for presents that deliver #youllneverguesswhatwedids that could only come from (where else?)…Japan! This year, give the gift of… 1 …making your own Panda Face sushi and finding out who’s the fastest panda-grabber in the land Level up by slipping in aContinue reading “Top Ten Crazy Holiday Gifts From Japan 2018”

Department Of Seasonal Pet Humiliation: This Year’s Santa Cat Costume

Sporting all the premium quality you’d expect from a ¥400 vending machine, this Santa Claws capelet just might be the perfect gift for someone who dreams of #catsofinstagram glory (and is willing to risk the kind of revenge that will certainly be extracted after uploading Growler’s humiliation for all the world to see). •

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”

Gateway To Chrysanthemum Bliss?

Okay, what do you think THIS floral designer got in trouble for drawing in the margins of his schoolbooks…? If I’d come in through this portal, I might never have made it to the annual Shinjuku National Garden chrysanthemum displays, because I’d have died laughing, so it’s a good thing I entered from the otherContinue reading “Gateway To Chrysanthemum Bliss?”

Chrysanthemums Like You’ve Never Seen Before

The fall leaves aren’t winning any awards this year in Tokyo, so thank whatever gods are in charge of making autumn insta-worthy that there are still chrysanthemums! Yes, it’s time once again for your socks to be knocked right off, with… These photos are from the 2018 displays at the Yushima Shrine and Kameido Tenjin,Continue reading “Chrysanthemums Like You’ve Never Seen Before”

The Best Tokyo Illuminations 2017

It’s time again for the best free holiday light show ever! Here are this year’s Tokyo Illuminations offerings, some of them even better than before: • TOKYO MIDTOWN This year’s “Starlight Garden” extravaganza is super lavish, with different shows for each night of the week. There’s a four-minute blue and white spin around the galaxy,Continue reading “The Best Tokyo Illuminations 2017”

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”

A Feast Of Autumn Leaves

The season has arrived, and in somewhat strange order this year. The ginkgo trees are full-on gold and already carpeting their surroundings with fallen leaves, but most Japanese maples are still just showing a mere tinge of red. Here’s what’s happening right now, and here are the best places to see them. These are actuallyContinue reading “A Feast Of Autumn Leaves”

In The Japanese Dahlia Garden

There’s a secret walled garden at the Ueno Toshogu Shrine that’s only open once a year for peony season, but guess what? This year they’re letting us come in to see the dahlias too! Bring your thesaurus, though, so you don’t wear out the word WOW. Open: Every day from September 30 – October 29Continue reading “In The Japanese Dahlia Garden”

Butterfly Season In Tokyo

Went to check on whether the cosmos were blooming yet at Hama-Rikyu Teien garden last week and discovered that the lovely fields of gently nodding multicolored blooms I remembered were looking vastly overgrown and (honestly!) kind of ratty. I was about to stalk away muttering, “Disappointment, thy name is Hama-Rikyu” when the corner of my eyeContinue reading “Butterfly Season In Tokyo”

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”

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”