Writing on travel, culture, history, & language, Michael tells entertaining & informative stories with clarity & style. His work has been featured by CNN Travel, National Geographic UK, & Japan Today.
Visiting Kyoto? Insiders share tips
Editor's Note — CNN Insider Guides are thoroughly checked for accuracy. Given the fluid nature of the travel industry, however, some listings may fall out of date before guides can be updated. The best practice is to confirm current information on official websites before making plans to visit any business or attraction.
Shrines, temples, palaces, gardens ... the city is home to thousands of architectural wonders, including 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Geisha and locals wearing traditional...
Season of Ghosts: The Japanese Tradition of Scary Summer Stories
Summer in Japan is the season for ghost stories. Scary movies, books, and other spooky media are commonly released in the summer season, and magazines and TV run special features on uncanny events and weird phenomena. For Japanese people, this season has the same eerie resonance as Halloween does in western countries. This association of summer with spine-chilling tales has its roots in the Buddhist tradition. The Buddhist festival of the dead, called Obon, takes place in summer and during this season it is believed that the boundaries between the physical and spiritual worlds grow thin...
Cradle of Creativity
At Kyoto Seika University, renowned comic artists show young talents how to turn their manga dreams into professional careers.
Ask the Experts: Where in Kyoto can I buy a traditional, handcrafted kyusu teapot?
Developed over centuries, kyusu teapots are simple, functional, and enchanting; brewing the perfect cup of green tea while adding a touch of beauty to everyday life. A serviceable ceramic pot will cost between 5,000 and 10,000 yen, while more artistic items can range between 20,000 and 70,000 yen. Most department stores have a tableware section where you can find reasonably priced handcrafted kyusu. Look out for Tachikichi on the 6th floor of the Takashimaya department store; this pottery dealer has been operating in Kyoto since 1752.
JR Kyushu’s Sweet Train is a Fairytale Feast for the Eyes
JR Kyushu’s Aru Ressha, also called the “Sweet Train” has an unusual and rather complicated history. It is said that back in 1906, Kyushu Railway (a private company) commissioned the construction of a gorgeous luxury passenger train from a company in America. Apparently the train was built and sent to Japan, but before it could begin operations Kyushu Railway was nationalized and all plans for the train were cancelled. The train, which never ran, passed into legend and became known ever after...
Late one night in September 1866, eight young men approached Sanjō Bridge, intent on vandalism. Over the past two weeks, government officials had repeatedly raised a sign at the bridge declaring the Chōshū clan of Western Japan enemies of the Emperor. Twice now it had been torn down and thrown in the river, but two days before, that same grievous insult had been posted again. These young men, allies of Chōshū, meant to tear it right back down. As soon as they did so however, there was a shout from a nearby huddle of beggars, who cast aside their rags to reveal their swords! It was an ambush!
At Play with Brushed Black Ink
When Christine Flint Sato first came to Japan she wanted to learn how to use the East Asian brush. Now she invites others to bring out their inner artist and strike up their own love affair for sumi ink art.
Denboin Residence & Garden
Surprisingly few people who visit Asakusa are aware that just to the west of the bustling street market of Nakamise there is a large, tranquil garden with beautiful scenery called Denboin Teien. This garden is an island of calm in the middle of Asakusa, and as it is usually only open to the public once a year, viewing it is a very rare and special experience indeed.
The stroll garden with the large lecture hall of Denboin and the five-story pagoda of Sensoji in the background
Denboin is the o...
New NPO brings same-sex marriage equality into Japanese public debate
Same-sex marriage is making headlines around the world, particularly in the U.S. where this year alone, a wave of legal victories for marriage equality has swept across 15 states. In Japan, however, where same-sex marriage remains illegal, this same issue has received relatively scant media attention.
A new organization is seeking to change that. Equal Marriage Alliance Japan (EMA Japan for short) was founded in February of this year as the first NPO advocating solely for legal same-sex marri...
The Story of Kotatsu: Keeping Warm and Cozy in a Japanese Winter
Prior to living in Japan, I had a rather hazy image of it as an exotic land with a sultry climate. Summer in Japan is indeed hot and humid, but unless you live on the southernmost subtropical islands of Okinawa, you will find that Japanese winters are very, very cold. And unless you live on the northernmost island of Hokkaido (where having an effective heating system is a matter of survival), you are likely to spend your first winter in Japan perplexed and bemused at how cold it is inside your apartment.
Ueno Park – Sightseeing & Facilities
Ueno Park is a large public park in Tokyo’s Ueno district. Famous for its cherry blossoms in the spring, the park is an extraordinary location where natural beauty is combined with a wealth of cultural and recreational facilities, historic sites, and monuments.
Within the park’s expansive grounds are a zoo, six museums, a concert hall, several temple buildings and shrines, and a large pond with boating facilities. In fact there is so much to see here that you could easily devote two or three ...
Japanese Traditional Garden Design Elements
Japanese gardens take many forms. There are large, meandering stroll gardens, hilly landscape gardens that can best be enjoyed from a single vantage point, smaller gardens attached to teahouses, tiny interior courtyard gardens, and stony dry landscapes. However, all these gardens are put together using the same basic elements, and they recreate on a smaller scale the natural landscape of the Japanese archipelago with its islands and mountains, streams and lakes, its lush green forests and sandy beaches.
The Artist Daniel Kelly
A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to meet and spend some time with the artist Daniel Kelly. After meeting by chance in Tadg’s one night, Daniel invited me over to his studio in northern Kyoto to get to know him and his work. Upon arrival one Saturday evening, I was immediately accosted by his gorgeously beautiful but extremely cheeky collie Max. I’m a bit shy around dogs I’m unfamiliar with (people too actually), and noting this Daniel told me, “Dogs like to establish a pecking order. If...
Japanese Traditional Interior Design Elements
If you have ever seen Yasujiro Ozu’s classic movie Tokyo Story, you will have noticed that its most striking aspect is its perspective. Everything is filmed from the level of the floor. This was a deliberate choice of Ozu who wanted to bring his audience down to the level of his characters. In a traditional Japanese home people sit directly on the tatami mat floor, so that’s where most of the movie’s dialogue occurs. So famous is the low angle perspective of Ozu’s movie that it has become known as the “tatami mat shot”. It also tells us a lot about Japanese interior design...
Kyoto Machiya Dining
Kyoto Machiya Restaurant Guide: Affordable Dining in Traditional Townhouse Spaces by Judith Clancy
[M]achiya, the old wooden townhouses of Kyoto, once dominated this city’s urban landscape. Long sturdy structures of simple grace, they closely lined the narrow streets of the city, their tiled rooftops rolling in waves to the surrounding hills and lapping at the edges of the great temples, shrines and villas that rose among them. Even today, in my own neighborhood of central Kyoto, it is not ha...