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Archive for japan

Art and Faith in Kyoto

By Linda Tancs

Otagi Nenbutsu-ji is a Buddhist temple in the Arashiyama neighborhood of Kyoto, Japan. Neglected through the ages due to its exposure to natural disasters, it re-emerged thanks to the artistry of the late Kocho Nishimura and a cadre of amateur stone sculptors. Through their efforts, the temple has become best known for a small army of moss-adorned sculptures that now cover the hillsides. Known as ratan (followers of Buddha), the art represents ordinary people captured in stone by their makers, oftentimes memorializing a loved one. Bus or taxi is the best way to arrive at what may be Kyoto’s most intriguing temple.


To limit the spread of COVID-19, attractions may be closed or have partial closures. Please keep those affected by the virus in your thoughts and be sure to follow the safety practices advocated by the Centers for Disease Control. Stay safe, and be well.

Let in Snow in Sapporo

By Linda Tancs

In 1857, the population of Sapporo was just seven people. Today, it is Japan’s fifth largest city and the capital of Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main islands. You’ve come a long way, baby. In addition to hosting a winter Olympics, the locale is known for its ramen, beer and the annual snow festival held this month. One of the country’s most popular events, the festival features snow and ice sculptures (some measuring more than 82 feet wide and 50 feet high), particularly along Odori Park. Sapporo TV Tower offers great views, especially at night, when the sculptures are illuminated. This year’s celebration begins today and runs through February 11.

A Thousand Rice Paddies

By Linda Tancs

Shiroyone Senmaida (meaning “a thousand rice paddies in Shiroyone”) is a rice terrace outside Wajima, Japan, comprising 1,004 small rice paddies on steep slopes beside the Sea of Japan. Nationally designated a “Special Place of Scenic Beauty,” each field is farmed by hand. The view is stunning at any time of year, but from mid-October to mid-March (when farming ceases), the fields are illuminated at night with thousands of LED lights that change color every 30 minutes. To get there, take the local bus toward Ushitsu to Shiroyone Senmaida station.

It Flows in Takachiho

By Linda Tancs

In Takachiho, Japan, one might say you go with the flow. After all, it’s famous for Takachiho Gorge, formed from lava from Mount Aso that over time eroded to create towering cliffs of volcanic basalt columns complemented by plunging waterfalls. But it’s also considered the birthplace of nagashi-somen, a noodle rite involving catching ice-cold somen noodles with chopsticks as they float down a chute. Be grateful for the colander catching errant noodles at the end. A summertime tradition in most of the country, it’s practiced all the way to the end of November in Takachiho.

Bath of the Gods

By Linda Tancs

One of the oldest public bath houses in Japan is Dōgo Onsen Honkan, built in 1894 during the Meiji Period. Two public baths are available to visitors, the Bath of the Gods on the main floor and the Bath of the Spirits on the second floor. Different tour packages provide access to one or both baths and relaxation rooms. A tour of the emperor’s bathing facilities is also available. The facility is a four- minute walk from Dogo Onsen Station, the terminus of three tram lines. Just in front of the station in Hōjōen plaza is the Botchan Karakuri Clock. Built in honor of the baths’ centennial in 1994, it comes to life for several hours daily with mechanical figures featuring characters from the famed novel, Botchan. Get to the baths before January when planned renovations will close parts of the facility for several years.

Tokyo’s Oldest Temple

By Linda Tancs

Asakusa Kannon temple complex, the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo, Japan, is one of the city’s most colorful and popular temples. Kannon is the goddess of mercy, and legend has it that two fishermen fished her statue from the waters and returned it from whence it came, only to have it come back to them again and again. The shrine was thereafter built in her honor. You’ll enter through two gates to the five-storied pagoda and main building of the complex. In between these two gates is a large souvenir arcade where you can purchase items such as traditional Japanese fans or sample a local cake filled with red bean paste. Be sure to look upwards at the ceilings in the temple buildings for some beautiful murals.

Azaleas Bloom in Tokyo

By Linda Tancs

Every year between early April and early May, Tokyo’s Nezu Shrine is ablaze in color as 100 varieties of azaleas bloom in its garden. And so marks the Azalea Festival, where visitors are treated to some rare varieties such as Fuji-tsutsuji (tiny bean-size flowers), Hanaguruma (pinwheel-like flowers) and Karafune (black azalea). Along with the flowers, there’s a plant fair, an antique fair, festive stalls and a special timed viewing of Sanjuroku kasen-e paintings.

A Sea Candle in Japan

By Linda Tancs

An inverted cone tower overlooking the scenic Shonan beaches of Enoshima Island is one of the largest lighthouses in Japan. Known affectionately as the Enoshima Sea Candle, the nearly 200-foot-high tower completed in 2003 was built for the 100th anniversary celebration of Enoshima Electric Railway. Take the elevator to the top if you must, but the circular stair climb gives lingering views of sites like Mt. Fuji, Izu Peninsula and the mountains at Hakone. In addition to the spectacular panoramic view at the top, the lighthouse is illuminated at night, a sight that’s viewable nearly 30 miles away.

Aglow in Toyama

By Linda Tancs

Just like lightning bugs, hotaruika are squid with a natural fluorescence that causes them to glow in the dark. Unlike those insects, however, millions of firefly squid in Namerikawa give off their hue (blue) along the sea, providing a twinkling light show rivaling a planetarium. Taking place generally between March and June, you’ll need to head off during the wee hours for a boat ride in Toyama Bay, Japan, to witness this unique event. Tours book quickly; April is regarded as the best time of year for viewing. If you can’t make the tour, maybe you’d like the live squid show at Hotaruika Museum in Namerikawa, the only museum in the world dedicated to this luminescent cephalopod.

The Castle on a Plain

By Linda Tancs

Unlike the usual hilltop or mountaintop castle, Hiroshima Castle is built on a plain in the center of the city. Developed as a castle town, Hiroshima’s pride was built in 1589 by a powerful feudal lord. Surrounded by a moat, its keep is five stories high. The keep, along with the rest of the structure, was rebuilt following its destruction from the nuclear attack on the city in 1945 during World War II. The castle is just a 15-minute walk from Peace Memorial Park and its featured A-Bomb Dome, a World Heritage Site.

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