The Graves of Okunoin

The Graves of Okunoin

Okunoin – “the temple at the end” is Japan’s largest cemetery. Sacred to the Shingon Buddhist sect (though non-Buddhists can be buried there, as long as they believe in the teachings of Kōbō Daishi), the cemetery has over 250,000 graves and monuments, the oldest of which date to at least the ninth century (if not before). The grave monument above dates to 1375, and marks the resting place of a Buddhist nun. According to legend, if you lay your ear to the stone, you can hear the screams of people suffering in hell. I admit, I did not try. While I’m not superstitious, there

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A True Ghost Story From Japan

A True Ghost Story From Japan

All my life, I’ve professed to believing in ghosts … primarily to prevent them feeling the need to actually prove their existence to me. In other words – I believed by choice so I didn’t have to experience ghosts for real. That worked pretty well for me until last November, when I went to Japan to research my sixth Hiro Hattori mystery (next year’s TRIAL ON MOUNT KOYA – which is now available for preorder) – and encountered one of Japan’s most famous yūrei (ghosts). I spent the early days of November 2016 doing research on Mount Kōya, the heart of Shingon (esoteric)

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Marking the Way on the Tokaido

This waterfall runs down a mountain and crosses the original path of the old Tokaido near Hakone. During the Edo period (1603-1868) the Tokaidō was one of five major travel roads, and one of the two most important linking the former capital city of Kyoto with the then-new capital, Edo (now called Tokyo). The Tokaidō, or “East Sea Road” roughly paralleled the southeastern coast of Honshū (Japan’s largest island). Its 53 stations, or post towns, were (and remain, to an extent) famous subjects of Japanese art and literature. I hiked a section of the old Tokaidō near Hakone last autumn, and visited again in

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On the Road…to Bouchercon!

This morning, I’m flying to Los Angeles to pick up my mother, and tomorrow she and I fly to Toronto, Canada for Bouchercon (the World Mystery Convention). On Friday at 2pm, I’m speaking on a panel about mysteries set in foreign times and places. After that, I’m looking forward to spending a lovely long weekend with my brothers and sisters in crime-fiction – writers and readers! This will be my mother’s first Bouchercon – and I’m excited to share it with her. She loves a good party, and the world mystery convention is tremendous fun. My regular Japan posts are on hiatus

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A Night at Tonosawa Ichinoyu Shinkan, Hakone

(To read this series on Hakone from the beginning, click here.) From Tonosawa Station, it’s a beautiful, forested 5-minute walk to Ichinoyu Shinkan, the ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) where I’ve stayed during both of my research trips to Japan.   The paved path winds along the hillside, under a beautiful canopy of trees: . . . with views of the foliage on the hill across the way. It’s peaceful and lovely in any season, although the autumn leaves make this a truly spectacular walk. Ichinoyu Shinkan sits against the side of a hill. Despite its unassuming exterior, the rooms are a lovely blend of convenience

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Tonosawa’s Secret Benten Shrine

As I mentioned in Friday’s post, Tonosawa Station is a tiny stop on the Hakone Tozan Railway between Hakone-Yumoto and Gora. For most people, the station is either a one-minute stop where the train takes on new passengers before continuing its run up the mountain or else a place to disembark and head for one of the nearby ryokan. However, Tonosawa Station also has a lovely secret–a Shintō shrine called Tonosawa Fukazawa Zeniarai Benten, that sits just off the train tracks on the “uphill” side of Tonosawa Station. In the photo below, the entrance to the shrine is just to the left

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Introducing … Hakone!

During my research trip last autumn, I spent several days in Hakone, a hot spring resort in the Fuji Five Lakes region of Japan. Hakone is famous for many things, including views of Mount Fuji, onsen (hot spring baths),  and the ability to enjoy “sightseeing through different modes of transportation”–including trains, cable cars, ropeways, and a ride on a pirate ship.  I went to hike a preserved section of the Tokaidō–once, a famous travel road connecting Kyoto with Edo–but added a few extra days to the trip to ensure I had time to enjoy Hakone, too. (Spoiler alert: I loved it so much I returned with my

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Rice Fields in Magome

One benefit of travel is the opportunity to see amazing things – some of which don’t always fit neatly into an article or blog post.  A good example is this rice field in Magome, Japan – a town in the Japan Alps on the old Kisoji and Nakasendo routes. I walked upon this scene accidentally while waiting for the bus the morning I left Magome after a three-day research stay. The air was crisp with autumn, sharp with wood smoke, and carried the musky scent of drying leaves and ripened rice stalks. My jacket was warm enough, but just barely–another week,

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Avoiding Dangers in Short Form Publishing Deals

Authors have many things to watch out for when evaluating a publishing deal, but one of the most common—and most serious—dangers is something the author doesn’t see: the vital clauses and protections that are often missing from “short-form” publishing contracts, ready to pounce on unsuspecting authors when something goes wrong in the publishing process: I’m guest posting at Writer Unboxed today, discussing these dangers in more detail, and offering some tips for authors who get a contract offer before they sign with an agent. Click here to learn how to spot, and avoid, the lurking dangers in short-form publishing deals.

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