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Setsubun at Nakayamadera Temple

Setsubun (節分) is a holiday that marks the start of Spring, and includes some fun traditions that both children and adults enjoy. The most common way to celebrate setsubun is at home, with a family or group of people throwing roasted soy beans at someone designated as a demon (and wearing a demon mask). The…

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Sasayama in the Wintertime: Botan Nabe & More

I’ve talked about the vivid landscapes of autumn leaves before, but Sasayama City, Hyogo Prefecture is known for another seasonal specialty: its winter botan nabe, a hotpot stew made with local wild mountain boar meat arranged delicately in the shape of a botan (tree peony) flower.Traces of botan nabe’s popularity are all across the town,…

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Mt. Kabuto Hike

If you’re looking for a day-trip hike in the Hanshin Area around the cities of Osaka, Kobe, Nishinomiya, or Amagasaki, I recommend heading out to Mt. Kabuto (possibly named for its helmet-like shape). At just over 300 meters (or about 1,000 feet), the mountain makes for an easy climb, and also features a temple with…

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Nishinomiya Tooka Ebisu Festival

Running every year from January 9th to 11th (the name tooka referring to the main day on the 10th), the Tooka Ebisu Festival at Nishinomiya Shrine draws  as many as a million visitors. The festival celebrates the Japanese god of commerce and sailing: Ebisu. People from all around the Hanshin area (including Osaka, Kobe, Amagasaki,…

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Takeda Castle Views and Around Toyooka

Located at the top of an approximately 354 meter-tall hill, the Takeda Castle Ruins overlook the small town of Asago. There are two points from which to look at the ruins. First, there’s the nearby Asago Mountain, from which, depending on the time of day and season, the Takeda Castle Ruins and the valley appear…

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Sasayama Area

Vivid red, orange, and yellow autumn leaves stand out in profusion at the temple Dōkōji in Sasayama area during mid-to-late November. With a history stretching back to 1354, Dōkōji has a serene feeling, further amplified by its remote location. After ascending stairs lined on either side with maple trees, the main complex is accessible past…

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Toyooka Area: Kinosaki Ryokan and Farmhouse Inns

Japan is famous for its ryokan, traditional-style inns where guests stay in richly decorated rooms and eat multicourse meals. The town of Kinosaki in Toyooka area has some of the best ryokan in the country, known particularly for delicious fresh crab and multiple hot springs within walking distance around the scenic town.The ryokan I’ll talk…

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Izushi: A Little Kyoto

Izushi is a castle town in northern Toyooka City known as “Little Kyoto” –a small town that is filled with traditional architecture, performances, festivals, and soba noodles. Without a bullet train stop and variety of train lines and bus routes, Izushi might be more difficult to access than the city of Kyoto, but it’s still…

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Awaji’s Spirit and Flavor

To really experience Awaji, I recommend visiting Onokoro-jima Shrine, which is the fabled origin of the gods that created the Japanese archipelago: Izanagi and Izanami. It’s a rather diminutive shrine, except for the gigantic torii gate that forms its entrance. It’s a complicated story, how the male Izanagi and the female Izanami gave birth to…