Why are those trees wearing placemats?

Ever wonder why they wrap Japanese pine trees in those funny little mats in winter?Arboreal stomach warmer? The tree version of black tie for the holidays? Guess again. They’re actually old-fashioned, super-eco pest control! It’s diabolically simple. The mats are girded around the trees as winter approaches, wrapped tightly at the bottom and loosely atContinue reading “Why are those trees wearing placemats?”

What’s the most Japanese thing you could ever do? Go on a bus tour

I thought going to the holiest shrine in all Japan would be the most ur-cultural experience I could possibly have. I was wrong. It was the bus tour that really redefined “cultural experience,” but not quite in the way I was expecting. Right now, the only way travelers can come to Japan is if they’reContinue reading “What’s the most Japanese thing you could ever do? Go on a bus tour”

Why yes, that mold IS a National Living Treasure

Everything you ever wanted to know about making sake Japanese sake is surging in popularity as restaurants outside of Japan discover that it makes dishes from all over the world taste even better. My friend Mac—the Kanpai Planet YouTube channel host who delves into All Things Alcoholic in Japan—actually went to Sado Island (which isContinue reading “Why yes, that mold IS a National Living Treasure”

The Wizard of Oz is alive and well

…and living in Japan Behold the Japanese train ticket vending machine, which is about as close to infallible as a machine can get. You stick in your money, and—unlike the ticket machine I once encountered in San Francisco, which rained down $14.00 IN CHANGE like some sort of demented Vegas slot machine—even if you putContinue reading “The Wizard of Oz is alive and well”

The REAL story of the 47 rōnin

…is so much crazier than I thought You can see why the tale of the forty-seven masterless samurai who avenge their lord appeals—righteous grudges, extreme consequences, clever & twisted revenge. It’s definitely got the makings of a killer Netflix series! But the most amazing thing is…it’s all true. But the deeper you dive, the betterContinue reading “The REAL story of the 47 rōnin”

How to read a haiku

Three great things to look for in a haiku poem I’m going to come right out and say it: nothing makes me want to throw my hands in the air and flee faster than coming across a page that’s filled with verses instead of nice, solid paragraphs. I automatically assume I’m not going to enjoyContinue reading “How to read a haiku”

How to live forever, Japan style 

You know those “artist names” that get passed down from one generation to the next in Japan? I always assumed those were about art. That the passing of the torch from one generation to the next was about choosing the most gifted artist of the next generation to take their predecessor’s place at the topContinue reading “How to live forever, Japan style “

Be careful what you hang on your wall

…because it might turn out to be something you’d rather not explain to dinner guests! Let’s say you’re browsing around a flea market in Japan, and you discover this jolly woodblock print of five samurai-era men having a little chin-wag. Naturally, because it’s a flea market, you snag it at a bargain price! What aContinue reading “Be careful what you hang on your wall”

The strange barbers of Yoshiwara

You’ve heard of Yoshiwara, right? The old Tokyo pleasure quarter? Well, it turns out that it wasn’t just any old red light district—it was its own separate, weird society, with different laws, different social rules, and even its own language. The reigning queens of this alternate universe were the oiran—courtesans who were so exclusive thatContinue reading “The strange barbers of Yoshiwara”