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Springtime in Matsumoto

Springtime in Matsumoto

We did manage to have a taste of spring weather and the cherry blossoms during a recent trip to Japan. One of the ways that the Japanese celebrate the cherry blossoms is by lighting up their gardens and famous places during this time. We caught the last night of the “light-up” at Matsumoto castle, where the entire castle is surrounded by rows of cherry trees and also freshly budding weeping willows (or something like a weeping willow). Matsumoto castle is one of the 12 “original” castles in Japan and it’s quite nice. We visited inside the...
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Sword Holding

Sword Holding

We often get requests from travelers who want to visit a “swordmaker” based on their casual interest in the Japanese sword, or katana.   However, the world of swordmaking in Japan is not quite a spectator sport and, for the most part, unless you’re truly a collector or a potential purchaser of a sword (which runs upwards of $20,000), visiting a swordmaker is just not easily done.  There are, however, a few festivals and exhibitions throughout the year that include public displays of swordmaking.   One is in the Nagano area, in the town of Sakaki, where a...
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Reigando Cave

Reigando Cave

Took a visit to Reigando Cave, the site where Miyamoto Musashi, the famed samurai and swordsman, wrote the Book of Five Rings.   This cave is located way outside the small city of Kumamoto, up in the mountains – windy road there, then, once we got to the turn off (by some beautiful terraced rice fields), there was another climb up a very windy road to the entrance way.  There is a small shrine right at the front – where we were greated by a pilgrimmage couple beating an hypnotic rhythm on a drum and chanting in preparation for their entry into the sacred...
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Kumamoto Volunteer Guide

Kumamoto Volunteer Guide

Some of what my last trip to Japan was about was exploring some places where American tourists don’t generally go (well, at least not on their first trip).   Kumamoto is a small city located on the western edge of Japan, about halfway down the west coast of Kyushu island.   My visit here included the first time I’ve had a chance to use the volunteer guides that are often found throughout Japan.   We had a wonderful day exploring Kumamoto Castle and Reigando Cave with Kano-san.   Despite the dreary wet weather that day, the castle was wonderful – very...
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Knife Making in Takefu

Knife Making in Takefu

There are lots of places in Japan to see various artists and artisans, but one of the more unusual is Takefu – where you can go to a forgery where a wide variety of artists create knives.   These aren’t just regular dinner knives – but knives taken to a new level of mastery. Various artists work here, creating works of art with unique patterns created through special forging and polishing techniques.  To get there, you take a cab ride some miles out of town (from the train station).  You’re dropped off at a large, free-standing building in what...
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Samurai, Swords and San Francisco

While you can travel through Japan with any number of themes in mind (traditional arts, manga, ceramics, contemporary arts, nature and hiking, etc), getting ready for a themed trip from the US can have its challenges. This weekend, however, I had the opportunity to travel to San Francisco to attend a Samurai Symposium put on by the Society of Asian Arts at the Asian Art Museum. This was in conjunction with their visiting exhibition called Lords of the Samurai, featuring a wide variety of works from the Hosakawa collection. The symposium was great – with a lot of...