Nara Houses

Japan is well-known for its excellent public transportation system, but something I’ve been realizing recently is that if you want to see the really beautiful parts of the country, you need a car. Every time I head out into the Nara countryside, I’m amazed at how beautiful the old houses and countryside are. These houses are all in and around the city of Gojo.

Nara New Year’s

On  New Year’s day, my in-laws went to visit some local shrines near their house, and I went along to take photos. I found the tiny rural temples really interesting – it’s a huge change from the crowds in the big-city shrines.

More photos after the jump.
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Thousand-tatami Cliff in Shirahama

The senjojiki (thousand tatami mat cliff) in Shirahama. Shirahama is a popular tourist resort in Wakayama prefecture and these cliffs are a popular tourist attraction. The rock is very soft, and thousands of visitors have carved their names in it.

Hina Doll at the Awashima Shrine in Wakayama

Hina doll at Awashima Jinja in Wakayama prefecture. Many Japanese people believe that dolls have souls, so instead of throwing them in the garbage, they take them to a shrine where they are blessed and ritually burned or thrown into the sea.

Other posts with pictures of Awashima Jinja:

Shinmachi Juku

Gojo is a small city in Nara Prefecture, about an hour and a half from Osaka by train、and is on the way to the famous monastery-mountain Mt. Koya. Well-off the beaten tourist track, it gets few visitors, but if you’re ever in the area, you might want to stop off and see the Shinmachi area, a semi-preserved area with a lot of nice old buildings.

The area has 77 buildings which have been preserved from the Edo Period (1603 to 1868) and 19 from the Meiji Period (1868-1912). It used to part of the Kishuu Kaido, a highway that ran between Wakayama and Osaka. Around 1960, however, a highway was built nearby, and people gradually stopped coming to the area.

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Beautiful Walks in the Nara Countryside

Sorry for the lack of posts recently, but I think I have a pretty good excuse – my wife gave birth on Monday night. I’ve been in her hometown in Nara Prefecture, and I have to say, it’s been about the best week of my life.

I was staying at her parent’s house, and every morning I’d walk about 25 minutes to the hospital to visit my wife and new son.

gojo house 1

I can’t describe what a wonderful feeling it was to walk under the blue skies past these amazing old houses and rice fields on the way to spend the day with my wife and new baby.

gojo house 2

gojo house 3

This is the little guy I was going to see, my new son Matthew.

matthew3dayblack and white

Kawadoko – Riverside Dining to Beat the Heat

Kyoto, surrounded on three sides by mountains, is known for its cold winters and hot summers. In the days before air conditioners, people devoted a lot of time and energy to beating the summer heat, and one of the things they came up with is the elegant custom of kawadoko, riverside dining.
If you walk along the Kamo-gawa River in central Kyoto, you will see a lot of restaurants with platforms built out over the side of the river where patrons go to get cool and enjoy food or drinks. Another famous place is Kibune, a tiny village north of Kyoto. There’s a long, winding river through a ravine with a lot of old, high-class Japanese inns and kawadoko restaurants.
I went there a couple of years ago, and the kawadoko restaurants were a little pricey for me, but it was a really nice place for walking and taking photos.
There are some excellent descriptions on these blogs and websites:

Gaijin Report: (general overview)
Kyoto Travel Plans: (restaurant list)
Secret Japan: (general guide to Kibune and nearby Kurama Onsen)
Kibune official site: (Japanese only)
Google Maps:,135.767498&sspn=0.048872,0.069437&ie=UTF8&ll=35.113485,135.763378&spn=0.024433,0.034719&t=h&z=15

Getting there:
From Kyoto’s Sanjo Station, take the Keihan Honsen Tokkyuu (Limited Express) bound for Demachiyanagi Station. Change to the Eizan Dentetsu Honsen (Eizan Railway Main Line) bound for Anba. Get off at Kibune Guchi Station. It takes about 36 minutes from Sanjo Station, and the fare is 620 yen. From there, you can walk about 1.3 km or take the bus. The bus schedule is here. It’s in Japanese, but the two columns on the left are for weekdays and the two on the right are Sat., Sun., hol. (departure from Kibune Guchi on the left and return on the right) . The buses only run on weekends from around Dec. 8 until Shunbun no Hi (First day of Spring, around Mar. 20). The fare is 160 yen.

Here’s a Google Earth view of the area (click to enlarge):

Kibune map

Rakan Butsuzo


Some Buddhist statues are serenely beautiful. Others are terrifyingly ferocious. But every once in a while, you’ll come across a cute or funny one. Rakan Butsuzo, images of the disciples of Buddha, are often depicted pulling funny faces, with humorous features, or in bizarre poses. For more information about the bizarre statues at Otagi Nenbutsu Temple, click here.web analytics

There are more photos of Otagi Nenbutsu-ji here.

Love Hotel Car Wash

free car wash

The love hotel business is a very competitive one, and they’re always trying to come up with new ways to attract customers. This love hotel in Osaka offers free carwashes to its patrons.Instead of the car moving through the car wash, the car wash moves back and forth over the car.

love-hotel-coverThere’s more information about   love hotels in my new book, Love Hotels: An Inside Look at Japan’s Sexual Playgrounds. I spent years visiting love hotels around Japan, interviewing love hotel designers, owners and staff, and wading through Japanese books on sex and love hotels to bring you this book.

It’s 182 pages of information about their history, the people who design and operate them, their place in Japanese society, crime, and much, much more. There’s also a love hotel guide with information on how to get to the best hotels in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Yokohama, Sapporo, and Fukuoka.

For more information about love hotels, please visit my newly updated love hotel page at:

To order or find out more about the book, please visit: There’s also a smaller guidebook, with just the hotel information for 500 yen:

There are more love hotel-related posts