Skip navigation

Tag Archives: japan

The earlier posts in this series are all about authentic Japanese foods that we have been eating some exported versions outside Japan (Part 1 is about noodles, part 2 about izakaya, part 3 is about grilled foods as well as tonkatsu and curry, and part 4 is about wagashi.

Japanese snacks is an entire world of new experiences – fun or luxurious packaging, interesting ingredients, traditional or modern tastes – sweet, salty, spicy, fishy, in myriad combinations, or all at once.


Our bag of crackers came from a supermarket nearby.  This slice of squid caught our eyes.


Some pieces looked like fossils of ancient crustaceans recovered from an archaeological dig.


Marbled with seaweed, they are tasty.


We must be mad – taking portraits of rice crackers.


well, after a long day of trekking around Tokyo …


In addition to these supermarket products, we tried some fancy shrimp crackers that come in a gift box, ten individually wrapped and cost almost $20.  (we ate them quickly and are not shown here)


While eating salty crackers, you might want something to drink. Not a problem around here. The street corner at the end of our street has ten vending machines !


The machines sell mostly soft drinks, but also cigarettes.


Pepsi, no Coke. Buying drinks this way is really inexpensive, most are about 120 to 140 yen.


Marlboro and Lark.


One machine sells alcohol, Asahi, and Kirin beer, sake and even whisky.


The vending machines also sell warm/hot drinks – tea and coffee but also this warm sweet corn soup. It was quite tasty and felt nourishing – IT’s fav. There are more than 60 different kinds of drinks available from these machines.


This is my favorite, Green DaKaRa – a watery juice mix or multi-flavored water. I(Chris) cannot describe it. One can work it out by deciphering the icons … ok, it has various citrus fruits, tomatoes, grapes, aloe, honey, white substances, black beans, diamonds and a gold bar ?!


One of Sue’s fav is the peach water below.


On the way to the airport, we bought all these drinks with the lose change in our pocket … before security check, without thinking … meaning we had to finish them while waiting in line !

The earlier three-part series of posts are all about authentic Japanese foods that we have been eating some exported versions outside Japan (Part 1 is about noodles, part 2 about izakaya, and part 3 is about grilled foods as well as tonkatsu and curry).


This post is about sweets – the traditional wagashi 和菓子.


The specialist shop – Wagashi Mame まめ – is situated just around of the corner of our apartment in Minato-Aoyama 南青山 和菓子の「まめ」. Their webite is here.


Although we pass it every day, it appeared to be closed most of the time.  Perhaps it only opens briefly and closes when everything is sold. On several occasions, when it was opened, there was a short queue outside.


There are several different kinds of mochis and daifukus on offer. This one looks like a giant virus.


They all came with nice packaging.


苺大福 strawberry daifuku


Nice and soft.


Boxed ready to go.


The olive color leaf is shiso.


Perfect to go with tea.

DS picked this shabu-shabu specialist in Akasaka, not far from her office. The restaurant is situated on the 5th floor of a building with a McDonald downstairs.


Definitely not a easy place to find, but it was full soon after we arrived. It is unlikely that any one would stumble into this restaurant by chance.


It is a small cozy place, all the customers sit around a circular bar. In front of the customers cut into the marble are individual mini stoves where a pot of soup can be heated for cooking.


We ordered the special dinner set which includes sashimi and additional seafood for cooking.




Unlike the Chinese/Southeast Asian style hotpot/steamboat, we were provided with three separate dipping sauces –  ponzu, soy and a garlicky sauce.


The beef comes in three grades priced accordingly. One can also order pork.


The beef are freshly sliced from a block which is frozen. I(Chris) appreciate a bit of the extra fat in the more expensive grade of beef but not the highest grade which consists mostly of fat.




At the end, we were asked if we wanted to finish the soup with rice or noodles.


We were given shredded nori, scallion and miso to accompany the noodle or rice.


It was a relatively simple but very satisfying meal.


The restaurant was founded in 1973 and their website is here.


This is part 3 of a series of posts which is about re-acquainting with the authentic tastes of Japanese food that we have been eating outside Japan – all in the one week we had in Tokyo. Part 1 is about noodles, part 2 about izakaya, and for more traditional meals (click here and here to see those posts).

Part 3 is about grilled foods as well as tonkatsu and curry – staple foods of the Japanese.

On our first day in Tokyo, R and H came to meet us at Haneda airport where we were staying for one night in transit. Haneda was renovated a few years ago and has a collection of restaurants on a mezzanine just above the check-in counters. It is set up as a traditional village street with restaurants on both sides.

JP food 3-10

We went to Kushinbo 串の坊 – a chain from Osaka specializing in deep-fried bits of food served with various dipping sauces, lemon and sesame salt. The concept is a bit like McD chicken nuggets.

JP food 3-9

Everything they served were on a skewer (except the poached egg) and used the kind of panko that covers tonkatsu (not the type for tempura).

JP food 3-8

They served the skewers one by one and as we finished each skewer, they served another of a different kind.

JP food 3-7

During the week, we had dinner at a tonkatsu restaurant.

JP food 3-1

Sue ordered a curry with hers. Simple but tasty.

JP food 3-2

And then we had a curry dinner. I had the curry with tonkatsu. This curry restaurant Temma is on the corner of our street and the main thoroughfare Aoyama dori.

JP food 3-4

I did not take any photo of the food itself because it was eaten quickly. But I took pictures of the plastic versions of their menu while waiting for Sue.

JP food 3-6

I must say the skill of the artist who created these plastic dishes must be congratulated. Curry is not something that can easily be reproduced in plastic and look palatable. It could look crappy literally.

JP food 3-3

Although we did not try it, the curry puffed pasty looked really good.

JP food 3-5






Part of the reason we went to Japan in February is this woman. She is not getting younger and we reckoned if we do not grab a chance to see her perform live on stage soon, she might retire. Hope she will be around longer than David and Prince.


We are not die-hard fans but enjoyed her music over the years and heard many good things about her concert tours.


We could have seen her Rebel Heart tour in Zürich in December 2015. But IT managed to get tickets for Tokyo. Japan is certainly a more exotic location to see her than Switzerland. Initially, she had one concert in Tokyo but as it was sold out quickly, then she added another date on February 14.


Her concert was held in the Saitama Super Arena located just outside of Tokyo – a multi-purpose indoor arena located in Chūō-ku, Saitama City, it’s a bit like Wembley to London or Flushing Meadows to NYC.


It was in the news that her concert held the day before started two hours late. So we took our time and arrived about an hour late. People were mostly seated when we entered the arena. Within 10 minutes of our entrance, the concert started. Great timing.


Our seats were not bad but not great either. You can sort of see what’s happening on stage but really too far to feel it. The big screen helps but it is not like being in the pit.


She did not have an opening act (as far as we know since we arrived late).


Having dancers on the flexible poles (like in Mad Max 4) was a novelty. They were swinging wildly on top. Very acrobatic indeed.


She did some songs from her latest record and a bunch of old favorites – e.g., Like A Virgin – the white “thing” on stage (below photo) is Madonna in her bridal outfit.


She performed well throughout, definitely aerobically fit for her age, but somehow the energy I was expecting was not there. May be we were too far from the stage or we set our expectations too high.


We saw some fans dressed like the 80’s Madonna but not many people were dancing.


The showed ended after a little bit more than 2 hours. She did one encore.

Bye Bitches !!!


Overall, it was a fun experience but not as much power and action as we hoped though.




This is part 2 of a series of posts which is about re-acquainting with the authentic tastes of Japanese food that we have been eating outside Japan – all in the one week we had in Tokyo. Part 1 is about noodles, and for more traditional meals (click here and here to see those posts).

Part 2 is about drinks and snacks.

We spent half a day at Skytree with CK from the US who happened to be on vacation in Japan. Skytree is Tokyo’s main broadcast tower, completed in 2012, with a commercial center on the east side of town. There were of course all manners of shops and restaurants, and also a world beer museum.

tokyo food 2-1

The “museum” is really just a drinking place with several bars decorated according to some notion of what bars in other parts of the world look like.

Northern UK pub ?

tokyo food 2-4US bar ?

tokyo food 2-5


tokyo food 2-6

We ordered german sausages as snacks.

tokyo food 2-3

We chose a range of Japanese beers none of which we had heard before – Coedo, Baird, Mongozo (Mango), White by Hitachino and one that mentions red miso on its label.

tokyo food 2-2

Izakaya居酒屋 is a type of informal Japanese gastropub, casual places typical for after-work drinking. Think of it as a tapas/pintxos bar if you like.

tokyo food 2-15

After a hard day of walking and shopping in Shibuya, we wandered into 鶏屋 – 東方見聞録 (“chicken house – il milione” or “Chicken house – The Travels of Marco Polo”) –  it is one of seven in a chain of izakaya owned by Sanko 三光 (click here).

tokyo food 2-14

This izakaya is located on the fourth floor of a building packed with restaurants – two minutes from the Shibuya JR station.

tokyo food 2-11.

tokyo food 2-12

It is a chicken house, hence, a parade of BBQ or deep-fried chicken.

tokyo food 2-9

Finger-licking good.

tokyo food 2-10

Since we were not able to use the tablet to order the dishes (the food is meant to be eaten slowly and ordering on-demand while drinking), we ordered everything in one go and ended up with more than what we expected.

tokyo food 2-7

We even managed to order a couple of rice dishes.

tokyo food 2-8Can’t believe we ate it all.

tokyo food 2-13

Kanpai !


We spent almost half a day in Daikanyama 代官山, most of the time in the Tsutaya bookstore蔦屋書店. For Chris who has been photographing bookstores (for example, Livraria Cultura in Sao Paulo, Alexandra in Budapest etc.), this Tsutaya branch is a temple for worshipping.


In a perfect world, all bookshops near me would be like this. Opened in 2011 after three years of development, the whole site is created by the owner of Tsutaya Books with the concept of “A Library in the Woods”. We would love to live in the midst of it.


The company, Culture Convenience Club (CCC), founded in 1983, owns a chain of bookstores and video rental outlets. It brands itself as being a culture infrastructure company in the lifestyle navigator business providing comprehensive entertainment.


If CCC is building a real estate business on top of entertainment, it may very well be a winning business formula for the 21st century. With all this talk of creating a virtual ecosystem (think Amazon) where your customers do all their shopping and content consumption, this could be an equivalent, a real-world ecosystem where your customer lingers and even chooses to live around the site.


Most of what we have written below here is taken from the official web site of T-site at Daikanyama. The site consists of three buildings connected by a walkway which splits the buildings into six different departments.


The letter “T” is used as a motif which forms a laced façade on the white exteriors, echoing “T-site”. The exterior also forms a big “T” (see below). This design was the winning submission from among 80 firms in a competitive architectural request for proposals.


Books and magazines (Japanese and Western), current and vintage are placed together in six specialty categories: Cuisine, Travel, Cars and Motorcycles, Architecture and Design, Art, and Humanities and Literature.


Starbucks is served on the ground floor.


We headed upstairs to Anjin-  a salon accented by rare collections of books and magazine from around the world – 30,000 vintage magazines from the 1960’s-70’s.


There is a skylight in the salon bringing in natural light and a footbridge that connects to the other buildings.


A short line was formed of people waiting for a table. We were gently told by the waitperson that there is a 45-minute seating limit. They needed that time limit because the place is so comfortable and people simply do not move.


The customer is surrounded by artworks, books, old and new magazines, all for your browsing, with a cappuccino (or alcoholic drinks) and delicious cakes and snacks.


As the line of waiting customers disappeared, we were left to stay as long as we liked (at least nobody came to ask).


Past issues of Studio Voice (click here) – a Japanese music magazine Chris had browsed in the past (might still have them), definitely collectible (if we have the space).


The music department is installed with hi-end vacuum tube McIntosh amplifiers and fancy speakers (cannot imagine them being allowed to operate properly in a bookstore).


The video department is intent on offering a complete selection of everything that can be bought in Japan. For classic titles previously unavailable as DVDs, they can be burned right at the store as disks to take home. While Netflix is ubiquitous and quite comprehensive, it cannot match this place for choices.


Outside the bookstore are a selection of retail stores, including Kitamura Camera Specialty store (where we bought an iphone accessory that adds a choice of macro and telephoto lens).


The T-site offers multiple eateries and even a pet grooming service and a bicycle shop in the pedestrian zone which blend into the other specialty and fashion stores in Daikanyama.


Daikanyama is a bit more grown up than Harajuku.


According to the T-site website, “The young adults who came to us for lifestyle navigation 28 years ago are now 50-something and 60-something years old. So we decided to re-invent lifestyle navigation for these adults.”

Great concept.






On this trip, we wanted to re-acquaint ourselves with the authentic tastes of various genres of Japanese food that we have been eating outside Japan. More traditional fare, we had during our ryokan stays (click here and here to see those posts).

We had just about a week in Tokyo and managed to eat ramen, shabu-shabu,  tonkatsu, Japanese curry, izakaya dining, yakimono, localized Italian and French. First up is ramen. Our first bowl on the trip was eaten at the Kagoshima airport. Nothing special.


It so happened that a few of our friends just finished skiing in Nagano and were on their way back to the US. Before they got on the Narita Express at Tokyo JR station, we met for a couple of hours and suggested that we go eat tsukemen つけ麺  at the food street (ichibangai) beneath the station.


We heard of this noodle place – Rokurinsha 六厘舍 – through Lucky Peach, a magazine/webzine edited by David Chang of Momofuku fame in NYC.  There is a world of information and insight on ramen on Lucky Peach – start here.


The line for the restaurant wrapped around the corner. We waited patiently for about 15-20 minutes and bought our ticket at the machine.


The concept of tsukeman is simple: one bowl of intensely-seasoned broth and one bowl of plain boiled noodles. You dip the noodle in the broth before slurping it up.


At Rokurinsha, they provide a small heap of ground katsuobushi (dried fish flakes). They also consider dipping and slurping as something difficult to master without making a mess – they gave us tourists paper aprons !


We encountered a branch of Rokurinsha at Skytree – a new cultural/shopping centre on the Sumida side of Tokyo. If you want to see more about tsukemen, watch The Mind of Chef – season 1, episode 1 – in which David Chang talks about ramen including tsukemen.


Our next ramen stop was at Ippudo 博多一風堂 –  it was a late night dinner around the corner from our apartment in Aoyama. The restaurant is located in the basement of a building with another noodle restaurant on the top floor (but it was closed).


Ippudo is probably quite familiar for folks from New York. We tried their first store near Astor place in 2009. They have now opened a second store in midtown near where we used to live.


Founded in 1985 near Fukuoka, they appeared to have branches in major cities all over the world – London, Sydney, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc.


We tried different varieties of ramen and were happy with all.

ramen-11Chinese-style, spicy.


Chris asked for extra noodles.


They seem to provide a lot of extras (8 items) on the table to customize your noodle experience.


Last but not least, in Shibuya, Chris had a bowl of udon with oyster tempura, oysters happened to be in season.  It was delicious but the deep-fried nature of the oyster was lost in the clear soup.


Well, our noodles experience has been limited to chain restaurants thus far – we have to return and try the masters.

On Valentine’s day February 14, Sunday, we encountered a protest in Tokyo.

Harajuku is the geographic area spreading from Harajuku JR Station south along Omotesando down to Meiji-dori. It is better known internationlly as a center of youth fashion – especially Takeshita dori (竹下通り).  After we crossed Meiji-dori, Sue and IT stopped at a vintage clothes stand to peruse second hand fur coats and kimonos.

We heard them at first, then we see a column of protesters led by a police van, clearing the streets ahead the crowds.



“Smash Fascism ! Abe out !”




Rappers doing their thing on trucks were leading the chant.




“Take Back Democacy. Keep Calm and No War.”




“Teens stand up to oppose war.”


People from all walks of life participated. Not just young people.




Young and old people, men and women – . “This is what democracy looks like …”.




The protest was very organized and people were behaving. But it created a huge traffic jam on Omotesando all the way back to Aoyama dori.




We saw the protesters again just outside the Harajuku JR station.




“No nukes. No war.”




“Make some noise, Tokyo”



They certain did make a lot of noise. A peaceful successful protest indeed.

We had about a week in Tokyo and wanted to reacquaint ourselves with as many different genres of authentic Japanese food as we can. We managed to have sushi (see below), yakimono, wagashi, ramen, shabu-shabu, tonkatsu, localized chinese, french and italian, japanese curry and izakaya snacks (see later posts). We had lunch with IT’s friend who made the reservation at Matsue.


Matsue is a serious sushi place without the high-end Michelin prices. Like many of the famous sushi restaurant, it looks inconspicuous on the outside. Matsue is within easy walking distance from the Ebisu station.


Founded in 1966, the restaurant is a little larger than some of the most exclusive sushi places (that we saw on TV), but still tiny compared to restaurants in the US or Europe. Reservation is a must here, apparently according to Tripadvisor.


We sat at the counter facing the chef who spoke some English. Very friendly and attentive service. Sue and I ordered omakase.


Unlike many other sushi restaurants, there was no refrigerated counter separating us and the chef. None of the fishes was on display.

Octopus and abalone.


The chef advised us not to use soy sauce as the pieces are all appropriately flavored.


We started with some warm dishes, like this slightly charred scallop which was to be wrapped with the toasted lightly salted seaweed, and eaten like a sandwich. It was divine.


We can see tiny flakes of salt in a few pieces. And no soy sauce was needed.


It was more than 10 years ago when we last visited this metropolis. The Tsukiji fish market 築地市場 was not a tourist hotspot at that time, and now it needs crowd-control measures every morning. There we had the reputedly freshest sushi in Tokyo. 


In November 2016, in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, the Tsukiji market will be closed and moved out of central Tokyo. It is the loss of a landmark for Tokyo. Several local magazines are publishing special issue to commemorate its closure, given its operation since the 1930’s. 


The luxuriating texture of uni (sea urchin).


This restaurant liked to use the torch on its sushi.


Their rolls were particularly tasty as they paired the fish with some subtle pickles – excellent, never had this before.


IT ordered a piece of unagi (eel) but it looked rather pale compared to those we had before (not grilled ?). Apparently it was great.


We were probably the last customers to leave the restaurant. The chefs were cleaning and preparing the pieces for dinner – we saw many kinds of seafood, including snow crabs.


Matsue was definitely an experience that cannot be had without local guidance. Highly recommended.


FYI, Matsue has a newer restaurant of the same name at Roppongi.


Yakushima was registered as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site in 1993. It is also called “the island of ancient forest and water” because of the huge Yaku cedars, which are over 1,000 years old, moss and abundance of rain.


According to wikitravel, the island’s forests are not virgin. Hundreds of years ago, most of its ancient trees were cut for lumber. The stumps remain everywhere, often uncorrupted and covered with moss or sprouting other trees, including second and third-generation Sugi – in the continually regenerating forest. The remaining Japanese cedar trees over 1000 years old are termed yakusugi, and many revered trees have been given individual names.

Sennensugi (千年杉, thousand year cedar) in photo below.


The symbol of Yakushima is Jomon-sugi or the Jomon cedar that is estimated to be between 2100 years old (the oldest date that can be confirmed by carbon-dating of core samples) and 7200 years old (based on its size). The course to visit this tree is 10.7km (6.7 mile) long one way from the entrance of the mountain and it takes about 10 hours for a round trip. Obviously we did not attempt this journey.


The Jomon-sugi was probably first discovered hundreds of years ago by Edo period loggers, and, like the other ancient cedars, it escaped logging due to its irregular shape. It was rediscovered in the 1960s and has since been protected along with the rest of Yakushima’s forests when the area became a national park.


Yagusuki Land 屋久杉ランド is not a theme park despite the “Land” in its name. It’s actually a wonderfully scenic area of forest that was logged in Edo times and now offers a variety of easily accessible hiking trails that pass a number of fine yakusugi specimens.


There are 4 circular trails to follow: ranging from 30 mins to 150 mins. After our daylong hike in Shiratani Unsuikyo the day before, we took it easy and followed one of the shorter trails.


The scenery here is beautiful and similar to what we saw at Shiratani Unsuikyo  – lots of moss-filled forests.


Streams with moss-covered rocks.


Yakusugi Land is just south of Anbo and from there a 30-minute ride by bus up an increasingly narrow and winding mountain road.  We saw families of monkeys on the roadside sunning themselves.


Human activity being a relatively small part of island life, there is abundant wildlife, notably a large deer and monkey population. Unlike some places where monkeys and humans interact, Yakushima monkeys are not fed by residents or tourists and so do not approach cars or persons for food.


On my return trip, we stopped by the Yakusugi Shizenkan 屋久杉自然館 where a lot of interesting facts and history are on display.


A tree limb of the Jomon-Sugi that fell due to heavy snowfall several years ago is exhibited here. One can attempt counting the annual rings  – magnifying glass provided.


There are photos, movies and hands-on exhibits showing the island’s natural wonders and the history of the logging industry.


The cedar tree harvesting began in the 1650’s which were made into shingles for roofing (hiragi) due to its high resin content and resistance to rot.


A short walk away is the World Heritage Conservation Center. More photos and models were shown here about the island. Perfect for middle schooler as a field trip.  Parts of it were under renovation.


Overall, because of the remoteness of the island and difficulty of the terrain generally, there are relatively few tourists. And the fact that it was offseason, we had the places to ourselves. We loved it.

Comparable to the red wood forests in California, this is Japanese treehuggers’ mecca. See our post on Shiratani Unsikyo here.



Jomon no Yado Manten (JNYM, 縄文の宿 まんてん) was our lodgings for 3 days on Yakushima 屋久島. It is 1-minute walk from the airport, basically just across the 2-lane main road that circumnavigates the island. The airport is really an airstrip and it closes after the last flight left or landed in late afternoon.


Between the two ryokans that we stayed, Yakakutei in Kirishima and JNYM, the onsen is hotter in Kirishima. Both had an open air section. Which is better ?  It is down to personal preference.


JNYM has better atmosphere in that the inn is more spread out, closer to nature, and feels sunnier overall. We enjoyed staying at both.


Like Yakakutei, we had a meal plan with this ryokan – breakfast and dinner. This option is more critical here because there is not even a 7-11 in sight – only a few vending machine at best.


At JNYM, one of the dinners is a proper casual kaiseki.


By this time, we were quite spoiled and expected nothing less every day.  =P


Being on an island, the fishes were unquestionably super-fresh.


Whole flying fish deep-fried.


Seaweed, sour – cleansed the palate it certainly did.




Yes, we know what you are thinking, but this is how it was presented to us.


Strange looking shellfish which we found in our soup. Never seen them before.




To be fair, in our opinion, Yakakutei provided better food. Click here to see Yakakutei. But this was more than adequate.


Since this place is catered to hikers, the meals were less elaborate or fussy, and more Western, especially in the morning.


They even gave us packed lunch one day for our hiking. We enjoyed our time there and are happy to recommend JNYM.

With this level of service and food, why would we want to stay in a regular hotel ever again in Japan ?



Shiratani Unsuikyo was our first hiking destination on the island – it is a ravine – with a pretty name (白谷雲水峡, white valley cloud water ravine). It is one of the three most recommended hikes for the island – probably the top choice.


We took the bus from Miyanoura which climbed the inland mountains. The road was surprisingly well-paved and wide. It must have been upgraded over the years due to the popularity of our destination, tour buses are expected. But there were hardly any cars on the road.


The ravine is part of the Kirishima National Park which offers a network of reasonably well-maintained hiking trails that run along and around the ravine. We picked one that on paper will take two and a half hours roundtrip – from no.1 to no. 13 and back via no. 12 – the longer loop. It took much longer, as we expected, knowing our legs.


Shiratani Unsuikyo can be closed during a heavy rainfall as the rivers can become too dangerous to cross. We were lucky in that it did not rain so there was no wading across the streams (we had to hop across at least two small ones) – the small photos in the notice board above illustrate the difference in volume before and after rain. The streams are indicated with a ” ! “.


It must be spectacular during the rainy season here.

Yakushima is one of the wettest places in Japan (about 10,000 mm of rainfall in a year in the mountainous area).

shiritani-5It was very pretty here.


Beyond this bridge, the trail was no longer paved and it became steeper. We did not cross at this point as we took the prettier route (according to Wikitravel).


One of the main attractions of Shiratani Unsuikyo is a part of the forest that served as the inspiration for Miyazaki Hayao 宮崎 駿 (Studio Ghibli) – animated film Mononoke Himeもののけ姫 (魔法公主, Princess Mononoke).


There are more than 600 species of mosses on this island and they grew on top of each other forming dense layers on almost any surface.


The lead artist for the film – Princess Mononoke, spent lots of time here working on sketches for the movie’s forests – the sinister-looking roots were spreading and crawling over fallen logs and even living trees.


The altitude is 600m (1969ft) at the entrance and about 900m (2953ft) in the forest of Princess Mononoke.


The fact it did not rain also meant that the rocks were not slippery. Despite having the right footwear, it was still tricky to hop from one moss-covered rock to another.


Along the way, we saw many ancient cedar trees.


Some roots and trunks were so ancient that one can pass through the spaces beneath their roots.


Our turnaround point was the Shiratani hut – “white mountain hut” which is provided as a place where one can camp. We returned using a different path, the Kusugawa trail one that was used by loggers who harvested the trees in the Edo period.

Exhausted but it was good hiking, and made soaking in the hot springs and a multi-course dinner all the more deserving.


Yakushima is an island located in 60km (37.3 miles) to the south of the southernmost tip of Kyushu island. With a climate ranging from subtropical to cool-temperate, its diverse and highly unique ecosystem and beautiful nature have been highly regarded nationally but not generally known outside Japan.


Visiting Japan in February, where could we go ? – we asked ourselves. As far south as possible, but not Okinawa. That’s how we ended up on this island.

We flew south from Kagoshima and the flight was about 35 minutes.

The airport is tiny. This is the main entrance.


Our ryokan is near the airport which is on the east side of the island about half way between Anbo and Miyanoura. We did not know it was located just across the main road from the airport. The taxi driver had a good laugh when he found out where we were going and had to unload our bags.


Yakushima is developed only along its coast except in the west where the steep mountain slopes run all the way into the sea. A road encircles the island connecting the towns together, and the majority of Yakushima’s hotels, beaches, hot springs, and museums are within a short distance of it. The main attraction – the cedar forests are located in the mountainous interior and are accessed by a few roads from the larger towns, such as Miyanoura and Anbo, which lead to the various hiking trails and nature parks.


Miyanoura (above) is the largest town in Yakushima, home to the Miyanoura Port where the ferries from Kagoshima arrive and depart.


We did not bother to rent a car and relied on public transport to see Shiratani Unsuikyo and Yakusugi Land (see later posts). Buses run about once per hour along Yakushima’s coast. We passed small villages along the main road and saw a cemetery by the sea.


Vending machines by the main road.


Local hardware store and supermarket – also by the main road.


Since it was offseason, buses into the interior were down to twice a day: from Miyanoura Port to Shiratani Unsuikyo and from Anbo Town to Yakusugi Land.


We were quite worried about missing the bus since there were hardly any people living in the interiors of the island.


Anbo is the other town with a port. Most businesses appeared closed – well, it was a weekday afternoon.


We would have bought flying fish sashimi at this fishmonger if it was open.


The Mos burger (equivalent of McD in Japan) was open.


The island’s business is mostly farming and tourism.  Sweet potato from this and several islands nearby are well known within Japan. This shop in Anbo sells vegetables by a honor system, take what you want and leave your money in the bucket.


About 10 minutes walk on the main road from the airport, we found improbably an Italian restaurant – il mare – likely the only one on the island. The chef (likely also the owner) is Japanese. We were the only customer there for lunch. The place looked well kept so it must be more popular in the evening or during the summer.


Venison bolognese was prominently featured on the menu – the deer was sourced locally. IT tried it and I had a pasta al funghi myself.


Across the main road from our ryokan is a cedar wood workshop and showroom.  Beautifully-crafted pieces, quite expensive, but unique they are.


There is really not much to see or do on the island – apart from hiking, waterfalls, hot springs and seeing the primordial cedar forests. Just what we needed to escape the city for a few days,

During our 2-week vacation, we stayed at two ryokans (traditional inn). The first is Yakakutei 野鶴亭 (wild crane pavilion) located in Kirishima霧島 (literally, fog island) in southern Kyushu. Half-board is usually the only option for staying at a ryokan and we were happy to indulge ourselves.


And indulged we did. Every night was a kaiseki-ish feast. Not only we ate what was set on the table, we were served a few more additional dishes, typically ending with a rice and miso soup. By that time, we could barely get up from the floor.


On the right is a little stove for making shabu-shabu or nabe.

Another elaborate meal.


There were 11 courses one night. Below are the dishes presented at a casual kaiseki.


We will not bother to translate the menu which was printed onto gold-flecked paper.


These three dishes were brought on the same tray made of woven bamboo and a wooden frame.






Two plates of fishes – this one being quite sour …


… and sashimi


There was chawanmushi.


Tasty stewed meat dish but we cannot describe what the flavor was.

kirishimadinner-29 Grilled fish – yakimono (焼物) – pretty plate !


Something crunchy


Personal shabu-shabu – a shiizakana (強肴)


… started by cooking the shimeji fungi


Salad ?  Su-zakana (酢肴)


There were barely-cooked tuna hidden underneath the vegetables.


Finished with mouchi and fruits. Mizumono (水物)


The snacks and meals we had were the highlights of our trip. More posts about food to come.

After visiting Lake Fudoika, we came down the Kirishima mountains by taxi and came to this garden in the afternoon. Sengan-en 仙巌園, is a Japanese garden attached to a former Shimazu 島津氏 clan residence in Kagoshima 鹿児島.


Together with the adjacent Shōko Shūseikan, it forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site that focus on Meiji’s industrial revolution. Shoko Shuseikan is a museum set in a 150 year old stone building originally used as a machine factory.


The Sengan-en residence was built by Shimazu Mitsuhisa (島津光久), a feudal lord in 1658. The name “Sengan-en” is derived from a supposed resemblance to a rock feature on Long Hu Shan in China.


The Shimazu was one of the families of Edo period daimyō (lord) to have held their territory continuously since the Kamakura period, and would also become, at their peak, the wealthiest and most powerful family.


There were mandarin orange trees in the garden (above photo).  I (Chris) know these small oranges are known as satsuma in England. Apparently, the name came from the Satsuma (薩摩) area owned by the Shimazu clan which fought a war with the British that was trading in 1863 (Anglo-Satsuma War 薩英戦争).


Due to the proximity, China had quite an influence in this area. In 1736 Shimazu Yoshitaka (島津吉貴) added a kyokusui (曲水) water feature and moso bamboo, obtained from China via the Ryūkyū Kingdom.


Bamboo forest


“Big bonsai” – we called it.


The Shoko Shuseikan and this area of Japan were fundamentally important in the modernization of the country. It was here that Western industrial technology was introduced, studied and used in the creation of modern factories. We did not spend much time here but it was one of the more interesting museums we visited.


Some of the small old houses are converted into shops, selling all kinds of souvenir, handicrafts and snacks.


A stream runs through a part of the garden – the stream barely visible in the picture below. But a tradition -Kyokusui no En – is renacted here at least once a year.  It is an elegant poetry game originating in ancient China in which small cups of sake are floated down a winding stream. Participants dressed in traditional clothing sat along either side of the stream must write a poem before the cup passes in front of them. On completing their poems the participants take the cup from the stream and drink the sake.


Apart from the main buildings, there were also little shops scattered in the garden selling crafts – very low key.


The garden has a direct view of Sakurajima – an active volcano – they sell many postcards of the volcano spewing smoke and lava. It was not active while we were there – just clouds.


There is even a shrine dedicated to cats here !


The garden is beautiful, touristy but not tacky. It was fun to have a driver for a day.

Click here to see the lake in the Kirishima mountains.


After so many posts about Venice and art, we will now turn to Japan where we spent our two-week winter vacation in February 2016.

First, we are very sorry for the people of Kyushu, especially in the area around Mount Aso and Kumamoto who endured the earthquakes in April 2016 that caused deaths and a lot of damages. We hope the people, towns and villages in the area escaped without much loss.

The first two days of our vacation were spent in southern Kyushu near Kirishima and Kagoshima (which are about 2 hours drive from Kumamoto). We hired a taxi for the day and used it to tour a mountainous area and a shrine north of Kirishima, and then Kagoshima.


Our driver does not speak English but he was super-nice. He showed us the roadside hot springs, deers and took us to eat freshly hand-made soba noodles for lunch. The entire Kyushu is volcanic with hot springs everywhere, hence the onsen in our ryokan.


Certain roads pass through open vents and the sulfurous fumes are thick and choking.


Our destination is a small crater lake – Lake Fudoike不動池 (which means literally “immobile pond”) next to Mount Io 硫黄山 (which means “sulfur mountain”).

That’s what the lake looks like on the ground (sorry about the size of the panoramas).


View downhill behind the lake.


The lake, 200 m in diameter, was partly frozen.


Pretty to look at …  but apparently the water is very acidic …. pH4.5.


While the driver took IT and Sue to use the restroom and buy snacks down the hill, they left me behind so that I can walk further up the hill.


I did not see any of the volcanic ash and lava, as the lava flow is on the other side and at a higher altitude. The map above shows the direction of the lava flow which appears as waves.

There must be a geological reason for the flatness of this mountain top.


I saw a few trees like this, the wind must be strong and persistent year round. The environment is harsh as there are very few trees.


Multi-language sign about the lake which is a part of the Kirishima Geopark. It is so tourist-friendly.


The Geopark contains 20 small volcanos that have been active from hundreds of 1000’s years ago to recent times.

Can you imagine how it would have felt hiking there and encountering an earthquake ?

The local people are tough and prepared and we are confident they will recover and rebuild swiftly.