Meguro’s Gyoninzaka – a different slant on Tokyo history

Heading west from Meguro Station it's all downhill, a descent into the Meguro River valley. Particularly dramatic is the descent on a narrow laneway accessed from the main exit of Meguro Station (on the southern side of Meguro-dori). This steep slope is known as Gyonin-zaka. A gyonin is a Buddhist ascetic, and apparently Daienji, a … Continue reading Meguro’s Gyoninzaka – a different slant on Tokyo history

Satsuma Contributions to Meiji Modernization

One of my favorite times in Japanese history is the Meiji Period (1868-1912), when Japan re-opened itself to the world and rapidly modernized. Inevitably it was a time of turmoil. There was substantial economic and social upheaval as Japan industrialized and the rigid structures of shogunal Japan were abandoned. Satsuma Domain (now known as Kagoshima), … Continue reading Satsuma Contributions to Meiji Modernization

Hyuga, where Japan’s imperial dynasty was launched

February 11 is celebrated in Japan as "National Foundation Day", commemorating the date on which Japan's first emperor, Jimmu, ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne in 660BC. Except…it never happened. Or, at least, there is no evidence that it did. Japan's earliest written records were written by the Chinese around the first century AD and the … Continue reading Hyuga, where Japan’s imperial dynasty was launched

Finding fine porcelain off the beaten track

Without the mineral kaolin, fine porcelain could not exist. It is said that Korean potters first found kaolin in Japan near the village of Arita in Saga Prefecture in 1616, launching Japan's porcelain industry. These days, 80% of Japan’s kaolin actually comes from the Amakusa Islands of Kumamoto Prefecture, another area known for its pottery … Continue reading Finding fine porcelain off the beaten track

It’s a condiment. It’s a health food. It’s black vinegar.

Japan is well known for borrowing ideas and technology from other countries and adapting them to something distinctly Japanese. Black vinegar is one such item. More than two centuries ago, the village of Fukuyama on the eastern shore of Kagoshima Bay began producing black vinegar using methods imported from China. Refined and developed over the … Continue reading It’s a condiment. It’s a health food. It’s black vinegar.

Yachiyo-za Theater: jewel in the crown of Yamaga

The late nineteenth/early twentieth century in Japan was a time when kabuki as an art form was liberalized, becoming more popular than ever. As a result, many communities built their own theaters. By the end of the Meiji Period (1868-1912) there were between four and five thousand such theaters across Japan. Only a few have … Continue reading Yachiyo-za Theater: jewel in the crown of Yamaga

Aloe Vera and Goats: an interesting symbiosis

During the Age of Discovery, Europeans sailed the world. Their ships often carried goats, which provided fresh milk and meat. Sailors often left a few goats on desert islands where they stopped for fresh water. These were intended to provide a means of sustenance for future shipwrecked sailors. Thus goats and islands have an historical … Continue reading Aloe Vera and Goats: an interesting symbiosis

The seven lucky gods of Fukagawa: Ensuring a good year to come

This article describes a seven lucky gods pilgrimage, a short walk popular in the New Year's season as a means to secure good fortune for the new year, something most of us especially want for 2021! The walk is an easy distance (less than 5 km.) and goes through one of Tokyo's oldest neighborhoods. (Archived … Continue reading The seven lucky gods of Fukagawa: Ensuring a good year to come

Historical transit port Hizen Hamashuku

While Japan was fundamentally closed to the outside world during the Edo Period (1603-1868), it still maintained a robust domestic economy. This economy was largely centered on agricultural production that led to production of secondary food products all of which fed the entire nation, allowing other economic activity also to flourish. Central to all this … Continue reading Historical transit port Hizen Hamashuku