Tour Japan’s luxury ryokan without stepping a foot outside of Tokyo

March 3, 2022 by No Comments


With travel on pause for the moment, Palace Hotel Tokyo is currently hosting a series of dinners to bring a taste of regional Japanese food and culture to the capital.

A collaboration with The Ryokan Collection, a consortium of luxury Japanese inns and boutique hotels, the “Essence of Japan” events feature eight traditional ryokan inns.

The series began Jan. 14 with a meal showcasing the cuisine of Ryokan Kurashiki and will run through March 18. At each event, the ryokan’s head chef is joined by the property’s okami, the female proprietor who manages the inn. More than a host or a maitre d’hotel, the role of the okami — which dates back to the origins of ryokan 1,300 years ago — embodies the history and spirit of each inn. As Hiroki Fukunaga, the founder of The Ryokan Collection, points out, the okami is “the symbol of the family business” responsible for overseeing the detailed and heartfelt service that forms the base of Japan’s omotenashi brand of hospitality.

Dressed in a tasteful chocolate-brown kimono, Maho Kubo, the elegant okami of Bettei Senjuan commences the second session on Jan. 28. As she introduces the inn’s location along the Tanigawa River in Gunma Prefecture, wall-sized projections display the area’s picturesque scenery and the inn’s splendid open-air hot spring baths.

Maho Kubo the proprietress at Bettei Senjuan, a 'ryokan' (traditional Japanese inn) in Minakami, Gunma Prefecture, holds a basket of cage-free eggs. | PALACE HOTEL TOKYO
Maho Kubo the proprietress at Bettei Senjuan, a ‘ryokan’ (traditional Japanese inn) in Minakami, Gunma Prefecture, holds a basket of cage-free eggs. | PALACE HOTEL TOKYO

The meal opens with a colorful assortment of regional delicacies — sake lees tofu topped with caviar and wasabi, locally cured ham wrapped around angelica shoots with cream cheese, and pleasantly bitter simmered butterbur. The sashimi course showcases the bounty of Gunma’s rivers with ginhikari rainbow trout and golden salmon roe. A dish of grilled pork and taro accompanies a plate of fried shirauo ice fish prepared by Keiji Miyabe of the Palace Hotel’s Japanese restaurant Wadakura. The main dish includes one of the area’s most famous products, tender Joshu beef, cooked in sweetened soy sauce with an array of mushrooms and your choice of two kinds of raw egg — one with a pale yellow yolk, the other with a dark orange yolk.

Seven kinds of Mizubasho sake from Gunma-based producer Nagai Sake Inc. pair with each course. The crisp, refreshing Mizubasho Junmai Ginjo is a match for the sashimi, while the fruitiness and subtle umami of Mizubasho Junmai Daiginjo Premium complement grilled shiitake mushroom topped with a mixture of miso and sea urchin. The lineup also includes two bottles in the new Mizubasho Artist Series. The smooth and light Artist Series Still Sake complements spiny lobster in tomato gelee; the Artist Series Dessert Sake, with flavors of passionfruit and stone fruit, works with tiramisu and plump strawberries. Part of the proceeds from the Artist Series sake go to environmental conservation projects in Gunma’s Oze area.

Akira Miyashita, head bartender at the Palace Hotel Tokyo’s Lounge Bar Prive, has concocted a cocktail for every locale featured at 'Essence of Japan,' including this apple-themed one for Zaborin in Hokkaido. | PALACE HOTEL TOKYO
Akira Miyashita, head bartender at the Palace Hotel Tokyo’s Lounge Bar Prive, has concocted a cocktail for every locale featured at ‘Essence of Japan,’ including this apple-themed one for Zaborin in Hokkaido. | PALACE HOTEL TOKYO

To complement the dinner series, Akira Miyashita, head bartender at the Palace Hotel’s Lounge Bar Prive, has created a menu of bespoke cocktails inspired by each ryokan. In Miyashita’s intoxicating homage to Ryokan Kurashiki, fragrant lemons from the city of Kurashiki, on the Seto Inland Sea in Okayama Prefecture, add acidic sparkle to a sweet base of limoncello; the sugar coating on the rim of the glass is a nod to the inn’s history as the home of a wealthy sugar merchant. For Zaborin, a delicate local apple juice is mixed with apple brandy and cardamon, served in a glass sprayed with a fine dusting of powdered sugar to evoke the snowy landscape of Niseko in Hokkaido. “The Emptiness Filled with Light” is a delightful blend of white wine with yuzu citrus and Chinese quince from the sun-dappled gardens of Beniya Mukayu in Ishikawa Prefecture. Spirit-forward offerings include “Setsugekka” — a lively swirl of Stolichnaya vodka, yuzu syrup and tonic — and the hotel’s signature classic dry martini, flavored with orange bitters.

While the dinner events are limited to one night for each ryokan, the full range of collaboration cocktails will be available until March 18.

The “Essence of Japan” events will be held Fridays through March 18 from 6 p.m. at the Palace Hotel Tokyo. The price is ¥48,000, which includes food, drinks, a 10% service charge and consumption tax. For inquiries and reservations, call +81-3-3211-5326 (10 a.m. to 7 p.m.) or visit the website.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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