Seven Days in Japan

Seven days in Japan

If you’ve ever had the good fortune to visit Japan, you’ll doubtless have been left with the same wealth of feeling I have, as I write from my home in London. The chaotic modernity of Tokyo versus the historical richness of Kyoto, to the Idyllic countryside, kind gestures of the people and the absolute obsession with the detail in their craft.

If you haven’t visit Japan, I wonder if we all have a little of Japan within us, either through the food, art, ceramics, or the familiar image of their zen gardens.

Such craft has a name – ‘Shokunin.’ It means ‘artisan’. A lifetime of dedication to one’s craft, with the aim of perfecting every detail of one’s speciality. It’s central to so much of Japanese culture.

With bags barely unpacked, I wanted to share with you the vivid highlights of my seven days, travelling between Tokyo and Kyoto.

Toyosu Market

Stepping off the plane, food is not far from my mind. Not necessarily because I’m hungry. Rather, because there is no other city in the world quite like Tokyo. From ‘hole in the wall’ eateries, to elaborate fine dining establishments, they say there are now approximately 160,000 restaurants in Tokyo. Its rich culinary history dates back to the Edo era and such a vast number of eateries requires a sophisticated supply system – one of the most important being Tokyo’s Toyosu market. What better place to start.

The market replaced the iconic Tsukiji Fish Market in 2018 and is often described as the ‘belly of Tokyo’. Best known for its tuna auction, it’s frenetic and fast paced and arriving early morning is essential.

Toyosu is a wholesale market, specialising in the distribution of seafood, fruits, and vegetables. If you go early enough, you’ll most likely meet some of best sushi masters in Tokyo, who shop for their fish and seafood there. The majority of the sushi restaurants in Tokyo are small counter restaurants and serve as little as 8-10 people at a time. To ensure the quality and freshness, chefs buy only the amount of fish needed for that day, making Toyosu a daily ritual for many of them.

At one counter in Toyusu, you might see more chefs than anywhere else in the market. Called Yamayuki, the counter belongs to the “king of tuna”, Yukitaka Yamaguchi. Yukitaka is, without a doubt, a very highly regarded at Toyosu market and one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met in Tokyo. If you’ve ever been to Tsukiji market, you might have seen him in his blue uniform, delicately slicing tuna, making calls or serving sushi masters such as Takashi Saito alongside many more of Tokyo’s top chefs.

According to Mr Yamaguchi, he chooses tuna that pairs well with each restaurant’s shari (rice). Strong shari needs strong fish. And for restaurants where the shari is soft, he provides soft tuna with a subtler flavour. He dines at all the restaurants he works with to find out what they are looking for and suggests tuna suited to their shari. Eighty-five percent of Yamayuki customers are sushi restaurants and each restaurant has a different type of shari. Some use akazu (red rice vinegar), some komesu (rice vinegar), some use sugar, some don’t, some use lots of vinegar, others don’t. According to Mr Yamaguchi, he does business with about 1,000 restaurants around the world.

Tachigui Sushi Tonari

Sushi continued to be a theme as I settled into the Japanese way. This is because, in recent years, there has been a growing trend of more casual sushi restaurants known as ‘sushi-ya’ appearing throughout Tokyo, which was accelerated further by the pandemic and the lack of foreign visitors.

Tachigui Sushi Tonari is one example and I had to visit. ‘Tachigui’ means ‘eating while standing’. It’s a chic take on the traditional way of enjoying sushi that dates back to the Edo period that started in 1603 and drew to a close in 1867.

Even though one can order traditional Edo-mae style neta (sushi toppings) such as tuna or gizzard shad at Tachigui Sushi Tonari, the chef Hatano Yoshiki adds his own creative spin also serving signature toppings such as eggplant agebitashi and red bean paste sesame seeds.

Soba Osame

Soba noodles is another staple food originating from the Edo period. During this period, it was considered a cheap and fast food that was enjoyed by people of all social classes. Made of buckwheat, Soba noodles are often served with a dipping sauce or in soups and can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Though be prepared, in Japan, it is considered polite and good etiquette to slurp your soba noodles! This is because slurping is believed to enhance the flavour of the noodles and show appreciation for the meal.

Soba Osame, run by soba master Kenji Osame is considered one of the best soba-yas in Tokyo at the moment. Chef Osame is known to source buckwheat from various regions across Japan. He uses their unique qualities, based on the local topography and makes for sumptuous, coarsely ground Juwari soba. Travel Japan and you’ll notice how Soba has endless variations, depending on the region.

Alone, or with various toppings, soba can be served in a hot broth, or cold, such as in Zaru Soba, which is presented on a bamboo strainer, usually in summer. Personally, I love cold soba because you can better taste the fine flavour of the buckwheat. As is customary at artisanal establishments like Soba Osame, the master makes and cuts fresh soba every day. Watching master Osame cut soba is almost a meditative experience. Every movement is deliberate and beautiful to watch.

Pizza at Mandarin Oriental

Pizza may not be the first food type to springs to mind when visiting Japan, but I’d heard so much about this pizza, I just had to experience it.

Mandarin Oriental hotel executive chef Daniele Cason could be considered a different kind of shokunin; a pizza shokunin. Daniele, who is originally from Rome and is a classically trained chef, decided to become a pizzaiolo after joining the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo ten years ago. Maybe homesick for his home food, he started baking pizza alla pala, a traditional Roman speciality, which is usually sold in Rome by the slice.

Chef Daniele is taking the art of pizza-making to the next level by sourcing only the finest ingredients. While the flour and water come from Italy, the rest of the ingredients, such as vegetables, prosciutto, and burrata, are sourced from the best artisanal producers around Japan. Similar to the traditional Japanese fine dining art of kaiseki, Daniele’s pizza toppings reflect not only each season but also each micro-season, of which there are 72 in Japan. For example, during winter, he uses foraged mountain vegetables, which are available only for a limited time. In spring, he sources wild mountain vegetables (Sansai) from Ueda Teisho, an 85-year-old forager who picks the vegetables in his forest in the Kochi prefecture. Each week, Daniele gets one box of Sansai and it’s always a surprise to see new species of Sansai or flowers. Daniele also buys takenoko bamboo shoots, wild flowers, and shiitake mushrooms from Ueda Teisho.

My visit was during the courgette season and Daniele created a pizza that was a true celebration of summer textures and colours. The dough was crispy and light, perfectly holding the ingredients in the middle. To finish it off, Daniele added a delicate touch of courgette flowers, adding more colour and a subtle sweetness. Pizza in Japan? I’m a fan.

Auberge Tokito

Just 45 minutes from Tokyo, is the Auberge Tokito. On entering, you’re immediately transported to a rather serene oasis. One that’s rather exclusive too. The stunning architecture and interior design, created by renowned Japanese architect and designer Shinichiro Ogata, offer a modern take on the traditional Japanese ryokan. In keeping with the ryokan tradition, all rooms feature an Onsen, providing guests with a truly authentic Japanese experience.

The man behind this new project and the food experience is Yoshinori Ishii, a chef extraordinaire who after more than 20 years of life outside of Japan has moved back home to open Auberge Tokito. In London, where he ran a Michelin starred kaiseki restaurant, he is known as a pioneer of Ikejime, a humane method of killing fish that maintains the quality of the meat.

Ishii’s quest to serve the finest fish in London took him beyond sourcing the best product available, to spearheading change around fishing methods in the UK. By frequenting fisheries in England’s Southwest Coast, specifically along Cornwall’s long peninsula where there is an existing tradition of carefully handling fish, Ishii found a supplier (the boss of a small boat line fishing company) who was able to emulate his method and thus meet his standard. And so, as a side project, he was able to positively influence current fishing practices, through teaching local fishermen the traditional Japanese Ikejime method.

At Auberge Tokito, chef Yoshinori Ishii is once again innovating by revisiting and modernizing traditional Japanese kaiseki cuisine that involves creating a series of very small but intricately designed dishes, where seasonality is crucial.

Just as he did in the UK, he and his team are redefining luxury with “artisan cuisine”. Once again, this involves working closely with the best artisans, producers, fishermen and hunters from around Japan.

At his 10 seat counter Yoshinori Ishii serves beautifully fresh sea bream sashimi with fresh and frozen Hassaku citrus and herbs; “Surf&Turf”, straw flamed tuna with fond de veau and horse radish cream, or, the absolute highlight of the meal, baked “Gekkou” lily bulbs. All served in plates and bowls created by Ishii San himself, in his nearby ceramic’s studio.

Yukito Nishinaka

Travel to Chiba Prefecture, not far from Tokyo and you’ll find Yukito Nishinaka, world renowned glass artist who specialises in offering a unique interpretation of the Japanese mending technique developed in the 17th century for tea bowls (Yobitsugi).

Yobitsugi is one of the techniques of kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken objects. While kintsugi repairs the broken parts of the same object, yobitsugi joins parts of different objects. Once completed, the cracks, emphasised with gold, have an irresistible element of beauty.

The Yobitsugi technique traditionally used lacquer visibly mixed with powdered gold, silver or platinum as glue to join the broken parts together and finished with gold leaf, poetically enhancing the imperfections.

Nishinaka’s work is quite distinctive and involves using molten glass to join broken parts, while incorporating fragments from other objects. Again, he purposely leaves the repair visible, fusing fragments from a broken vessel onto the surface of a free-blown glass core, around which sheets of gold and silver leaf are been wrapped.

“Eternal Affinity” at Honen-in Temple by Yukito Nishinaka

My travels took me to Kyoto and the installation “Eternal Affinity.” The Eternal Affinity is a unique piece of artwork created by glass artist Yukito Nishinaka and located at the entrance of the Honen-in Temple in Kyoto, which has been in existence for over 340 years.

Nishinaka’s installation is a modern interpretation of the traditional Japanese rock garden, also known as a karesansui and his work is a symbol of rebirth and sustainability.

The glass rocks used in the installation were created by melting and reshaping recycled glass bottles. Each glass rock is meticulously crafted to resemble the natural rocks, typically found in a karesansui garden, often referred to as a ‘zen garden.’ The result is a beautiful and unique artwork that reflects both traditional Japanese culture and modern sustainability practices.


Wandering through Kyoto’s ancient streets, you can’t fail but marvel at what is hiding behind the doors of the very, old traditional wooden houses known as machiyas. It is here I found the restaurant Hyotei.

Hyotei is a traditional kaiseki restaurant located at the entrance of Nanzen-ji Temple. It also boasts 3 Michelin stars. Crossing the doorstep of Hyotei is like traveling back in time. The restaurant has been owned and operated by the same family for 450 years, with the current chef-owner, Yoshihiro Takahashi, being the 15th generation to continue the culinary tradition.

Hyotei specializes in serving traditional tea kaiseki cuisine, which is a multi-course meal originating from the tea ceremony. Originally a humble meal of just a bowl of miso soup and three side dishes, kaiseki has evolved over the years into an elaborate celebration of flavours, colours, and textures that showcase the chef’s skills and the best of the season’s offerings.

A typical kaiseki meal usually consists of an appetizer, a seasonal dish called Hassun that reflects the current season, a sashimi dish, and a simmered and grilled dish, among others. Depending on the restaurant and the chef, there may be more than ten dishes in total.

One of the highlights and signature dishes at Hyotei is their soft-boiled egg, which is prepared using the same exact method that was used hundreds of years ago at the Hyotei tea house for hungry pilgrims on their way to Nanzen-ji temple. The egg is perfectly cooked to a soft-boiled consistency and tastes just as delicious as it looks!


Japan is blessed by having shokunin at its heart. My seven days experiencing the most exquisite food and craft is filled with good fortune. Good fortune that I am able to experience these rare delights, but also that I can share them with you here. It is also true to say, that when you visit, you will quickly discover that behind almost every door in Japan, there is a whole other world of discovery. Though, you may require several lives to see it all!

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