A potter’s pilgrimage: Bizen

During my third year living in Japan, in 2011, I made a potter’s pilgrimage to three historic towns where contemporary potters, many descended from old masters, still produce mingei, stoneware folk pottery. This trip had been long planned; I had spent years gathering information and improving my Japanese. For a week, I alternately traveled aContinue reading “A potter’s pilgrimage: Bizen”

Shirakawa-go

A day bus trip from Takayama to Shirakawa-go brought me to the UNESCO World Heritage village of Shirakawa-go. Weathered brown wood cottages topped by steeply angled, thick thatched roofs have been well preserved, probably because it was so isolated in years past. Gassho-zukuri, the architectural style, means “praying hands.” Some of the existing houses were built overContinue reading “Shirakawa-go”

Takayama

It was a long ride to Takayama: a couple of hours west to Nagoya by Shinkansen or bullet train, then a couple more on an express. The train headed north into Gifu prefecture to what is known as the Japanese Alps, following the Hida river in a spectacular stretch, at first along a rock canyon. Deep andContinue reading “Takayama”

Ancient GyeongJu

In the historic capital of Korea, GyeongJu, Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto were our third and fourth World Heritage sites on this journey. A steep hike up to the grotto revealed an amazing stone arc-shaped room, housing a magnificent Buddha looking out over the countryside, surrounded by figures in bas-relief. The ever-present Korean street markets wereContinue reading “Ancient GyeongJu”

Busy Busan

In Busan, South Korea, Beomeosa temple climbed up a steep hillside. Legend says that at the temple’s mountain peak, there is a golden well which never dries up, home to a mythical golden fish. Hence the name of the temple, Beomeosa, means “Heavenly Fish.” The temple is home to so many Buddhas—big and small, goldContinue reading “Busy Busan”

Icheon pottery

Having been a potter in my younger days, I often seek out traditional ceramics when I travel. Not to be confused with Incheon, the city with the major airport serving Seoul, South Korea, the town of Icheon is known as a pottery center and is about an hour southeast of Seoul. The area came toContinue reading “Icheon pottery”

The soul of Seoul

The Insa Dong neighborhood in the heart of Seoul was vibrant with activity: tiny shops with gifts in vivid primary colors, goods in bins on the sidewalk, the smell of food from street stalls around every corner, textured handmade paper hanging on racks, tea shops, young couples, tourists, and just life. I was traveling with aContinue reading “The soul of Seoul”

Fuchū, Japan

My teaching assignment in Japan, in fall of 2008, with a recruiting company that hired and placed foreign English teachers in Japanese universities, came with housing in Fuchū, about a half hour by train from Shinjuku, a major Tokyo hub. It’s a small city in Tokyo prefecture with an urban neighborhood feel, west of TokyoContinue reading “Fuchū, Japan”

Jigokudani Monkey Park

When a Japanese friend learned that I was planning a winter trip to see the snow monkeys north of Nagano, she told me she had always wanted to see the Hokusai museum in nearby Obuse, so, although she was not fond of cold weather, she agreed to accompany me for a few days. It wasContinue reading “Jigokudani Monkey Park”

Hiking Mt Fuji

The recommended way to climb Mount Fuji, or Fuji-san as it is called in Japan, is to begin at midnight in the summer months when the weather is less volatile and extreme. Hikers carry flashlights or don lighted headbands to illuminate the trail. The goal is to arrive at the top for sunrise, then descendContinue reading “Hiking Mt Fuji”