The shrine beloved of scholars


Yushima Tenmangu shrine is associated with scholars and learning On my second-last day in Tokyo, I took the Chiyoda Line to Yushima, not far from Ueno Park, to pay my respects to the kami of learning. Yushima Tenmangu shrine was founded in 458 AD. It was originally dedicated to Ame-no-Tajikarao-mikoto (天手力雄命), a kami associated with physical power. But sometime in 1355, Tenjin was added to...

Food in Japan


A visit to Japan is a gastronomic delight.  It’s even more of a treat when you live in a meat-and-potatoes place like Germany, where abendbrot — bread and butter with cold cuts and cheese — is considered a brilliant supper innovation (‘It’s like breakfast…. without the muesli…!’). I particularly miss the availability of fresh fish living in an inland city like Berlin. We get freshwater fish...

At The Temple of the Beckoning Cat


Gotokuji temple Gotokuji temple (護国寺), in a quiet corner of Tokyo’s Setagaya ward, is said to be the origin of maneki-neko, the beckoning cat figure you see next to the cash register in Asian restaurants. I decided to cross the city and pay my respects at this place because I had a cat for many years, whose friendship was important to me. Misled — as is so often the case — by Google Maps, I...

The endless steps of Yamadera


The Yamadera temple complex clings to the slope of Mt. Hoju in Yamagata prefecture, not far from Yamagata City. The site’s official name is Risshakuji Temple. Yamadera (山寺) just means ‘mountain temple’ in Japanese. When my wife’s brother suggested we tag along on a work trip to this area, I jumped at the chance for a temple visit, followed by an onsen. It was only much later that I found out we’d...

Hiking Mt. Iwate 


Mt. Iwate from Morioka (© User: yisris / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0) Trips to Japan are always a blur of friends and relatives, with lashings of beer and sake, and the best food I’ll eat all year. I wanted to cover a bit of new ground despite a packed schedule, and so I laced up my boots, bought a couple convenience store onigiri, and boarded a three-car local train to the prefectural...

Gordon Peake: Insider stories from the world of foreign aid


Gordon Peake [Photo by Steve Morris] Gordon Peake’s first book — Beloved Land — was a memoir of life in Timor-Leste, one of the world’s newest and least visited nations. He followed it up with another ‘residency’ book, this time on Bougainville, an island off the coast of Papua New Guinea that hopes to become an independent country. Unsung Land, Aspiring Nation will be published in early...

David Eimer: Cultural survival in China’s borderlands


David-Eimer – Photo by Gilles Sabrie David Eimer is the author of the critically acclaimed The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China, and A Savage Dreamland: Journeys in Burma. He was a Beijing-based correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph from 2005 to 2012, and the Southeast Asia correspondent for the Daily Telegraph between 2012 and 2014. You can also find his...

Travel Back in Time to Shibamata


I want to tell you about an area of Tokyo I discovered on my last trip to Japan. It may not be of interest to you on a first visit to this massive city. But if you’re a repeat visitor, you’ll want to check it out. When most foreigners think of Tokyo, they think hyper-modern: nighttime scenes of flashing neon, electronic noise, giant screens and outlandish characters — a less dystopian version of...

“Futuristic” Tokyo Lodged in the Past

I want to share a few Tokyo discoveries with you as I catch up on the year’s travels by posting long overdue blogs. It’s a city I know well. I lived there from 2000 to 2002, and I go back nearly every year for a visit. For the past several years, we’ve found a flat in Minato ward, a nice leafy residential neighbourhood just off the embassy district. But this time we decided to look a little...

Summer Festivals in the Barbarian North


Local festivals are big in Japan. It’s one of the great things about Japanese summer. There’s the food, of course. My favourite festival foods include yakisoba (fried noodles), yakitori (grilled chicken on skewers), okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes), and of course gallons of draft beer. But there are also a bewildering variety of performances, from traditional theatre to giant pink penises. I was in...


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