Behind an inconspicuous wooden door marked with only a tiny sign on a side street of Tokyo’s Azabu-Juban district lies Gen Yamamoto bar. With just eight seats around a counter of Japanese oak, no music, no food and bare walls, this tiny bar is a spartan temple to cocktails. Here, the white-jacketed Gen Yamamoto, who with his clean-shaven head and soft-spoken voice has the air of a monk, brings science and art together in his six-course tasting menus, which change depending on the fresh produce he can source from all over Japan.
The drinks are sophisticated creations that have layered flavours and textures – such as a 12-year-old Yamazaki single malt with mashed pumpkin from Hokkaido, milk and sesame seeds which tastes like the epitome of autumn – and the overall experience demands the kind of quiet reverence you’d usually reserve for fine art. In Japan, almost anything of worth – like cocktails – is elevated to the level of an art form, whether it’s flower arranging, the design of manhole covers or even the wrapping of packages in a shop, and in no place is this more evident than in Tokyo, one of the most culturally attuned cities in the world.
In a metropolitan population of 38-million, Gen is just one of many artisans taking their craft seriously. With more Michelin-starred restaurants than
anywhere else in the world, Tokyo is the ultimate culinary capital. Chefs take decades to perfect the art of making just one thing, like Jiro Ono, the 90-year old sushi master who was the subject of a 2011 documentary film. At his eponymous 10-seater restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, located in the basement of a nondescript office building in Ginza, each sushi course is presented by Jiro.
The precision and artistry that Jiro applies to each piece of moulded fish and rice makes you realise that in Japan food can be so much more more than just something you eat. The more I see (and consume) of Tokyo – the bonsai gardens, the coffee shop with perfect iced cappuccinos inside a tiny wooden cube, the faultlessly curated design shops, the confectioners with sweets almost too beautiful to put in your mouth – the more I start to wonder what it is about Japan that its culture is one of such craftsmanship and attention to detail.
The quickest route to Tokyo from Johannesburg is flying via Hong Kong.
WHERE TO STAY
THE PARK HYATT TOKYO
(tokyo.park.hyatt.com), which had a starring role in the film Lost in Translation, is one of the city’s best hotels, with 178 rooms towering 41 floors above Shinjuku with views stretching to Mt Fuji, hushed interiors, a swimming pool with a glass roof, three restaurants and a live jazz bar.
IT’S A MUST TO STAY IN
A RYOKAN (traditional Japanese inn) while you’re in Japan, and Ryokan Motonago (motonago.com), located in one of the best sightseeing areas in Kyoto, is a winner with superb service, stylish rooms and excellent food.
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