Photographing the Morning Fog of Kikuchi Valley

Kikuchi Valley in Kumamoto Prefecture has been closed for the past 2 years after the Kumamto earthquake struck the region. But city officials, deeming it was now safe, reopened the valley earlier this year. One very early morning in July, before the sun rose, a group of photographers parked their cars along route 45 and headed off on foot guided only by the moonlight. About 20 minutes later they arrived at the perfect spot along the river where they set up camera and awaited dawn.

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Voice of Coffee: Kobe Coffee Shop Stripped Down to Bare Essentials

all photographs by Takumi Ota

History, structure and materials are on raw display at Voice of Coffee in Kobe. The specialty coffee shop opened last year in the Chuo-ku district of Kobe and is located in a space formerly occupied by a barber shop. The architect Yusuke Seki was tasked with stripping down the space and exposing what is essential, much like what the the coffee shop aims to do with their regionally-sourced beans.

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Echigo Tsumari Art Festival 2018

Summer is winding down. The cicadas are fetching up new breath for one, final onslaught, humidity is (hopefully) on its last leg and back-to-school commercials are invading the airwaves. But you can still enjoy the great outdoors while simultaneously visiting one of the largest open air museums in the world. The Echigo-Tsumari Art Field festival kicked off at the end of July and runs until September 17, which means you still have 5 weekends to immerse yourself in one of the largest art festivals in the world, in one of the most unlikely places in the world. Known for their heavy snowfall in winter, the Echigo-Tsumari region is located in mountainous Niigata – easily accessible from Tokyo in a little over an hour by train.

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Multicolored Somen Designed to Look Like Crayons

So men, what’s for dinner?

Dad

I could bet money that my dad would crack that pun every time somen was being served up for dinner on a hot summer night. Sōmen (素麺 in Japanese) are ultra-thin noodles made from wheat flour and served cold with a dipping sauce. The noodles are typically white in color except for one location in all of Japan. Ehime prefecture has a local specialty called go-shoku-somen (literally, 5-flavored somen): a set of 5 different-colored packs of somen that derive their colors from natural additives. Now, a local company has created 2 additional colors and have designed a package that makes them look like a set of crayons.

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Sneak Peek at the Branding for Apple’s New Kyoto Store

Rumors began swirling earlier this month that Apple was going to be moving in to Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital. At first it was job postings. Then came a building facade with a roundish logo hidden behind a canvas. It could only be one thing: an apple. The company confirmed those rumors today with an official opening date of August 25, 2018. We’ve got a sneak peek of the branding behind Apple’s new Kyoto store, and the inspiration they saw in Kyoto’s tradition of creativity.

But first, head over to this official Kyoto playlist for some tunes while you browse the images.

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Totoro Meets Shigaraki Ceramics in New Stoneware Collaboration

Shigaraki-yaki is a type of Japanese pottery made in the eponymous region. If you’ve seen ceramic tanukis (Japanese raccoon dogs) outside restaurants or other establishments there’s a good chance they are made from Shigaraki-yaki. But forget tanukis for a moment because now an adorable set of miniature Totoro figurines from the magical film My Neighbor Totoro are being hand-produced by Shigaraki-yaki artisans.

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Taku Omura Transforms Company Logos into 3D-Printed Items

Japanese designer Taku Omura runs an intriguing side project he calls trial and error. Inspired by their shapes and forms, Omura transforms company logos we see every day, into usable items by imagining them in 3D. He then uses a 3D-printer to create miniature prototypes and before you know it, Adobe’s logo is a clothes hanger and the Playstation logo is a bookend.

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Tomo Kihara Offers an Alternative to Panhandling with Street Debating

the Street Debater can be customized with different question to stimulate dialogue

The Street Debater is simple tool that acts like a balance scale. Attached to the two trays on each side are small chalkboards with the words Yes and No. They serve as the answer to a debatable question that invites passersby to engage with their thought and also their wallets. As coins accumulate, the scale shifts to one side or the other. It’s what Japanese designer Tomo Kihara calls a “playful intervention,” an attempt to break the invisible rules of what we consider normal.

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A Spoon & Tamago Guide to Hiroshima Prefecture

**Editor’s note: Your correspondent’s trip to the Hiroshima region was disrupted by heavy rains that later caused widespread flooding, loss of life, and extensive property damage all over Western Japan. Relief efforts are ongoing, so please consider donating to one of the verified aid groups listed at the bottom of this post.**

There’s no doubt that President Obama’s trip to Hiroshima in 2015 put the city on the map in a big way for American tourists. Whereas the bulk of Western tourists to the region previously came from Europe and Australia, local promoters now report an uptick in interest from US-based travel agencies. The city’s destination-worthiness stems largely from its status as primary witness to the dawn of the atomic age, and the city’s monuments to the first-ever use of a nuclear weapon on a civilian population—The Peace Memorial Park, Museum, and A-bomb Dome—are certainly worth taking in at least once. But there’s no need to stop there, for the surrounding area offers much else of interest to the adventurous traveler.

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You’ll Soon Be Able to Stay in One of Japan’s Most Beautifully Designed Prisons

photos by Masashi Mizowaki and Takaharu Yagi courtesy The Asahi

Spending the night in jail is usually not a good thing. Unless of course you’re staying in Japan’s Nara Prison, a historic red-brick structure built in 1908 with western archways and onion domes that lend an air of castle more than incarceration. The prison shut down last year but is being preserved for its architectural and historic significance. The renovated structure will reopen in 2020 as a hotel.

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