Most Romantic Birthday Ever at Les Saisons in the Imperial Hotel Tokyo

If you love great food and fine dining this blog post will be right up your street but that’s not any old street. I’m referring to a very posh address within walking distance to Ginza, Yūrakuchō and Ōtemachi. It’s right in the heart of Tokyo and it’s a hotel that represents the pinnacle of exceptional dining and five-star accommodation. If you’ve ever been to Japan you’ve probably heard of this opulent venue — it’s the Imperial Hotel Tokyo!


My husband enjoys visiting Japan as much as I do and he knew we’d be celebrating my birthday while we were in Tokyo so he said we should have lunch or dinner somewhere really special. When I lived in Tokyo, I always thought the Imperial Hotel was the epitome of good taste and such a romantic location to have a meal with a boyfriend or your husband, so I told Roy the Imperial Hotel would be expensive but such a memorable place to celebrate my birthday and he agreed (bless his heart) straight away and told me to make a booking at the restaurant of my choice (he was afraid they’d speak in Japanese so he wanted me to make the call).

When I was younger my father took me, my boyfriend Gus, and the rest of my family to Petit Choux, one of the best French restaurants in Melbourne, for my eighteenth birthday and it was such a wonderful night in so many ways so I wanted to try the French cuisine at Les Saisons. I was hoping this lunch at the Imperial Hotel would be just as amazing as the meal I enjoyed so many years ago.

As you can see in the photo below, which was taken in the foyer of the Imperial Hotel, I really dressed up for the occasion. I don’t know why I’m clutching my carrier bag for dear life but I do know I was wearing extremely high heels and I was really afraid of slipping on the highly-polished floor. I asked Roy to hold my hand as I walked through the reception area and up the stairs to the restaurant after this photo was taken, thinking it would be pretty embarrassing if I twisted my ankle and fell flat on my face in front of all the sophisticated guests and staff members in this very posh lobby!

Imperial Hotel

As soon as you enter Les Saisons you’re aware of the elegant and refined atmosphere that encompasses you from the moment you step through the door. This permeates throughout the entire room which is obviously very beautifully furnished. The carpet acts like a burnt orange, cream and mint green-coloured sea undulating in and around several extremely luxurious islands. There’s enough distance between the tables for you to be aware of the other patrons but you’re not close enough to hear any other conversations. The restaurant was so serene and quiet I almost tiptoed across the plush carpet as we were led to our table, not wanting to draw attention to myself, but as soon as we sat down I immediately felt at ease. It was like being swept into a lavish cocoon where we could relax, sit back and enjoy being waited upon by the friendly and attentive staff who were there simply to serve me, my husband and the nine or ten other guests, while they made sure our time in their restaurant was truly memorable.

table at les saisons

The staff at Les Saisons have thought of everything to make their guests feel comfortable. I was delighted to see they’d provided an elegantly appointed footstool in between the dining chairs for your handbag or your phone so they were within easy reach. We also quickly discovered how nice the waiting staff were at this restaurant. The name of our head waitress was Yuka Ishikawa. She came over to introduce herself and have a chat at the end of the meal. We talked about the dinner menu, the restaurant, and the head Chef du Cuisine Thierry Voisin who has been living in Japan for about 12 years. According to Maki Yasuda at Japan Today, “Thierry Voisin took the helm of its kitchen in 2005 and has truly done the hotel proud. Having come to Les Saisons straight from Boyer Les Crayeres, the multi-Michelin-starred mecca for gourmands in Reims, he has brought with him the best of Europe and merged it with the dining culture of Japan with finesse, earning him a place in the Michelin Tokyo book as well.”

Yuka-san has been working at the Imperial Hotel for 12 years and she has spent the past four years as a “Captain” at Les Saisons. She spoke English fluently so I asked if she’d lived overseas and Roy and I were very impressed when she told us she’d only spent five years living in Massachusetts in the States. Not only did she have a wonderful command of the English language, she also had a real passion for her job at this prestigious five-star hotel.

The whole meal was delicious but I thought the tastes and textures of the dishes were a bit different to what I’d eaten in the past at French restaurants in Australia and France, where the food can often be extremely rich and very filling. In contrast, this French cuisine at Les Saisons was light and refreshing. You might even refer to it as sappari (さっぱり) in Japanese. This made sense because this restaurant mainly serves French food to Japanese guests and Japanese food is usually much lighter on the palate than Western food.

I must admit the whole affair was very grand right from the start. When they bring out a ball of butter on an impressive silver dish like this one you know you’re about to have a meal that will stand out in your mind for many years to come!

Les Saisons butter

Every time a different dish was served we were offered a bread roll that was suited to that particular dish. They were all very light but slightly crunchy on the outside and each one had a unique taste. I particularly liked this bread roll pictured below. It was infused with nori and it went perfectly with the lobster entrée.

Les Saisons bread roll

There were only a few other guests in the restaurant that Tuesday so our food arrived quickly but not too fast. We had lots of time to savour each dish and it never felt rushed.

The first course arrived and I was blown away by the presentation. I’d chosen the lobster entrée and Roy had decided to try the daurade (European sea bream).

Lobster in Apple and Lemongrass Jelly, Compoted Celeriac with White Port Wine
オマール海老のりんごとシトロネルのジュレ寄せ 白ポルト酒でコンフィにしたセロリ

Les Saisons A

Lightly Poached Daurade with Shellfish Sauce, Girolle Mushroom

Les Saisons B

For the main, I enjoyed the roasted chicken and Roy savoured every mouthful of his pork dish.

Roasted Chicken and Vegetables, Seasonal Fruits with Honey Vinegar
地鶏と野菜のロースト 季節のフルーツに蜂蜜ヴィネガーをからめて

Les Saisons C

Pork in Three Styles

Les Saisons D

These cakes and sweets after the main course were just lovely!

Petits Fours

Les Saisons sweets

Luckily we still had room for dessert and we were not disappointed. Roy thought the sherberts were just right for the end of a very satisfying meal and I loved the fresh mango and the curry ice-cream.

Sherbets and Ice Creams

Les Saisons sorbet

Mango with Lime Jelly, Curry Ice Cream

Les Saisons G

Just when we thought we’d finished eating the staff presented us with this raspberry shortcake as a special complimentary dessert to celebrate my birthday and it was a wonderful surprise.

Birthday Cake

Les Saisons cake

So, how much was this splendid meal for two? The menu changes every three months. You can choose from a 3-course (7,000 yen), 4-course (8,800 yen), or 5-course (12,000 yen) set menu at lunchtime. We decided to go for the 4-course option. We both enjoyed a glass of French wine from the Sancerre region in France and this cost 3,600 yen for two glasses. I also had a glass of San Pellegrino mineral water and an iced tea for 1,100 yen and Roy finished off his meal with a beer for 1,400 yen. A service charge of 2,370 yen was added to the bill but the goods and services tax (1,970 yen) was included in the price of the meal. In the end, the total cost was 26,070 yen. We didn’t leave a tip because it’s considered rude in Japan to tip.

Was it worth the money? Absolutely! It was a very romantic restaurant, the food was delicious and the service was exceptional.

Would we eat here again? Definitely, but next time I’d like to try the kaiseki cuisine at the Tokyo Nadaman restaurant or the Tokyo Kitcho restaurant. Roy and I really like tempura so we’d also love to dine at the Ten-ichi restaurant which is located on the lower level on the first floor inside the Imperial Hotel.


Les Saisons at the Imperial Hotel Tokyo,
Main Bldg 1-1, Uchisaiwaicho 1-chome, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8558

Tel: +81-3-3539-8087 Booking a table in advance is recommended. Please note that men are required to wear a jacket when they dine at Les Saisons.

The Imperial Hotel Tokyo is a 3-minute walk from Hibiya subway Station (Exit A13), a 5-minute walk from Ginza subway Station (Exit C1), and a 5-minute walk from JR Yūrakuchō Station.

Breakfast: 7 a.m. – 10 a.m. Lunch: 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Dinner: 5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m

If you’re travelling to Japan I can assure you a stay at the Imperial Hotel Tokyo will exceed all your expectations.

Where Can You Combine Budget Accommodation in Tokyo with Culture, Cooking and Omotenashi?

Definition of omotenashi:

“Omotenashi” is hard to define, but Japanese use it to describe what they believe is their unique approach to hospitality. “Omotenashi” involves the subjugation of self in service to a guest, without being “servile”. Anticipating needs is at the heart of the concept; and it is certainly fair to say that in Japan, acting on others’ needs without being asked to do so is at the height of savvy.” — Japan Today

Yasuno (pictured on the left) enjoying the cherry blossom season.

Your host Miss Yasuno (pictured on the left) enjoying the cherry blossom season.

A stay at Miss Yasuno’s fully licensed Airbnb house in Yotsugi, Katsushika City (located at the east end of Tokyo Metropolis) will allow you to experience first-hand the true essence of omotenashi and, if you wish, authentic Japanese cooking. You’ll also be given the opportunity to deepen your understanding of the Japanese culture by wearing kimono and, if you have the time, Miss Yasuno’s father (who used to teach history at university level) is more than happy to share with you his knowledge of Japanese traditions and customs and his interpretation of the history of Japan. Miss Yasuno and her father speak excellent English so you don’t have to worry about any communication problems but try not to speak too fast.

If you want to book this Airbnb home you can click here to go directly to the Airbnb website or you can contact Miss Yasuno’s father on Twitter @Tokyonobo. His tweets are really popular because he shares some fantastic photos of Tokyo and the surrounding area so he’s a great person to follow if you’re interested in Japan.

This spacious (by Japanese standards) but cosy home is perfect for one person, if you’re travelling with a couple of friends, or if you’re visiting Japan as a family with toddlers. Ideally, there’s a maximum of three guests allowed but this is flexible.

It only costs £55 (US$71) per night (plus minimal utility fees) to stay here and 87 people have given it a 5-star rating so you can’t beat that if you’re a family looking for an excellent but cheap place to stay! Furthermore, it’s only three stops from Oshiage Station (5-minutes by subway) and a 3-minute walk from Yotsugi Station. It won’t take you very long at all to get to most of the major areas in Tokyo such as Ueno, Asakusa, Tokyo Skytree and Akihabara. It also has direct access to both Narita and Haneda Airports.

There’s also a 3-night minimum stay but you can cancel within 48 hours of booking and 14 days before check-in to get a full refund. You have private use of the house during the day because Miss Yasuno’s family own the house next door but Miss Yasuno will sleep in a room on the floor above you at night. Amenities include wireless internet, split-system air-conditioning, central heating radiators and fans, a TV, a refrigerator, a microwave, a coffee machine, an electric kettle, dishes, glasses and cutlery, a washing machine and a dryer, an iron, a hairdryer, and eco-friendly shampoo and body soap.

As you can see in the photos below this Airbnb house is very inviting and spotlessly clean.

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You can enjoy a good night’s sleep on three large Japanese-style futon beds on traditional tatami flooring. Futons, pillows and blankets are all supplied by Miss Yasuno and she’ll teach you how to lay out the Japanese futon bedding when you arrive.

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Sit back and relax in this Japanese-style deep soaking bath after a long day exploring Tokyo!

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Miss Yasuno is an excellent cook so if you want to learn how to make some Japanese meals while you’re staying at her home you can arrange to do this with her. You can make Japanese onigiri rice balls together for just 500 yen, you can cook a traditional Japanese breakfast with dishes you’re interested in trying for 500-1,000 yen, or you can have Japanese curry or noodles for dinner for 1,500 yen. If you want to try making something more traditional and elaborate that includes fish and meat (a vegan option is also available) you can cook this with Miss Yasuno for only 2-3,000 yen!

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This Airbnb home is in a very convenient location and it’s close to all the major attractions in Tokyo! You can find the nearest train station to Miss Yasuno’s house very easily if you follow the directions on this map below. When you’re staying at this Airbnb home you can ask Miss Yasuno for an easy-to-read walking map which will help you find the best shops and restaurants in the area.

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Miss Yasuno has 40 beautiful kimonos and some of them are too big for her to wear. Enjoy trying on one of these kimonos with Miss Yasuno’s help then find an idyllic location to have your picture taken! There are several temples and shrines in the nearby vicinity if you’re looking for a more traditional backdrop. While you’re having your picture taken Miss Yasuno will prepare lunch or a short Japanese tea ceremony for you to enjoy when you return.

Miss Yasuno took lessons in the art of Japanese tea ceremony for more than five years and she worked at a high-class traditional restaurant for two years wearing a kimono. She’s an expert at dressing in kimono and she’ll happily share with you her knowledge of the history of the kimono and the meaning behind its design. You’ll also learn how to pose for photos in a stylish, comfortable and graceful manner. The cost is 10,000 yen and this includes kimono rental, a photo shoot and lunch. Guests who stay at this Airbnb home get a slight discount.

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Now you know where to stay in Tokyo if you want to combine budget accommodation with culture, cooking and omotenashi in Japan! This 5-star Airbnb home is perfect for anyone who is interested in a truly authentic Japanese experience.

Japan: The Cookbook by Nancy Singleton Hachisu Review: Authentic Homespun Recipes Handed Down from One Generation to the Next

I’m not a food critic, a restaurateur, a professional chef nor a food blogger but I love Japanese food and I’ve been experimenting in the kitchen from a very young age so those are my credentials for reviewing this wonderful cookbook.

Japan cookbook

I’ve purchased several Japanese cookbooks in the past or I’ve printed recipes off the internet but they’re always the same type of popular Japanese recipes and I’ve often thought they were more suited to the type of dishes served up in Japanese restaurants outside of Japan rather than the good old Japanese cooking that grandmothers in Japan lovingly put on the table for their families to enjoy.

Japan: The Cookbook by Nancy Singleton Hachisu is everything I expected and more. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been creating the kind of Japanese dishes I’ve always wanted to make and that’s regional dishes and home-style cooking that have never been translated into English until now. Food you could only expect to eat if you were travelling the length and breadth of Japan, staying with families along the way who really know how to cook healthy, delicious and wholesome Japanese food that’s been passed on from one generation to the next.

This cookbook is substantial. It includes over 400 recipes by Hachisu, you can easily find your favourite recipes because it’s broken into sections dedicated to each style of cooking, and there’s a fascinating section on the history of Japanese food towards the beginning. There are also over 50 recipes by famous chefs in the blue section at the back and several full-page photographs, but the lovely introduction at the very beginning by Nancy Singleton Hachisu is definitely well-worth reading before you start cooking.

In the intro, you’ll discover Hachisu has been living in Japan since 1988 as a Japanese farmer’s wife. Her husband Tadaaki is also an excellent cook but after they married Hachisu became the “resident bride” and enthusiastically took over the task of making tempura and the New Year’s soup. Hachisu has been developing her cooking skills for decades so she’s the perfect person to put a cookbook like this together.

You’ll also discover this author went to a lot of trouble to meet as many grandmothers as possible in her favourite regions in Japan so she could record a great number of recipes for this cookbook and then adapt these recipes to include her own individual twists. It’s this energy and authenticity which makes this cookbook so great. It was also interesting to discover a lot of the recipes in this book came from the writings of Harumi Kawaguchi, a Zen nun and a close friend of Hachisu. This has definitely influenced many of the simpler dishes and I certainly felt a degree of mindfulness when I prepared some of these meals. Although a lot of the dishes are natural, wholesome and modest in their presentation there are also many other dishes that do require some degree of skill in the kitchen and quite a bit of preparation and this includes several dishes that are full of rich ingredients that perfectly complement lighter dishes when served on the table.

I also really liked the way Hachisu shared an interesting fact in her introduction on page 13 about the Japanese “s” row of the phonetic alphabets (hiragana and katakana) and how this applies to cooking in Japan:

Sa-shi-su-se-so is a mnemonic for the main flavouring ingredients of Japanese cuisine. Sa=sato [sugar or mirin], shi=shio [salt], su=su [vinegar], se=seu the archaic reading of shoyu [soy sauce], and so=miso. These are the only essential ingredients.”

I’ve already made seven meals from this cookbook, including sushi, rice and noodle dishes, and I was so impressed by how well everything turned out. I’ll definitely buy Hachisu’s other cookbook “Japanese Farm Food” in the near future because all these recipes were fabulous.

So, let’s get on to the recipes I’ve been making from this cookbook over the last few weeks. I really hope my review of each recipe will show you just how much my husband Roy and I enjoyed each and every dish.


crab and nori

This looks like a simple dish that’s easy to prepare but it was actually quite difficult for me to make. Reason being, I don’t own the recommended tamagoyaki nabe (Japanese omelette pan) so I had to make do with my small round frying pan and cut the rounded edges off into a square. You have to keep an eye on the egg omelette when you’re making it so you don’t overcook the egg and create brown patches. You want a nice pale yellow colour on all sides. Hachisu recommended six eggs and just 3oz (90g) of crabmeat but I would use quite a bit more crabmeat next time because I think the taste of the egg in this masked the flavour of the crabmeat. It did look really good in the end and you’ll definitely love this nori roll if you’re a big fan of tamago nigiri sushi.




spinach gratin

Roy loved this dish! He really liked the combination of spinach, bacon, scalloped potatoes, béchamel sauce, tomatoes and bread crumbs. I’ve already made it several times and I’m sure I’ll continue to make it again and again in the future. If you’ve never been to Japan you might be wondering why a gratin has been included in a Japanese cookbook but this is actually a very popular dish that is often made at home in modern Japan and it’s also included on menus at a lot of family restaurants. Hachisu says you should make a home-made béchamel sauce and I completely agree with her. It really is a lot better for you and a lot more scrumptious than the store-bought variety. Don’t overcook the bacon because this could easily affect the taste (and not in a good way) and be generous with the panko breadcrumbs.



One-pot seafood udon 1

“A cross between nabe (one-pot dish) and udon, unusually, this dish is baked in the oven.”

If you’re tired of eating kitsune udon all the time and you’re looking for a really tasty, healthy and low-calorie meal then this seafood udon dish is a great alternative and it only takes 25 minutes to prepare and cook! This recipe certainly has some delicious ingredients — prawns, crabmeat, maitake mushrooms (I used shiitake mushrooms because I couldn’t get the maitake variety), negi, spinach, and udon!

I did cheat a little bit. I used pre-cooked udon noodles, three sachets of udon soup stock powder which made about 1.3 litres of hot noodle broth and canned shredded crabmeat to save myself time and money. I wouldn’t use shredded crabmeat again. Instead, I’d add fresh crabmeat or canned chunks of crabmeat. Hachisu recommends fresh crabmeat, picked over for shells and cartilage.

I boiled the broth on the stove first before adding the noodles. I let them cook for five minutes which allowed the noodles to separate before adding the other ingredients. I cooked this all in my Le Creuset cast iron casserole dish which was perfect for cooking this on the stove and transferring it to the oven. Hachisu recommends adding a splash of ponzu at the end and we really thought the soup needed this. After we’d added this, the meal was absolutely delicious. In fact, Roy liked it so much, he finished all of the leftover soup at the bottom of the pot!



mince bowl

Hachisu recommends leftover rice for this dish as well as ground pork or chicken as well as egg threads, shiitake mushrooms and green beans but as she mentioned in the introduction you could use any leftover vegetables you have in the fridge. I replaced the beans with garden peas. This isn’t the fanciest dish and you certainly wouldn’t serve this to important guests but it’s a quick, easy and cheap meal to make and children would really love the easy-to-eat mince and the way you serve each topping in its own section. I had fun making the egg threads (the recipe for this is on page 222) but I’d definitely cut them finer next time.



ginger soy

This is my favourite dish so far. As you can see in the photo, the chicken had a lovely sticky ginger-soy coating. One great fact about this cookbook is that Hachisu has given you exact quantities for each ingredient to be used in all her recipes and if you follow these instructions to a tee then you can’t go wrong. One exception I made was to add carrots because I had a packet of mixed vegetables in the freezer I wanted to use. If you love soy-glazed yakitori then you’ll love this dish.



shrimp pea rice

Hachisu says “A vehicle to use leftovers, hayashi rice is said to have developed in the southern island of Kita Kyushu. The owner of a small casual eatery needed to feed his customers quickly before they boarded the ship, so he put together this flavorful ketchup-based rice dish. While chicken is commonly used in this dish, here the shrimp reflects the seaside roots. Feel free to swap out diced leftover chicken or pork. In the same vein, any chopped vegetables such as carrot, green beans, or turnips can be substituted for the green peas.”

I followed Hachisu’s recipe and used green peas. Again, it might surprise you that Japanese people use quite a bit of ketchup in this dish and in their cooking but I assure you this is another popular dish, especially with children. You’ll really love this dish if you’re a fan of the filling in omurice (a Japanese omelette rice dish).



egg and butter dish

I mentioned above there are over 50 recipes from well-known Japanese and Western chefs at the back of the book in the blue section. I decided to make this particular recipe and I’m so glad I did!

Martin Benn is the chef/owner of Sepia Restaurant in Sydney. He started his career in London before relocating to Australia in 1996 where he gained a position at Tetsuya’s under the famous Chef Tetsuya Wakuda. He was made head chef at this restaurant at just 25 years old!

I knew this dish was going to be full on but I still wanted to try it even though I thought it looked a bit risky and I was worried I wouldn’t get it right. I thought, at first, I was setting myself up for a challenge and it might be a bit sickly because it included 14 tablespoons of butter and 16 egg yolks!! Yes, you read that right. That’s a hell of a lot of butter and I thought our cholesterol levels would skyrocket with all those eggs.

Boy, was I wrong about the taste! I can now see why Benn is such a respected and accomplished chef. This dish was an absolute delight to the taste buds. It reminded me of the rich and creamy dishes you pay through the nose for at fine French restaurants. I’d still warn anyone over the age of 65 to go easy on this dish but both my husband and I really enjoyed it and we were able to eat a full bowl each. I didn’t have any kinome sprigs to place on top of the dish at the end as recommended but the aonori salt (a combination of sea salt crystals and powdered green nori) was a great addition.

To be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t serve it as a rice bowl again. I think it’s just too much. I’d serve up just three tablespoons of this next to a pan-fried or poached piece of salmon with some green beans sautéed with a little garlic and grated ginger and a dash of soy sauce and toasted sesame oil.


I’d like to thank Phaidon for sending me a copy of this cookbook and I’d also like to send out a huge thank you to Nancy Singleton Hachisu for putting together this culinary masterpiece.

I’ll definitely be making a lot more recipes from this cookbook in the future and posting photos of these recipes on my favourite social media platform Twitter so please follow me @RenaeLucasHall for these updates.

Japan: The Cookbook by Nancy Singleton Hachisu
470 pp, Phaidon. £29.95.

Get your copy on and

Kyoto Journal – An Elegant Appreciation of Culture and Creativity

I’ve read quite a few Japan-related magazines and I’ve always learned a little bit more about the Land of the Rising Sun from each one of Kyoto Journalthem but Kyoto Journal is the most insightful and beautifully presented magazine I’ve read so far. The stylish front cover, the glossy pages with stunning photographs and the thought-provoking essays, projects and reviews from a selection of writers, poets, artists, photographers, and designers from Japan and the Pan-Asian region will leave you spellbound. Each page really does give you pause for thought and contemplation.

It was very nice to see how every part of the journal had been brought together to make you feel like you’re making a personal connection with each one of the contributing creative individuals. There’s definitely a focus on Japan, and especially Kyoto, but the editors have also included works from all over Asia and this creates an even balance. After you’ve finished reading each page you feel like you’ve cultivated your mind, heart, spirit and soul. You’re left with a feeling of completeness, inclusion, and a better understanding of Kyoto and the wider world.

I’ve only ever lived in Tokyo and I’ve visited Kyoto, Nara, Kobe and Osaka several times in the past but now I regret the fact I’ve never had the opportunity to live in the Kansai region, especially Kyoto. Frankly, I’ve always thought this ancient capital was a bit too mysterious and esoteric for my Western mind and nature. An enchanting place with a history I could never fully understand or appreciate because I wasn’t born in Japan. However, I now feel Kyoto is much more accessible after reading just one edition of Kyoto Journal.

KJ logo

Founded in 1986, Kyoto Journal (KJ) is a Kyoto-based non-profit, volunteer-driven quarterly magazine and the longest-established independent English publication in Japan. Every part of this journal is well-worth reading, even the advertisements and promotions are beautifully composed with stunning photos and images. Do take your time to appreciate each paragraph as you read each one. There’s a lot to take in and you’re bound to have more than one naruhodo moment!

I read the winter/summer 2018 edition with the theme “Old roads, revisited”. There’s a wonderful introduction to this issue on their website:

KJ’s 90th issue celebrates those roads that, since prehistory, have carried not only travelers and trade, but also the seeds of new cultural flowerings. Passing through both time and terrain, roads lead to that ongoing reinvention, the future—and back into the past.
Climb aboard; let’s make tracks…

I’d like to share with you some of the highlights of this journal. . .

I enjoyed reading the interview with the professional Noh actor, teacher and Noh mask carver Udaka Michishige (pictured below performing “Nonomiya” at Kyoto Kanze Kaikan Noh Theater wearing his Magojirō mask). He’s the only performer still making Noh masks in Japan. I now know the word Sarugaku is the ancient name for Noh (yes, even if you’re an expert on Japan you’re still going to learn all sorts of cultural titbits from this journal) and it was wonderful to read about the ways Mr Udaka is trying to transform the educational system in Japan. He believes in teaching children the importance of spirituality and philosophy. He says we should all question why we were born, live and die just as one does in Noh theatre. He insists these subjects should be taught alongside factual knowledge in order to create more well-rounded individuals and I agree with him.


There are also extracts in the journal from Unbeaten Tracks in Japan by Isabella Bird as well as a very well-written review of Pachinko by the author Min Jin Lee. I’ve read these two books and I recommend both of them but I thought Bird’s non-fiction account of Japan in 1878 was a bit tedious to read at times and sometimes it felt like the text was too heavy in its descriptions (I’m talking about the complete book, not these excerpts).

Back to the journal, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the extract from the travel journal The Kaidōki which was written by a 12th-century monk (name unknown) and translated by Meredith McKinney. The inclusion of tanka poetry and the photo (see below) of this monk in an area not far from Kamakura makes these pages a delight to read.

Yamabushi01 copy

The narrative of a Zen monk called Fukume on a mission from the Shogun in 1832 to deliver a white horse to the Emperor in Kyoto will also make you smile. What amused me the most was how Fukume and Hayashi were repeatedly trying but failing to recite a poem on their journey in just one breath because it was said if you could do this “while giving proper attention to its sense you would have happiness and success in love for the rest of your life”!

Hiroshige print

Andrew Thomas moved to Kyoto after spending 15 years in Setagaya, Tokyo. Interestingly enough, I lived in Yōga in Setagaya when I was teaching English in Japan. If I’d continued my life in Japan I probably would have followed suit and moved to Kyoto myself. Don’t you think his photo below of the Shimenawa torii gate at Hibara Jinja, featured in Kyoto Journal, is absolutely mesmerising?

Haibara Shrine, Yamanobe Road by Andrew Thjomas

I very much enjoyed reading about how Yamada Akihiro developed the Kamo River Promenade in Kyoto. He embraced the concepts of continuity and unity in his designs because he wanted everyone in the area to enjoy the promenade. Now people can walk, stand, sit and lie down along the river bank and take time for contemplation thanks to Yamada’s well thought out designs. His philosophy in life is “kindness must be the basis for all human activity”.

If Yamada Akihiro happens to meet the photographer Yoshida Shigeru, whose ethereal photos also feature in this journal (see photo below), I’m sure they’ll get along. Yoshida began his photographic project ‘Border’ after visiting the area stricken by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. When he saw the people praying towards the sea he knew exactly what he wanted to capture in his photos and he remembered these words the Dalai Lama once said: “This place doesn’t need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.” Inspirational words from both gentlemen, don’t you think?

Yoshida Shigeru

If you’re interested in Japan it’s more than likely you’ve heard of Matsuo Bashō, considered the most famous poet of the Edo period, but have you ever seen a picture of the man himself? You’ll have to order a copy of this edition of Kyoto Journal if you’re interested in seeing what is said to be the most authentic portrait of Bashō to date.

Nearly everyone who visits Japan is filled with awe by the beauty of the aesthetics which apply to design, physical objects or daily principles and they never forget the kindness they’ve received from the Japanese people. One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the traditional culture is to stay at a ryokan inn or a hotel that prides itself on providing exemplary customer service. In ‘Going off road: a home away from home in Japan’ Lucinda Cowing introduces four hotels where omotenashi is a prerequisite for a restful stay. You’ll want to book at least one of these fine establishments after reading this and if you do I’m pretty sure you can look forward to being pampered and spoiled by their staff who all seem to understand the true meaning of omotenashi.

Although it’s a hotel rather than a ryokan, I’d love to stay at L’Hôtel du Lac which was highly recommended by Cowing. It’s situated on the shores of Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture. This retreat boasts both lake and mountain views, it sits in a forest thriving with birds and local wildlife, and in early April cherry trees stretch for 8km alongside the property (see photo below). The Director of L’Hôtel du Lac, Tanaka Hidekazu, explains why his hotel has so much to offer. “Our hotel’s location, together with its sumptuous cuisine, is the highlight of staying here. It is a special place, yet it is important to us to make guests feel that they are ‘coming home’ and to be an approachable and reliable presence for them.

L'hotel du Lac

There’s also a selection of poignant and very touching poetry throughout the magazine for you to read over and over again. One poem, in particular, really moved me from A House of Itself, Selected Haiku by Masaoka Shiki:

Autumn departs
for me
no gods no buddhas

yuku aki no ware ni kami nashi hotoke nashi
Masaoka Shiki

There was a lot to learn about Masaoka Shiki, pictured below (image via Wikipedia), in this journal. He was a traditionalist and an innovator in the Meiji period who wrote over 25,000 haiku poems in his short life. He used seasonal references as well as shasei (sketching from life) and makoto (poetic truthfulness) in his haiku but unfortunately he died at age of 35 from tuberculosis, a disease he contracted when he was just 13. As you can see above his poetry is deeply influenced by his sense of mortality.

I also want to draw your attention to the Hailstone Haiku Circle. I’d never heard of this club before but I discovered they have members all over the world. If you’re interested in joining this circle there’s no need to feel intimidated and you don’t need to be a haiku master to get involved. Their latest anthology Persimmon was reviewed by Susan Pavloska. The haiku below is a perfect example of what you can expect:

An orange colour
rises in the moonlight
ripe persimmons
Mayumi Kawaharada

The number of people who enjoy reading Japanese manga comics in the West, especially in Britain, has multiplied exponentially since the 1970s and now this art form has become a hugely lucrative export for Japan. Fumio Obata, a Japanese comic artist living in the UK, has been working on a 200-page graphic novel dedicated to comic reportages of the 2011 tsunami, earthquake, and the consequential nuclear accident in Fukushima. Kyoto Journal has dedicated four pages to her comics. Prepare yourself to be enthralled by Obata’s artistic accomplishments but also saddened by the subject matter.

Fumio Obata_cartoon_010

If you’re a foodie you’ll also enjoy ‘Gourmet Biking in Tohoku’ by Lianca Van Der Merwe, if you’re a fan of kimono you’ll be interested in the article explaining how the textile artist/kimono-maker/tonya (creative director) Tange Yusuke is exhibiting artwork alongside his stunning kimono dyed with the same imagery, and if you’ve ever lived in suburban Nara in Japan or Oxfordshire in England you’ll relate to Pico Iyer’s ‘The Gingkos along Park Dori’.

There’s also a heart-wrenching but life-affirming short story called ‘Mother beyond the border’ by Muhammad Nasrullah Khan (with wonderful artwork by Venantius J Pinto) that needs to be read to be believed. I can assure you it will leave you with eyes wide open.

Just as springtime is drawing to a close in Japan this edition of Kyoto Journal ends with a very sweet haiku:

High on the cherry tree—
one last blossom

I wasn’t brought up to be a Buddhist or a Shintoist (although I agree with some of the principles from both religions) so I tend to believe we only have one life and this life passes incredibly quickly. Following this train of thought, we only have a certain amount of time to do what we wish to do, absorb ourselves in our passions, and follow our dreams. I’m really looking forward to reading more editions of Kyoto Journal in the future. I feel that the content in this magazine will accelerate my understanding of this ancient capital and many other facets of the Japanese culture.

I now feel like I can enrich my knowledge of matters I once thought were incomprehensible and when I return to Kyoto I’ll have a much better understanding and appreciation of this captivating city and Japan as a whole. Reading personal accounts from both Japanese and Western people, past and present, who now live or have lived in Kyoto, I really feel drawn towards this area of Japan. You can certainly feel the warmth, kindness and compassion for others when you read the contributions from those who have a real connection with this charming city.