Peter Barakan: my favorite editions

 

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What makes Japanese hot springs so great? What makes a haunted house fun? What's a cool place in Tokyo to grab a drink?
Peter Barakan picks five shows that made a big impression on him. 

1. Cherry Trees

Cherry blossoms are one of the quintessential symbols of Japan, but what many people don't realize is that the ubiquitous Somei Yoshino variety is man-made, and that there is far more diversity to cherry blossoms than meets the eye. The reason this edition made a strong impression on me was the guest, Sano-san, who, in his mid-eighties, had incredible vitality, and was delightfully outspoken and funny.

 

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2. Izakaya

When I first came to Tokyo in 1974, the city still had a strong Asian feel to it, despite all the urban development, particularly in the narrow streets to be found here and there full of tiny bars. Shinjuku is not an area that I spend a lot of time in, so it was fascinating to wander into what still has the feel of a post-war black-market back alley. 

 

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3. Haunted Houses

To be honest I have no interest in Haunted Houses, or theme parks in general (not since my kids grew up anyway), and being frightened is pretty low on my scale of priorities. Nevertheless, this edition was a lot of fun. In particular, Hana-Yashiki in Asakusa, a really old-world kind of "fun fair," which is what we used to call them when I was a kid, had a friendly, unhurried atmosphere to it that is becoming rare these days. You can tell I'm getting old, can't you?

 

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4. Silk

It may just be my ignorance, but I had never really thought about how silk is produced, so this episode was incredibly educational. Also, the guest, Nagashima-san, has developed his "insect technology" to learn from nature so as to create products that work naturally without causing undue damage to the environment.

 

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5. Onsen

One of the best things about living in Japan is onsen, or hot springs. There are many different types, not to mention locations, so I recommend exploring a bit. I found great onsen by going off the beaten track. This show will give you a good introduction, and I too found it very informative, especially the end part about how to manage limited resources. One thing I forgot to mention when we shot this edition, though: if you have a tattoo, you may find that some onsen will refuse entry to the communal bath. This is because tattoos in Japan have always been identified with "undesirable elements" in society. Things are gradually changing, but to avoid awkward situations arising I would suggest checking ahead.

 

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*You will leave the NHK website.