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I was surprised during a visit to a local mall to view a Christmas tree display to find a compass rose pointing to Tokyo more than 7500 kilometers distant. Sometimes it feels as if it were that many days.
I’ve been back three weeks now, decking my own halls, checking out the local concerts, events and reconnecting with family and friends. I’m especially grateful to enjoy Christmas in accommodations with central heating and adequate insulation this year. No drafts blow the candle flames to a horizontal 90 degrees and no buzzing heaters are needed here to keep things toasty inside.
Outside the weather has (except for a few crisp and clear days at the beginning of the month which were so like Tokyo’s winter season) been soggy and stormy. December is Victoria’s rainiest month and devastating winter storms have come on shore this year. Ferry sailings and flights during the peak travel season have been delayed or cancelled. Trees fell making a mess of the roads and causing lengthy power outages, some for several days and still unresolved, in the region.
The streets are littered with branches—an ikebana artist’s bonanza. However, my apartment is too small to accommodate more than the Christmas tree, Advent Wreath and crèche in the window. My Victoria Ikebana lessons begin again in January. I’ll have to wait until then.
Not all of the Tokyo stories have been told, and I’ll continue with tales of those delights after the merry making is done. Until then, best wishes for a Good Yule, Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noel!
Over the years Anne has been a splendid dinner companion with whom I’ve enjoyed numerous restaurants in the Vancouver area. There’s never been a dud among the numerous options she’s suggested.
She was taking her first trip to Japan in the final weeks of November, and we happened to be in Tokyo at the same time. She wondered whether we might visit Lature, a Michelin starred restaurant specializing in Japanese game with a young Chef Takuto Murota at the helm.
His accolades are numerous, including third place in the 2019 French Division for Tokyo restaurants. However, Murota is quick to share the credit for his accomplishments. He lauds the producers, foragers and hunters who send him great ingredients, vendors who hear him ask the impossible and deliver, repeat customers who offer advice, and his staff whose hard work and long hours make awards and Michelin stars possible.
On arrival we were shown to the best table in the house, offered complimentary glass of Antech Blanquette de Limoux Brut Nature, and the feast (a set menu for which any allergies had been taken into account when we made the reservation) began.
One of the more intriguing aspects of Lature is that Murota hunts his own game in Hokkaido and prepares the game dishes for Lature in the French tradition. The menu varies with the seasons and is presented with charming, distinctive touches.
Deer blood macaron with black pudding filling served on deer hide.
Savoury Madeline-like biscuit with deer salami filling served on a pine cone.
House made roll and Hokkaido butter with a carved bird butter knife.
Smoked salmon, micro greens and flowers.
At this point of the meal we ordered a glass of Domaine de la Juvinière 2015 Savigny-Les-Beaune AOC Grand Vin de Bourgogne and proceeded with the next courses.
Pate en croute made with deer, boar, badger and bear; deer consume gelee and prune compote.
Deer loin with juniper, black pepper and currant sauce; celariac on the side; mushrooms, carrots Japanese white turnips, and micro greens. For the main course we selected a glass of Maxime Graillot 2016 Domaine des Lises Equis Crozes-Hermitage.
Two dessert courses followed. Confit apple with creme fraiche.
Caramel, pine nuts, walnuts and cocoa nibs.
Fortunately, we had scheduled a good deal of walking after the sumptuous meal–a memorable interlude and matchless food experience.
Apologies for all the accents omitted from the French text. And deepest thanks to Anne who kept better notes than I of the food and wine details.
It’s almost possible to forget that I am in Tokyo—glorious autumnal Tokyo—to study ikebana. Classes ended for an extended period between the 20th and 29th of October due to a major exhibition at month’s end.
Given that amount of time to play hooky I went to Yonezawa. Then lucking into a JR East Rail pass I extended the gallivanting around to include Atami and Akita. After that I was grounded by technical issues with the Wi-Fi router and computer. Together with the time lag between me and my tech support as well as holiday periods here, that required more than a week to resolve.
Suddenly I was behind the blogging 8-ball with a backlog of posts rhapsodizing about all the other great stuff going on in my Tokyo life stacked up: travel adventures, exhibits, food, concerts and such.
At the beginning of November the five ikebana classes I take weekly resumed. In the coming posts I will feature highlights from the course work. Not like the one above which is seriously flawed. Sigh. A rather glorious mistake, but Sofu Teshigahara, the founder of Sogetsu Ikebana was clear. The first of The 50 Rules of Sogetsu Ikebana states this: Beautiful flowers do not always make beautiful ikebana.
Now, as preliminary preparations for my departure begin, I’m delighted to have completed the coursework goals I set at the outset. I have a few more scheduled classes left to enjoy during which I intend to have another go at that “disaster” above. However, I am desperately trying not to think about dwindling numbers of days. Time. Always slipping away.
Though I often choose to enjoy my large meal at lunch (because a large meal mid-day is about half the price for the same standard of food and service), every day, no matter where I am, I face the question of finding dinner.
When making food choices I mix up high and low. I’m no food snob. I’ve cooked chicken organs with cabbage hotpot style in a subterranean Tokyo room for a few hundred yen, and occasionally when others have arranged it enjoyed Michelin stars.
Of course, I frequently return to favourite places where I am most warmly welcomed. To my surprise, Two Rooms kept my name tag for my coat from last year. How sweet is that?
However, repeatedly I face the daunting prospect of navigating a Japanese menu with Google Translate and a great deal of uncertainty as to what exactly will arrive at the table. While I have rarely been disappointed, sometimes I have been surprised–squid guts as an appetizer comes to mind.
Whenever possible I like sampling local specialties. Therefore, the other weekend when I landed in Yonezawa I definitely wanted to enjoy their call to fame: Yonezawa beef. During a stroll back from the river park where I’d gone to stretch my legs after long ride from Tokyo, quite near my hotel I found Bekoya. The restaurant offers a number of dining options and I chose to have steak grilled for me over yakiniku, shabu shabu or sukiyaki which are better enjoyed in groups.
I was led into a restfully dark room, brought a warm hand towel and given a menu. Between the picture-menu, a little English and a little Japanese I requested the dinner set: 100 grams of Yonezawa beef done rare.
The set included appetizers: salad, a slice of ham, slices of beef, and a special local tofu. In addition to the beef, the meal featured the newly harvested, regional Tsuyahime rice, a choice of vegetables, two desserts and tea.
When I indicated that I’d like to sample Nihonshu for which the area is also renowned, the waiter suggested a regional sake only available in the autumn.
While I enjoyed the appetizers and the wine, Chef Ito prepared the vegetables and meat which he finished in a flambé.
The double-header dessert included a crème brulee along with apple granita. Yonezawa apples are famous throughout Japan, and that simple confection I’d most definitely like to have twice.
There’s nothing that quite matches being led to the table to be fed. Bite for bite, food–especially fresh, seasonal, local food–not only nourishes but also delights and consoles.
The tea was hot and slightly bitter. I leaned back most pleasantly stuffed. Sweet.
During my recent two-week recess from classes, extensive travels followed by technical difficulties with WiFi connection and balky computer performance, I continued to enjoy the pleasures of Tokyo’s various wards.
In early November as part of a five-concert tour of Tokyo, Kanazawa and Osaka, the Rias Kammerchor Berlin performed in the Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall. Its impressive pyramidal ceiling, technological innovation and oak mantled interior create idyllic acoustic conditions. Trevor Cox, author, broadcaster, researcher and teaching Professor of Acoustic Engineering has ranked it among the world’s best ten concert halls.
I chanced on one of two remaining seats on the far left of the front row of the lower orchestra when I learned the choir would be in the city. Normally I’d move back (even into the balconies) for a better listening experience; however, in this hall I was assured there were no bad seats. That fluke gave me wonderful proximity to the singers as well as a profile view of conductor Justin Doyle whose fluid energy and subtle gestures enhanced the performance enormously.
The familiar repertoire of various Bach and Bruckner Motets as well as Mendelssohn’s Drei Psalmen Opus 78 was performed in German and Latin. Sweet relief! I could enjoy the glorious evening without having to navigate language issues and communication problems.
The gorgeous a cappella sound was powerful and brilliant when called for, gentle and pulled back when not. It brought me home, not to a geographical or physical place, but to the soundscape which I recognize as embedded in my DNA.
For some their home is soul. For others it’s Gospel or blues or folk or rock or hip hop or any one of numerous musical genres. Mine is in the classical a cappella choral tradition.
Rias Kammerchor Berlin can be found on YouTube and Spotify. For anyone with off-key, pre-Christmas jingle fatigue (already going strong here in Tokyo), there are magnificent alternatives from this group.
Used with permission. Black & White Photos © Matthias Heyde from the RKC Press Files. Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall photo from TOCCH Website.