Attraction to the Unknown through the pen of Haruki Murakami

Murakami employing his signature gloominess though the characters’ nostalgia enters yet another echelon of the metaphorical realm in South of the Border, West of the Sun. “There is no middle ground. Probably it is a word you may find south of the border. But never, ever, west of the sun.” This urgency he inserts here alludes to two polar possibilities. Either you live in joy or in the no man’s land of death. Hence there is not in-between. The choice is happiness or decay. Nothingness though carves holes like a worm though the abandoned characters heart — “the living desert”.

Photo by Paulo Cupidocontemporary photographycontemporary photography

Through the critical lens of identity of Murakami

Each of us can understand the Japanese author’s allusions individually depending on the breadth of our reading, experience, level of spirituality and awareness. For the last arches over the writing perception of the main character — a male owner of a jazz club in this auto-fictional smudge of Murakami he so often relishes in. Either he writes about music or running, but always with a perceptive narrative flow that murks in mystery. I love Haruki Murakami’s depth of characters. Still, a common thread connects many of his previous leading figures, but that you shall discover after further reading. I recommend his Hemingway’s namesake themed collection of short stories Men Without Women.

You long for more revelations in the slow-paced unwrapping of the triangle of characters. Love triangle in some way, but his estrangement from his wife is not just about finding a new lover, it is about turning back time, coming back to his childhood. It is about midlife crossing, the reckoning with one’s past and certain hopelessness when facing ageing and mortality in spite of that. An unhappy man comes at first better off in reality through commitment to a woman that loves him wholesomely. His wife’s family props his business that he makes into a magazine feature success. 

After years, expanding further into two locations though keeps Hajime so busy with his dream that he estranges himself from his wife. “Just as with people, with bars there is time to leave them alone and a time for change. Being stuck in the same environment, you grow dull and lethargic. Your energy level takes a nosedive. Even castles in the air can do with a fresh coat of paint.” Ouch! Murakami strikes deep into the dark side of human relationships and how hard it is to stick to a continuous long-term commitment when the juices just stopped flowing years ago. “I’m confused”, Hajime confides in his wife who observed his detachment.

While who they are remains consistent, they are the same people just with a different shadow, a heavy emotional baggage lurking in their presence. But none is freed from its creeping chains.

Japanese literature of Murakami

Throughout, music expresses life’s emotions, conundrums and struggles via lyrical inserts smoothly gliding into the Tokyo jazz bar’s setting. Nat Cole sings: Pretend you’re happy when you’re blue. It isn’t very hard to do… Not just the songs entail symbolic meanings in South of the Border, West of the Sun, so do the characters’ names. I also relished learning more about classical music in particular in Murakami’s conversations with the Japanese maestro, the conductor Meiji Ozawa in Absolutely on Music.

Attraction to the Unknown

The maturity of hindsight allows for more philosophical viewpoint sharing between Shimamoto, the main protagonist’s (in the first person narrative) childhood friend grown into a beautiful, yet with secrets veiled woman in her ripe years. Still, she does not seem to relish her allure. Something bothers her so much that she suddenly disappears after a number of encounters at his bar. “Sometimes when I look at you, I feel I am gazing at a distant star. It’s dazzling, but the light is from tens of thousands of years ago. Maybe the star doesn’t exist any more. Yet sometimes that light seems more real to me than anything”. How beautiful is human irrationality! Murakami keeps his confusion going. “At least you look as if you’re here. But maybe you aren’t. Maybe it’s just a shadow. The real you may be somewhere else. Or maybe you already disappeared, a long, long time ago.” Loss pierces the narrative, yet the greatest loss of all comes from somewhere the reader might not suspect.

Attraction to the Unknowncontemporary photography

In South of the Border, West of the Sun, philosophical questions pop from the mouth of Shimamoto, but also Hajime’s own mind entertains unanswerable curiosity and desire to know, what he might never, ever know. The title is taken from a song, the favourite lyrics of the two teenage souls sharing an intimate friendship. Childhood’s innocent expectations about life’s magnificence pour from Shimamoto’s heart: “I’d always thought something great, something beautiful, big and soft was south of the border.” The illusions of her youth dispelled, she had broken into nothing deep within, a hollow tree. She is gorgeous physically, classy and well dressed, but her inner world has burned down into ashes, literally. It seems that either of the three characters struggles between attachment and detachment without finding a permanent solution. 

Shadows creep along Murakami’s South of the Border, West of the Sun. This is not a lift me up story, but a realistic depiction of life’s unhinged turns and twists through broken shards. The prevailing uncertainty sprouts into a mysterious garden, so one might assume that Shimamoto does not even exist. It is a strange reality, but not unlike Kafka’s whom the author admires.

Replacing anxiety: Coffee substitutes and caffeine-free alternatives

Either for health reasons, sustainable performance for athletes, during pregnancy and breast feeding for women, coffee substitutes intrigue these mindful of their consumption. The side effect of caffeine brings about nervousness, anxiety, and even panic attacks, for women it can also upset estrogen levels.

In spring, a healthy detox is always a wise choice to reset the body and mind into a relaxed pattern at first and then gain more energy for the year’s festivities. During detoxification the body has plenty to do and you better rest to aid the intense process affecting most organs. From liver, kidneys, the digestive system, pancreas, gall bladder to heart. Therefore, all serious health retreats I have been to cross of caffeine out their cleansing menus. 

Cichorium Intybus

The new vice for the global world on speed

Not only the health conscious skip caffeine or at least try to reduce it, but Europe did not have caffeine in any form – coffee or tea until 17th century. On Vice I read that up until 1616, London had no caffeine because of the global trade had not improved it yet. I love the post’s author (Jamie Steidle) lips lifting confession:

“I don’t like the feeling when you have one too many espresso shots and you’re moving so fast that you might phase through the space-time continuum like a quantum particle.” And I cannot be more in sync with him grasping that “Caffeine, it turns out, is not the soul of coffee; trust me. It’s more about the ritual and the mood, not just a jolt of energy and heart palpitations.”  

They especially entertain our mind as if you once were a genuine coffee lover, not just the caffeine kick seeker, but a connoisseur of the deep expression of the Earth’s divers terroirs. For with coffee like the real tea (Camelia Sinensis) and wine, in different soils, elevations, exposures to the sun and other elements, the beans’ expression changes. The human intervention also counts as with tea and wine. Selecting the beans and then gently roasting it can support or break the quality.

Healthy coffee replacements

My coffee appreciation yielded a casual poem once. While I was sipping a frothy cappuccino brewed by a Japanese barista in Le Marais, Paris, I was elated that finally, Paris has a good quality, perfectly brewed coffee.

No lid to screen my eager lips

Dipping like silky petals of tulips

Wet with a dew diving down

Into the soiled brew I now own 

Touching the frothy pleasure 

My nose elates beyond measure

Warmth under the milky cloud

Caresses my mouth, teases joy out


coffee alternatives

Health reasons to quit coffee and switch to an alternative

About six months ago I had to stop drinking normal coffee for health reasons. The bad headaches and dizziness were enough to warn me that something isn’t alright. Later, blood tests showing serious anaemia confirmed my body’s blinking orange light. Listen to your body as it has that red flag capacity to prevent further damage. Tannins in coffee, black tea, chocolate and wine are the major interferences with the absorption of iron from the food we consume into the blood. One needs to consume these at least an hour apart from iron-rich foods and supplements.

As there always is a bright side to any misfortune, I embarked on a research journey seeking what else with a similar taste profile is out there on the market. Still, I would enjoy one cup of decaf coffee without the headaches, but the tannins were still in. The aroma of an excellently roasted coffee bean is simply irreplaceable.

Like the 15th century spice traders I voyaged to America where most hotels serve terrible decaf coffee. I try a sip, but mostly the experience is so bad that I advise to rather skip it altogether. As my desperation and curiosity grew, I asked around and rejoice, I got plenty of tips on artisan coffee roasters from LA to Brooklyn making delightful, by natural methods decaffeinated beans. Most used more mild method of water washing to rid the praised coffee berries off the for some unwelcome caffeine.

From spring mountain water soaring with bright flavours to sugar sweetened water, it works very well but takes more work than the harsh chemical treatments used commonly. The majority of chemical decaffeination washes away not just the unwanted but also some desired flavour. More often than not, lesser quality of beans were being used for this purpose. Not any more. The hardness of the water used is also a key to success. Even the world’s best barista at Mame, residing like currently myself in Zurich, also adopted his decaffeinating method to using local Swiss water. Still, even more gentle and flavour friendly is using CO2 method to remove the caffeine from the green beans prior to roasting. This is so far the best method I found that shows in the taste.

Healthy coffee alternatives

My recommended decaf coffees: Alana’s sugar H2O decaf Colombian beans in Los Angeles; Mexican brew by Devocion in Brooklyn; the trophies winning Mame in Zurich has with Swiss water washed blend; Deep in Marseille has sublime CO2 decaf roast from Ethiopia called Chill Pills.

Sometimes, my body is cheated into believing that I am drinking the real thing, I get a slight buzz from it for a couple of minutes, but then as if the brain found out the fraud, suddenly I am at ease and no headache comes. How intriguing is observing closely the reaction of your own body, especially when you are impartial, knowing that what you bought came from the decaf bag. 

Perhaps it is not caffeine, the illusion of comfort and pick me up before setting out to work, but the warm brew, the fragrance of which you can inhale joyfully. Indeed, any beverage with a pleasant deep aroma, unique to you, can step in the place of coffee. 

coffee alternatives

The best coffee substitutes for your health

Don’t just sip any herbal infusion. For a chamomile, fennel, ginger or any other plant tisane won’t satisfy these who seek the specific chocolaty, nutty, perhaps even bitter, sometimes tobacco leaves reminding aromas. Some herbal and grain substitutes supply important minerals, vitamins and other potentially beneficial nutrients, often alkaline and better than the body acidifying coffee. Further, some are more suitable for mixing with coffee in order to lower the caffeine content in your daily consumption.

Barley is perhaps the most common. In Italy any gas station offers orzo. The roasted barley can unfortunately tasted as if burned so I am usually dissatisfied either with the espresso or cappuccino form of it. Plus if gluten bothers you, barley is not your friend. Yet, there are some cafes and restaurants that source more elegantly roasted barley so you might prefer it to my further suggestions. In Japan, I tasted Mugi-cha or Barley tea which is essentially the same but not ground into fine grains as the coffee substitute would be. 

Taste-wise and health-wise, I find a better option in chicory. This roasted previously dehydrated root from chicory plant (Cichorium Intybus) has a deep flavour like coffee, nutty, woody, not bitter, and is an ideal morning partner to your breakfast. Not irritating your bowels as coffee does, plus it does not acidify the gut more than it already is. In my native Czechia, chicory is still very popular as it was commercially made for two centuries. From health stand for hypertension, therefore older people tend to sip on it instead of coffee that rises your blood pressure rather fast. It is a wonderful paring with milk and milk alternatives such as almond, oat or soy to whip up a frothy cappuccino or macchiato.

coffee alternativesHealthy coffee alternatives

Less common alternatives to your daily coffee

Creatively and historically, the resourceful Czechs have also used oak (Quercus Alba) acorns blended with other substances such as rosehip. The acorns contain tannic acid, which for some sensitive individuals may not work. For example if you suffer from anemia, the tannins interfere with the absorption of iron into the blood, so you better have your iron and this brew separately.

Spelt is a less common ancient grain brew, but roasted and blended with chicory it tastes close to black coffee.

Rye can be also roasted and then ground into more breakfast porridge kind of meal rather than delightful coffee alternative.

Lupins (Lupinus Lutens) can also be ground to a powdery consistence for warm cuppa, yet many people have allergy to these leguminous beans and the taste is nothing close to coffee, rather a beverage on its own merit.

In Japan, particularly around Kyoto I was impressed by the deep roast of KuromamechaBlack Soybean brew served often by monasteries and temples.

Healthy coffee alternativesRoasted tea

Economising choices of tasty beverages

I remember that particularly wide spread was a blend of chicory, sugar beet, barley and rye still available in Czechia today. Sold under the brand name Melta it was fortified with additional vitamins (iron, B6, potassium) and minerals (magnesium), yet cheaper than coffee and vastly popular during economically harsh times like wars and the occupation by Soviet Union. With inflation striking high, banks collapsing once again, we are well into the economically sober cycle, therefore cheaper and healthier alternatives to coffee become handy. In hard times, some rather puzzling ingredients were used to balance the cost of coffee, by adding dried and pounded figs, carrots, grape seeds, even potatoes into the imported coffees.

Dandelion plantcoffee alternativestasting of coffee alternatives in Czechia

Herbal remedies as coffee replacements

The root of dandelion is beyond its European staple status now frequently on the shelves of health food stores in the US. It is more like a herbal infusion with the bitter taste wanted for its bile production inducing effect. The inulin in it supports immunity.

Burdock is popular in the West Arctium lappa as well as in Asia. In TCM this berberine and inuline containing herb is known as blood purifier and tonic, overall it supports liver by promoting the flow of bile, increases circulation to the skin, and is a mild diuretic. The Japanese adore the health benefits and the slightly sweet flavour of the burdock root that is also used in cooking.

Healthy coffee alternatives

The superfood adaptogenic coffee is a blend of medicinal mushrooms (Chaga, Cordyceps, Lion’s mane and Reishi are most common), and herbs like Ashwagandha that help the body to fend off stress. Basically the opposite effects of caffeine, you get an energy boost without the jittery crust. In the eastern traditional medicine these ingredients were used for millennia and I also like the taste of some of the blends broadly available in the US and UK organic shops such as Moon Juice, Chagaccino (made with there chaga mushroom), reishi mushroom blends as well as Maccacino based on the libido and stamina-increasing South American powdered maca root. With chaga you need to be alert before any surgery or if you take blood thinners since it increases bleeding.

I like to buy it pure, organic and then experiment with blending other ingredients in for the best taste and effect on the specific day. For example I splash in a pinch of maca, houjicha powder (very low caffeine roasted green tea twigs now available at Blue Bottle coffee across the US and Kettl tea in New York) and even some cacao, plus oat milk for creamy texture. Get creative with your healthier cup of morning delight and also in touch with what your body and mind need, mindfully, not just robotically brewing a pick me up, but reflect first how do you feel and why?

roasted teabest tea in Paris

If you like something spicy without the caffeine then the alternative to chai is turmeric latte. The blend of sunshine-hued turmeric root with its inflammation effect enhancing black pepper and other spices like cardamom, cloves and sweet touch of honey, maple, brown or coconut sugar is brewed in hot milk for a cosy warm cold day remedy.

Ready to chill? My caffeine-free tips will keep you levelled, not up and down. Most importantly, find what you enjoy, savour, sip, love.

Sakurai Tokyo: Japanese Tea Experience with the finest wagashi

You will see everything what there is to earn about Japanese tea at Sakurai Tea Experience in Tokyo. The newest addition into the Simplicity design group in Japan preceded its owner’s expansion abroad to Paris (Ogata in the Marais). While Sakurai has just a small tea bar, a hojicha roasting corner and a kitchen counter, it offers the best connection between tradition and the contemporary Japanese culture. All in one tiny room hidden inside the smart contemporary Spiral Tower shopping mall in the fashionable Omotesando.

Sakurai TokyoGreen tea

At the comfortable counter seats a simple seasonal bento lunch is served. Water chestnuts with rice, pickles and grilled fish in April, pumpkin in the fall. Extra treats like miso-aged camembert and seasoned nuts (seaweed, ume plum, sesame) are also offered upon order.

Most tea connoisseurs come here for the extraordinary wagashi and a chosen tea set. There is always a seasonal tea, often infused with fresh vegetables, herbs or ripe fruit. You will find the usual array of sencha, gyokuro and matcha, but more intriguing are the off-the-beaten-path floral Japanese oolong, the roasted and aged teas. In summer, green teas as well as houji-cha could be cold-brewed and served on ice.

With the seasonal lunch different teas will be paired. Starting with cold brewed gyokuro (shaded, high umami steamed tea) as an aperitif, your choice from some unusual with bacteria or mould inoculated teas (an acquired taste I warn you!) and other more purist Japanese teas, to end with a bowl of perfectly smoothly whisked frothy matcha. Alcoholic cocktails with tea can also tempt you later in the day or just a tipple after work.

Japanese tea time in TokyoJapanese food

Japanese vegetables

Sakurai goes further in the level of tea service professionally than most tea rooms you know. This is not a tourist attraction to observe serious tea ceremony, but a perfect match for connoisseur’s tea time. Having your hojicha roasted just prior to the service brews the most nutty, straw-deep clay pot of tea. It is a must at Sakurai.

Japanese roasted tea

Next to the most famous, traditional Japanese sweets boutiques, the finest wagashi in Tokyo is served at Sakurai in the most perfect freshness. Like the designer behind the Simplicity concept, Shinichiro Ogata, the blend of tradition with contemporary aesthetics and taste resonates with most younger locals as well visitors. Often when I sipped my cha, there was some tea professional from abroad (mostly from tea rooms I already knew and visited), awed at the mastery.

If you are interesting in trying some other great tea rooms in Tokyo, read my selection of the best I have edited over the years of my annual trips.

 港区Minamiaoyama, 5 Chome−6−23 スパイラルビル5F, Shibuia, Tokyo
 +81 03 6451 1539

Gastronomic ceramics chosen by the greatest chefs

Fire in my bones sparks when my food is served in a beautiful tableware. Gastronomic ceramics can easily turn even a simple meal into a ritual, but it is at the great restaurants where their work shines like in a jewel box. The chefs’ taste in art is as diverse as the culinary interpretations they themselves represent. It is fascinating to see what kind of plates they chose for their creative food.

gastronomic ceramics gastronomic plates

Artisanal magnificence has intrigued the fine chefs for millennia, but was limited to the royalty and upper class tables. Far more democratised today, the chef’s choices go beyond traditional luxury porcelain manufacturers. Often exploring regional talent in creative collaborations for their special restaurants. I dined at the world’s finest restaurants, and I would dare to classify three approaches to tableware:

  • Sticking to the traditional fine, mostly in Europe-made porcelain
  • Seeking rather minimalist, unassuming contemporary or rustic ware in the Japanese or Korean style
  • Elevates local or one’s native talent into starry heights by their highly curated selections and collaborations

gastronomic ceramics

gastronomic design

It is the last that intrigues me most. Organised by country, I share in separate articles my favourite plating treasures that I found along my gastronomic pilgrimages. In particular, when the ceramicist studio spins the potter’s wheel nearby. Most restaurateurs use a varied palette of serving plates not limited to one artisan only, so I am highlighting those potters whose handwork stroke me the most.

For my favorite gastronomic ceramics, we will travel from France through Spain, the UK, both coasts of the United States, and finally across the Pacific to Japan.

French ceramics

Creativity without limits where the visual, tactile and the gustatory senses meet sparks a wonder so memorable that … While dining and later shopping at their boutiques often attached to their own workshops, my experience of either was elevated into something more connected, meaningful and mutually supportive. Needless to add, all of these ceramics are works of art and must be handled with care so all that handwashing by the restaurant staff skyrockets my respect for their labor.

NOTE: I received no sponsorship for my selections. All of the ceramics were discovered during my self-paid meals at the restaurants that I love. I selected only those that most wowed me. I liked these outstanding handmade pieces so much that I either purchased my favorites or was given them on my birthday by the restaurant as they were nowhere for sale. The generosity of El Celler de Can Roca deserves an immense gratitude!

Haruki Murakami Men Without Women: lessons from love, solitude, and the everyday life

Men Without Women is a collection of seven short stories embarking on insightful cruises where solitude takes over a male character’s life. As we spend more time alone today – loneliness, love and simplicity puzzle us. The virtual world has trapped us in a social bubble, so we live single more than ever: “You are a pastel coloured Persian carpet, and loneliness is a Bordeaux wine stain that won’t come out. For Men Without Women the world is a vast, poignant mix, very much the far side of the moon”, I love this engendered joy and shadow metaphor of Haruki Murakami and many others.
Japanese authorindependent book store
Timely are Murakami’s humoresque, yet sad stories. Unspoken thoughts reveal far more than words voiced loudly in conversations, and until a mind-reading software emerges, books are the only lens into the depths of human mind. I recommend to read and connect with the universal feelings that emerge in Men Without Women. Written in an accessible, clear style, without embroidered, challenging to comprehend prose, the everyday transforms into the alluring through Murakami’s pen. My kind of a man. The globally applauded Japanese author deserves your attention. The ride will be smooth and entertaining, I promise.
tea time

Tension, friction, mystery and the personal

Murakami employs mystery, even surrealism in the melancholic lifestyles of his characters. Under the conservative covers of Tokyo’s everyday life, his emotionally vulnerable male characters arrive at significant crossroads. A Tokyoite himself, he said to employ western writing style, is shunned by the culturally sensitive Nippon naysayers, yet praised by global writing pundits. The fertile wordsmith produces ten pages a day, runs ten kilometres, translates, reads (Kafka mesmerises him) and listens to classical (he wrote a book about it based on his interviews with Japanese conductor) and jazz (penetrates all his books) records that all fuse into his distinct fiction with autographical glimpses into male, and curiously even a female mind and soul. For me personally, in this novel genders connect and meet. The septuagenarian is married and like all of his characters in Men Without Women is childless.
Much of Murakami’s humour is born from the basic and the mystery of the untold. The later he keenly employs also in his other books (such as South of the Border, West of the Sun which I loved but have yet to review). Friction sparks on his pages, yet it’s the inner tension he mainly voices out.
Buddhist life

Above all, Men Without Women is about awkward, careful, faithful, fatal, forgiving, nostalgic, pathetic, reckless, romantic, selfish or self-less, unrequited, even wasted love. The scope of loving is broad, yet “once a partner has began to loose interest, there is apparently little the other can do to arrest the process” Alain de Botton wrote in his book On Love.

Drive My Car is a vehicle for opening old man’s wounds. Unexpectedly. As the widowed actor is chauffeured around Tokyo to theatres and other appointments, his driver’s quiet, smooth yet insightful pace knocks on his consciousness. The bereaving and nostalgic veteran realises that “only through knowing could person become strong.” On the flip side of his past life “the most excruciating thing, though, had been maintaining a normal life knowing his partner’s secret.” The infidel legacy of his attractive, child-less actress wife tortured his conscience even a decade after her cruel death. Although “shedding his self, his flesh and blood, in order to inhabit a role was his calling”, he was unable to direct his relationships in a genuine, truthful act.

Ancient theatre
In Yesterday, Paul McCartney’s song echoes autobiographical snippets mould together with the wasted love life of the author’s quirky friend. “Music has the power to revive memories, sometimes so intensely that they hurt”, he writes as his passion for aural prowess vibrates through the prose. Ironically, attachment and a mid-life crisis of the playboy plastic surgeon friend is fatal for the “number-two lover, rainy-day boyfriend, a handy partner for a casual fling”. His unsettled lifestyle was torn apart by a horrific book on Nazi concentration camps and finally, a woman he deeply fell in love after the lost decades of superficial relationships.

An Independent Organ is about a “lovesick” man choosing a brutal fate as the painful lies of his lover surface and his emotions become unbearable.

jazz club Manhattan
Nezu Museum’s hood is Murakami’s favourite stage and it is beautiful there. Taking over an aunt’s business in Aoyama and transforming it into a cosy bar and a home above, Kino saw an escape from his disappointing marriage and a job as a salesman. “Like dry ground welcoming the rain, he let solitude, silence, loneliness soak in.” A flare-up with a customer with whom he shares dark secrets follows by a series of unsettling events. An auspicious regular at his bar calms the fire of his destiny. As snakes encircle the house, it’s time to move. “But the movement of time seemed not to be fixed properly. The bloody weight of desire and the rusty anchor of remorse were blocking its normal flow.”

Fall leafs at the garden in Japan
Two very strange mysteries employ the author’s beloved Kafka’s Metamorphosis as their blueprint.         In Scheherezade, unrequited teenage love surreally transforms the seductive story teller into a lamprey eel. Murakami deserts his male character from the outside world for unworded reasons. “Like a blackboard wiped with a damp cloth, he was erased of worries, of unpleasant memories.” In his “house” the only comfort is an unnamed housewife, whom he calls Scheherezade. Her “breaking-an-entering” of stories shared upon each scheduled visit, kept him plugged to life.
Samsa in Love awkwardly injects the Prague-set Metamorphosis into the Japan-staged short story collection. Gregor Samsa’s limbo is aroused by a chance meeting with a hunchback locksmith. “There were so many things he did not know. Yet had he been a fish or a sunflower, and not a human being, he might never have experienced this emotion.” A crooked situation, but what is happening outside is much worse. Our inner life can be an escape from facing what is out there.

Malibu hiking trails
Becoming Men Without Women probably” imagines a teenage romance with a free-spirited “M”, the third woman he dated who had killed herself. The pain associated with loss of a partner, the loneliness, and that “you loose that wonderful west wind waiting for someone you don’t know somewhere between knowledge and ignorance” puzzle him. “Some crafty sailor must’ve invited her to run off with him.”

The female essence in Men Without Women

Murakami tapped on the essence, the likely reason why women vanish from men’s lives. I won’t spoil the book’s climax for you, but as a woman who ran off with many “sailors”, I applaud to his insight into the female psyche. The author reeks out insight and wisdom through his metaphors. The stories contain important humanising lessons not just for Men Without Women but for all of us. To grasp existence with more ease, we need to be reminded of the perplexity of life by friends, partners as much as literature.

Farm to table soba at Tamawarai Tokyo

Eating Japanese soba noodles at Tamawarai Tokyo is a slow food act with a Michelin stared attentiveness to quality. For most Japanese eating lunch at a sobaya is a rushed experience in any fast metropolis on the island country, but not at Tamawarai, where fresh and hand-cut “te-uchi soba” is slowly made and served in a snail pace. The meal starts in a waiting lounge just by the entrance, where the call for tables is being made, one at the time.
The traditional Japanese house where Tamawarai resides stands out in the contemporary residential core of the commercial Shibuia-Harajuku area. A short stroll will transfer you from the hive of caffeinated shopping to a serene spirit of zen.

Simplicity breaths out from its minimalist interior, only a handful of barren tables, laced with stiff, straight wooden chairs and a counter along the wall with small windows letting in just a pinch of daylight. The ubiquitous solitary diners at tiny Japanese eateries call to my mind a prison, be it an indulgent confinement to one’s mind and the meal served often with a muted non-engagement of the server. Some foodies revel in this focused experience. Whether it is meditative or in other way soothes their over-stimulated urban minds, only they know. To me, eating alone is enjoyable for a day or two, but then I seek company, a table full of people sharing the meal’s bountiful pleasure.
Despite the claustrophobic restraint, dining at Tamawarai Tokyo is a happy meal. Our lunch there was a shared affair with friends, injecting in an engaging conversation, plus ordering most of the menu and tasting it all, not wasting a morsel.
The meal at Tamawarai is not just about the long thin spaghetti-like, yet naturally gluten-free soba. You should order the splendid starters and sides. A group of five can share one of each. We doubled the favourites like the perfectly soft rolled egg omelet, the umami reeking baked shiro (sweet white) miso, the pickles or the freshly strained house tofu topped with a dab-full of fresh, pungent wasabi. In spring a cold fern salad is on the menu, their firm bite reminded me of blanched string beans. The grilled mackerel was good, but not outstanding, and can be ordered before or with your soba. We all agreed that the tofu and the miso overshadowed through their brilliant yumminess the main deal at Tamawarai – the buckwheat noodles.

For my main course I ordered the house speciality of zaru soba, soba served in a bamboo basket that’s dipped into a soy sauce. A side of crispy seaweed complemented the noodles with more umami. Two of our friends went for the chilled hiyakake soba in a delicate broth slurped like a cold soup. A hot broth version is “kake soba”. Farming its own buckwheat for the wholesome “Juuwari soba” noodles, so powerful on the palate and visually dark that you suspect if any other condiment was blended in, but as you chew slowly the softness of their soba made of 100% buckwheat flour ground daily in the kitchen, sates you fully with its high fibre content. At first, only a small serving is placed in the bamboo straw basket before you are asked about another round. This waste-reducing portioning is practical also for the diner who mindfully assesses his/her level of fullness.
You must come early if you want the tempura shrimp pickled in Saikyou miso and deep fried served over the soba, otherwise you can have the noodles just with the wasabi and soy sauce.
At Tamawarai sip on soba-cha, a caffeine-free warm beverage brewed from roasted buckwheat groats, that is confusingly referred to as tea. There is beer and sake too put for a complete Juuwari soba experience, try the vitamin-rich soba tea.
Tamawarai Tokyo: 5-23-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Lunch Wed-Fri: 11:30am-3pm; Sat 11:30am – 8pm & Sun: 11:30am – 4:30 pm; Dinner Wed-Fri: 6-9pm; Closed on Mondays
+ 81 3 5485 0025

Best Japanese tea rooms in Tokyo

Japan is well-known for its high quality green tea and Tokyo as the shoppers’ paradise. This continuously revised guide to Tokyo’s most noteworthy tea rooms and shops is not only for the serious tea lovers but also for the occasional tea-to-tellers. In the gargantuan maze of the megacity’s districts it is useful to sieve through and focus on the top league players of the Tokyo tea game.
Japanese tea
For anyone visiting the Japanese capital metropolis, sitting down and witnessing a tea ceremony (the real one takes hours as I witnessed in Kyoto), enjoying top quality gyokuro or just taking away a cup of the frothy matcha, deep roasted hojicha, new season’s sencha, smoky iribancha or the liquid tea popcorn known as genmaicha, will impart an authentic experience. Today, the trend-seeking young Japanese are not as much interested in tea, unless is has bubbles, cream and other good tea masking additions, even alcohol (Mixology Salon at Ginza Six shake sup inventive tea cocktails). The daily liquid bread of the past is also being challenged by coffee as hipster coffee labs, Starbucks et al. penetrated Tokyo. One man though, a seasoned local designer with a penchant for tradition, who has over the past decade revived the Japanese tea tradition. By employing his minimalist conceptual design, Schnichiro Ogata has rolled the Tokyo tea carpet for the young generations though his group Simplicity.
Higashiya's japanese sweets

Higashiya Ginza tea room

He designed the decade-old Higashiya that strung the contemporary design chord in Ginza. Reinventing the Japanese tea experience by introducing afternoon tea (2-5pm), exquisitely crafted tea accessories alongside their irresistible range of signature wagashi Japanese sweets at the Higashiya Ginza tea room, the lost tea souls are brought back to live.
Tokyo tea at Higashiya in Ginza
Higashiya dusted off the tea utensils in Schnichiro Ogata’s contemporary ceramic, bronze and copper works, while sustainable yet hardy and so pretty that multi-use comes naturally of the recycled paper cups, bowls and plates make any tea outing more ‘cool’. They roast houjicha in-house like their other sister tea rooms and houses in Tokyo. What sets Higashiya in Ginza apart is the fresh and approachable design as well as the six-seating private tea room available for extra charge. More details in my review.
 Pola building, 1 Chome-7-7 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo
 +81 03 3538 3230
Tokyo teaJapanese wagshi sweets


Yakumo-Saryo transfers you to the gardens of Kyoto. Where the past meets modernity, as you feet set on the stone-paved path, this peaceful Sabo teahouse takes you away from the city centre into the residential corner of Meguro. Here, immerse yourself into tea and wagashi sweets by Baishinka (also sold at the boutique there) in the peaceful tearoom. Reservations via e-mail are essential, and the full Japanese “Asacha” breakfasts are so popular that two weeks ahead may or may not secure your seat. Hiru kaiseki or “Goshincha” tea lunch set are served from noon. Dinner is like a private tea club by introduction only. Although the staff can be quite stiff, the pleasant tea sommelier lady worked at Higashiya for many years prior to moving here and kindly explains and recommends tea to your liking. Seasonal tea like sakura leaf blend in April, new season sencha, top rank gyokuro, aged teas and house-roasted houjicha will make your head spin with caffeinated pleasure. Breathe and savour the moment.
 〒152-0023 Tokyo, Meguro, 八雲3丁目4−7, Tokyo
 +81 03 5731 1620
contemporary Japanese designJapanese design

Sakurai Tea Experience

Sakurai Tea Experience is the newest addition into the Simplicity design group of tea-centric experiences. A small tea bar, hojicha roasting facility and a kitchen counter in one tiny room inside the Spiral Tower shopping mall in Omotesando. At the comfortable counter seats a simple seasonal bento lunch (we had water chestnuts with rice, pickles and grilled fish in April) is served, but most  Tokyo tea connoisseurs come for the extraordinary wagashi and tea set. With the lunch different teas will be served, from cold brewed gyokuro through your choice from some unusual with bacteria or mould inoculated teas (an acquired taste I warn you!) and other more purist Japanese teas. Alcoholic cocktails with tea, miso-aged camembert and seasoned nuts are also offered.
 港区Minamiaoyama, 5 Chome−6−23 スパイラルビル5F, Shibuia, Tokyo
 +81 03 6451 1539
Wagashi and Japanese tea
bento lunch

Cha Cha No Ma

Cha Cha No Ma is the most interesting tea room in Tokyo to learn about and taste diverse top quality sencha from Japan. Directly from the tea farms delivered Japanese tea is the freshest mid to late spring so ideally come to taste the unique flavours of each vintage between April and May, to stock yourself for the year ahead. Talk to the the in-house tea expert about the perfect tea for you. Read more about the unique tea philosophy of Yoshi Watada, who now also teaches tea classes in Yokohama and Oomiya, in my in-depth article. Cha Cha No Ma’s desserts or chocolates paired with tea make for a nice treat next to the silent break in the small contemporary Tokyo tea room.
 5-13-14 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001
 +81 3 5468 8846
Tokyo tea at Cha Cha No Ma Japanese green tea preparationJapanese green tea


Originally from Kyoto, Ippodo is one of the oldest and most renown tea brands in Japan. In Tokyo, Ippodo has a branch in the busy shopping district in Marunouchi just steps away from the Imperial Palace. The original Ippodo store in Kyoto is also located in the proximity of the former Imperial Palace.
Ippodo_Featured-ImagesThere is a casual tea counter, where you can watch the tea being prepared, and a tea room, where you can sit at a table and savour your healthful cup with snacks. A bowl of matcha will be skilfully whisked at your table. Ideally, the matcha attains a frothy consistence like a top-notch Italian cappuccino. You can select from a wide range of Japanese teas. Premium gyokuro, various grades of powdered matcha (top quality for tea ceremony, lowest quality for cooking), and everyday teas like bancha, the smoky iribancha (sold in giant sacks to their wide global fanbase of customers), hojicha and a plethora of refreshing senchas are all sold there.
The mostly bi-lingual tea experts behind the counter advise you on anything you might want to know about Japanese tea. Sparing later disappointment, most teas can be tasted before you buy. Take-away is available.
 Kokusai Building, 1F, 3-1-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, 100-0005 Tokyo‎
 +81 03 6212 0202
Ippodo has a small shop cum tea to go located just under the Michelin stared kaiseki restaurant Kajitsu in New York.


Another Japanese tea purveyor that has stretched across the borders of Japan is Jugetsudo. The Jugetsudo Tokyo tea brand was founded by the Maruyama family, that has been sourcing best seaweed in Japan since 1854. Their seaweed shop is still located at the renown Tsukiji Chuo-ku market, but now it is also joined by a tea house with an authentically rustic feel that is comforting. Order one of the tea sets served with the in-house sweets, buy tea utensils, seaweed or tea. The powdered matcha with yuzu is intriguing and refreshing.
Tokyo tea Jugetsudo at Tsukiji
Jugetsudo at Tsukiji tea and dessert set
I usually have a pot of their roasted hojicha with a superb green tea ‘Mont Blanc’ pastry. Inspired by the French creamy chestnut dessert the “white Mountain” cake was adopted by this tea house that now also has a tiny branch in the Paris’ edgy Saint Germain. The Japanese admiration of French wine, food and fashion meet in the sweet realm. Another branch of Jugetsudo in Tokyo is inside the building behind the Kabukiza theatre. It is larger and more contemporary than its Tsukiji home.
 Tsukiji Kyoeikai Building 1F, 4-7-5 Tskukiji, Chuo-ku, 104-0045 Tokyo
 +81 03 35474747
Japanese Garden in Tokyo
For a green Tokyo tea experience visit the Edo era Happo-en garden. Inside, the Muan Japanese tea house is enjoyable on a sunny and warm day in the surrounding traditional Japanese garden. Here, enter “Sado“, the ancient practice of relaxation and drinking tea. The tea master demonstrates the etiquette and spirit of the classical tea ceremony. You can select from tasting either the green powdered matcha made traditionally (2100 Yen, reservation required) or enjoy a quick tea with sweets (no reservation 840 yen).
 1-1-1 Shirokanedai, Minato-ku, 108-8631 Tokyo
 +81 63 3443 3111

Cha Cha No Ma: tea from an expert with a bento lunch in Tokyo

Cha Cha No Ma literally means a dining room where tea is served. Hidden from the sights of the Tokyo’s manic shoppers in the narrow maze of shopping cul-de-sacs in Omotesando, the Tokyo’s most hip and trendy shopping district, the small and cosy tea room is a balancing escape from the fast-life in Tokyo.
Ch Cha No Ma in OmotesandoCha Cha No Ma Japanese green tea preparation

Enjoying Japanese green tea from sencha specialist

Yoshi Watada, Cha² No Ma founder and certified ‘Japanese Tea Instructor’ by the Green Tea Institute in Shizuoka, personally selects each year about 30 types of tea for his store, tea room and a casual diner in one. All of his tea is hand-picked mostly from Shizuoka, the largest tea growing prefecture in Japan. More, he provides you with little tasting cards for each tea, so you remeber which one you liked.
Japanese green tea
Mr Watada also authored a book on tea in 2009, an English translation of which is now in the works. While, he is aware of the long tradition of Japanese tea drinking, he adjusted the methods of preparation of the local green tea, sencha, his passion, in particular. Adjusting it to the modern time, he employs cold dripping through ice cubes, adding ice into brewed warm tea, serving it with sparkling water or steeped tea leafs on ice cubes, all alongside the traditional hot water brewing (80ºC max for green tea). You an witness his complex tea ‘ceremonies’ at Cha² No Ma or if you read Japanese, get his book. As I tasted a number of different teas in his suggested preparations as well as the usual way, I can conclude, that I was bemused how differently the same tea could taste! Its sweetness, level of bitterness as well as body (mouthful) can be highlighted or suppressed depending on which preparation is selected. The brewing temperature, as well as the length of steeping the tea leafs, affect the flavour tremendously. You can spoil your pot of tea so easily, so be careful!

The Japanese tea culture: the past meets modern fast times

He explained to me how different is the contemporary Japanese tea culture from the traditional. The oldest tea style, popularized by the Japan’s father of tea ceremony Sen Ryukyu, was the powdered matcha whisked into a fluffy beverage seved in a wide bowl. As tea became commercialised, it is now drunk in an informal style anywhere from Starbucks to a specialist matcha ‘fast-drinks’ chains such as Nana Tea in Tokyo. The formal tea ceremony is mostly performed for tourists. Still, the most popular daily tea in Japan is bancha, or tea that is drunk with a meal.
The tea barrista prefers sencha, a new style of steamed Japanese tea which can differ so widely that it captured his curiosity. At his cafe, he serves pre-selected varieties of a single farm and type every vintage. Although he tends to keep the same picks every year, tea like wine differs from a vintage to vintage, and this fascinates him. He even sells some vintage sencha such as the that I purchased recently.

Savor sencha at Cha Cha No Ma

Ryusei is a Japanese native wild tea tree grown and hand-picked by the farmer Mr. Tsukiji. Since it is a wild tea, the size of the leafs and the flavour of the brew can differ from a batch to batch. Unlike most of the steamed Japanese green teas, it benefits from multiple brewing as with each pouring of hot water a new fragrance reveals itself. Try it warmly brewed, in an ice-drip-preparation or with ice cubes added into the glass. The 2012 vintage of a “deep genuine taste” was very powerful in all dimensions, a strong bitterness, big body and also pronounced sweetness that shows best if you prepare the tea through the ice-drip method. After a coupple of brews I realised that it should be steeped for a very short time in the warm pot, 30s max.!
Cha Cha No Ma tearoom in Tokyo
The bestseller is Aoi Tori of the Sofu kind. This hard-stem young tea was hand-picked and steamed, and because of it not being as bitter and having a smooth flavour, it became the friendliest of all senchas at Cha² No Ma. Also grown by Mr. Tsukiji in Shizuoka, it has a “fragrance taking you up in the clear blue sky“.
I like Sakuya, the “noble atmosphere” evoking steamed tea of the Koshun type. It was grown without the use pesticides, is balanced, floral and very clear, so it drinks smoothly. Like the Ryusei, it can be appreciated in multiple brews as the flavour changes with each pouring of fresh water.
If you like naturally more sweet green tea, than try Tougenkyo also of the Koshun type, but with more pronounced peach scents, particilarly when served cold.
The Ujigyokuro is generally the highest grade of green tea in Japan. The tea bushes are shaded from the sun before harvesting so the chlorophyll levels are increased yielding brigter green leaves with a more sweet, rather than bitter taste. The first harvest late in April and May produces the highest quality of this tea. The vigour of the spring shows in the bright and energising flavour. Mr Watada likes to serve it in all his four ways. Unlike for sencha, the warm pot should be steeped in a maximum temperature of 60ºC.
Aged sencha from JapanBuddhist monk having tea
At his cafe cum tea house, he will happily explain, in his slow yet adorable English, anything about Japanese tea, shows you the various preparations and highlights the impact on the taste of each tea. He is not as keen on having certified organic teas. After talking with many local producers, for the quality and taste to be assured annually a little bit of “medicine” [aka pesticides] is generally used in Japan. He also added though, that the good farmers do not add any chemicals if the weather conditions of a certain year are favourable.
The food for lunch is always fresh and healthy. The bento-style plates in the daily set-lunch menu with three choices from the main plate, one of them always vegetarian, one usually a fish and the third a meat course. All served with rice, a soup, some tsukemono (pickles), a mildly sweet dessert and a barley porridge. A typical cup of bancha and a glass of iced green tea are included in the price. We honored the Japanese tea pioneers, the Buddhist monks, who brought tea from China to Japan in about 800 AD as we usually choose the vegetarian meal. A bowl of sesonal steamed mushrooms and veggies is usually served in this veggie bento.
Cha Cha No Ma tearoom in Tokyo
As is a Japanese custom, sweets are also available to accompany your pot of tea. We had matcha mochi, the sticky morsels made of gooey flour, water and covered in powdered green tea. They make for a nice pairing with green tea.
When looking for the discreet tea room, you may get lost in translation as it often happens in Japan. My advice is to look at the Chanel and Dior boutiques alongside the main shopping Avenue in Omotesando, then turn into the side alley between them. Lunchtime is very popular with locals coming from the offices in the area, so you better book. If you want to enjoy just tea with some sweets, then better come outside the lunch hours so you can chat about the tea with the expert.
5-13-14 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001
Mon-Sun: 11am-7pm
 +81 3 5468 8846

Sushi-Ya Ishiyama: exotic seafood in edomae sushi

The youthful Japanese chef Takao Ishiya of former Sushi-Ya has worked at top three Michelin-starred sushi restaurants in Tokyo (Saito) before his  pursuit of his own seafood and rice-paved road. The Shinjuku born and raised sushi master believes in the spirit of his city and instead of venturing into the fashionable Japanese restaurants abroad, he literally holed his first start up eatery in an undefined alley inside the dining kingdom of Ginza. His new venue since 2018 is more upscale, called after his last name Ishiyama, but the food is even better.
exotic seafood at Ishiyama sushiJapanese art
The tiny room cum sushi bar seats only seven to eight diners, who entrust themselves into the chef’s hands and skills in the omakase sequence of superb morsels of fresh ocean produce. Despite its sombre beige setting, the place hums with a very pleasant and creative zeal. The only decoration is a drawing of a young geisha facing the chef’s stage that hints at humbleness and mystery, no need for more as Takeo-san performs magic with his hands and focused gaze.

sushi chef Ishiyama

Takao Ishiya with LMB editor Radka Beach

At Sushiya zipping your mouth and bowing in front of the chef as if you were visiting a Buddhist shrine, is responded with the chef’s raised eyebrows. Unlike many of the older serious sushi chefs in Japan, the young Takeo is open to talk and his good-hearted spirit turns any meal at Ishiyama into an interactive and friendly occasion.

As a foreigner, be ready for some adventurous pieces of sushi at Ishiyama. You better be a real gourmand, open to trying anything. Do not look, just eat, since the impressions of taste will persuade your brain that sometimes weird food is worth trying. Cod fish sperm (Grilled Shirako also known as Milt), sea creatures served with their livers, blood cockle, but you will also get simple but very good quality cuts of the usual bonito, fatty tuna, mackerel or sardine.
Ma-aji sushi at IshiyamaBonito sashimi at Ishiyama
Ma-aji, Japanese Jack Mackerel, looks similar to a sardine, but it tastes more subtle. As is typical for edo-mae (Tokyo-style) sushi it is served cut in specific pattern opening the fish flesh up to diced chives and ginger. Achieving its peak flavour in summer, the fall yields more fat and smooth taste. By all the sushi chefs loved Bonito was cut and served in three levels of rawness. The feast for the palate and discovery of one fish’s potential.
Some never-seen-before items arrived from the kitchen right in front of us at Ishiyama. Co-diners from Hong Kong, ahead in their omakase, did us a great favour when they begged the chef not to tell us what that twisted baked softly textured UFO (= Unidentified Food Object) was before we cleaned up our plates. I enjoyed the rich and smooth texture of the Cod Fish Sperm seasoned with black pepper enormously, but if I knew ahead my brain would surely react with prejudice. Tasting it au nature, not covered in a tempura batter as I had it before at Rokkaku’s izakaya, expanded the boundaries of the weirdest food I put into my mouth.
Fatty tuna sushi at Sushiya Ishiyamaomakase sushi at Sushiya Ishiyama
The Akagai Blood Cockle was served with its black liver. A sip of sake helped to balance the salty string of the outer membrane, while its distinct crunchiness can alienate some diners. Another less usual citizen of the sea, Shako or the purple striped large Mantis Shrimp was sweeter in the late autumn because of its higher fat content. The soft yet slightly dry texture reminded me of a crab.
Saw-edged Perch, Ara, is starting to swim onto the sushi chef’s menus in late fall, Sushiya Ishiyama including. This white wish is often served with yuzu skin, and tastes very clean. While sometimes I find it boring, at Ishiyama I enjoyed its freshness.

No foreplay, the chef went straight to serving Chu-toro, the fattiest tuna. During this meal, I learned, that there is a huge difference in how the fat can be distributed in one cut of fish, and that most chefs do not pay too much attention to this. Takeo meticulously selected evenly marbled morsel of melting meaty delicacy. Like a scoop of not too frozen gelato, slowly let the flavours unwind. Applause!
Salmon Roe, Ikura, peaking in November and most Japanese restaurants we dined at during our trip served it in their preferred way. At Sushi Yoshitake, ikura was served in a typical layer atop a rice and nori bun, but at Sushiya Ishiyama we got it straight. Subtle shavings of yuzu skin and a bowl were its only companions. No hindrance to its highest potential, delicious.
 Ikura at Sushiya Ishiyama in TokyoOmakase sushi at Sushiya Ishiyama
Chef Ishiyama is bold, and his love of chives reflects itself on the plates. His preferred greens are diced, chopped or wrapped inside a slice of sashimi, but only when they add something, not simply for decoration.
Anago is highly prized in Japan. The sea Conger Eel is white in contrast to its more murky river species and it was served twice, once grilled on a skewer and plated with cod liver, chives in soy sauce, and later pure, just grilled on a bun of sushi rice. Both were the best preparations of eel we had to date.
Omakase sushiJapanese egg custard at Ishiyama
To finish, the usually boring (for us) egg custard Tamago, got a beautifying makeover in the chef’s hands. Tender, almost gelatinous and creamy like a Crème brûlée, this egg pudding slipped smoothly through our lips.
During our chat with chef Ishiyama and our desire to come back for a lunch, we learned that also children aged over 7 years are welcome on Sundays. If your kid is a serious connoisseur of food, consider a treat here in Tokyo.

The price is high, but Ishiyama charges less than most of the two and three-star spots in town. The restaurant can be very tricky to find, but once you spot an Apple store in Ginza, take second right alley and you will be rewarded by an excellent food.

This new location of Sushi Ishiyama is on this business card bellow. Practical to show your taxi driver.

🕗  Tue-Sun: Lunch 12noon-2pm; Dinner 5pm-10pm.
✉  Chuo-ku Ginza near the Apple Store, Sushi Ishiyama (鮨 いしやま) 4F, 3-3-6 Ginza, Tokyo
☏ +(81) 03 3538 3969 

Kanda: the art of modern kaiseki in Tokyo

Kanda is not just a district in Tokyo and a name for one of its subway stations, but also the last name of a Three Michelin stared chef Hiroyuki Kanda and his namesake restaurant. Since the guide’s inauguration, Kanda has been a constant Three star laureate, mainly because of the chef’s creating his own version of the artful kaiseki in modern Tokyo.
The chef Hiroyuki Kanda behind the counter
As it is more common for restaurants in Tokyo, Kanda is located is an apartment building, and not obvious to a non-japanese speaker. Getting the exact address to a taxi driver helps as he can navigate you in this discreet small residential inlet in the midst of the upscale maze of the Roppongi district. Do not hesitate to enter inside the door facing you right on ground floor.
Hiroyuki Kanda speaks also English and French, which is a welcome news for foreign visitors since it is rare for the japanese chefs to profess other languages than their mother tongue.
Creamy tofu bowl with seafood and vegetable jelly
The chef stands firmly behind his innovations. Emboldened by his experiences in France and renowned restaurants in Japan he seems proud to stream away from tradition. Although he serves most of the established kaiseki courses, he creates his own order.
There is no printed menu and you will be served about 10 courses one after another, so if you are interested in what is in your bowl inquire as the food is being served.
Mukozuke of white fish sashimi with its liver & umeboshi sauce
His hassun traditionally setting the seasonal theme was not an assortment of miniature dishes, but rather a piece of snow crab baked with its hearty roe. I have eaten this crab in almost every set menu during my two weeks in Japan and while Kanda’s take measured up to most of the others, it was not superior. Then we were served the first warm dish that arrived in a navy blue ornamented porcelain bowl. On the bottom was a delicate creamy tofu mixed with seafood and baby mushrooms topped with a spring onion jelly. Smooth texture and more pronounced taste than in similar dishes served at the zen vegetarian shojin ryori style eateries in Kyoto.
Yakimono: broiled fish at Kanda
The mukozuke, usually a seasonal sashimi were four thin cuts of white fish (cod – presumably Higetara Cod variety) plated together with its silky liver or sperm sacs (the chef translated it after pondering a while as liver, but it is more common in Japan to serve the popular delicacy of the cod’s sperm sacs known as ‘shirako’), diced green spring onion and its clear thin rings & umeboshi (japanese pickled plum) sauce served on a side.
Lidded clear broth with shrimp, mushroom & vegetables at Kanda
While we were still in a sensual ecstasy from the dish, what followed was a genial, while a simple combination, of white Alba truffles shaved on bonito tuna (‘katsuo‘ or skipjack) nigiri sushi. Yakimono, a seasonal grilled fish came after. Adorned with ginkgo nuts and colorful autumnal maple leafs it reminded me the most of the traditional kaiseki dishes served at Kikunoi in Kyoto.
The futamono of lidded clear dashi broth with shrimp, fish ball, matsutake mushroom and leafy greens displayed the pure flavors and quality of each of the ingredients and it was far from boring. The smoky dashi highlighted wonderfully the produce of the land and sea.
Japanese beef at Kanda
A very modern pinnacle of the kaiseki tasting menu of the night was the slightly grilled, almost rare, beef steak enveloped in a breadcrumb crust. It was succulent and meaty, unlike the fatty wagyu, often considered the most desired type of Japanese steak, because of its extreme marbling. It seems though, that most refined eaters prefer a leaner cuts, so they can taste more of the meat. Served with a wild bunch of greens and a dollop of spicy mustard the plate was well-balanced. In a kaiseki meal it can be classified as shiizakana, a simple dish showcasing the best ingredients the chef managed to acquire.
Those of you that drink wine or sake during dinner still had space for more food, so we welcomed the gohan of a small bowl of cooked rice topped with sticky shrimps. The shrimps were sweet and savory at the same time, but also more simple, which is welcomed by the end of a meal.
Handmade winelist at Kanda
The handmade book-like wine list is very personal and reveals the chef’s background spent in France. Although the French wines (mostly Burgundy and Bordeaux; we had a Grand Echezaux that was very well priced) are in majority, there are some California icons such as Ridge Monte Bello or the ridiculously priced Screaming Eagle as well as Australian beauties like a Pinot Noir from Paul Lato, that is particularly interesting. Most of the wine labels are glued on each page accompanied by a hand-written price. The chef is on hand to recommend a bottle for you if you cannot decide.
The sake selection is also impressive, larger at most sushi restaurants in town. We went for an unpasteurized medium bodied sake, the name of which these of you who can read Japanese can puzzle out (it is the common problem with sake that the labels are only in Japanese).
Sake at Kanda
Our meal had still two more dishes lined up. The perfect sweet three dots as if the story should continue – perhaps on your next visit to Kanda – in the form of mizumono after the meal, was first a fruity custard with a cup of Japanese green tea and the final gong sounded in a superb not too sweet buckwheat ice cream. I could easily have had two scoops of that!
Buckwheat ice cream at Kanda
With its three Michelin star badge, Kanda is expensive, but for real foodies it is worth savoring its modern approach to this very traditional Japanese culinary art. Moreover, the service is very personal, since the main room has only one perfectly polished wooden counter seating eight, and only one small private room. The limited seating makes it challenging to reserve as well as more exclusive like some of the excellent sushi restaurants in town.
Address: 3-6-34 Moto-azabu, Minato, Tokyo 106-0046, Japan
Contact: Tel: +(81) 03 5786 0150
Opening hours: Daily for dinner except Sunday & holidays: 6pm-10pm

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