A project by Meraviglia Paper. With Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO).
Kanazawa is one of the most beautiful bakeries in Japan. It was our fifth visit in two days when we managed to break through the rigour of the place. All the ladies in the cake section on the ground floor broke into a joyous applause. We used to come here for an authentic coffee and a slice of matcha cheesecake to enjoy at our table, surrounded by a beautiful decor. Kanazawa was for us the natural extension of the garden of the XXI Century Museum of Contemporary Art. We’ve walked across the park unwrapping Kotomin of different colours: yuzu, plum and tea flavoured one-bite cakes. A souvenir from Japan to ourselves.
Meguro-Ward is Tokyo’s neighbourhood where we feel most at home. Every day we keep looking for an excuse to go back for a stroll along the river at dusk. We’ve read about Beard and we already know we’re going to love it. At 6pm we go in. Chef Shin Harakawa puts down the chicken quarter he’s about to carve, smiles at us and invites us to come back, maybe tomorrow. He has a long tidy beard and is wearing a tucked up shirt under the apron. The room is painted in earthy warm tones and the kitchen is open plan. A tarte tatin is waiting to be served. The words “French” and “terroir” recur in the menu and in his CV. “He loves to travel, mainly to Europe and North America. Recently, he has a close connection to people in San Francisco”. Beard, we will come back tomorrow and any time we are back in Tokyo.
Uwajima is not the kind of place where you would think of spending 60 hours. It’s a small coastal city on the tiny island of Shikoku. Yet sixty hours are the right amount of time to live the most authentic Japan experience. Kiya Ryokan is a two-storey wood and glass building. Rent the whole place. Choose one of the rooms to settle in for the night. In the early hours of the day, when everyone else is still asleep, fill the bath in the private spa with hot water. Have dinner at Idakaya for a dreamlike experience. In the morning, go for a stroll among the ripe citrus groves on the hills south of the city. In the afternoon, walk along the walkways of the pearl farming factories, that look over Kyushu. Bartholomeus is the guardian of these precious moments and your local friend for the years to come.
Gion has the magical sound of Japanese metropolis. Although a tourist hub, you cannot help but being drawn to it, especially in Kyoto. You will love the row of traditional dwellings that directly abut the river and the pedestrian street lined by cherry blossoms. Our magnet in Gion is Kiln, we can reach it eyes closed. In the café on the ground floor they serve the most amazing breakfast: handmade rosemary biscuits, dried fruit cakes, scones with sultana and filtered coffee. You can leisurely enjoy it at the big table to share. In the evening, at Kiln restaurant, on the first floor, the Philippines-born Chef Marc and his team welcome you with a warm smile. The menu includes perfectly round bread baked in the wood oven, vegetable and feta pissaladière and citrus creme brûlé. It’s a spot, where Europe meets Japan and the rest of the World and falls in love with them.
Google X is Google’s secret lab, on the edge of Google campus, Mountain View, California. ‘Its aim is finding new solutions to big global problems’. To find such solutions, instead of searching for results, they seek an idea’s failure. ‘It is not the final goal, but the means to find it’, says Astro Teller, Google X’s head. The means to reach Wataya could be a mistake – choosing a traditional inn as a dwelling in Kanazawa, two hours away from the city, after the new fast bullet train Tokyo-Kanazawa (the Hokuriku-Shinkansen) took us to the Ishikawa prefecture in little more than two hours. The most authentic Japanese rural adventure we ever had arose from this ‘mistake’. To get to Wataya one must catch the single-track train to Tsurugi, a long car open on the low countryside – a journey itself. Wataya is Satoko, pure delicacy…
Mimasaka City, Japan
Dot Café is the surprise discovery in a small town north of Okayama, Mimasaka City. A cement cube, with raw interiors and dark wood furniture, which would look in place beside the Abbot Kinney buildings in Venice Beach. The fusion menus combining East and West reveal simple tasty courses. The music is inspired, from lunch to the after dinner.
A more or less orthodox vegan dish, prepared with in-season local ingredients, sometimes fulfils our wishes more than any gourmet menu. In Fukuoka, Yasaikeikaku gratified our vegan side with a bowl of curry rice, a generous mixture of raw leaves, and a pot of fruit and vegetable crush. An ode to simplicity in the tiny space of a small wooden shop with kitchen.
It will not suffice travelling the narrow streets beyond the big main roads, full of cinematographic cues, going up the Kyoto Tower at sunset, visiting the many temples and shrines, or getting lost in the peaceful Zen gardens. In order to comprehend the hidden charm of Kyoto, even the less adventurous palates should try at least once the kaiseki cuisine, which boasts an age-old fame in this city. Wakuden Muromachi is the address to keep in mind. Dinner resembles a ritual in the ceremony of its gestures, the extreme elegance of its ceramics, and the extraordinariness of its courses composed of precise sculptures. A mix of sweet, sharp, extreme, strong, and subtle flavours. Easy or not, they will touch you and give you a deeper understanding of Japanese culture.
Honshū - Shikoku - Kyūshū, Japan
«We Orientals tend to seek our satisfactions in whatever surroundings we happen to find ourselves, to content ourselves with things as they are; and so darkness causes us no discontent, we resign ourselves to it as inevitable. If light is scarce then light is scarce; we will immerse ourselves in the darkness and there discover its own particular beauty.» (Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, In praise of shadows, 1933)
When we reach our destination, a man wearing a bandana and a printed fleece is cooking. He’s roasting extra large shellfish and pastel colour shells on the grill on the only table in the room. His wife is wearing a naïf apron. She is frying big fish on the burner near the entrance. This building on stilts sits over the waters that touch Shikoku west coast. Tonight this will be the extraordinary setting for a very private dinner. The chef is a seadog who seems to hold the key to all the secrets of the bay. We enjoy a Japanese style banquet of fish and shellfish surrounded by multicolour decorative sails…
The first thing that will strike you is the vast, airy, majestic space and the cosy and elegant atmosphere. We are at Aman Tokyo, on the sixth floor of the Otemachi Tower, in the heart of the financial district. It’s an early spring morning. The space is infused of minimalistic beauty. Flowering branches decorate the lobby lounge. The filtered light projects their reflection on the water, on the opalescent ceiling, on the stones, and on the rigorous but relaxing palette of the interior. The glass wall frames a magnificent view of the city from the top. It captures its encompassing beauty: hypnotic, surreal and cinematographic…
Sometimes a bowl of udon is all you need. Refreshing, tasty, traditional. In Kanazawa, we sat on the secluded benches of Kobashiotafuku. We savoured green tea and vegetables sweets while spaghetti were cooking in a fragrant dashi – a typical Japanese soup with kombu seaweed and fish – on the table stove. The staff are extremely kind and the local families, having their Sunday lunch in the small dining rooms, quite cheerful.
If you were heading to Beppu, we would recommend that you joined the queue in front of Tomonaga Panya. This charming bakery has been in business since 1916. You will assist to a parade of large old wooden boxes full of fluffy oven-fresh bread being carried back and forth. Fill your nostrils with the sweet smell of vanilla, chocolate and citrus while you wait. Make sure you try the buns with different fillings: chocolate, cream or raisin. They are soft delicious masterpieces. Order plenty of them, or you might have to get back in the queue for more.
We love the expression “by heart” as it implies that the heart is involved in the act of remembering. From our meal at Yakumo Saryo we remember every fine detail by heart. From the quiet streets of the Yakumo neighbourhood to the beautiful objects and spaces we walked through on the way to our long wooden table. We remember the entrance gate, the wooden steps, the noren, the garden, the glass and wooden veranda, the wagashi counter and the corridors. And we remember the sequence of movements with which the chef was preparing and serving each dish. It was without doubt the most amazing lunch of our journey in the Japanese archipelago…