Museum tour in English: modern Japanese ceramics (Friday Jan. 20)


Picture plate in the “new Majolica style” (1905) by Itaya Hazan (1872-1963). Collection of Tokyo Tech Museum and Archives.

Please join me at the Shoto Museum of Art in Shibuya on Friday January 20, 2017 when I’ll give a guided tour in English of Ceramics Japan: Tracing Japanese Modern through Ceramics. The tour will begin at 6:30 pm and is free with regular museum admission (500 yen for adults, less if you’re a student or over 60).

The exhibition provides an excellent overview of Japanese ceramics in the modern era, which is to say from the Meiji Restoration of 1868 until the end of World War II. It covers everything from the export ceramics that set off the Japonism boom in the West to what was made in Japan during the war, a topic rarely covered. The focus is on design, and the very deliberate way Japanese ceramic designers first responded to foreign tastes and trends, and then set about searching for a unique Japanese aesthetic for ceramics.


Lidded pots with mythical shishi lions, decorated in Tokyo in the Satsuma style by Niimura Tomezo in gold and overglaze enamels. Early Meiji period/late 19th century. Private collection.

If you’ve been on my museum tours before, you know they are lively and informal. I try to keep keep things accessible for total beginners while offering new information and insights for those who may be already deep into the subject matter. There are lots of cool and unexpected things to see in this exhibition, including the first Western-style dinner set successfully made in Japan (the “Sedan” pattern made by Nippon Toki, which later became Noritake) and the sort of sink made in the 1920s for oh-so-modern multi-family dwellings like the famous Dojunkai apartments in Omotesando.


I love these dishes designed by Hino Atsushi and manufactured by Okura Toen in the 1920s using a traditional maki-e etching technique Private collection.

Advance reservations are not necessary, and it’s fine to just turn up if you can. But it’s helpful to me if you let me know you’re coming so I have an idea of how many people are coming. You can do that through the contact form on this blog, by leaving a comment or by email to gordenkeralice(at) Hope to see you there! The Shoto Museum is about a 15-minute walk from the Hachiko exit of Shibuya Station, and closer to Shinsen Station on the Keio Inokashira Line.


Ceramic tiles were introduced in Japan as a novel building material and became popular after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 because they were seen as modern and safer. Colorful tiles like this were made by many companies, including Danto Kabushiki Kaisha in Osaka.

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[This trip is now full.]Nov. 12″Discover Another Kanagawa”


Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve been working with Kanagawa Prefecture for over a year to design short tours for people like me:  foreign residents of Japan who enjoy learning and getting out of the to discover lesser known but eminently worthwhile destinations. To date, I’ve brought groups to four great spots in Kanagawa: the lovely Manazuru peninsula, fascinating Oyama (“Edo’s Disneyland”), the Tanzawa mountain range and most recently, to Ashigara to see  mounted archery, plum blossoms and sake making. Well, I’ve got another little goodie in the works, and I’m posting advance notice so those interested can save the date: Saturday,  November 12.


This time, we’ll venture to Minami Ashigara at the western edge of the prefecture, over towards Mount Fuji. It’s a place of real natural beautyーcitrus trees dotting steep green hillsides, green valleys amid mountains and small-scale farms and rice patties, yet close enough to Tokyo and Yokohama for an easy day trip.  In keeping with Kanagawa’s effort to promote the western part of the prefecture as the natural place for healing, this time I’m incorporating Japanese-style wellness into my usual mix of culture, fun and exploration   The goal will be to stimulate the mind and senses while relaxing and refreshing the body and soul.


First stop: the tiny village of Yagura (pop. 280) which solved its twin problems of wild boars and isolation by planting zarugiku, the wonderful poofs of chrysanthemums you see in the photo above. Now some 10,000 people visit during their annual flower festival. We’ll be visiting when the festivities are just over and things are quiet and peaceful again, but the flowers are still in merry bloom. It’s a lovely place in a beautiful valley, and a few of the villagers will give us a guided walking tour so we can hear their interesting story.


Then we’ll hop onto our bus and head to Saijoji, a 14th century Zen monastery  built deep in a virgin cedar forest. It’s very much an undiscovered gem — even most Japanese haven’t heard of it. We’ll get a taste of life there — first with a lunch of authentic “shojin ryori” (Buddhist vegan/vegetarian cuisine), then by walking the beautiful grounds with an English-speaking monk who will answer our questions and tell us about the many legends associated with the temple.

I’m always looking for ways to quiet my over-active mind, so naturally Zen meditation is something I’ve wanted to try. But for all my years in Japan, I never have. It just seemed so..well, intimidating. The lotus position…monks patrolling with sticks. But Saijoji makes it easy to dip your toes in the water. Nice clean space. Comfy pillows that facilitate sitting cross-legged, and stools if your knees can’t take even that. Just 20 minutes, and our English-speaking monk will explain how to breathe and what to do when your mind wanders. And no one will get hit — I promise! If you like it, you’ll know where to come back for a weekend workshop or even an overnight stay. Truly, there’s no need to travel all the way to Koya-san for an authentic Zen experience — it’s right here in our back yard!


Finally, for that total refresh and relax experience, we’ll head over to the to “Only Y0u” hot-springs resort. (Did you notice the pun? “Yu” means “hot water” in Japanese). It’s got indoor and outdoor baths (segregated by sex). Feel the restorative power of lots and lots of warm water and all those minerals.


Even if hanging out naked isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other ways to relax here.  They’ve got lots of decks, all over the place looking  out at the trees, with both friendly group areas and quiet out-of-the-way spots for introverts and those who want to catch some winks.  Cafe snacks and drinks are available for purchase. And if you’re interested, while we’re there, you can take a free health check developed by the prefecture in cooperation with doctors and scientists, based on principles of Oriental medicine.  It’s interesting, kind of fun, and can be done on your own phone or the provided tablets.  They’ve even translated it for into (sort of) English. You should be able to take away personalized, specific suggestions for improving your health naturally. (I need to eat more purple foods.)


The cost of this day-tour is just 9,400 yen, which includes lunch, all transportation during the tour, the cost of the Zen meditation workshop, a gift bottle of local sake, guide fees and use of the facilities at the onsen hot-springs resort including towel, locker, hair dryers and pajama-like lounge wear.  Signs up will begin Tuesday Oct. 4 at 5 pm — I’ll tell you how and post the relevant links here and on Facebook as soon as I have them, but to be honest, that might not be until the day before, on Monday.  We’ve only got space for 25, and based on signups for the last tours, this will probably fill up the same evening registrations open, or maybe the following day.  Please mark your calendars, and check back. I really hope you can join us!

Here’s some fine print for those who like details earlier rather than later:

Meeting place: We’ll start and end at Odawara Station (on the JR Ueno-Tokyo Line, the Shinkansen Tokaido Line, and the private Odakyu Odawara and Daiyuzan lines), meeting up in front of the Starbuck’s at the west exit at 8:45 so we will depart by 9:00. 

How to get there? A no-change regular JR Ueno-Tokyo (Tokaido) Line train bound for Odawara departs Tokyo station at 7:09 (Shinagawa 7:19; Yokoyama 7:37) and arrives at Odawara at 8:34. One-way fare from Tokyo is 1, 490 yen (Shinagawa 1,320 yen; Yokohama 970 yen). If you buy a Green Ticket before boarding, you can upgrade to the first-class Green Car for 700 yen one way. From Shinjuku, for 1,770 yen (which includes 890 yen for a reserved seat) you can take the luxurious Sagami #57 “Romance Car” super-express on the Odakyu Line which departs at 7:10 and arrives Odawara at 8:27. Or save by taking the regular Odakyu Line express (kyuko) departing Shinjuku 7:01 and arriving Odawara 8:37. One-way fare is 880 yen. It’s also possible to take the Shinkansen bullet train, catching the Kodama #637 bound for Shin-Osaka that departs Tokyo Station at 7:56 (Shinagawa 8:04, Shin-Yokohama 8:16) and arrives in Odawara at 8:31. Fare from Tokyo including an unreserved seat is 3,220 yen one way (Shingawa 3,050 yen, Yokohama 1,950 yen).


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Event notice: Kobe beef luncheon Sat. May 14



Kobe beef is one of Japan’s most famous foods, known all around the world. But what makes it different from other beef? Is it true that the cows are fed beer and given daily massages? Find out — and try Kobe beef for yourself — at this gourmet 7-course “kaiseki” style lunch, in which seasonal ingredients are beautifully presented in small, healthy portions, at one of the few restaurants in Tokyo certified as serving genuine Kobe beef.


While Chef Maeda prepares us a special menu, your guide (yours truly; me!) will explain the fascinating history of Kobe beef. Fun and delicious, this excursion is great preparation for entertaining those out-of-town visitors who ask for Kobe beef.


Date and time: Saturday May 14, 12:00-14:00

Cost: 10,000 yen per person for a 7-course lunch including dessert and coffee or tea, and tax, service and lecture fee. Wine and champagne can be ordered separately, including by the glass (800 yen and up for wine, 1,000 yen for champagne).

Location: Kobe Beef Kaiseki 511, 4-3-28 Akasaka, Minato-ku. Closest station: Akasaka Mitsuke

If you’d like to join us, send me a msg through the contact form on this blog, or an email to gordenkeralice(at mark)

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Night Museum: Hang with me and the ‘saurs, Friday June 3 in Ueno


Update: This tour is now full.  So sorry to disappoint those who aren’t able to participate. I will try to organize another one of the permanent exhibition. Let me know if you’d be interested.

Come join me Friday evening June 3 at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Ueno Park for a tour of Dinosaur Expo 2016, a special exhibition that is held just once every three years. Our guide will be Dr. Makoto Manabe, the museum’s chief paleontologist, who speaks English fluently and is a wonderful educator. He’s also the rock star of dinosaur study in Japan, as I discovered when he tried to lead me through the exhibition for an advance look-see — fans kept stopping us and asking to have their picture taken with him!

If it’s been a while since you updated your knowledge about dinosaurs, this tour will offer plenty of surprises. Highlights include the newest reconstruction of Spinosaurus, the largest known carnivorous dinosaur, shown here for the first time in Japan. Spinosaurus was first discovered by a German paleontologist in 1912, but the fossils he brought back to Munich were destroyed during World War II.  As a result, the dinosaur was almost completely forgotten until 2008, when new remains were discovered in Morocco.  Now, based on studies of these and other newly discovered Spinosaurus bones, scientists believe the animal moved on four feet and was semi-aquatic, hunting in the water as well as the land.

TyrannosaurusLooksAtSpinosaurus (1)

We’ll also get to watch Dr. Clive Coy, a paleontologist in from the University of Alberta, as he cleans the fossils of a small dinosaur called Saurornitholestes, which he uncovered in the Canadian Bad Lands a few years ago. It’s slow, careful work, to say the least, and he’ll chat with us about what he’s doing.


The exhibition will be open to other visitors when we visit, but Friday evening is less crowded than other times. To be sure everyone can hear well, we’ll have earphone head-sets connected wirelessly to Dr. Manabe’s microphone.  Other topics we’ll cover will include baby dinosaurs — we’ll see a baby skeleton visiting Japan for the first time — origin, endothermy, herbvivory, flight, aquatic adaptation, and dinosaur calls.

Date and time: Friday June 5, 6:30 to 8:00 pm
Meet: 6:20 pm at the entrance to Dinosaur Expo 2016, National Museum of Nature and Science, Ueno Park, Tokyo
Cost: 2,000 yen for adults, 1,000 yen for children (elementary to high-school kids welcome)

Tour is now full –space was very limited.

And if you’ve got 15 minutes to bone up on spinosaurus, check out this nice talk by German paleontologist Nazir Ibrahim.

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Discover Another Kanagawa: Join Me in Ashigara, Feb. 11


Gracious…this trip booked up entirely in less than two hours after sign-ups opened. I’m very sorry for those who didn’t get the chance to sign up before it filled.  I think this shows what a need there is for quality trips that are accessible to foreign residents and visitors — we need to find a way to make more of these. I will make a manual waiting list, so please contact me (with email address) if you’d like to stay on hold in case someone cancels. And thank you very much for your interest.

If you’ve never seen yabusame 流鏑馬 mounted archery, or even if you have, you should definitely come along on our next “Discover Another Kanagawa” excursion! We’ll enjoy VIP access to this exciting event, held once a year in the historical Soga-no-Bairin plum orchard, which should be full bloom.  And that’s just one part of this fully guided  day-trip in English to the Ashigara valley region. The date is Thursday Feb. 11, which is a national holiday. Other highlights include a chance to try your hand at traditional aizome 藍染 indigo dyeing, a very special tea tasting, tours of two traditional thatch-roof houses as well as a sake brewery, AND a stop at one of the 100 most beautiful waterfalls in Japan!

If you’re already convinced, you can go straight to either of the registration pages: Tabee Japan, which is all in English, sort of, but is finicky. Start by clicking on the circle on Feb. 11.  If you read enough Japanese to sign up for things online, you can try Kanagawa Chikatabi, where the tour description is in English but the instructions are in Japanese. Otherwise, read on for the full tour description; these sign up links appear again at the end.

Imagine hundreds of plum trees in full bloom---with Mt. Fuji!

Imagine thousands of plum trees all blooming at once—that’s  Mt. Fuji in the background!

The historic Ashigara valley is located in the western-most part of Kanagawa Prefecture, very close to Mt. Fuji.  The area was settled very early, with nearby rivers providing plenty of water for rice cultivation, and important roads passed through the area. Ashigara appears frequently in haiku and other traditional poetry, and is said to be the birthplace of the legendary folk hero Kintarō.

Our group, which is limited to 25 people, will meet at 8:45 am at Shin-Matsuda station on the Odakyu line (train information below), and head to a typical old thatch-roof farmhouse. There,  we’ll learn about indigo, a traditional crop in the Ashigara region (along with rice and plums and tea, which we will also experience on our trip). We’ll try our hands at dying with indigo; you can take home a handkerchief or tenugui towel that you’ve dyed yourself.


The farmhouse is home to an NGO that recycles old kimono and obi and makes work for people with disabilities from the local community. So you can pick up vintage kimono and obi, as well as handbags and cushions made from them,  at very reasonable prices. The highest price I saw on these bags made from gorgeous obi from prestigious Kyoto weavers  5,000 yen. If you’re not interested in shopping, you can wander around upstairs and look at interesting relics from earlier lifestyle.

Next we’ll walk three minutes down the dirt lane to another traditional house known as the Seto Yashiki. This one is older and more impressive because it was the hereditary home of the village head, or nanushi 名主. There’s a lot to see and learn about traditional architecture here, from the water-wheel and thatch roof, to the iron hearth for cooking and guest privy. We’ll also see evidence of  how the explosion of Mt. Fuji in 1707 affected the area. (Hint: the entire valley was covered in volcanic ash, which is not exactly healthy for either people or crops.)

Seto-yashiki in Kaisei

Seto-yashiki: in the Edo period, the village head lived and dealt with village business and the authorities. Those functions affect the architecture.

Hanging "tsuribina" decorations for the Doll's Festival

“Tsuribina” decorations for the Doll’s Festival

We’ll be too early for the Doll Festival (March 3) festivities there, but some of the decorations will already be up, most notably the tsuribina hanging decorations. These charming, colorful hangings are made out of scrap cloth by the local women’s association, and a representative will be on hand to talk to us and answer questions.  If we’re lucky, we’ll also be able to see a large display of old dolls. The main event here, however, will be a mini-seminar about susuri-cha すずり茶, the rather unusual local way of enjoying Ashigara tea.

For lunch, we’ll have a special “sato-ben” 郷弁 (hometown box lunch) made especially for us by the ladies at Tsukasa Sozai, and presented in a woven box made from local bento. I chose for us the “Ashigara tea bento,” which includes rice cooked in tea instead of plain water. It makes the rice a really pretty color. I can’t wait to try the taste!

Our lunch will be made of entirely local ingredients. Even the box!.

Our  “hometown” lunch features local rice cooked in local tea.

Next stop will be the Soga-no-Bairin 曽我梅林 plum orchard, which boasts 35,000 plum trees. Seriously — you can’t imagine what a sight it is to see so many plum trees in bloom, particularly when Mt. Fuji is visible in the background. I checked it out the other day, when only the earliest blossoms were open; it should be in full bloom when we’re there. This is the venue for the yabusame mounted archery.  It’s a very special ritual, held here just once a year, so lots of people are expected. But we’ll be given a special place from which to observe, and a rider who can answer questions, so we should be able to see better, and learn more, than at the yabusame held in more known locations such as Kamakura and Nikko.  There will of course be time to photograph the plum blossoms, and shop for local products, if you like.

After the plum orchard, we’ll move on to the nearby Ishii sake brewery, where Mr. Ishii himself will treat us to a private tour and tasting.  February is the height of the sake-making season, so we’ll see actual sake in the making. Afterwards, we’ll be able to (freely!) sample their award-winning Soga no Homare  曽我の誉 (“Pride of Soga”) sakes — and plum wine made with plums from the very orchards we just visited!  The plum wine is made with plums from the orchard we'll visit.I’m pretty fussy about plum wine, and I promise this one is good.  You can purchase whatever you want right at the brewery, and it’s a good opportunity to do so, because Soga no Homare is only sold within the prefecture. You can’t get it in Tokyo, and you certainly can’t get it in New York or Frankfurt or Milan! That makes it a nice gift for sake-loving friends, especially those overseas.

The Shasui no Taki in Yamakita

The Shasui no Taki in Yamakita

To sober everyone up before we get on the train, we’ll get a little fresh air at the beautiful Shasui no Taki waterfall, which is on the official list of the 100 most beautiful waterfalls in Japan.  It’s a very pretty place, and just a short stroll through green woods, which should do us all some good. The “minus ions” in the air around waterfalls are supposedly good for your health, too.

This fully guided tour in English is organized in cooperation with Kanagawa Prefecture and local governments,  and with a grant from the national government that makes it possible to offer it at half the actual cost. The fee of 6,000 yen per person includes lunch, the indigo dyeing workshop, the tea seminar, transportation by private bus within Ashigara, and all admission charges during the tour. Please pay your own train fare to and from Shin-Matsuda  station.

(Train information: From Shinjuku station on the Odakyu Odawara Line, there is a “Romance Car” limited-express, which is a very nice train with all-reserved seating, departing at 7:30 am, arriving Shin-Matsuda at 8:31 am. (61 mins, 1,470 yen). This is the fastest, most comfortable way to get to our meeting point. You’re guaranteed a seat and you can buy or just reserve your ticket in advance here.  (Ask for the Hakone #3 train on Feb. 11. The link for making reservations and purchases in English is on the tour sign-up page.)  Or save a little money by taking the Odawara-bound regular express train, also on the Odakyu Odawara line, boarding at Shinjuku at 7:11 am to arrive in Shin-Matsuda at 8:35 am (1 hour, 22 mins; 780 yen).  This train can also be boarded at Yoyogi Uehara at 7:16 (1 hr, 19 mins; 720 yen), but you’re unlikely to get a seat when you board. If you’re coming from Yokohama, there is “tokkyu” special express on the Sotetsu Line dep. 7:30 bound for Ebina station; arrive at Ebina at 7:54 and change to the Odakyu Odawara express train that departs Ebina at 8:00 arriving Shin-Matsuda at 8:35. (1 hour, 5 mins; 680 yen). The group will return to Shin-Matsuda station at the end of the tour, at approximately 5:45 pm, earlier if traffic allows.)

The group is limited to 20 people and should fill up quickly. If you’re interested please sign up as soon as possible. You’ve got two options: Tabee Japan, which is all in English, sort of, but is finicky. Start by clicking on the circle on Feb. 11.  If you read enough Japanese to sign up for things online, you can try Kanagawa Chikatabi. The text about the tour is in English but the instructions are in Japanese. When you enter your name, do it all in capital letters, which I’ve heard works better. If you have any trouble, please let me know through the contact page on this blog and I’ll get you signed up.


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Registration for “Discover Another Kanagawa” Trip Opens Friday


This is just a quick “heads up” post to let you know that sign-ups for our next “Discover Another Kanagawa” day-trip will open this Friday, Jan. 15.  This time we’ll visit the Ashigara region in western Kanagawa. The date of our fully-guided excursion is Feb. 11, which is a Thursday and a national holiday.


To dye for! The Monzo family farm house in Kaisei.

Highlights include VIP access to a demonstration of “yabusame” mounted archery, a workshop in “aizome” indigo dying, visits to a sake brewery and two traditional thatch-roof houses!


Our lunch will be made of entirely local ingredients. Even the box!.

We’ll also learn how to not only drink but also eat our tea, enjoy a bento lunch of local foods and get a sneak preview on the Hinamatsuri Doll’s Festival. There will be some special shopping opportunities, acres of plum trees in bloom, one of Japan’s 100 most scenic waterfalls and if the weather is clear — beautiful Fuji views.

Fuji and plums

Imagine hundreds of plum trees in full bloom—with Mt. Fuji!

We expect this tour to book up quickly — we only have 20 places — which is why I’m giving blog readers this early heads-up. I’ll post full details here on the blog on Friday. Hope you can join us!

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Sashimi sides: field-guide to raw fish garnishes


In my Nov. 29 column in The Japan Times, I wrote about what a reader described as the “the stringy piles of daikon radish” that come with sashimi.  As I explained, the daikon is called “tsuma,” written with this character: 褄.

It used to be that learning to prepare these super-skinny strips was a rite of passage for everyone aspiring to the job of sushi chef. First, you’d have to learn how to use a knife to turn out a paper-thin, continuous roll of radish.  This way of cutting is called “katsura muki” and requires hours of diligent practice.

If you managed to master that, next you’d have to be able to do this:

Alas, things aren’t what they used to be. Now there are machines that can handle the job in seconds. This one brags that it can turn out daikon for 100 in just five minutes:

Unless you’re dining upscale, chances are your daikon strings will have come out of a machine, or a bag from a food-processing factory. But daikon isn’t the only garnish for sashimi. All sorts of vegetables, flowers and seaweeds can be used to pretty up raw fish, and all are referred to as tsuma. It’s a generic term.

First, let’s look at the veggies. Carrots are popular — they’re cheap, colorful and hold up well.


Less familiar are murame ムラメ, the sprouts of the red shiso plant.


And here they are in situ — they’re the purple and green leaves, up front on the right.


I’m very fond of myoga, the buds of the ginger plant. They have a crisp texture and unique taste, quite different from ginger root.


Here you have a nicely chopped pile of myoga, tucked attractively under leaf of green shiso (beefsteak plant, Perilla frutescens).


Not all garnishes are vegetables, of course. Chrysanthemum flowers (kiku 菊) are a perennial favorite. Yuk, yuk.


Another flower that often turns up often is kasui  花穂 (spicata),  a member of the spearmint family.


And then there are the seaweeds. First up, tosaka トサカ (Meristotheca papulosa).


Next, wakame ワカメ (Undaria pinnatifida).


This one’s called ogo オゴ (Gracilaria vermiculophylla). If it’s got a common name in English, I couldn’t find it. Despite that nice green color, it’s a red algae. Go figure. And it’s listed in the Global Invasive Species Database.


One last weed — igisu イギス (Ceramium kondoi).


I’ll add more as time allows. Put a bookmark in your phone for handy-dandy reference while dining! Bon appetit!

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