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Off the Map

Off the Map

We usually use those small local tourist maps when getting around in new towns and cities in Japan, and they’re usually handy.  But on a trip to Koya-san we ran into an unusual problem… the city is small and the map seemed pretty good, but it turns out that with one wrong turn or misread of a path, you are quickly off the map.  And because of the scale, we didn’t realize it for quite some time.   But getting off the map can yield some great results – we found ourselves at a wonderful temple that had no visitors and was a sea of calm on a very busy...
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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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Naoshima Island

Naoshima Island

One of the places that you won’t find in guidebooks, but is fairly well-known to people in the art world, is the Benesse House Art Museum on Naoshima Island in the Inland Sea. This isn’t a typical Japanese place, nor is it reminiscent of traditional Japanese culture. This is a place where you actually spend the night in a museum. The rooms are all integrated into the museum, so after closing hours, you can wander amidst the various works of contemporary art located throughout the complex. Getting to the island involves a (too-short) ride on a ferry from the...
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Gardens at Night

Gardens at Night

Kyoto is known for its gardens, which date back for centuries and create a foundation of silent wonder in this very busy city.   But what you may not know, is that during two seasons of the year (fall foliage and cherry blossoms), many of the gardens and temples are open late into the evening with gardens and buildings alight to show off the special seasonal transformation.  Each site’s schedule is different, so you’ll need to check with the garden before going.  However, some hotels (the Hyatt Regency Kyoto, for example), create a list of all the gardens with...