Alex Kerr on Finding Hidden Japan


Alex Kerr I’ve often thought of Japan as one of the world’s most misunderstood countries, not because it is uniquely inscrutable but because it’s so beset by stereotypes.  The casual visitor rarely sees beyond their image of geisha, Buddhist temples, hyper-modern electronics and anime. This exotic projection seems especially prevalent here in Germany and in France. The truth is more...

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...

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...


Sign up for my entertaining email newsletter and claim your FREE gift!

Recent Posts