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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.
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.
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 heaven. ... 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 Shinshu 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 seven 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
Restaurant in town. “Never be satisfied.” Franco-Japanese chef Yoshinori Shibuya, the perfectionist, has never forgotten this snippet of advice given to him by the great French chef Alain Chapel. Constantly pushing his creativity to new heights, Chef Shibuya has followed in the footsteps of Chapel and Robuchon, his two inspirations, to create a top restaurant in Osaka. In a minimalist setting, decorated with bronzes and fabrics, you can savour French-inspired marvels, with a deep respect for the products, including the famous coriander lobster salad, paupiettes of sole with foie gras and lamb piccata. Perhaps perfection does exist after all. ... Learn moreless
Hotel and restaurant in a village. Tatami mat floors, sliding paper window doors, wooden terraces... Welcome to an authentic ryokan whose traditions have carried on for seven generations. Many of the rooms look out to a lush Japanese garden and its surroundings where Japanese pines and a variety of plants and trees, shade the moss covered statues and ponds. The experience would not be complete without enjoying the hot spring baths set in a grove of bamboo and the traditional kaiseki meals, whose small dishes rival in delicacy and offer the opportunity to taste Matsuba crab (seasonal) and Tajima beef. ... Learn moreless
Restaurant in town. Chef Kazunori Otowa has dedicated his work to French cuisine, and opened his restaurant in his hometown, the vibrant city of Utsunomiya, after gaining experience in Europe and alongside acclaimed chef Alain Chapel. Beautifully presented and composed as sophisticated works of art, his dishes focus on seasonal and locally sourced ingredients such as Tochigi Wagyu beef, Yashio-Masu (local trout), eel, cheese from Nasu Highland or Asian pears. Balancing the French influence in the cuisine, the decor of the restaurant pays tribute to the regional heritage, using Oya stone and Mashiko pottery mixed with antiques, sculptures and iron art collected by Kazunori Otowa over the years. ... Learn moreless
Restaurant in town. Chef Kiyomi Mikuni, a maestro in the art of adding a Japanese flourish to French cuisine, has one of the most sought after restaurants in Tokyo. Thyme, rosemary and chervil are skillfully paired with maitake, a fragrant mushroom, and kaiware, a local herb. The best of both cultures are showcased in daring creations like the famous seabass borsch, Mikuni-style, pan-fried langoustines from Odawara and carrot cube fricassee in vermilion butter essence. In honour of the masters who inspired him, Kiyomi Mikuni’s menu also features Paul Bocuse’s truffle soup, Alain Chapel’s lobster salad and chicken liver gateau in a crayfish butter sauce. ... Learn moreless
Restaurant in town. The floor-to-ceiling glass windows at the Molière, tucked away in a quiet residential district of Sapporo, look out over Maruyama Park. World-renowned French cuisine, executed with a deft touch by chef Hiroshi Nakamichi and the team trained by him over the last thirty years, is served in bright, modern surroundings. His dishes pay homage to Hokkaido’s rich natural resources and their apparent traditionalism belies great skill in enhancing the flavours of local ingredients: roast duck with salsifi confit, Tokachi beef, herb-scented locally-reared lamb and carpaccio of turbot with seasonal vegetables. ... Learn moreless
Restaurant in town. One of the best Catalan restaurants is also present in the land of the rising sun. The Japanese version of the famous Sant Pau restaurant is located in the district of Nihonbashi, near Ginza. People in Tokyo marvel at the delicate and modern Catalan cooking of Chefs Carme Ruscalleda and Yosuke Okazaki, who raise cuisine to an art form. On the menu, you will find a wide variety of local Japanese fish and vegetables. Do not miss Iberian pork, pigeon cooked in an aroma of cherry blossom or the suite of desserts. The light is soft and Spanish avant-garde paintings adorn the walls. ... Learn moreless
Hotel and restaurant in the woods. It is through reconnecting with nature that one's humanity can be discovered. Driven by his vision, the site's owner has spent over twenty years landscaping the woods and hills, excavating the hot springs, to give birth to this rare place. Set deep in the four seasons forest and overlooking the volcanic mountains of Kagoshima, a handful of discreet villas welcome those in search of serenity. Tranquility reigns, open air baths and spas soothe the body, and the spectacular view over Mount Kirishima calms the spirit. Rooted in its region, the restaurant serves original cuisine with seasonal vegetables from the garden and chickens raised on its own farm. ... Learn moreless
Hotel and restaurant on the seafront. These modern little villas bordering the East China Sea come complete with their own private pools. Along with the offer of sports activities and esthetic treatments made of marine salts and medicinal plants harvested on-site, you are ensured complete relaxation if that is what you desire. But this peaceful and secluded hotel is also the ideal base for discovering the Yomitan Peninsula and the island of Okinawa, where you can enjoy the natural beauties of this preserved coast, while also taking in the rich historical and artisanal heritage of the ancient kingdom of Ryukyu. End your days dining amid the soft marine breeze as you savour delicate continental cuisine featuring the island’s best produce. ... Learn moreless
Hotel and restaurant in a park. In the heart of Japan’s “Northern Alps”, discover the secret charms of this hotel that opened in 1931. This little jewel is tucked away in the calm and serenity of the mountains, between the snowy peaks and fine traditional hot springs, located in the national park, and renowned for their therapeutic qualities. Tobira Onsen Myojinkan offers a divinely serene atmosphere in the forest, relaxing baths in the heart of nature, aromatherapy and superb rooms and suites. The sophisticated Kaiseki-style food is a marvellous balance of textures, flavours and colours. Organic French cuisine is also on offer, prepared by a talented chef who specializes in macrobiotic cuisine. ... Learn moreless
Hotel and restaurant in the country. Here, a few chickens amble across the courtyard; there, a fish leaps from the pond. Nature, in this hamlet of thatched-roofed cottages tucked away in the heart of the forest, right next to a river, is all enveloping. Each tiny house, perched on rock and swathed in greenery, houses a suite furnished and decorated in the most traditional of styles, conjuring feelings of infinite peace. The door slides open and leads to a natural stone bath fed by a hot-water spring. In the morning, guests take breakfast in a dining room next to the river. Cuisine is authentic, delicate and subtly aromatic, prepared from vegetables straight from the kitchen garden. ... Learn moreless
Restaurant in town. Take a seat at the counter and let yourself be surprised. Here, there is no menu or predefined specials; the chef follows his inspiration and what he perceives of his guests' desires to prepare them a unique meal celebrating a moment that will not be repeated. At the head of this family restaurant, Shinichiro Takagi is the custodian of a culinary tradition that finds its origins in the concept of Ishoku Dogen, according to which food and health are linked. From the traditional decor to the pottery supplied by local artisans, from the slightest flower to the best ingredients, nothing is left to chance when creating an exquisite kaiseki cuisine and a moment of perfect harmony. ... Learn moreless