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...

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...

Beneath the Sea by Train to Hakodate


I had a chance to visit Hokkaido this summer, the northernmost of Japan’s four main islands. A trip to Hokkaido used to involve flying, or a very slow journey by boat, but a new extension of the shinkansen network to Shin-Hakodate station opened in March 2016. We were now able to go there by train thanks to the Seikan Tunnel — a 53km long underground section, 23km of which sinks 100 metres below...

Tachikawa: Where My Writing Life Began


I’ve been running this website since March 2009, and this is my 300th blog. I guess that’s an anniversary of sorts, and it got me thinking about my early years as a writer. I made several false starts during my twenties, mostly because I just didn’t have any life experience, and so I had nothing to say. I only really found my topic with travel. That was a way in, an exotic frame for me to explore...

Gunkanjima: The Bond Villain Island in Skyfall


That mysterious ruined island in Skyfall is real. If you saw the 2012 James Bond film, you were likely as mesmerized as I was by the scene. Bond and Séverine are prisoners on a yacht, and as they sail towards the villain’s lair to meet their doom, a mysterious island emerges from sea mist. As the ship draws closer, we see that the island is crowded with abandoned concrete structures: an entire...



We arrived in Nagasaki just as the late afternoon light began to slide down the mountain sides, reflecting off the long narrow harbour and casting the first shadows into the crevices of the steep hillsides clustered with dwellings. This would be our final stop of a week-long exploration of western Japan. And in many ways, we saved the most unique city for last. Nagasaki’s setting in the valley of...

Hanami Nights in Shades of Pink


The city of Hakata — on the island of Kyushu — has been completely overrun by mainland Chinese. We’d stopped there for a night on our way between Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And we’d just walked over to the new Canal City shopping complex in search of something to eat. As you know by know, all journeys in Japan revolve around regional food, and this enormous collection of shops just happens to house...

Landing in Hot Water with Naked Strangers


A ride was waiting for us at the station when we returned to the mainland from Miyajima. We followed the road further down the coast, past the large circular enclosures of oyster farms which occupied the inland waters. And then we wound up the hill through smaller streets to our lodgings for the night. A visit to an onsen (“hot spring”) is an essential part of any trip Japan, and one I always...


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