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A Curator’s Vision and Boundless Hospitality Recall the Art of Chanoyu

Takanori Nakamura

Ginza Six Editors Vol.27

Having made my way around GINZA SIX intensely at a leisurely pace, I’ve concluded there’s a foundational hospitality here comparable to the inner essence of chanoyu, the tea ceremony. The association with the tea ceremony might sound unforeseen, and to some, perhaps, the tea ceremony brings to mind a profusion of esoteric rules. It’s certainly true that the tea ceremony covers a wide range. From the planting and cultivation of garden trees to the look of the pathway and the arrangement of the stones; from the architectural details of the tea room building to the appearance of the tea room itself and its hanging scroll and flower arrangements both indispensable for perfecting an alcove; from the charcoal implements and incense to the traditional kaiseki dishes, confections, and different kimonos to suit the seasons—it encompasses an entire way of life. All of these aspects are intricately detailed and suffused with an artistic sensibility. That’s what makes the tea ceremony, of which Sen no Rikyu was a master, so interesting.

Viewed from a certain perspective, GINZA SIX also produces a profusion of all-encompassing lifestyles. One sees aesthetic and curatorial devices everywhere, which is what prompted the association with chanoyu. Tea master Sen no Rikyu was, in a sense, an event producer and an art director with a keen aesthetic sense. If he were alive today to take in all that GINZA SIX is, he might well be taken aback by the evidence around all of his ideas and ideals. I’m a bit of a tea practitioner myself, so I went around GINZA SIX imagining I was Sen no Rikyu, making selections with a tea master’s eye.

The appearance of Kurogi Chacha on the second belowground floor is exactly like a tea room. You follow a little path by a stone basin and enter. You find a five-person counter laid out like a small tea room. It feels like a mountain villa in the city, a carefully orchestrated, extraordinary experience.

The only item on the menu here is Kurogi’s famous Tai Chazuke (rice soup with sea bream) (3,000 yen; all prices given are before tax). Don’t make the mistake of dismissing this as mere rice soup. It’s not the traditional soup and three side dishes, but the meal does come with rice and miso soup, fresh sea bream sashimi with special sesame sauce, a side dish in a small bowl, a vinegared dish, and pickled vegetables. Certainly adequate as a traditional kaiseki meal.

After starting with some of the sea bream with just freshly steamed white rice, I then enjoy the fish and the rice in a different bowl as rice soup. There’s miso as well, putting before the diner the option of multiple flavors. For the tea, too, you can choose from green tea, roasted green tea, and other varieties.

The rice is all-you-can-eat. In fact, so is the sea bream with sesame sauce. Incidentally, the restaurant opens at 10:30 a.m., so I’d certainly recommend it for a late breakfast. There are few places in Tokyo where you can enjoy delicious Japanese fare for breakfast.

The confection for dessert is Tokiba Shironeri, which can also be purchased as a gift or souvenir. The upper half is arrowroot jelly with Uji matcha tea; the lower half is Hokkaido cream cheese.

The matcha is prepared together with the confection. The restaurant collaborates with Fukujuen, a long-time Kyoto tea purveyor founded in 1790, so you can enjoy truly authentic matcha tea.

Today’s cup was skillfully prepared by Daisuke Nakamura. As said at tea ceremonies, I praised him: “It was very delicious.”

Grand Cru Café Ginza on the 13th floor is a coffee specialty store produced by Yoshiaki Kawashima, founder of Micafeto and renowned “coffee hunter.” The store feels like an elegant French restaurant. But it’s actually what might be called an extreme coffee salon, the likes of which is to be found nowhere else. I met Mr. Kawashima when he appeared on the NHK BS1 program “El Mundo,” where I was once a regular, and this café is the embodiment of his belief that coffee can be enjoyed just like fine wine.

The very finest coffee beans rigorously selected from around the world are roasted, then bottled in one bottle at a time, like champagne. Guests purchase the bottle they prefer, as at a wine bar, and have the coffee brewed.

The coffee beans are placed in bottles (like champagne) to seal in the carbon dioxide given off by the beans. That’s because the carbon dioxide contains the distinctive coffee aroma and freshness. When the bottle is opened in front of the guest, there’s a pleasant popping sound, and the aromatic scent of freshly roasted coffee beans fills the air soon afterward. It’s a pleasure to be found only here.

The coffee is drip-brewed one cup at a time right in front of the guest. Today, my cup is skillfully prepared by principal coffee evangelist Toshiki Masaki. The amount is carefully measured out, and the coffee is drip-brewed with water heated to a precise 87 degrees. This, too, is a delight for the senses.

Today, I chose Kotowa Rio Cristal Geisha Burgundy Natural coffee beans from Panama. This coffee has a fruity, berry aroma that recalls a Grand Cru Burgundy wine, just as how Mr. Kawashima constantly refers to coffee as fruity. It strikes the palate in a very pleasing way.

Almost all the coffee cups are one-of-a-kind Old Noritake cups and saucers. The experience of tasting coffee from such a special and invaluable vessel makes the experience that much more distinctive.

THE GRAND GINZA, also on the 13th floor, is a 1,653-square-meter space that incorporates everything from a lounge to a restaurant, banquet area, multipurpose hall, tea room, 12-seat chef’s counter, and bar, all based on the concept of a gathering spot for adults interested in Japanese food culture and the goal of providing all-encompassing hospitality.

I dined today in the VIP room, a kind of Japanese-style space I was surprised to find in the middle of Ginza. It is reservations-only, but if you pay the separate room charge, you can also enjoy the cuisine from the adjoining THE GRAND47.

THE GRAND47 showcases ingredients and cultures from Japan’s 47 prefectures as part of a constantly changing series of menus. The theme for today is Shikoku. Arranged to resemble the Naruto Strait, this appetizer consists of kobujime sea bream from Shikoku.

The main dish is seasonal, fresh-from-the-garden Shikoku bamboo shoots and Olive Beef on a gem-like plate.

The dessert is a version of the strawberry mille feuille recipe made famous by Maxim’s de Paris, which shuttered in 2015. Once known as the taste of Ginza, the recipe affectionately reproduced here has been handed down from the original first-generation patissier and that establishment’s head chef. No more than 20 of these desserts are made daily. Takeout orders are accepted.

Due partly to my experiment in looking out at the world with the eyes of a tea ceremony practitioner, I felt perfectly free to wander about wearing a kimono. I learned a great deal about GINZA SIX as an “art of life” space ideal for a day for a kimono-clad adult. An experience to treasure.

Text:Takanori Nakamura Photos:Kanako Noguchi Edit:Yuka Okada

editors_nakamura

Takanori Nakamura

Columnist. Writes and lectures broadly on fashion, gastronomy, travel, and lifestyle. Currently serves as Japan’s Chair in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy. Has attained the kendo rank of kyoshi nanadan. Tea ceremony instructor for Dainihon-Chado-Gakkai; author of “Famous Restaurant Recipe Pilgrimage and Training” (Seikaibunka Publishing); and coauthor of “The Cigar Life” (Hiromi Enterprise) and other titles.
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