After years of wanting to come here, I made it yesterday, late morning, on a flight from Itomi airport to Chitose that lasted just under two hours. A cup of beef broth in the air.
The car rental went as smooth as glass, and soon we were on the left side of the road along the Pacific ocean, driving past strip malls, refineries, and pockets of urban life, until reaching Noboribetsu, which is a village in a national park.
Takinoya, the ryokan we are staying in for about a week, is quiet and pretty much non-English speaking, so I have to use my basic Japanese to talk about the robes, baths, dinners, and breakfasts.
The room is tatami and our view is of a forest where the rain is now falling.
Reading, “The Gate,” by Soseki, and writing.
My latest, which appears in Travel + Leisure today: http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/roppongi-neighborhood-tokyo
A long walk to a middle class, residential neighborhood brought us past an enormous temple complex, across busy city highways, and to a sprawling park filled with families having picnics before or after visiting the train museum.
We walked into “My Farmer,” a little store selling local vegetables and fruits, and then went to Mercato, which was just about next door.
Mercato is a first-rate and new pizzeria with real Neapolitan pies and for $15 you get an entire pizza with fresh buffalo milk mozzarella, a huge salad, and a small beer.
We walked that off by returning on foot to the hotel. Along the way, another enormous temple complex. Am I the only one who thinks that all religious buildings ought to be razed and replaced by schools based on science? Probably.
In the evening, we met up with friends at Hotel Okura. Just a meeting place. The hotel is among the few fancy places built in the ’60’s, and it is beautiful. We all took cabs to Gyu-Ha.
Gyu-Ha is a tiny and very remote beef “yaki” place deep in the NE section of Kyoto, and said to be a haunt of geisha. M took us there, she’s a regular. We were joined by T and I and two others I’d not met before. Crazy delicious grilled beef and lots of beer and sake.
Kyoto is one of the world’s greatest walking cities and as one criss-crosses the bridges to and from Gion to the newer part of town, suspended briefly above the Kamo river, the feeling of being in a small town that has gotten big intensifies. It’s something like my 7th visit.
I had a couple of meetings yesterday, one with a chef and another with an artist, and before and after these enjoyed a first-rate Neapolitan inspired lunch at La Locanda. Burrata and artichoke, spaghetti in tomato “sauce,” snapper. As good as it gets. Italian food with first-rate fish and vegetables.
Later it was dinner at Kuzushi Yoshi Yoshi, a six-seater deep in Gion. No menu, nine tiny courses, maybe the most memorable meal I have had in years due to the intensity of ingredients.
Today it will be a visit to Mercato for pizza and later tonight a hard-to-snag table for six of us at Gyuho.
And then: Hokkaido.
I returned to Kyoto mid-afternoon yesterday after a brief train ride down from the mountains and along the coast in lashing rain while enjoying a can of cold beer and an Eki-Ben of cold smoked salmon on pressed rice wrapped in banana leaves.
The first meeting was to discuss bringing over NYC chefs to Kyoto.
Later that day, in early evening, it was time to visit Torito, which has become one of my favorite yakitori joints in all of Japan. Tsukune, raw eggplant and tomatoes that were so sweet, wings, momo with scallions, etc.
A meeting at 1230 today and another at 3 PM. Then dinner with friends at a tiny place with counter stools where I’ve not been before.
I’ve been in the mountains the past couple of days seeing friends and interviewing artisans for a project that will bring me back here in December as well as find itself in an upcoming article in Travel + Leisure.
The program was long and vigorous, and included interviews of length with a wood-turner, a soba maker, a sake brewer, an innkeeper, a soba chef, a jazz club owner, a chef who runs an Italian restaurant, a rice farmer using organic methods, and a tatami mat maker.
I learned a lot, of course! That’s how Japan is and can be: Didactic, eager to explain the multi-generations establishments, in most instances, that provide them each with a living, and a way to support their families.
Each person is swimming against the current: Globalization implies the degradation of labor and the environment, as well as the powerful exchange of ideas, and by maintaining old models of doing business, they invite challenges. It’s exciting to be part of an effort to hold onto traditional ways of doing things, and to try to understand the non-monetized benefits of local infrastructures.
Today it’s off to Kyoto for a few nights to see friends and report on what’s happening in the city.
Due to jet lag, I’m up just past 5 A.M. on a futon in a tatami room inside The Kayotei, which is a lovely and remote hot springs inn located near Kaga Onsen, and is part of Ishikawa prefecture.
I’ve been here many times. No place has better food and the silence of its passageways is addictive.
Moments ago, bells from a nearby Zen monastery rang out. Crows have been cawing for over an hour.
I’m seated in an open air part of the room, just renovated a day ago, with a deep, wooden bath about fifteen feet away. Overlooking a forest and in view of mountains and a few large buildings housing other inns.
Today I’m interviewing a number of artisans: A wood maker, soba maker, rice farmer. Later this year or early next, I’ll return to help the prefecture develop documents that can be used to support the artisans through sales of their work overseas.
Yesterday, it was a day starting with a 5K run, and then time spent interviewing folks and seeing friends in Roppongi. The area has its demimonde, but to be sure it also has two first rate art museums, remarkable buildings, and old lanes where embassies are housed from the early postwar era.
Two more interviews in the late afternoon about whisky and Zen, best of both worlds, and then a train ride to Meguro for dinner in a kakurega-type joint. Two handfuls of seats where the chef, she trained in Italy, served up delicious portions of pasta and decent Nebbiolo.
Soon the new train to Kanazawa and a couple of nights seeing friends in Yamanaka as well as six interviews over the next two days.
It’s eerily familiar being back here after only a few months absence. What was unfamiliar is recognizable. Navigation is easy, shortcuts through stations possible, etiquette understood.
The JR Express whisked us from Narita to Shinjuku in just over an hour. Shinjuku is the world’s busiest train station. Then a short cab ride of under five minutes to our hotel. Hot shower, change of clothes, out to see friends.
First stop: FUKU. Simple, delicious, inexpensive yakitori with a couple of beers. Japanese drank French wine with the grilled chicken. Next stop: Another yakitori place a few doors down. Third stop: Swan Lake Brew Pub. Cold drafts of I.P.A. from a brewery in Hiroshima prefecture. Last call at 2300. Finally, a well-known and tiny sake “pub” with sparse decoration and small glasses of three very tasty sake.
In bed by 1 AM and up to run three miles.
Later today: Roppongi for T+L, a visit to Reiko at NUNO, and more meetings in the afternoon before an Italian dinner with S.
Pouring rain at the start of the day, and about ninety minutes until we head to Logan to begin another flight to Narita via Detroit.
Halal pakora and samosa for the flight, check. Great hole-in-the-wall, subcontinental joint in Brighton sells these and bigger plates. Spice in the air is about all the palate can take in as dishes with less heat have less flavor.
Will read, “Skyfaring,” on the flight, Mark Vanhoenacker’s new book about being a pilot and his years of pleasure in the air.
Tomorrow night in Tokyo meeting up with friends at Fuku, which is a yakitori joint near the hotel that I’ve read about.
Eight pieces due for three publications, an edit on my new book, and maybe some hot baths…