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THE SPIRIT OF NATURE
The art of the garden and flower arrangement, bonsai, the celebration of the cherry blossoms in April, and of the autumn colors that adorn the forests in October: the Japanese maintain close ties with nature. According to tradition, the emperor is descended from Amaterasu, the sun goddess, whose emblem is the chrysanthemum. The origins of this association can be found in Shintoism, Japan’s oldest religion, which holds that nature harbors invisible forces, benevolent or malevolent, that must be taken into account. These spirits, or kami, can be hidden in waterfalls, oddly-shaped rocks or trees with gnarled branches. Some have their own temple, like Hakone Jinja, where a path lined with 300-year-old cedars leads to a sanctuary founded in the 8th century. The adjacent lake, guarded by a bright red torii (gate), offers one of the most spectacular views of Mount Fuji on a clear day. The symbol of the country, the perfect cone of this sacred mountain also conceals powerful deities. Until the late 19th century, women were forbidden to climb Mount Fuji, lest they incite the jealousy of the divine princess who had made the mountaintop her home.
This reverence for nature is closely linked to the changing of the seasons, which influence virtually every aspect of Japanese culture. For a traditional kaiseki meal, diners kneel on rice straw tatami mats and sample a series of small dishes made from seasonal ingredients, cooked in the most region way possible in order to exalt their flavors. The cycles of nature are also celebrated by many holidays: Shunbun no Hi on the vernal equinox, Midori no Hi or Greenery Day, Umi no Hi or Ocean Day, Shubun no Hi on the autumnal equinox… And of course Hanami, the famous cherry blossom festival, when TV news crews monitor the trees’ progress toward peak bloom. At the foot of Mount Tanigawa, around Castle Matsumoto and all over the country, Hanami is observed as a metaphor for beauty and the ephemeral nature of life. Families picnic under the trees to welcome the return of spring, the adults raising a toast with glasses of sake that are instantly refilled. The festivities can be followed by a relaxing visit to an onsen, one of the hot spring baths that abound in this volcanic archipelago. The Japanese have made the baths, and the accompanying nudity, a part of their savoir-vivre, communing with nature in the midst of a serene landscape.
Restaurant in town. Hirohisa Koyama has taken over the restaurant created by his grandfather on the island of Shikoku almost a century ago. Today Aoyagi is located in central Tokyo, but it is a calm and elegant hideaway with a graceful sense of Japanese incense and decoration. Well-known in France thanks to his popular book and lectures, Koyama is one of the greatest chefs in Japan. His cuisine is simple, good and beautiful, combining tradition and innovation. Life and experience are instilled in each dish to create gourmet stories rich in spirit. Always going forward, Koyama believes that the link between past and present must be continuity for change to happen. This is his philosophy of cooking. ... Learn moreless
Hotel and restaurant in a village. It is said that the great teacher of Japanese Buddhism, Kobo Daishi, bathed every morning in the river Katsura and emerged purified. A few minutes from this river, the hotel Asaba submerges you in the Japan of legends: traditional “Noh” theatre performed by the riverside. After a game of golf in picturesque surroundings, leave your kimono behind and enjoy the pleasures of an open-air bath filled with spring water. The restaurant serves traditional dishes with delightful combinations of sweet and savoury flavours. In the lounge, relax in a chair designed by famous Italian-American Harry Bertoia and in the garden, be inspired by the sweet fragrances of nature. ... Learn moreless
Hotel and restaurant in a village. Founded in 1928 in the spa town of Yamashiro, Beniya Mukayu is located on the road from the revered Kyoto to the world heritage sites Shirakawago-Gokayama, close to Kanazawa. The hotel’s architecture elegantly emphasizes contrasts between light, shade and neutral colours. Every room has its own private open-air hot spring bath, with a wonderful view of the authentic Japanese garden. The traditional tea ceremony performed by the owner, yoga lessons given every morning, the finest Kaga style Kaiseki cuisine served on locally crafted crockery, as well as invigorating medicinal spa treatments, combine to make Beniya Mukayu a peaceful haven. ... Learn moreless
Hotel and restaurant in a park. Every room at Bettei Senjuan looks out on Mount Tanigawa, with its snow-capped peaks and the cherry blossom trees at its base that turn the landscape a beautiful pink in spring. Take the time to discover the hot spring baths in the rooms, the gardens and the tranquil wellness . Floor to ceiling windows frame the views of unspoilt nature and allow natural light to fill the zen-inspired interior, where modern design meets the art of Kumiko wood joinery and original calligraphy. The impressively presented traditional food with a contemporary twist is also influenced by the hot springs for which the region is famous. ... Learn moreless
Restaurant in town. In the chic district of Ginza, the restaurant of Dominique Bouchet, who presided over amongst others the kitchens of La Tour d'Argent and the Hôtel de Crillon, hopes to be a site of transmission for the culture, traditions, and cuisine of France. Right in the heart of Tokyo, wooden panels, velvety sofas, and white tablecloths recreate a decor typical of a Paris apartment. It is a setting worthy of its gastronomic heritage, to which the chef adds his own personal touch. Here, one can taste blue lobster topped with crisp mashed potatoes and buttery French caviar or, a confit of foie gras marinated with Japanese sake or a fillet of Bazas beef with a Choron sauce . ... Learn moreless
Hotel and restaurant in the mountains. A stay in Gôra Kadan, the former retreat of the Imperial Family, Kanin-no-miya, situated in the heart of Hakone National Park, is an invitation to bring your five senses to life by immersing yourself in the ancient Japanese way of life. Listen to the gentle swoosh of a sliding wall made of rice paper, smell the fragrant flower incense, taste the traditional Kaiseki cuisine and feel the touch of silk. This calm retreat is located in an area known for its springs, which are heated by volcanic rocks. The suites have been designed in a minimalist style, and the hotel’s facilities include a swimming pool, a spa, and a beauty salon. ... Learn moreless
Restaurant in town. The black and white Namako (traditional lattice) on the lower wall and the heavy vault doors and windows evoke the past of the building. This ancient “Kura”, a Japanese traditional storehouse, dates back to the 19th century and has been converted into a restaurant in 2007. In this peaceful place, minutes away from the Matsumoto castle, Chef Masahiro Tanabe, who has worked many years in acclaimed restaurants in Europe, prepares refined “natural French cuisine”. Passionate about the quality of ingredients, he travels across Nagano prefecture meeting farmers to select the freshest vegetables and products, such as Shinshu beef or salmon, he will reveal at their best in his dishes. ... Learn moreless
Hotel and restaurant in town. The Kanamean Nishitomiya is one of the ryokans which have survived in the modern surroundings of downtown Kyoto. The wooden architecture hosts only six suites which lead to a little Japanese garden with seasonal flowers. Futon, tatamis, bamboo furniture… true serenity is prevailing. Mr and Mrs Nishida, the fifth generation of hoteliers in this property, welcome you personally, respecting the Japanese tradition of hospitality. Like the very beautiful crockery in which the dishes are served, your hosts look after every detail inspired by the history of the Honeyanocho district, renowned for crafted fans, which have given their name to the hotel. ... Learn moreless
Restaurant in town. In this acclaimed traditional Ryotei restaurant on the outskirts of Osaka, Japan’s landmark city, Kashiwaya offers modern Japanese food in a dining room designed in the “Sukiya” style, Japan’s traditional format for tea ceremonies: Fusuma sliding doors, shoji paper screens, tatami mats and Tokonoma reception rooms, each executed in a contemporary style. The menu is limited to just eight dishes, which are changed every month. The specialities of the famous Chef Hideaki Matsuo include Amadai, a dish made with grilled tile fish marinated in a salt shrimp “shiokara” dip, and puffer roe boiled in sake, floating on a turnip soup. ... Learn moreless
Restaurant and hotel in town. Kobe is the most cosmopolitan of Japanese cities. In the chic district of Kitano, foreigners who settled here from the 19th century onwards, built residences in the style of their distant homelands. A French lifestyle is very much in evidence in this fine red brick building that is testimony to an entire chapter of Japan’s history. There is a courtyard and interior garden, elegant décor and, above all, the cuisine of Chef Hiroshi Yamaguchi, who is skilled in the art of sublime dishes. On the menu is the famous fugu and its soft roe in crunchy potatoes, caramelised salsify and vegetable jus, or the incomparable Kobe beef in a salt crust ... Learn moreless