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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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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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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A Visit to Solamachi Skytree Christmas Market

A Visit to Solamachi Skytree Christmas Market

Tokyo has a variety of holiday-themed options, from spectacular illuminations to Bavarian Christmas markets. One of my favorites takes place throughout the month of December in the fourth floor courtyard at Solamachi Skytree Center (Access: Hanzomon or Asakusa line to Oshiage Station, and exit to Skytree Center). I’m spending the next few weeks in Tokyo, hoping my ankle heals from the recent sprain-or-tendonitis that struck shortly before my 100-km trek along the Kumano Kodo (more on that in the weeks to come) – but it’s a good time to heal. You see, although most Japanese people practice Shintō, Buddhism, or both, Japan loves

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Torikabuto and Takanosu

Torikabuto and Takanosu

Yesterday saw the addition of three more peaks to my #100Summits list, thanks to a traverse of two peaks and a gondola-assisted climb of a third in the Hakone area. While I’ll give more details about the later two climbs in the weeks to come, today I’m sharing a little about the first, which also involved research for my next Hiro Hattori mystery (the first one to involve a ghost).

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