Kamakura, Japan

August 27, 2017

Kamakura, the Japanese feudal capital from 1185 to 1333, is an easy day trip out of Tokyo. If you don’t have time to make it to Kyoto this is a great alternative to get a taste of Japanese temples and shrines.

Below are photos from just a few of the shrines and temples.



Hasedera Temple

Hasedera TempleHasedera TempleHasedera TempleHasedera TempleHasedera TempleHasedera TempleHasedera Temple

Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu

Tsurugaoka Hachiman-guTsurugaoka Hachiman-guTsurugaoka Hachiman-guTsurugaoka Hachiman-guTsurugaoka Hachiman-gu

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Kabuki and Sumo, Tokyo, Japan

September 18, 2017

When my Japanese friend Yumi suggested a day of Kabuki and Sumo I thought, “What a great contrast in Japanese cultural events” and eagerly accepted. I had never experienced either.


The Kabuki theater event is held at the restored Kabukiza – the “za” means theater – a grand traditional style building in the Ginza district.

Below the Kabukiza

Downstairs, below the theater, is a large shopping area, connected to the East Ginza metro station, where you can buy a bento lunch for the 30 minute intermission between the first and second act.


English translations are available on a rented machine that displays subtitles throughout the performance. I believe the machines are available in other languages as well. The first performance starts at 11AM and lasts about an hour and half. There are no photos allowed during the performance.

kabuki photo-page-001

Stock photo sold in the giftshop

Difficult to describe, the best I can come up with is it’s like Japanese Shakespeare. The dialogue of which, spoken in old Japanese – even native speakers need some sort of translation to follow the story – has a very affected intonation. The most astonishing of which is that of the children which is uttered in a high pitched staccato chant. Very strange.


Eating bento box at intermission

There is comic relief at various points within each story. The stories come from traditional Japanese culture and again have much in common with Shakespear’s plays depicting historical events or classical story lines. The middle act was a 30 minute dance sequence; that of a young bride traveling a long distance to her wedding.  During this sequence there was no dialogue, only sung narration accompanied by music played on a stringed instrument.

If you are at all interested in theater you should try to see a performance. If you really don’t like theater I doubt this experience would change your mind.



For a non-sports fan I found the event fascinating and different from anything I have ever experienced. The wrestling matches are held at two week intervals at various times of the year at the Ryogoku Sumo Hall (Subo line). The matches go on all day starting in the morning until 6PM, with the more important matches held at the end of the day.



The matches themselves are very quick. A long match might take 10 seconds. Much of the drama is before the match when the wrestlers strut around the tiny ring, stretching and slapping themselves and looking both silly and bold in their brightly colored thongs. You could imagine one of them flat out pounding his chest like a gorilla.


The audience is amazingly subdued compared to Western audiences. Although they clap and cheer they never stand. Of course you can get a much better view on television but the arena adds an immediacy to the event, especially when you can get a sushi bento box while you watch. Radios with the broadcast in English are available for rent at the arena.

Sumo - Bulgarian wrestler - Aoiyama

Blue Mountain – Bulgarian sumo wrestler


There is much to this sport that I don’t know, but whatever your level of interest it’s worth the effort.

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Sights of Tokyo, Japan

September – October, 2017

west of Tokyo Station

Tokyo, a tantalizing mix of modern living in a decidedly Asian environment, is unlike any city I have ever visited. The densely populated metropolis boasts a transportation web that will make your head spin until you realize just how easy and efficient it is. Multistory shops neatly cram retail goods into narrow rows with a greater selection that you can find on Amazon. Neighborhoods mix sky scrapers and glitzy neon with traditional shrines and peaceful parks. The crown jewel, the Tsukiji Fish Market, is a Japanese masterpiece. The world’s best fish flow through this enormous yet efficient transportation hub. If you are looking for a safe urban adventure, Tokyo is the city for you.


Shibuya Crossing

If you do nothing else in Shibuya, make a quick stop at the famed Shibuya crossing – the busy intersection just in front of the main entrance to the train station.

Shibuya Crossing

There is view above from the station or the best seats are at the Starbucks across the street. Better yet mix it up with the locals. When the light turns green pedestrians flood the intersection from 5 major streets.

Shibuya Crossing

Tourists posing and snapping phots mix with the myriad locals going out on the town or just trying to get home. It’s a scene a worth the stop.


Shibuya is also a good place to wander the streets for great people watching and big city lights.




Just 3 stops further on the Yamanote JR line is the more subdued and a little more grownup Shinjiku, although it does have a Godzilla towering over the Imax theater that comes to life at 6PM screeching with machine gun fire blazing from his mouth.




While Shinjiku is another great destination for people watching and city lights it also has a couple of particular highlights.

Shinjiku - Golden Gai

A short walk from the massive train station is the Golden Gai, a collection of over 200 eclectically decorated very small bars and restaurants laid out in a grid.

Shinjiku - Golden Gai

Although primary a drinking destination, albeit an expensive one, it’s a fascinating walk through the dimly lit narrow alleyways.

Shinjiku Gyoen

In the opposite direction is Shinjiku Gyoen, a well-manicured botanical garden with an extensive network of paths that link the traditional Japanese garden, the English gardens, the French garden and the greenhouse.

Shinjiku GyoenShinjiku GyoenShinjiku GyoenShinjiku GyoenShinjiku GyoenShinjiku GyoenShinjiku GyoenShinjiku Gyoen

Imperial Palace Gardens

Imperial Palace Gardens

Located in the center of the city this is an easy and peaceful stop on a Tokyo itinerary. While there is not much to see from a historical perspective, the vast gardens are a pleasant place to stroll on a pretty day, especially when the cherry blossoms bloom in the spring (mid-March to early April).

Imperial Palace GardensImperial Palace Gardens

Entering the gardens is free. Check the hours and days of the week as they do change based on the schedule. The garden is normally closed on Mondays but when Monday is a holiday the garden is open on Monday and closed on Tuesday.

Imperial Palace Gardens

Kitanomaru National Gardens

Kitanomaru National Gardens


Tokyo National Museum

The Tokyo National Museum located at Ueno Park is a good introduction to Japanese art and artifacts. The Highlights Collection – selected pieces from throughout Japan’s long history, from Buddhist sculpture and paintings to Edo-period  kimono fashions – is particularly accessible and informative.


The museum does not overwhelm you with endless pieces with tiny descriptions, but rather chooses a few good ones with descriptions in both Japanese and English. There are swords and armory as well as ceramics and calligraphy collections.

Gallery of Eastern Antiquities

The regular admission to the museum also includes entrance to the Asian Art building next door. Although the large collection covers China, Korea, India and even the Middle East, a good portion of the works are Chinese.

Gallery of Eastern Antiquities

The well thought out collection can be overwhelming just after visiting the Japan Art Building. I’d start with the Japanese art and see how you feel. They also have frequent special exhibits requiring an extra fee.

There is a restaurant next to the Asian Art Building with an upscale but quite good selection of Japanese lunch sets.

National Museum of Modern Art

National Museum of Modern Art

A fun selection of Japanese works from the late 1800s and onward alongside examples of western works that may have influenced them. The main collection is on 3 floors.

National Museum of Modern Art

The works, mostly paintings, are well spaced and many have good English descriptions.

National Museum of Modern Art

While I wouldn’t put the museum in the same class as the top museums of Europe it’s a good introduction to modern Japanese painting and sculpture.

Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji Market

This was our second visit to this gigantic fish market. On our first visit in 2011, just before the tsunami, I was blown away by the size of the market and the quality of the seafood at the local eateries. Click here for details.

Tsukiji MarketTsukiji Market

Although the market is scheduled to move, at the time of this writing it is still at its original location. According to friends the move has been delayed for security reasons.

Tsukiji MarketTsukiji Market

It was much busier on this visit both in terms of the number of tourists and the activity within the market. They now don’t let tourists in until 10AM, making the outside market even busier and creating a rush when visitors are let in to the main working hall.

Tsukiji MarketTsukiji Market


Tsukiji Market

Still impressive is the quantity of Styrofoam containers and the size and quantity of fish. Although a lot of the fish cannot be seen there are still workers fileting, cleaning and cutting fish.

Tsukiji MarketTsukiji MarketTsukiji Market


Mostly at this time of the morning the workers are cleaning up, i.e., icing and boxing up the remaining fish, hosing everything down (watch your shoes and camera) cleaning and sharpening their knives ,etc.

Fruit and Vegetable Market

The fruit and vegetable market across the way is not as interesting, mostly a large warehouse of stacked cardboard boxes. Very little produce is visible.

Outside the Tsukiji Market

The exterior market is lively and crowded and could be fun if you are in the mood. By this time in the trip I’m getting a little weary of crowds and just couldn’t face the multitudes this morning.

Outside the Tsukiji Market

There are lines of people waiting to get into the sushi bars closest to the market.

Sushi near the Tsukiji Market

We stopped at a quieter place about a block away and got two bowls of uni and maguro (sea urchin and tuna). Very fresh but probably not the best deal as the slices of fish were on the small side. Still it hit the spot as I have had very little uni, my favorite, on this trip.

For more information on sights, see the following posts from our 2011 trip.

Chilling in Tokyo
Visit to the Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa and the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace. Korean restaurant in Akasaka.

Tokyo’s Ginza Shopping District
Visit to the Ginza shopping district, including the food department of the Mitsukoshi department store and the Ginza Sky Lounge. Ordering noodles through a vending machine in Akasaka and eating ramen in Ripongi.

Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market
A visit to this world famous market two weeks before the devastating earthquake.


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Castle and Sushi in Odawara, Japan

October 7-9, 2017

If you are taking the shinkansen (bullet train) to Hakone, a mountainous weekend getaway out of Tokyo, you might find yourself in Odawara. How about a castle and sushi before heading into the mountains?

Odawara Castle

Odawara Castle, a white wedding cake structure that glistens on its base, was recently renovated. The interior is a museum of the feudal Hojo family that ran this region, including around modern day Tokyo, in the 16th century. Most of the modern looking museum is in the form of informational exhibits, generally in Japanese with only few descriptions in English. There are a few artifacts – swords and armor – and a floor of pottery.

Odawara CastleThe draw here is the view from the top of the castle, the 7th tallest in Japan.

With an important fishing port, Odawara has some authentic sushi opportunities.

Lunch at the Eatery at the Fish MarketLunch at the Eatery at the Fish Market. If you like fresh seafood this is the place to come. Located on the second floor inside of the main fishing port it’s a little hard to find. This sign marks the way.

Lunch at the Eatery at the Fish Market

The menu is only in Japanese. There are, however, pictures on the vending machine where you order your fish and pay. Exchange the paper ticket you get from the vending machine for a plastic number and wait for your number to be called.

Lunch at the Eatery at the Fish MarketThe super fresh sashimi will be worth your effort.

On a second trip to the port we stopped at the sushi restaurant at the Odawara Fish Center located near the port, the Fish Center is marked on Google Maps. Although not much English is spoken the menu has pictures. We ordered a sushi selection and a sashimi plate.

Odawara Fish CenterOdawara Fish CenterOdawara Fish Center

Everything was excellent with larges pieces of super fresh fish. Note that the sushi bar is tucked inside the market across from a BBQ restaurant. You can order the same fresh fish at the BBQ restaurant.


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Sleeping and Dining in Hakone, Japan

October 7 and 8, 2017

Palace Hotel Hakone

Palace Hotel Hakone is scheduled to close in January 2018 making this post moot, but for documentation purposes I will post it anyway.

Palace Hotel Hakone

Ashinoko Skyline Drive

This aging resort hotel boasts views of Mt Fuji and Lake Ashi on the upper floors, although both are somewhat obscured.

Palace Hotel Hakone

The spacious rooms, the largest Western room we had in Japan, are a bit worn. The beds, however, were comfortable yet firm and dressed with cozy down comforters. The bathroom was smallish and in need of updating. The usual Japanese amenities included a tooth brush and tea service.  Bring your own coffee.

The onsen (public bath) located on the 3rd floor, while on the small side with fewer shower stations (around 5) and smaller pools than at some other hotels we had stayed at, had a nice quality outdoor bath water – soft water with a slight volcanic sulfur smell.

Breakfast at Humming – the hotel Western restaurant.

Palace Hotel Hakone - Breakfast at Humming

Breakfast was a decent quality but cost wise you might as well order the full American breakfast if you want toast and coffee with your eggs. Fried eggs are cooked a medium sunny side up and the scrambled eggs are sufficiently runny. Good coffee and flaky croissants.

Palace Hotel Hakone - Breakfast at Humming

The shizuoke iwana confit is excellent if you like fish with breakfast.

Dinner at Humming was OK but pricey. The monthly menu is a better value. This month’s menu was trout served with soup, salad and a choice of bread or rice. The fish was a bit overcooked. We also tried the pescatore pasta – tasty and a decent sized portion for being on the light fare menu. The smoked trout tartar was the best dish of the evening,  albeit small. It was very fresh with a nice smoky flavor.

Dinner at Ginno Ho

This small restaurant has great kamameshi, a rice dish cooked in an iron pot with a selection of toppings such as vegetables, salmon or fresh water eel (unagi). One of the most flavorful rice dishes I’ve tasted in Japan, the rice reminds me of paella. Although the iron pot is far deeper than a paella pan there is still a rice crust at the bottom of the pot. The set menu is served with a clear bonito soup. At the end of the meal, some of the soup water is poured over the rice and eaten as sort of a rice soup. Also part of the set meal is a chawanmushi (a savory egg custard) and pickles.

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Sights and Activities in Hakone, Japan

October 7 and 8, 2017

Hike near Lake Ashi

Hakone, a popular weekend and holiday destination outside of Tokyo, is a pretty, mountainous volcanic region with great onsen (Japanese hot springs), lake views and numerous opportunities for that iconic photo of Mt Fuji. We visited the area with our Japanese friends on a holiday weekend in early October. While this is not the ideal time if you want peace and quiet, it is a fun way to experience a Japanese holiday as the Japanese do.

Viewpoint at Owakudani Station

Owakudani volcanic valley

This viewpoint at the top of a caldera can be reach by car or a ropeway (gondola) that connects Hakone town on one side and Lake Ashi on the other. The viewpoint overlooks the Owakudani volcanic valley where numerous vents spout sulfuric gases.

Owakudani volcanic valley

Gases rushing through the pipes make an incredible roar. The valley is the source of the hot spring water that is pumped to the numerous onsen in the area. The sulfur and other minerals are also harvested and sold to the onsen.

Owakudani volcanic valley - Eating black eggsBlack eggs are a famous regional novelty. Only the eggs cooked in these particular hot springs will turn black. Eating one is said to add seven years to your life. At the view point you can buy your eggs and enjoy them at the convenient eating station set up at one end of the gift shop.

Regional Woodcrafts

Hatajuku Parquet Hall

At the Hatajuku Parquet Hall we were given an explanation and demonstration of yosegi zaiku a type of woodcraft where intricate patterns are created by layering different colors of wood and then recombining the cross sections into more intricate patterns. The finished patterned sheets are sliced and made into a veneer that is attached to objects – boxes, trays, leather coin purses and so forth.

Hatajuku Parquet Hall

They also do a similar less intricate type of parquet where the whole layered block sections are used to create bowls and other objects. It this case the pattern runs through the whole object rather than just a veneer, but the patterns are far less intricate.

Zougan zaiku marquetry is a type of inlay used to create pictures. They use a sewing machine fitted with a type of saw blade in place of the needle to cut the design in the wood.

This type of marquetry is an old tradition starting in the Edo period (1603-1868) that has evolved over the years. There are only a handful of true masters – a licensing process that requires 10 years of study – who do this kind of work.

Hiking Trails

Hike near Lake Ashi

There are number of hiking trails in the area that climb to various peaks and along Lake Ashi. On busy weekends it’s a nice way to get away from the crowds.

Boat trip around Lake Ashi

Boat ride on Lake Ashi

A pretty but popular activity, especially with children, is a boat tour on a pirate ship.

Boat ride on Lake AshiBoat ride on Lake Ashi

The hour long trip around the lake stops at three destinations, where you can disembark and visit the sights at each or just use the boat as transportation across the lake.

Boat ride on Lake Ashi

When it’s not shrouded in clouds Mt Fuji can be seen from the ship.

Boat ride on Lake Ashi

Faint outline of Mt Fuji


Scenic Drive

Ashinoko Skyline Drive

Afternoon Drive no Mt Fuji

On a clear day the Ashinoko Skyline Drive running along the ridge above Lake Ashi offers stunning views of Mt Fuji and the out to the sea below. Our first attempt, in the afternoon, only produced a cloud covered Fuji san, but the next morning there it was, floating on a layer of clouds above the valley.

Ashinoko Skyline DriveViewpoints for Mt Fuji on the road are best visited in the morning to get the sun on the right side.

Ashinoko Skyline DriveHowever, views of Lake Ashi will have the sun behind it at this hour.

The Great Meadow

The Great Meadow - susuki grassA curious sight for Westerners are the number of Japanese that flock to the Great Meadow where in the fall the susuki grass turns a pale gold.

The Great Meadow - susuki grassFamilies gather in front of the grass to have their picture taken much like they do in wildflower meadows in the States.

The Great Meadow - susuki grassAside from the beautiful color, the shape of the grass’s seed head has a cultural importance as it resembles that of rice, Japan’s staple food.


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Sleeping and Dining in Kanazawa, Japan

October 1, 2017

For sights in Kanazawa see the previous post.


Hotel Resol Trinity

This Western style hotel is a nice break from a series of ryokan. Not that I don’t like the ryokan experience but sometimes it’s nice to have a bed available all day and not have to lounge on the floor.

Hotel Resol Trinity

The rooms and bathroom are small by Western standards, but the bed, a queen, is very comfortable – firm with a soft top. Or it might be that after several nights of futons it feels good to sleep on a Western bed again.

Amenities include a good selection of bath products, water boiler and fridge. Tea and coffee are available in the lobby to bring to your room. There is also a coin operated washing machines on the 2nd and 5th floor.

We did not get the hotel breakfast.  There is a Doutor coffee shop across the street that opens at 7AM. Unfortunately they are light on traditional Western breakfast fare and serve more of a lunch selection all day.  A 7-Eleven is right next door to the hotel for all your snack, alcohol and money needs. There is also a Startbuck’s, down the street, across from the Omi-cho fish market, but I don’t know what time they open or what kind of food they have.

Dinner in Katamachi. Following the advice given in Lonely Planet, we headed south to the eating and drinking district of Kanazawa. At first we wandered the streets to the east of the main street, Hyakumangoku-dori, and didn’t find much enticing. The area gets seedier as you get closer to the river. Cutting over to the west side of Hyakumangoku-dori did not improve matters. Except for a few places things looked pretty dead at 7 on a Saturday night.

We finally stumbled on Kiganeya, just off the main drag with a poster of fish on the sidewalk. We were looking for fish. Downstairs the patrons, all Japanese that we could tell, were happily eating and drinking. Couples are seated at the bar; tables are reserved for larger parties. No problem for us if the fish is good. The front section of the English menu was all meat but the back section was fish. We ordered a sashimi selection, the grilled fish of the day – choice of salmon or tai (sea bream) and a shrimp and pepper dish.

Kiganeya Restaurant - Katamachi

The shashimi was excellent – a generous portion of 3 thick slices each of 5 kinds of very fresh fish.

Kiganeya Restaurant - Katamachi

The shrimp and peppers simmered in oil were an ordering error on my part. While the shrimp was fresh and sweet it was not my favorite dish.

Kiganeya Restaurant - Katamachi

The tai however was grilled heaven on a platter. A weird cut of fish, you have to pick the morsel of fish out between the bony sections, but what tender succulent morsels, some of the best fish I’ve had anywhere. All very reasonable priced – 2000 yen for the shashimi and 800 yen for the grilled tai. Draft beers were 500 yen each.



After dinner we finally stumbled on Kiguramachi which actually has rows of interesting restaurants. Kiguramachi is located east of Hyakumangoku-dori, at the intersection with the 7-Eleven on the southeast corner and McDonalds on the northeast corner.

Dinner in Kirguramachi


On a Sunday evening just before 7 many of the restaurants were closed and the ones that had patrons were pretty full. We were turned down at a couple of placed before we finally got a seat at this place.

Kanazawa -Dinner in Kirguramachi

Not sure what the name is. It wasn’t a great find so I won’t go to more trouble to figure it out. They had a very nice note at the door saying that their English wasn’t very good but that they will try.

They have an English menu with a variety of dishes. Some of the dishes around 1500 yen like the grilled fish and beef tongue were very small portions for the price.

Kanazawa -Dinner in Kirguramachi

The tempura was beautifully presented and fresh hot but was not cooked at a high enough temperature to get the coating as crispy as it should be.

Kanazawa -Dinner in Kirguramachi

Grilled Fish

Kanazawa -Dinner in Kirguramachi

Grilled Beef Tongue

Kanazawa -Dinner in KirguramachiStill hungry we ordered the fried chicken – super crispy moist morsels of mostly dark meat.

As we waited we watched the young prep cook dice and slice with precision, first vegies and then a sashimi plate for another customer. The service is very friendly and the atmosphere a tad upscale, but I’d look elsewhere for really good food.

Driving to Kanazawa

We arrived around 2:30PM on a pretty Saturday afternoon in late September. It was an easy drive using Google Maps to the train station where we dropped the car at the Toyota rental office. I recommend looking at Toyota for renting a car in central Honshu. They seem to have the most options and their one way surcharge from Toyama to Kanazawa was only about 30 USD.

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