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...

Take a Walk Through Tokyo With Me


It’s been quiet here in Road Wisdom land, but it’s the silence of distant places rather than the silence of inactivity that has fallen over my blog… I’ve been on the road these past couple months. Exploring the rugged interior of New Caledonia in the South Pacific. Navigating the hectic city streets of Tokyo, and the quieter corners of northern Honshu. And more recently in...

Happy Gnu Year 2011!


Happy Gnu Year! It’s been several weeks since I’ve had a chance to write. I’ve been offline in the South Pacific, and now in northern Japan celebrating the New Year Japanese-style. It’s the big family holiday here (rather than Christmas), with lots of amazing food and far too much to drink. I’ll write more about the foods and sites of Japan in the coming weeks, as...

Tokyo Pose


A few more notes from my recent trip to Japan (and then we’ll get back to North Korea)… Today I’d like to talk about one of the coolest cities in the world, a place where I lived from 2000 to 2002. Tokyo is a vast urban sprawl that spreads to engulf neighbouring cities and towns faster every year. The current population of the metro area is approximately 28 million. It bears...

Sumo Size Me


My apologies for the long delay since my last update. I’ve been in Japan for the past couple weeks and just returned home. We’ll get back to North Korea very soon. But first I’d like to share with you a few images from this last trip… Let’s begin with sumo. I got hooked on sumo while living in Tokyo between 2000 and 2002. As a martial artist the technical aspects of...


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