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)

Read more

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

Read more

A Visit to Magome, Japan

(To start this series from the beginning with a night in a Japanese guest house, click here!) Magome (also called “Magome-juku”) is a preserved post town in the Japan alps which was once the last of the stations on the Kisoji, an ancient travel road that passed through the alps from north to south. Later, during the Edo period (1603-1868) Magome served as the 43rd station on the Nakasendo–the northern travel road connecting Edo (now Tokyo) with Kyoto. Today, Magome and neighboring Tsumago (the next post town to the north along the Kisoji and Nakasendo routes) have been preserved and restored to their Edo-period state, allowing

Read more

The Path of 1,000 Torii (Fushimi Inari, Part 3)

(Click here to start the series from the beginning.) Near the base of Mount Inari (Inariyama), past the stairs that lead from the Hondo (worship hall) to the path that climbs the sacred mountain, lies the famous “Path of a Thousand Torii” – a tunnel made of sacred gates that has become a familiar, iconic image of Japan: At the start of the path, enormous torii tower twenty and thirty feet high, dwarfing visitors. Inside the path, the gates are placed so close together that the light takes on an orange hue:

Read more

The Blue Dragon of Kiyomizu-dera

Visitors to Kiyomizu-dera (a Buddhist Temple in Kyoto, Japan) may notice a large dragon statue standing guard in front of the temple – specifically, at the base of the stairs leading up to the temple’s West Gate and Three-Story Pagoda.   The blue dragon, or seiryuu, is honored at Kiyomizu-dera; at special ceremonies in March, April, and September, special prayers are said and the dragon’s image is carried around the temple (in a parade and worship event known as Seiryuue). Although known as a goddess of compassion, Kannon is also considered a strong protector of the weak (especially children) and

Read more

A Visit to Kiyomizu-dera (Kyoto, Japan)

Kiyomizu-dera (more formally, Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera) is a Buddhist temple in eastern Kyoto. The temple lies in Higashiyama, on the slopes of Mount Otowa, and has a beautiful view of the former Japanese capital: Originally founded during the 8th century, Kiyomizu-dera derives its name from a famous waterfall on the temple grounds. (Kiyomizu means “pure water” in Japanese.) Visitors can ladle water from the falls while praying for blessings and purification. (The day I visited, the line was short–only about 35 minutes–but I decided to forego the blessing in favor of spending more time on the temple grounds.) Kiyomizu-dera was a popular pilgrimage site during the Heian period, and

Read more

Magome: a Town From Japan’s Medieval Past

During my recent research trip to Japan I spent four days in Magome-juku, a preserved post town on the Nakasendo travel road that was once a popular northern travel route between Edo (now Tokyo) and Kyoto. Although not as famous as its southern counterpart, the Tōkaidō, the Nakasendo was the primary northern route for people and goods during the Edo period (1603-1868). The road had 69 stations, or post towns, where visitors could stop for the night (or for a meal). (I’ll blog more about Magomechaya in the days to come, but I recommend it highly for visitors wanting to spend a night in Magome or to

Read more