Wonders of Japan
  • Favorite Hikes and Walks in Japan

    May 2021

    Hikes in Japan post is a result of my desire to offer one main post serving as a starting point for various individual posts in this blog where I go into the details of some of my favorite hikes and walks in Japan. The list includes various categories of trails ranging from road walks to peak hunts.

  • Hiking Mt. Miyanoura in Yakushima

    Apr 2021

    Mt. Miyanoura peak hike in Yakushima is one of the most rewarding hikes and traverses in Japan. The hike leads you to the highest peak in Kyushu through forests, rock formations and magnificent interior mountain views.

  • Mizumoto Park: Seasons in Tokyo

    May 2021

    Mizumoto Park may be one of the best kept secrets in Tokyo. The park, which is located in Katsushika ward is the largest public park in Tokyo and worth a visit in every season. It is also one of the main reason why I may never move out my neighborhood - Shibamata in Katsushika. I remember the real estate lady being very surprised when I within minutes decided to rent the house that I live in.

  • Nikko – Nature Outing Close to Tokyo

    Oct 2020

    Even though we do not have to choose, I will get this out of the way right away. I would in any given year happily give up sakura season for an extended fall in Japan. I love watching the excitement of Tokyo residents during the sakura season, families enjoying the season in one of the many beautiful parks of Tokyo including my neighborhood park Mizumoto Park, possibly dad and mom taking off a day from work, packing a picnic basket with enough food for the whole day, bikes parked nearby…and the list goes on. The atmosphere excites me more than the flowers. But when it comes to fall foliage or koyo (紅葉), I get close to losing my mind, especially in Nikko.

  • Enoura Observatory

    Mar 2021

    Are you familiar with the work of Japanese photographer and architect Hiroshi Sugimoto? If your answer is yes and - obviously - if you enjoy his work, you will love Enoura Observatory. As one the web reviewers noted, the observatory feels like you are walking inside a Hiroshi Sugimoto photograph. It feels like the boundary between the light and architecture blurs creating almost another dimension.

  • Aoni Onsen in Aomori

    Nov 2020

    If it was not for the promise of surrounding fall colors and an onsen only lit up with oil lamps, I would not find my way to the wonderful Aoni Onsen in Aomori and finally connect with the onsen experience. Aoni Onsen was like a scene from one of the novels of Tanazaki with its very traditional feel with each guest perfectly playing the part. Aoni is close to the onsen town of Kuroishi but not right in the town and rather enjoys its own secluded location deep in the forests of Aomori. I now realized that the experience can be very different when one stays at a secluded single onsen as opposed to an onsen town served by many different facilities.

Featured Articles
  • Books About Mt. Everest

    May 2021

    I enjoy reading any book that I get my hands on on Mt. Everest. Something has always kept me extremely interested in the highest place on Earth. It started long before my visit to Nepal nearly a decade ago. I was always amazed with the personal stories of sherpas and the non-professional climbers whose desire to conquer the highest place in the World seems to lie somewhere between obsession and reasonable ambition.

  • Walking Shikoku

    Mar 2021

    Back from Shikoku. What a wonderful two weeks it was and how I need these rural Japan breaks to better connect with this beautiful country that I now call home. It all started with mountains, two of the most atmospheric temples that I have been to in Japan, heavy rain and wind (a blessing and visual feast when you hike through forests).

  • I Don’t Like Airbnb

    Apr 2021

    This may be my most controversial post up to date as I will declare something that will be despised by many independent travelers and which will turn me into a less cool person immediately: I don’t like Airbnb. I would prefer staying at Hilton (even worse – probably even at Holiday Inn or Travelodge or Ibis) rather than staying at an Airbnb place. I prefer most of the hostels/hotels over an Airbnb apartment.

  • My Swiss Alps – Lauterbrunnen

    Apr 2021

    I love many different parts of Switzerland  but if I have to name just one place - it would be Lauterbrunnen Valley. Lauterbrunnen always reminds me that while I love sea and water, it is the mountains that I am truly in love with. Lauterbrunnen is a very small town (that you can cross on foot in literally five minutes) sitting right on a beautiful valley down from the famous peaks of Switzerland including Eiger and Jungfrau.

  • My Favourite Hotels and Hostels

    Apr 2021

    If you read my earlier post on why I don’t like Airbnb, you  already know that I prefer hotels over the home/apartment style accommodation. I find hotels and increasingly the hostels to be great sources of inspiration for some of my design choices at my own apartment. As a result, I wanted to keep a list of some of my favorite hotels and introduce those to you. The list is being regularly updated to include new hotels that I periodically introduce in the Sleep section.

  • Lofoten Diaries: Winter Trip

    Apr 2021

    It is no secret that Norway is among my favorite countries and the winter is my favorite season. Couple of years ago I took a 10 days winter trip to Northern Norway starting with 3 days in Tromso with my friends followed by a full week in my beloved Lofoten Islands. Below is the diaries of my trip – the Lofoten Winter Diaries.

Destination Tips
  • Although Ishigaki and Miyako Islands of Okinawa seem to be more popular for beach vacations with various resort type accommodation options, Zamami Island and Tokashiki Island part of Kerama Islands in Okinawa are two little swimming and snorkeling gems easily accessible from Naha. The accommodation and dining options are more limited compared to Ishigaki and Miyako but the quality of the water – heard the term Kerama Blue? – make up for the limited range of amenities.

    On this page, you can read my quick tips about both Zamami Island and Tokashiki Island. If you want to find out more, you can check my more detailed post on both islands – Kerama Blue – Zamami and Tokashiki Islands.

  • I always stay at Kerama Backpackers Hostel in Tokashiki Island, not new but very well maintained facilities and experienced owners. They also offer free shuttle service to the beaches. You can get a dorm bed for around 2500 Yen a night.

    There are also camping grounds both in Tokashiki and Zamami Islands. The one in Zamami is facing a very beautiful bay and seems to be more popular than the camping ground in Tokashiki, which is near Aharen Beach.

  • Dining options in Kerama Islands, especially in Tokashiki, is rather limited. If you stay at Kerama Backpackers, the nearby Sunny Coral is a wonderful option for breakfast or lunch sandwich/bento option.

  • Both Tokashiki and Zamami Islands are easily accessible by boat from mainland Okinawa – Naha. You can take the slow or fast speed ferry. The latter will get you to Tokashiki in mere 35 minutes and to Zamami in 50 minutes from Naha. You however need to be careful as cancellations happen often due to typhoon/weather alerts. You can check out by Kerama Islands posts for more information on how to get to Zamami and Tokashiki Islands from Naha and between the two islands.

  • Tokashiki Island is not very rich in terms of hikes even though you will come across breathtaking views almost everywhere. There is one nature trail which takes you to the southern end of the island. It is a nice hike but you partially need to follow the car road as opposed to a nature trail. On the alternative, you can hike up to the mass suicide memorial near Tokashiki Port, a site devoted to one of the most tragic historical events in the history of Okinawa.

    Zamami Island is slightly richer in terms of the hiking options and there are number of view points that you can hike up to. It may be a little challenging with summer heat but remember that you can always jump into the sea when you get back! Takatsukiyama hike is among the ones where you can really experience the tropical island feeling both with the sea color and the surrounding very lush scenery.

  • No-frills, simple accommodation and simple dining but some of the best swimming and snorkeling waters in the World.

    I highly recommend canoeing and snorkeling in Zamami. You can simply rent out a canoe and take off or book a tour to have access to more remote coves of the island.

    For Tokashiki, although Aharen Beach seems to be more popular with number of shots lined up offering water activities, you may also want to check out more secluded and less busy Tokashiku Beach.

  • From my instagram – For the last three summers, I go to the same tiny Okinawa Island – Tokashiki – where I stay at the same hostel – old but very well kept one for around USD 25/night for a dormitory bed. I then every morning go to the same lovely and only breakfast place on the island to have my sandwich and two cups of coffee. I then take the same 30 mn walk to Tokashiku beach where i spend half of the day and then move to Aharen beach to catch the shuttle back to the hostel. In the evenings, I go to the same (and only) yakitori place on the island. I do this every summer for about 4-5 days and I am looking forward to repeat it all over again this coming summer.

  • People may often wonder – Ishigaki or Kerama Islands? I prefer Kerama Islands with their more laid back atmosphere. I have been to Ishigaki once in May – not a good choice – and the weather was too gray to enjoy the island. Ishigaki is also bigger than any of the Kerama Islands with more amenities. I however prefer the smaller places. Ishigaki also pretty much requires your own transportation as the island is too big to cover on foot and the buses do not run very frequently.

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About Me

I am Burcu. I was born in a town of chemical engineers— including both my parents—near Istanbul on the winter solstice of 1980. I think this has a lot to do with my undying love for winters and cold destinations such as Norway, Alaska, and Hokkaido, but it hardly explains why I am asleep by 9 pm every night. I spent most of my youth in Istanbul, first at a boarding school and then with family, although I was also fortunate enough to spend few years of high school and university abroad, at an age young enough to admire other cultures, places and people before prejudices sink in and the world goes crazy. As for the job department, I am a lawyer and, after spending thirteen years in a law office, I now have a part-time arrangement that allows me location independence. In my blog, you will read a lot about Japan, Norway, and Switzerland—three of my favorite destinations with astounding nature. I also occasionally write articles for magazines. I am happiest when walking, and saddest when I think of what has become of my country in the last two decades. The only people I truly envy are those fortunate enough not to know heartache for their home country, a rare privilege in this age.

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Favorite Travel Habit

If I am in a city, I love to walk around during morning rush hour. That is the only time a city cannot hide its truth and pretend to be nicer than it is. I am sorry to report but Istanbul that you see during rush hour (ouch!) is what living in Istanbul feels like.

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Hotels or Airbnb?

Definitely hotels. I like the transitional feel at hotels, that temporariness. It makes me feel lighter. Airbnb on the other hand makes me feel suffocated being surrounded by someone else`s life/decoration choices. I wrote more about Why I Don`t like Airbnb. Another post inspired by my love of hotels/hostels is the Favorite Hotel/Hostels list.

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Favorite Destinations

Japan, Norway, China, Alaska and Switzerland and I think Barcelona is overrated whereas Germany does not get what it deserves as a travel destination.

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Where I live

Well, not in a bathtub or in an onsen but you probably still get the clue – in Japan. More specifically in Tokyo, in one of its very laid back eastern wards, Shibamata of Katsushika where the wonderful Mizumoto Park is located. I love it.

More Japan Destinations
  • Lake Towada and Oirase Stream

    Oct 2020

    Visiting Lake Towada has been on my list for some time as a fall outing but it was not until this year that I found the opportunity by timing it relatively right. I traveled to Lake Towada Area and Oirase Stream, one of the most famous spots for fall foliage in Tohoku and in Japan in general, on October 25th based on the forecasts and the average peak color times in the previous years. The colors were almost at their peak color when I was in the area and I was probably only few days earlier than the optimum time.

  • Aoni Onsen in Aomori

    Nov 2020

    If it was not for the promise of surrounding fall colors and an onsen only lit up with oil lamps, I would not find my way to the wonderful Aoni Onsen in Aomori and finally connect with the onsen experience. Aoni Onsen was like a scene from one of the novels of Tanazaki with its very traditional feel with each guest perfectly playing the part. Aoni is close to the onsen town of Kuroishi but not right in the town and rather enjoys its own secluded location deep in the forests of Aomori. I now realized that the experience can be very different when one stays at a secluded single onsen as opposed to an onsen town served by many different facilities.

  • A Different Japan – All White This Time

    Jan 2015

    You are probably familiar with Hokkaido if you are a Murakami fan. That is the region in Japan that Murakami’s characters will either think of or actually travel up to just to leave behind the busy Tokyo. I can now understand why Hokkaido is always mentioned in Murakami’s books in one way or other. Anyone who has been to Hokkaido and who is emerged in some sort of art form or literature would probably not be able to get that place out of their minds.

  • Shikoku Accommodation

    Apr 2021

    The accommodation along Shikoku Pilgrimage Route is one of the most discussed topics in relation to this journey. Along the route, there are various types of accommodation including free temple (tsuyado) or locally funded accommodation (zenkonyado), paid temple accommodation (shukubo) and various other paid categories ranging from hostels to high end hotels.

  • Walking Kumano Kodo: UNESCO World Heritage

    Mar 2021

    It is 5 am in the morning. I will shortly start hearing the footsteps of the monks and their students. The preparations for the morning pray start at 5.30 am. The prayer room, which is decorated with hundreds of lanterns, needs to be heated up.  The temple where I am lodging in is located in the temple town of Koyasan sitting at the altitude of 800 metres surrounded by the eight peaks of Mount Koya. Joki-in Temple is among 117 Buddhist temples of Koyasan. 52 of these temples, which all belong to Shingon school of Buddhism - originally born in China and introduced to Japan by Kobo Daishi 1200 years ago - open their door to overnight visitors.

  • Cape Ashizuri in Shikoku

    Aug 2019

    We have a long trip from Tokyo to Cape Ashizuri. We first need to take the plane followed by a hopefully scenic train journey before we get on the car for the final leg. We barely make it to our plane out of Narita bound for Kochi due to the train line suspensions caused by power outage. As the first leg is over and our train leaves Kochi Station, it does not take long to realize that I am in for something new.

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  • Gobekli Tepe: Interview with Excavation Team

    Apr 2021

    There is no question that Turkey is an archeological wonder and home to magnificent sites such as Ephesus and Pergamon in the Agean region. While we are very proud for hosting such extraordinary sites on our own soil, we are never short of imagination and the ability to “manufacture” stories associated with these sites. I reached out to German archeologist Jens Notroff, who is part of the crew of the archeologists running the Tepe Telegrams to discuss the story of Gobekli Tepe.

  • Farewell to Fuji – Back to Canon

    Aug 2020

    Farewell to Fuji, I today sold my X-Pro II and lens set - my main camera for the last 4.5 years and probably the most beautifully designed camera ever but if we can talk of chemistry between cameras and humans, we sure did not have it. I went back to my old full frame Canon.

  • New Orleans: City of Ghosts and Jazz

    Apr 2018

    New Orleans is a city, which is much older than its own country. This makes perfect sense once you get to spend a few days in this amazing city that is geographically and politically part of USA but is mentally million miles away.

  • The Outer World: Cappadocia

    Jan 2016

    I don`t want to go to Cappadocia - no tourist visiting Turkey ever said. Cappadocia is one of the regions in Turkey which definitely at one time attracted more attention from foreign visitors compared to Turkish people.

  • Urfa and Göbekli Tepe – the Hill That Changed the History

    Jan 2016

    This time, the reason I wanted to visit southeastern Turkey, which I find more and more impressive with each trip, was to visit the Göbekli Tepe Archaeological Site, widely regarded as one of the biggest archaeological discoveries of recent times. On our drive out of the nearby city of Urfa, I keep asking, “Is this it?” every time we pass a hill, until we finally arrive at the picturesque historical site situated on a lowland.

  • Beijing: Silently Rewarding, Relentlessly Commanding

    Jun 2013

    Beijing is loud, quite, funky, serene, poor, rich, modern, undeveloped, over--developed, dirty, green, it is everything all at the same time. It made me feel so alive.

  • Dancing in Kenya

    May 2021

    It has been almost two years since one of my best friends whom I have known since age 11 and I went to Kenya. I have posted numerous photos but never wrote a proper post. So here we go. The idea of going to Masai Mara in Kenya got into me when I was traveling in a region which is the complete opposite of Kenya: Alaska. I still remember the moment when I was riding on a bus in Denali National Park (certain areas are only accessible via buses in order to protect the wildlife - Nat Geo of this month (Feb 2016) has an amazing article on this very specific point).