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Japan offers lessons in eating, walking and bridging the distance

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There’s also a surprising lack of trash cans in public spaces. The local expectation is that you pack your trash, and dispose of it when you get to a place with garbage and recycling bins.

Stay

If you can’t stay in a traditional ryokan, consider a business hotel with an onsen, or a shared hotel, essentially a hostel. In Kanazawa I enjoyed my tiny capsule bed with a blackout curtain and locker in HATCHi Share Hotels; $20 for a 20-person dorm room. My experiences with Kanazawa guest houses were very clinical; I never met another person, and let myself in and out via a lockbox. Not a fan.

Eat

Sushi and seafood is the main draw along the Honshu coast, but remember, the Tajima mountain region near Kinosaki is where Kobe beef came from. Also look for Stork Natural Rice, grown free of pesticides that killed off Japan’s wild Oriental White Stork population. In Kanazawa, I was thrilled with the pizza and beer at Oriental Brewing, and a tiny ramen shop, Wakadaisho, with an ebullient owner serving up laughs and bowls of goodness late at night on the Asano River.

They looked so innocent: planks of wood that attached to my feet with cloth thongs, like flip-flops. But their contact surface with the ground was two blocks of wood, neither of which was under the toe. I pitched forward with each step and felt like I might launch face first into the ground.

I had spent some 39 years of my life believing I knew how to walk, but click-clacking down the streets of Kinosaki, Japan, in geta sandals, I wasn’t so sure anymore.

Over my clothes, I wore a yukata robe, or lightweight cotton kimono, that had been so complicated to put on, it came with illustrated instructions. A staff member from my traditional Japanese inn, Tsukimotoya Ryokan, tugged and tied it into place. “No, no, no,” said the woman, who was half my height, as she put the right-side flap over the left. Then she reversed them, nodded, and cinched it all together with an obi sash, “OK, OK, OK.”

As I ventured outside, I heard loud, assured click-clacking behind me — two women in the same outfit that I was wearing. They were sisters from Singapore and moved like gazelles in their getas. I wobbled behind them, and then nearly lost my footing as I took in the scene near the lantern-lit Otani River winding through the city. It was a veritable thoroughfare of yukatas and getas, in an array of colours, on visitors young and old, shuffling, striding and practically skipping through the night.

People come from all over Asia and beyond to soak in Kinosaki’s seven onsen, or public hot spring baths, and pretty much everyone does it walking around in a robe all day. The city is one big inn. The ryokan you stay in is your individual room and the streets are like the inn’s corridors. It’s all very romantic until it hails and rains.

I had come to Kinosaki, on the western coast of Honshu, Japan’s biggest island, though, not for dressing up, but on a kind of pilgrimage. As a Japanese friend put it to me in an email, “Don’t they have that Buddha that’s only unveiled to the public every 33 years?”

The morning after I’d arrived, I took the Kinosaki Ropeway (a cable car) high up Mount Taishi to the Onsenji temple, home to the 1,300-year-old Kannon Buddha, the Goddess of Mercy. She has 11 faces, 10 in a crown to signify her wisdom, and was carved from the top of a mystical tree that produced three Buddhas, of which she is the only original one left. This April began her unveiling, which will last for three years, until she goes back into hiding for another 30 years.

Midway up the ropeway, hail had started coming down, and I rushed inside the temple. There, with the help of a translator, I spoke with Ogawa Yusho, the resident monk, who was born in the temple and is now raising his family there. He’d grown up hearing the legend of Dochi Shonin, a priest who came to this very spot in 738 and prayed for a thousand days for the health of the people here — and on the thousandth day, an onsen sprung from the ground. It is said to be Mandara-yu, the oldest of the seven on Kinosaki’s onsen circuit.

Before modern medicine, ill people would trek to Onsenji temple, pray to the spirit of Dochi Shonin, and then bathe, naked, with a wooden ladle in the hot springs. For those too infirm or disabled to make the trek to Onsenji, a string stretches from the arm of the Buddha all the way into town, so you can indirectly touch the Buddha as you pray. Ogawa Yusho gave me a bracelet of the string to bring me luck on my travels.

Once there, the ritual is to strip down, shower while sitting and then soak in those healing waters, surrounded by bodies of all shapes and sizes. (Onsen are divided into all-male and all-female sides.) I was struck with the ease of nudity, how young girls splashed around with their mothers and big sisters and grandmothers, and what an impact that must make on their self-image, to know that bodies are all different and we all have one. The hot spring water warmed away the foul weather.

As I left, I put on my yukata, thinking of the words I’d heard in the ryokan: left-side over right, “OK, OK, OK,” and stepped out into the thoroughfare that seemed like a reversal of time. The onsen were a little hot for me, but I could walk around in a robe forever.

Adventures in seafood

His name was Sushi Tiger. He was 76 and he’d been studying the art of cutting raw fish for 50 years. Why didn’t I come in and take a seat?

I was the only person in his narrow restaurant, breaking a cardinal travellers’ rule to follow crowds to the best food. But I’d already been wandering the streets of Kanazawa, the capital city of the Ishikawa prefecture, for 20 minutes in search of sushi and a kind young man had brought me here, so who was I to mess with fate?

Sushi Tiger, who also goes by Takashi, wrapped a twisted white bandana around his forehead as he prepared my dinner. He spoke little English and I spoke almost no Japanese, so we communicated by writing on napkins, pointing at a sign with pictures of sushi and Google Translate, which is even more hopeless at Japanese than it is at other languages. At one point he brought out a book of cartoons used for teaching English to schoolchildren and taught me a few Japanese phrases, while serving me sake. I was glad to be his only customer.

I am not an adventurous eater, particularly when it comes to seafood; I was a vegetarian for a long time, in New Mexico, which has no sea. But when I set out on this 52 Places trip, I made a vow to overcome my pickiness, which meant eating a few insects and a small slice of wallaby (I still feel guilty). Japan, I thought, would really test those limits.

Under the tutelage of Sushi Tiger and Kawai, another Kanazawa sushi master at Takasakiya Sushi, though, I ate melt-in-your-mouth maguro (tuna) and sucked green eggs from the shell of amaebi (sweet shrimp). I also learned that I do not like eel or squid or anything I have to work hard to chew.

In my Kinosaki ryokans, at lavish kaiseki dinners, the learning curve was steeper. I’d sit down to a tray filled with 20 little plates and no one who spoke English to guide me through them. What order was I supposed to eat them in? Did any of them get dipped in soy sauce? So I’d try first and ask questions later. It turns out I am not a fan of preserved fish eggs melded into a rectangular cake, but I’m OK with tender fish intestines.

The big reason Kinosaki still has such a thriving Asian tourism business in the winter is that snow crab season starts in November, and lasts only a few months. People come for the crab and stay for the onsen. A good crab can sell for up to $300 (U.S.).

I was lucky enough to have a snow-crab kaiseki dinner served to me in my room at Sinonomesou Ryokan, where I sat at a low table on a bamboo floor mat. I had been relying on guidance from young members of the Kinosaki tourism board and invited them in to eat my crab. Nakada Naoki, who had grown up nearby, showed us how to suck the meat out of the claws.

Easier to navigate were sweets and bento boxes. I tried buckwheat-battered red bean cakes and soba-flavored ice cream in the castle town of Izushi, famed for its soba, and became a huge fan of to-go sushi hand rolls at Family Mart convenience stores. What I’ll remember this Japan trip for is trying shrimp for the first time in probably 15 years.

Northern exposure

On my last day, I wanted to see the coastline — which I had heard was spectacularly beautiful along Noto Peninsula near Kanazawa. I didn’t have the right paperwork to rent a car, public transportation seemed difficult, and there were no English-language tours. So I paid $66 to jump on a bus tour that was only in Japanese, hoping the scenery required no explanation.

Our route took us to Shiroyone Senmaida, a set of more than 1,000 terraced rice paddies on the seaside that has been registered as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System; and for a drive along Chirihama Nagisa Driveway, five miles of sea-packed sand, one of the few places where ordinary cars and busses can speed right along the shore.

But first thing was a visit to the 1,000-year-old morning market in the seaside town of Wajima. Locals bought fresh fish, and grilled it over coals in a designated area. I tried yuzu soft-serve ice cream and maru-yubeshi, a local candy made of orange peel, and mostly wandered around in a mute, dazed state. I followed a crowd to a shop called Tohka-doha selling lacquerware chopsticks, a traditional craft, in which the artisan covers a piece of wood with up to 100 layers of lacquer, and then shaves off a portion of the surface to reveal a kaleidoscope of colours.

Before long, the 79-year-old, English-speaking owner, Yatsui Kiyoshi, emerged. When he heard I was on a long trip, he pulled out a weather-beaten Rand McNally atlas and told me he had studied nuclear physics at Cornell, and driven across the United States to spend two years in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

My hometown.

He loved the mountains and the tequila but thought it was too hot, and he missed Japan and his family. So he came back to continue a life in nuclear physics and carry out his legacy as a fifth-generation lacquerware artisan.

His wife took some pictures of us, which he emailed to me with a note about what a small world it is and how wonderful it had been to find someone with connections to New York and New Mexico. Then he reminded me, for about the fifth time, not to put the chopsticks I’d bought in the microwave.

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Travel & Escape

Why your hotel mattress feels like heaven (and how to bring that feeling home)

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(NC) Choosing the right mattress is a long-term investment in your health and well-being. To make a good choice for your home, take a cue from luxury hotel-room beds, which are designed to support the sound sleep of tens of thousands of guests, 365 nights a year.

“When we’re shopping for a mattress, we do lab testing, identify the best materials, bring in multiple mattress samples and have our associates test them,” explains David Rizzo, who works for Marriott International. “We ask for ratings on comfort level, firmness, body support and movement disruption. It takes 12 to 18 months just to research and select materials.”

Here, he shares his tips to pick the perfect mattress for your best sleep:

Understand your needs. People have different food and exercise preferences, as well as different sleep cycles. So, it’s no surprise that everyone has unique mattress preferences. Not sure whether a firm or a soft mattress is better? Rizzo says the best gauge is to ask yourself, “Do I wake up with aches and pains?” If the answer is no, you’re golden.

Foam versus spring. All mattresses have a core that is made up foam or innersprings or a combination of the two. Today’s foam-core mattresses contain memory foam — a material engineered by NASA to keep astronauts comfortable in their seats. It’s special because it retains or “remembers” its shape, yielding to pressure from the sleeper’s body, then bouncing back once the pressure is removed.

An innerspring mattress has an encased array of springs with individual coils that are connected by a single helical wire. This wire creates continuous movement across the coil that minimizes disruption if the mattress is disturbed, such as by a restless sleeper. According to Rizzo, the innerspring is “bouncier.”

Temperature preference. Consider how warm or cool you like to sleep, and factor in the construction of the mattress to find one with a temperature that suits you. The air space engineered into an innerspring mattress promotes ventilation, which some people find keeps them pleasantly cool. To accomplish the same purpose with a foam mattress (or the foam layer of an innerspring) it may be infused with metal, usually silver or copper, to help dissipate heat and humidity.

Need to test out the right mattress for your needs? Find the right fit during your next trip by booking your stay at marriott.com.

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Travel & Escape

How to make the most of summer travel

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(NC) One of the best parts of our short Canadian summers is the opportunity to enjoy them a little bit extra on long weekends. If you need ideas, check out these creative things to do whether you decide to stay in town or go away.

Do a dinner crawl. Pub crawls are fun for couples, friends and also families with older kids. For an exciting twist that stretches your dollars and lets you taste food from several spots before you get too full, try a dinner crawl. Eat apps at one restaurant, mains at another and dessert at another.

Go on a mini getaway. You don’t need to go very far to enjoy a vacation – exploring a Canadian city over a summer weekend is great way to treat yourself to a holiday. Whether it’s checking out the museums in Toronto or the parks in Vancouver, there’s something for everyone. For upgraded benefits, special experiences and the best rates guaranteed, join Marriott Bonvoy and book direct on Marriott.com.

Host a potluck. Perfect whether you’re staying at home or going to your cottage, gather friends and family together for some food and fun. A potluck is an easy and affordable way to host a big get-together and lets everyone try something new and swap recipes. Make the festivities extra special with a fireworks potluck, too – ask everyone to bring some fireworks or sparklers and put on a light show. Just be sure to follow local regulations for consumer fireworks.

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Travel & Escape

Lottoland: Here’s why Canadians love it!

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Lotteries have been in existence for many centuries now and it’s an open secret that most people enjoy playing a good lottery.

Asides from gauging your own luck, the thrill of playing, the anticipation of the results and the big wins every now and then is something most people look forward to. Since 1982, the lottery has been in Canada, but now there is a way to play both the Lotto and other international lotteries from Canada, all from the comfort of your home.

With Lottoland, all you need to do is register and get access to numerous international lotteries right from their website. The easy-to-use interface has all the information you need, and great amount of care has been taken to ensure that the online experience is similar—and even better—than if players were to visit each location personally.

The Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries are hitting record highs with their prize money, in what the organizers claim to be the largest jackpot in the history of the world. However, the U.S. has gambling laws that are state controlled and buying your ticket through an online broker can be considered gambling.

“No one except the lottery or their licensed retailers can sell a lottery ticket. No one. Not even us. No one. No, not even that website. Or that one,” Powerball’s website says.

Therefore, to stand a chance to win the $1.5 billion-dollar lottery jackpot it means you have to purchase your lottery tickets directly from a licensed retailer such as Lottoland.

Since 2013, Lottoland has been operating in Canada, rapidly growing in popularity amongst Canadians. Due to its easy of use and instant access to lotteries that were previously considered inaccessible—as Canadians had to travel all the way to the U.S. to purchase tickets in the past—Lottoland has attracted lots of visitors.

Currently, there about 8-million players on Lottoland, a figure that points to the reliability of the website.

One of the core values of Lottoland is transparency and that’s why a quick search on the website would show you a list of all of their winners. Recently, a Lottoland customer was awarded a world-record fee of $137 million CND.

Also, due to the incredibly slim chances of winning the grand prize not everyone would take home mega-dollar winnings, but there are substantial winnings every day.

Securing your information online is usually one important factor when registering on any platform and as the site explains, “Lottoland works very hard to verify your information.”

The site has a multi-verification process that will ensure that you confirm your identity and age before giving you a pay-out. However, in the rare case that a player has immediate luck and wins a lottery before completing the verification process, Lottoland will hold on to the winnings until they complete your verification.

While this might seem like a tedious process, it is very important as these safety features would ensure that your information wasn’t stolen and ultimately your winning routed to another account.

Lottoland is licensed with the National Supervisory Bodies For Lotteries in several countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, Ireland and Australia—where it is called a wagering license. Typically, most gaming companies don’t establish insurance companies as it entails that their activities have to be transparent and the must be highly reputable in the industry.

Nonetheless, Lottoland has no issues meeting up to these standards as they have established themselves as the only gaming sector company who has its own insurance company—an added advantage for new and existing users.

Lotteries aren’t the only games Canadians enjoy playing and Lottoland recognizes this by providing players with other types of gaming. As an industry leader, video designers of online games often make them their first choice when it comes to publishing their works.

Online games such as slots, blackjack, video poker, baccarat, keno, scratchoffs, roulette and many others are always on offer at the Lottoland Casino. There’s also the option of playing with a live dealer and a total of over 100 games.

Lottoland has received numerous rave reviews from its growing list of satisfied customer and their responsive customer service agents are always available to answer any questions users may have, along with solving challenges they may have encountered.

More and more Canadians are trooping to Lottoland in droves due to the unique experience of going to a casino without having to leave the comfort of their homes.

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