I just left Tokyo, heading now for points south on the bullet train. Tokyo's electricity is amazing, but my heart lies in Japan's inaka -- the breathtaking countryside. Over the next two weeks I'll be ranging through deeply rural parts to explore the food culture, and posting what I learn here on the site. When I explained my plans to friends in Tokyo, they shook their heads in mock disbelief. How do you find these places, they wondered? I'm asked this back home, too. So I wanted to tell you about one of my top sources: The Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO) in New York (there are other offices in the USA, too).
As a journalist, of course, I'm trained to figure out how to dig up stuff, and my focus on Japanese cuisine informs the places I check out. But on my very first trip to Japan a decade or so ago, I didn't arrive as a journalist. I came as a tourist interested in Japanese pottery. I headed far beyond the Tokyo-Nara-Kyoto loop to a remarkable pottery village-cum-fishing port along the Sea of Japan called Hagi. How did I find it? Not the guidebooks, but the JNTO. They helped me work out that first trip, and they've been helping me ever since. They're an amazing group, staffed by people from all over Japan passionate about their home regions. I encourage you to stop by one of their offices before your next trip. Tell them you want to travel to the inaka.