PURE AND SIMPLE
Shinichiro Ogata’s reverence for traditional craft and cuisine shines at his fine-dining Tokyo institution, Yakumo Saryo.
Shinichiro Ogata’s reverence for traditional craft shines at Yakumo Saryo, his fine-dining institution
Parting the split white curtain that veils the entrance to Tokyo dining institution Yakumo Saryo feels like entering a shrine. This may sound an exaggeration but ceremonial quietness and serenity surrounds this establishment in the city’s south, which is housed in a rebuilt 30-year-old residence situated behind a stone wall on 800 square metres of land. Unlike the flashy dining quarters of Aoyama or Ginza in central Tokyo, Yakumo Saryo — Saryo means ‘restaurant with a room for Japanese tea’ — seems right at home in this quiet residential district, 15 minutes walk from the nearest railway station. The concept is the genius of Shinichiro Ogata, founder of Simplicity design studio, whose work includes interiors for the Andaz Tokyo hotel and collaborations with Aēsop and chef Alain Ducasse. The extensive work Simplicity undertakes stems from Ogata’s philosophy of nurturing Japanese culture, which he believes can only be achieved when people come together to mutually share their ideas and experiences. This culture extends to the appreciation of, and love for, Japanese cuisine, which reflects regional customs. It also encompasses the time-honoured crafts of Japanese ceramics and lacquer ware, bamboo crafts and wood carpentry. It’s not just about admiring these crafts within a museum setting through a glass display case — crafts should be used first-hand, to appreciate their usefulness in a real-life setting. And Ogata thinks dining is the primal platform where people gather organically and use tableware, utensils and furniture. “No matter how exquisitely traditional crafts are made, if those crafts don’t fit our contemporary lifestyle, people will not use them, and that will make the crafts disappear,” he says. “Traditional craft needs to be updated with design to demonstrate its usage in contemporary lifestyles.” This philosophy is the core of Ogata’s vision. Everything he does at Yakumo Saryo is thought- out, designed and placed, by the man himself, for visitors to touch and use throughout the dining experience. If they wish, guests can even purchase the plates and cups used in the restaurant and thereby introduce crafts into their own living environment. We are not talking about a mere restaurant. Yakumo Saryo is more like a cultural institution. As food is about seasonal offerings, the natural environment plays a crucial role in consummating Ogata’s vision. So, when he searched for the ideal location to establish Yakumo Saryo, he looked for a detached house where the garden was part of the set-up. Inside, the kitchen is designed so that the chef ’s huge cutting board — all eight metres of it — becomes the main dining table. Fortunate diners at the table can reach out for a succulent slice of grilled meat as the chef is cooking it and sample it. “When you sit at the same table where the chef slices sashimi fish or chops ››
‹‹ herbs and have your hands on the table, you even feel the vibration of the chef cooking,” says Ogata. “Our guests feel like they are part of the cooking process.” During the four-course kaiseki dinner, chopsticks are changed three times. First, needle-thin bamboo chopsticks are used to pick up delicate appetisers, then hard ebony chopsticks (which function as a knife and fork) are used for flflaking and dividing the fifillet of substantial main dishes, and thin cedar chopsticks help to savour fragrant rice. Finally, customers are given young bamboo chopsticks for eating soft Japanese sweets. All this is done for the purpose of making a specifific dish taste the best. You notice these changes simply because there is otherwise no fussy decoration — with less ornamentation, one’s senses become more sensitive to tiny details. Looking around the Yakumo Saryo interiors, fabric veils subtly hide diners at the kitchen-top table from diners sitting by the window, without overtly cutting the eyesight with doors or partitions. The veils are a little like the eye blinders once used by the nobility in the Japanese imperial court system to secure their privacy. In this rare quiet corner of Tokyo, simplicity comes in more than name only.
this page: diners entering Yakumo Saryo are met by an array of wagashi (traditional Japanese confectionaries) handmade from the restaurant’s kitchen and ready for purchase, along with porcelain and other wares. opposite page: a palette of stone, wood...
this page: The creator of Yakumo Saryo restaurant, designer Shinichiro Ogata, strives to prepare a feast for all the senses. opposite page: The restaurant is a modern take on traditional kaiseke (multi-course) dining.