Heaven, Hell, and Off the Beaten Path in Japan

Heaven, Hell, and Off the Beaten Path in Japan

I love traveling to new and unexpected places here in Japan, and sharing the experiences I encounter. My trip to Kyushu (Japan’s southernmost major island) last January was both exciting and unexpected, and I’m thrilled to be able to share my experiences in “heaven and hell” at Matcha–which is also, hands-down, the best English-language website for travel ideas and travel advice about Japan. Here’s the link to the first installment of my “Japan, Off the Beaten Path” series: “To Heaven and Hell in Beppu” (with plenty of photos of the adventure, too!)

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A New Cover – and a Paperback release – for CLAWS!

A New Cover – and a Paperback release – for CLAWS!

I’m proud and delighted to announce that my publisher, Seventh Street Books, is releasing paperback editions of the first three novels in the Hiro Hattori series: Claws of the Cat, Blade of the Samurai, and Flask of the Drunken Master. Claws re-releases next month, on April 23, but the paperback is already available for pre-order at your local independent bookstore (like Northern California’s FACE IN A BOOK) or at online retailers like Indiebound, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.com. Hiro and Father Mateo’s first adventure sends them deep into the floating world of the entertainers who would, in the century that followed,

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Cock-a-Doodle Lunch!

Cock-a-Doodle Lunch!

Last week, while visiting Mt. Haruna in Gunma Prefecture, the freezing temperatures (well below freezing, with the windchill factor) forced me to truncate my climbing plans and head back from the mountains earlier than planned. As I walked to the bus stop, feeling a little low (I hate canceling climbs) I paused in front of a restaurant that advertised the local special: “Cock-a-Doodle Menu.” I’d first heard of this specialty a couple of hours before, while reading a brochure about the Lake Haruna area. I knew it involved chicken, but that’s about all I knew. Even so, I like chicken,

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Riding the Haruna Ropeway

Japan has many mountains, and many ropeways (often called “gondolas” in the States). While some go all the way to the top of mountains, others–like the Haruna Ropeway in Gunma Prefecture–carry visitors only most of the way to the top. On the day I visited (February 23, 2019), windchill dropped the temperature well below freezing–so cold that my fingers went numb in the seconds it took to remove my gloves and snap even a single photo. I have seldom been so glad that, in Japan, a ropeway-assisted “climb” still counts as climbing the relevant mountain. (As one Japanese climber told

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The “Fuji” of Gunma Prefecture

The “Fuji” of Gunma Prefecture

Mt. Fuji’s iconic shape is so beloved in Japan that other stratovolcanoes that share the “classic cone” configuration are often nicknamed in homage to the famous peak. Mt. Haruna rises 1,390 meters high, towering over the shores of Lake Haruna (Harunako) in Gunma Prefecture, about 4 hours from Tokyo. (A little less than 3 hours by shinkansen and local train from Tokyo station, followed by a 90-minute bus ride from Takasaki Station to Harunako) At first glance, if you didn’t know what you were looking at, you might even mistake Harunafuji for the real thing. In addition to its Fuji

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By Ferry Across the Seto Inland Sea

By Ferry Across the Seto Inland Sea

After finishing last week’s climbs in Kyushu, I decided to travel home by a slower, and often (wrongfully) underrated means of transportation: an overnight ferry across the Inland Sea. The shinkansen (bullet train) is faster, and the overnight bus much cheaper, but overnight ferries have a surprising amount to offer . . . especially when you splurge on a private room. Like most Japanese ferries, the Meimon Taiyo ferry that sails between Kitakyushu and Osaka (the black line on the map below shows the route) offers several classes of accommodation. Tourist and economy classes basically consist of dormitory-style rooms with futon on the floor for sleeping and shared bathroom and shower

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The Doves of Suizenji Jojuen

The Doves of Suizenji Jojuen

This morning I took a break from mountain climbing to visit Suizenji Jojuen, a 17th century garden established by the Hosokawa samurai clan, who ruled Kumamoto at that time. At the entrance to the garden, a gentleman sells food for the koi and birds that inhabit the park — the English translation of his sign reads “Bait for Dove,” which sealed the deal for me. I love birds (including the ones called “doves” in Japan but known as pigeons in the USA) and jump at the chance to feed them. That being said…I didn’t anticipate the unusual friendliness of these doves. They ran to me the moment they saw the bag of popcorn

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New Year Fireworks at Fuji Five Lakes

New Year Fireworks at Fuji Five Lakes

I tend to plan my travel fairly thoroughly, but always leave enough flexibility in my plans to enjoy the unexpected opportunities that happen frequently here in Japan. Last week, I traveled to the Fuji Five Lakes region, near Mt. Fuji, to continue my climbs for the 100 Summits project. While on the train to Kawaguchiko (Lake Kawaguchi), I saw a flyer advertising New Year fireworks–a common celebratory event here in Japan. To my surprise, the flyer said the final night of fireworks was that very night–and since my ryokan (traditional inn) was located near the lake, I hoped I would be able to

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