The Shikoku Effect: Generosity that Transforms

What are they doing? This was my first thought when I saw the hotel staff lined in front of our Matsuyama inn, waving to us, bowing, and smiling as we pulled away. Unaccustomed to this sort of kindness, it took me a moment to understand that they were sending us off in the friendliest possible way. That was before I realized that they’d also supplied us with cookies for the road. This boggled my mind. Aren’t tourists just a dime a dozen? Not on the Japanese island of Shikoku. The smallest of Japan’s four main islands, sparsely populated Shikoku is a trove of natural and cultural treasures. Gorgeous coastline (reminiscent of Hawaii) rises to steep wooded mountains threaded with rivers and hot springs. Looping around the isle is a pilgrimage route of 88 breathtaking Buddhist temples and numerous other sacred sites, which draw henro(pilgrims) donning white jackets and conical sedge hats. There are castles and caves and farms and wildlife....

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Elbow Deep in Buckwheat: An Immersion in Japan

I look up at her hopefully, but she shakes her kerchief-covered head. The dough still isn’t thin enough. I’m up to my elbows in buckwheat flour, my arms ache from pushing a rolling pin, and I can’t imagine how the raw noodles can get any thinner without disintegrating. We’re standing in a kitchen high in the mountains of Japan’s Shikoku Island: one American woman who has little experience working with dough of any kind, and one Japanese woman who’s been making perfect soba noodles for decades. She sighs, takes the roller out of my hand, sprinkles a little more flour on top of my mess of dough, and expertly, rhythmically, shaves another few millimeters off the top. It’s now paper-thin, nearly translucent, and ready to be folded, cut into noodles, and cooked. I stare in awe, then notice that my cooking class compatriots, who have just gone through the same routine with the other instructors, are smiling at me encouragingly. Earlier in...

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Bowled Over by Japanese Cuisine
GeoEx Japan tours

I’d been in Japan for only a day when I started taking pictures of my food. I won’t lie: I felt awkward pointing my camera at my plates in restaurants, but I had no choice. I couldn’t believe the gorgeous presentations of even the simplest items, fueled by rich culinary traditions. I only wished that my photographs could capture the wonderful flavors that my taste buds were registering. Revelation struck the night of my first dinner in country. We sat at the bar of a charming, tucked-away eatery in the Gion district of Kyoto, chatting with the chef, nibbling on melt-in-your-mouth sushi, drinking deliciously foamy Kirin out of pottery cups, and grilling super-thin slices of beef on a mini ceramic stove. I pulled out my Canon to document the moment, realizing that I may have underestimated the culinary experiences we’d have on this 12-day cultural journey from Kyoto to Shikoku...

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Landing Among Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto
Springtime in Japan with GeoEx

Arriving in Kyoto long after nightfall, I have no idea what is afoot. My deadened senses offer no help: 36 hours of subways, airplanes, and buses to get me to the Kyoto train station have left me able only to climb into a taxi and present the name of my hotel in the Hiyagashima district. Luckily for me, my gracious driver—who wears wonderful long white gloves (the norm, as I will discover) and speaks excellent English (a rarity)—chooses the route carefully to give me a taste. “They’ve just come out,” he explains, “and everyone is here to see them.” He means the cherry blossoms, my foggy brain registers, and a flash of excitement breaks through my exhaustion. He slows our progress along one of the city’s narrow lanes so I can catch my first splash of pink, glowing in the warmth of the street lamps, a crowd hazily silhouetted below. “You timed your trip just right,” he adds. I smile, still not grasping what is in...

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Crossing Borders: Eight Memorable Adventures

“Life is never going to be quite the same again after your passport is stamped,” Graham Greene wisely wrote, but as many travelers know, the act of reaching a border post and getting that stamp can be a life-changing adventure all on its own. Here, eight GeoEx staffers reminisce about border crossings they won’t soon forget. Amanda McKee: We’d been traveling for days through Chile’s remote Aysén region, heading toward Argentina. When the road ended at glacial Lago O’Higgins, we took the ferry across and found the lonely border post set amid breathtaking scenery and nothing else. The immigration guards, pleased to have company, stamped our passports and invited us into their living quarters for coffee. Then we spent 24 hours no longer officially in any country, hiking across a mountain pass, camping overnight, and hiking some more before finally reaching the Argentine border post—still...

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Don George, Editor

Don George is Editor in Chief of Wanderlust: Literary Journeys for the Discerning Traveler. He has been Travel Editor for the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle and Salon.com, and Global Travel Editor for Lonely Planet Publications. Don has published eight books, including Travel Writing, A Moveable Feast, The Kindness of Strangers, and Tales from Nowhere. E-mail him at [email protected]

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