In 1994 I planned a three week journey from Tokyo to Kagoshima with a friend who was a Japan neophyte. I included in the itinerary several of Japan’s castles. When my friend saw the itinerary, he scoffed saying, “I’ve seen plenty of castles in Europe; I don’t need to see more castles.” Nevertheless, I left … Continue reading Kumamoto Castle: rising from the rubble
Kujukushima Bay in Nagasaki Prefecture is both a popular recreation/sightseeing spot and a thriving fishing port especially known for its pearl farming and oyster production. Although "Kujukushima" literally means "99 islands", there are actually 208 islands in the bay not to mention a number of rocky outcrops that don't meet the technical definition of island. … Continue reading Kujukushima – how many pretty little islands?
This article introduces the dramatically-located Udo Shrine, on the south coast of Miyazaki, together with the story of the shrine's origins and another related Japanese folktale. (Archived article – Originally published by Japan Today.)
The city of Shimabara sits on the Ariake Sea in the shadow of Mount Unzen, the volcano responsible for creation of the Shimabara Peninsula (albeit several tens of thousands of years ago). The city has a long and diverse history, making it well worth taking a bit of time to explore. Yet many travelers quickly … Continue reading Shimabara’s Town of Swimming Carp
There has been exchange between Japan and Asia for more than 2,000 years. In the early part of what Westerners know as the first millennium, the objects and ideas introduced to Japan from China and Korea, in particular, enabled Japan to develop its own distinctive culture. The Asuka Period (538-710 CE) of Japanese history is … Continue reading Dazaifu, ancient Japan’s Western capital
This article is about Aoshima, a Miyazaki beach town with a legendary island just offshore. The island is home to a romantic shrine and is surrounded by distinctive rock formations. (Archived article – Originally published by Japan Today.)
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
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
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
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.
This article describes a well-preserved castle town in a strategic location on the island of Kyushu. (Archived article – Originally published by Japan Today.)
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