Noboribetsu: Sulphur Springs & Volcano a Bus Ride From Sapporo

Why to Go to Noboribetsu An active volcano, mystical red-white-green landscapes and forest, plus hotel-onsens (ryokan) with sulphur hot springs where you can take a soak and ease your aches. Plus it's an easily commutable area by bus from Sapporo (if you don't have the requisite international driver license to rent a car in Japan). How to Get to Noboribetsu from Sapporo 1.5 hours by bus. Get to the Sapporo bus terminal. From there ask the attendant for the bus schedule to Noboribetsu; they run direct every hour. Once you arrive at Noboribetsu, walk about 10 minutes from the bus stop to the train terminal and hop in a taxi (there should ... [Read More]

The Japanese Have Class…in 6 Stories

Olivier told me a story years ago, before we came to Japan: Once, when he was lost in Tokyo (this was before smartphones) he asked a random man on the street for help. But he couldn’t speak enough Japanese to tell the man what he needed. So the man called his granddaughter, because she spoke English, who rode over on her bike to guide Olivier personally to his destination. That is class. As an antidote to a recent post, where I (possibly unfairly) pondered sexism in Japanese anime, I thought I’d follow up with a few examples of the ways I've seen Japanese people being incredibly considerate, respectful and well-mannered during our week in ... [Read More]

A Sushi Chef’s Guide to the Biggest Fish Market in the World

Every day, the Tsukiji fish market sells an estimated $16 million in fish, making it the largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world and a hot tourist destination. Olivier and I were lucky to get an inside tour with our friend, Daisuke Shimazaki, owner of Sushi Yuu—a 40-year restaurant he took over from his father and where we recently had a 24-course sushi dinner—as he bought some of his fish he’d serve for the week. Daisuke would know Tsukiji…he comes to the market almost every day, sometimes twice (as he did when we visited): D: Watch out for the carts. There are lots of accidents with tourists. How is the price of ... [Read More]

People of Tokyo

During a one-week stay in Tokyo, several people told me some thoughts (and more) worth sharing (with a lot of help from Google translate...). From a sushi chef to a bike shop repairman, the highlights: Daisuke, 42; Sushi chef and owner, Sushi Yuu; we met at his sushi restaurant, where he served us a 24-course dinner. Later, we visited the Tsukiji fish market together as he bought the fish he'd serve that week--and Daisuke talked about how the market will be moved to a new location in a few months: "They're moving it because of politics. They want to build hotels here for the 2020 Olympics. It’s hard for me. My grandfather and my ... [Read More]

Nikko: Otherwordly Forest Shrines 2 Hours From Tokyo

Why to Go to Nikko Intricate temples and shrines hidden in a forest in the mountains high above Tokyo--even with many tourists, it's a mystical experience. How to Get to Nikko from Tokyo 2.5 hours by train. Be sure to take the express trains--use Google maps from your iPhone! Most likely you want to get to the Shin-Okachimachi station, then take the Tsukuba Express to Kitasenju Station. From there, take the Nikko-Kinugawa Kinu line to Shimo-Imachi Station (you're in Nikko). Where to Stay in Nikko A good option is a pension house (similar to a hostel) by Chuzenji Lake, a 20-minute bus ride from Nikko; you can find several dozen ... [Read More]

The Best Sushi You’ll Ever Eat, in 24 Courses

For an exceptional sushu dinner in Tokyo -- possibly the best you've ever eaten -- visit Sushi Yuu, a restaurant owned by my hudband's friend Daisuke. The two met when Olivier was living in Tokyo 10 years ago; it was Olivier's last night out with his brother, and the two wandered into Daisuke's old basement restaurant (think Jiro Dreams of Sushi-style). The two have managed to keep in touch, and Olivier has eaten at Daisuke's restaurant the couple of times he's gone back to Tokyo. Today, Daisuke is running a new spot, his father's 40-year-old restaurant. The name: Sushi, of course, plus Yuu -- which was Daisuke's grandfather's mother's ... [Read More]

Trending in Tokyo: The Renaissance of Gourmet Coffee

Like your coffee with floral tones? Chocolate? Toffee? Tokyo has a cup that's made for you. Walking around our neighborhood of Ikejiri, near Shibuya, Olivier and I started to notice a trend: Gourmet coffee shops selling coffee at New York prices (450 yen and up). We’ve visited three so far, each of which sells coffee by the cup, espresso, lattes, and even special “omakase” (that's what locals call a special type of Japanese meal selected by the chef) brews prepared especially for your taste after a consultation with the barista. Tokyo isn’t known for roasting a great cup of joe, so I asked a barista the back story. Daiki, the owner ... [Read More]

Cute, Sexy…or Nasty? Japanese Manga’s Dark Side

Two very different areas of Tokyo, one conclusion: Cute and sex intersect in Japanese culture. From pastel colors to wide-eyed manga cartoons to the teddy bear subway guides, “kawaii”—or cute—is a national obsession in Japan. Exhibit A: Tokyo Dome in Koraku, an amusement park known for its giant rollercoaster, which winds through the skyscrapers. There, manga and tourist shops sell cutesy manga cartoons, stuffed animals and pastries for kids and adults alike: But go to the seedier Akibhabara electric town—an area once known for its electronic shops and now known more for its hostess tea rooms—and you see a ... [Read More]

Harajuku & Yoyogi-koēn: From Watermelon Pants to a Shinto Shrine

Harajuku is known for its 5th-avenue style shops (Balenciaga, Céline, etc. etc.), but what's really worth the trip are the back alleys, Harajuku Street and Takeshita Street. That's where the magic happens...lots of fantastical clothing (sparkles, pastel, rainbows, watermelon pants, Salt Lake City shirts, poodle-shaped pink bags, Harry-Potter-style glasses), technicolor crêpes and J-Pop boy band posters (where the boys sport skirts and Geisha costumes to make the girls go crazy): Have a typical lunch in the area -- for 1000 yen ($10!) you can get a (super-filling!) bimbimbap-style rice bowl with tuna and egg: And then coffee ... [Read More]

7 Ways Japan Culture Will Shock You (You Silly Westerner)

Here we are! After a harried departure from New York and a week settling our stuff and seeing friends in Paris, we finally arrived in Tokyo for the beginning of our two-month Asia exploration before starting our new work. Since I’ve never been anywhere in Asia before, packing for this trip was a big question mark: How did people dress in Japan…and Vietnam, and Myanmar, and Hong Kong, and Thailand, and Indonesia? Could I wear shorts? What kinds of dresses? Was I bringing too much? Not enough? Turns out I, as usual, needed to chill out. People in Japan dress like people in New York and Paris (though I am excited to hit up the boutiques to ... [Read More]