Eat­ing in the style of Ky­oto’s Bud­dhist monks

EN­JOY­ING a tran­scen­dent meal is a lit­tle like hav­ing a wed­ding or a car ac­ci­dent—time slows to a crawl. That’s the sen­sa­tion I had in Ky­oto while I ne­go­ti­ated bit­ing into an ume­boshi plum sheathed in translu­cent tem­pura bat­ter, a dish so lovely that I nearly couldn’t bring my­self to eat it. So many oth­ers ar­rived as part of this un­for­get­table three-hour lunch that I be­gan to lose track: a per­fect sphere of seafoam shiso sor­bet; a clay teapot filled with a dark broth of shi­itake mush­rooms, gingko nuts, and cus­tard­like tofu; pearly squares of wheat gluten fra­grant with the aroma of yuzu. More mem­o­rable still was a cube with the color and con­sis­tency of the fresh­est buf­falo-milk bur­rata. I pointed at it and the server spoke the words ebi imo. Af­ter fum­bling with a trans­la­tion app, I learned that I’d eaten a taro na­tive to the Kan­sai Plain called a shrimp potato. Count me among its fans.

This, one of the most rav­ish­ing meals in my re­cent mem­ory, didn’t take place in some hushed fine­din­ing pav­il­ion but at Izusen, a chair­less, bustling res­tau­rant in­side the Daitoku-ji tem­ple com­plex. I could hear shout­ing from the kitchen. Be­hind me, a bus­load of vis­it­ing re­tirees nois­ily en­joyed their meal. I was un­ac­cus­tomed to sit­ting on the floor and kept slid­ing off a grow­ing stack of cush­ions. One of the women caught a glimpse of my or­deal and let out a de­lighted peal. She pointed at me and soon two dozen el­derly tourists in sun vi­sors and bucket hats were hold­ing them­selves with laugh­ter.

Sho­jin ry­ori is Ja­pan’s old­est cod­i­fied cui­sine but sel­dom en­coun­tered out­side tem­ples, re­li­gious fes­ti­vals, and fu­ner­als. In ac­cor­dance with the Bud­dhist pro­hi­bi­tion against killing, sho­jin (which means “earnest ef­fort”) es­chews an­i­mal prod­ucts and in ret­ro­spect ap­pears to be eerily prophetic, hav­ing pre­saged a whole slew of con­tem­po­rary food trends by about a mil­len­nium. It in­sists on pro­duce that’s both lo­cal and in sea­son, requires that it be prepared with sim­ple hand tools, and al­lows no waste—in­stead of “nose to tail” you could call it “root to leaf.” And as I was dis­cov­er­ing, de­spite a fairly lim­ited in­gre­di­ent list, sho­jin can pro­duce tex­tures and fla­vors lim­ited only by the cook’s abil­ity and imag­i­na­tion.

An­other thing I was dis­cov­er­ing: Writ­ing about the food of Ja­panese monks and nuns for a mag­a­zine like this one pre­sented sev­eral dif­fi­cul­ties. From the Bud­dhist per­spec­tive, cook­ing is a form of spir­i­tual prac­tice that pro­duces nour­ish­ment to pre­pare the body for hard work and med­i­ta­tion. Un­like, say, Mem­phis bar­be­cue or the louche cui­sine of Ly­on­naise bou­chons, sho­jin doesn’t have a whole lot to say on the sub­ject of plea­sure. Sho­jin has big­ger fish to fry. Its goals are noth­ing less than per­ma­nent en­light­en­ment, nir­vana, the fun­da­men­tal trans­for­ma­tion of the hu­man mind and so­ci­ety. It does not yield eas­ily to an out­sider’s ex­pla­na­tion.

I chanced upon my sal­va­tion, jour­nal­is­ti­cally speak­ing, in the per­son of Toshio Tana­hashi. He’d prac­ticed the art of sho­jin as a Zen monk in a ru­ral tem­ple near Ky­oto and then did some­thing un­prece­dented—he opened a res­tau­rant in Tokyo’s chic Omote­sando neigh­bor­hood that pre­sented vegan monas­tic cui­sine in a fine-din­ing con­text. The res­tau­rant, Gesshin Kyo, be­came both suc­cess­ful and in­flu­en­tial. Re­view­ing it for the New York Times, au­thor and culi­nary au­thor­ity El­iz­a­beth An­doh de­scribed it as a “sec­u­lar space im­bued with a spir­i­tual re­spect for food.” It was a spir­i­tual re­spect that nonethe­less made room for dis­tinctly un-ja­panese el­e­ments like toma­toes, man­goes, and white bordeaux. Freed from tem­ple kitchens and its role as nour­ish­ment, sho­jin daz­zled Tana­hashi’s din­ers with its un­fa­mil­iar and sub­tle beauty. The Zen monk had be­come a fa­mous chef by reimag­in­ing monk food.

Tana­hashi closed Gesshin Kyo af­ter 15 years, in 2006. Along the way he wrote two books about sho­jin ry­ori and came to see it as a cor­rec­tive to the world’s res­tau­rant cul­ture, which he be­lieves to be ad­dled with costly, scarce, and un­healthy in­gre­di­ents. “In the long term, gas­tron­omy is un­sus­tain­able,” he wrote me in an email, an odd sen­ti­ment from a chef who’d re­cently spent a month in Paris delv­ing into the finer points of veg­eta­bles with the staff at Alain Du­casse’s res­tau­rant at the Plaza Athénée. “It’s cru­cial that good nu­tri­tion and sus­tain­abil­ity be­come a part of res­tau­rant cul­ture,” he con­tin­ued, “and the Miche­lin Guide should award a fourth star for the food’s health­ful­ness.” As Tana­hashi sees it,

sho­jin is not merely the nour­ish­ment of monas­tics but the would-be life­line and fu­ture of global food cul­ture—the vegan blue­print of how we will one day eat.

“Come to Ky­oto,” he wrote me, of­fer­ing to lead me on a tour through the world of sho­jin in its home­town, a world that he as­sured me was closed to out­siders. He also promised to cook for me the “mod­ern” ver­sion of sho­jin that he had de­vel­oped over the course of his ca­reer—to demon­strate that health, spir­i­tu­al­ity, and sen­sory plea­sure could co­ex­ist on the same plate. Dur­ing our cor­re­spon­dence, I was be­gin­ning to sense that Tana­hashi didn’t put much stock in the Ja­panese pen­chant for self-ef­face­ment nor in the Bud­dhist ethic of hu­mil­ity. “Who else in Ja­pan is mak­ing mod­ern ver­sions of sho­jin?” I asked him. “No one,” he replied.

When we fi­nally met at my ho­tel in Ky­oto, Tana­hashi turned out to be an in­tense, slight, un­smil­ing man in his 50s. He wore an ex­pen­sive-look­ing blazer and fe­dora by the de­signer Yo­hji Ya­mamoto that, in con­trast with his rather glum mien, danced with just about ev­ery color in the vis­i­ble spec­trum. He greeted me by brusquely clasp­ing my hand in his. Notic­ing my sur­prise at his cos­tume, he re­marked, “I bought these when I was rich.” Our ac­quain­tance was off to a pe­cu­liar start.

din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence one en­coun­ters in Ja­pan to­day. The word kaiseki comes from the warm stone that men­di­cant monks once pressed to their stom­achs to dull hunger pains. That it came to de­scribe dozens of la­bo­ri­ously plated cour­ses served on mu­se­um­grade ce­ram­ics and lac­quer­ware in hushed din­ing rooms and gar­dens is a dis­tinctly Ja­panese para­dox.

This para­dox col­ors the world of sho­jin, too—a world poised be­tween the rig­or­ous sim­plic­ity of spir­i­tual prac­tice and its of­ten ex­quis­ite trap­pings. Con­sider the tools found in a sho­jin kitchen. On the day we met, Tana­hashi brought me to Arit­sugu, renowned as a shrine among the in­ter­na­tional brother­hood of knife fetishists. The fam­ily-owned shop has been in con­tin­u­ous op­er­a­tion since 1560 and once sup­plied swords to the Im­pe­rial House of Ja­pan. At the mod­ern-day shop in Ky­oto’s en­closed Nishiki Mar­ket, we shim­mied past vit­rines of eye­wa­ter­ingly ex­pen­sive sashimi blades to a back room, where a soft-spo­ken man­ager showed us the prin­ci­pal tools of the sho­jin chef. There was an adorably pe­tite vegetable cleaver called a nakiri-bo­cho; a onesided grater of tinned cop­per trimmed in mag­no­lia wood and deer antler used for working with lo­tus root and wasabi; and a strainer-ricer made of the braided hairs of a horse’s tail bound with a band of cherry bark. These uten­sils, made by hand, were re­mark­ably beau­ti­ful. “Things that are made by hu­mans for hu­mans are good for the spirit,” Tana­hashi de­clared. He ex­plained that sho­jin kitchens for­bid plas­tic

(con­tin­ued from page 41) and ma­chin­ery. Tak­ing care of one’s tools, he added, turn­ing the cleaver in his hand, was in it­self a form of Bud­dhist med­i­ta­tion.

Over the next sev­eral days, Tana­hashi led me on a break­neck tour of sho­jin— not the grand the­ory be­hind it, but the myr­iad build­ing blocks. He re­ferred to it as my “ed­u­ca­tion.” At an an­tique lac­quer­ware shop called Uruwashiya, be­hind one of those dimly lit Ky­oto store­fronts that al­ways look closed, Akemi Ho­ri­uchi, the el­e­gant pro­pri­etor, showed us the most im­por­tant dishes used in serv­ing sho­jin—sev­eral at­trac­tively worn red bowls and a match­ing tray. Red is the aus­pi­cious color of the tem­ples, she ex­plained, and the tray’s raised edge in­di­cates that it en­closes a sa­cred space. Sho­jin must be served in hand­made ves­sels, and few are as painstak­ingly hand­made as these—del­i­cately carved wood cov­ered with layer upon layer of urushi lac­quer, mak­ing the dishes sup­ple, light­weight, and re­silient. The lac­quer on the bowls Ho­ri­uchi showed us had faded in places—a prized qual­ity, she said—be­cause they were made nearly 500 years ago, in Sen no Rikyu’s life­time.

Af­ter­ward Tana­hashi and I sat at a tea mer­chant’s counter, sip­ping from hand­made lil­liputian cups. Sho­jin’s spir­i­tual twin is tea, and we sam­pled sa­vory, piney sen­cha; grassy, pleas­antly bit­ter matcha whipped to a neon-green froth with a bam­boo whisk; and a Ky­oto spe­cialty, ho­jicha, a roasted red­dish-brown tea that smelled like a camp­fire.

Our next stops on Tana­hashi’s ex­cur­sion were for three sa­vory sho­jin sta­ples— tasted in their best guises. No in­gre­di­ent turns up in sho­jin dishes as fre­quently as tofu, and I’d never tasted tofu like they make it at Hi­rano, a homely, clos­et­like in­sti­tu­tion on Fuy­a­cho Street. The crisp fried rec­tan­gles were tasty enough, but Hi­rano’s rep­u­ta­tion rests on the snowy, dis­con­cert­ingly creamy fresh stuff, which had a com­plex­ity I’d never ex­pected from soy­beans.

At the posh Fuka—which re­sem­bled a Ginza bou­tique more than a food sup­plier—tana­hashi and I sam­pled the oddly ver­sa­tile wheat gluten called fu. It’s made by wash­ing wheat flour dough un­til the starch gran­ules are gone, then cook­ing and some­times dry­ing the re­main­ing sticky gluten. We tasted vel­vety

fu in soup, a crisp, meaty ver­sion in a stir-fry, and a fu con­fec­tion filled with sweet red bean paste called fu-manju.

My fa­vorite of the three ac­tu­ally turned out to be tofu skin, or yuba, a gos­samer, pa­per-thin del­i­cacy that in its ba­sic form tastes a lit­tle like good homemade pasta. The ver­sion Tana­hashi chose came from Sen­maruya; be­ing less than 200 years old, the shop is a rel­a­tive new­comer to the Ky­oto food scene. Its youth­ful pro­pri­etor, Ochi-san, pointed to a well near the counter that dated to the 19th cen­tury. Ky­oto’s aquifers give wa­ter renowned for its low min­eral con­tent and sub­tle sweet­ness, which makes the city’s tofu and yuba sought af­ter through­out Ja­pan.

Later, Ochi-san drove us to Sen­maruya’s pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity at the city’s edge, where we watched yuba firm­ing up on trays of steam­ing soy milk. Col­lect­ing it is a task too del­i­cate for ma­chines, and work­ers in blue smocks and face masks walked quickly along the rows of trays, lift­ing the tofu skin with a bam­boo stick and hang­ing it on steel rods. Tana­hashi stood by the door, glanc­ing im­pa­tiently at a tablet with our itin­er­ary; we were sched­uled to visit a daikon farmer across town. My ed­u­ca­tion was not yet com­plete.

THAT evening, Tana­hashi and I vis­ited a ca­sual res­tau­rant near Shijo Street named Ki Haru. It didn’t serve sho­jin but was shaped by it nonethe­less. Be­cause Ky­oto is the coun­try’s Bud­dhist cap­i­tal, its cui­sine re­mains hugely in­flu­enced by tem­ple fare: Sesame tofu, which kicks off many meals here, is a sho­jin clas­sic. Even neigh­bor­hood joints like Ki Haru rely on veg­eta­bles and grains more than they do else­where in Ja­pan.

Our in­ter­preter was close friends with the res­tau­rant’s loud, ex­citable, vividly bald chef-owner. His name was Ichiro Tanaka but every­one called him Taisho, which means “Gen­eral.” His face was so an­i­mated that it looked painted with a brush. He kept a col­lec­tion of old and rare sakes be­hind the bar, and poured them for every­one so re­lent­lessly that three cour­ses into our stu­pen­dous meal, every­one—most of all Taisho him­self—be­came un­de­ni­ably drunk.

In honor of Tana­hashi’s visit, Taisho prepared a meal of mostly veg­eta­bles. Af­ter an ap­pe­tizer of mizuna, chrysan­the­mum, and shimeji mush­rooms, Taisho la­dled out a soy milk–based soup with broc­coli, daikon, zuc­chini, and lightly grilled leek whites. In the mean­time, he’d dropped sev­eral large onions on the grill. They turned so smoky and soft that I won­dered why more peo­ple back home didn’t grill whole onions. Taisho fol­lowed this with wedges of tem­pura of shred­ded car­rot and gingko nuts that had been boiled with rice. Like ev­ery­thing else he served, he claimed to have in­vented the dish on the spot—a play­ful sho­jin im­pro­vised with the in­gre­di­ents at hand.

The counter seat­ing area at Ki Haru was filled en­tirely with reg­u­lars who’d ex­changed loud friendly greet­ings with Taisho; a vis­i­tor show­ing up with­out an in­tro­duc­tion was li­able to be po­litely but firmly turned away. (El­iz­a­beth An­doh ex­plained to me that this pol­icy is ac­tu­ally quite com­mon in Ja­pan. “The Ja­panese prize har­mony over a level play­ing field,” she said. “Restau­rants strive to make sure that ev­ery diner wants to be there and will ap­pre­ci­ate what it does.”)

Amid chop­ping, grilling, and pour­ing, Taisho told us that he adored his chil­dren but strongly dis­liked his wife, and that the res­tau­rant served as a refuge from his mar­riage. A reg­u­lar who sat be­side us at the bar—a bad­ger­like man in a sweater vest who smoked cheap cig­a­rettes and guf­fawed loudly dur­ing the meal—chimed in with un­flat­ter­ing com­ments about his wife, and I won­dered whether spousal dis­par­age­ment was a leit­mo­tif of Ky­oto nightlife.

Dur­ing the meal, Tana­hashi told me about find­ing sho­jin, or rather hav­ing it find him. His leap into the un­known came when he was 27 and working for an ad­ver­tis­ing agency in Tokyo. Some­thing about his life felt empty. “I was born in Ja­pan but didn’t know what it meant to be Ja­panese,” he told me. He thought he might have glimpsed an an­swer in a doc­u­men­tary film about My­odo Murase, a 60-yearold Zen nun. She was renowned for her wry sense of hu­mor and the sho­jin meals she prepared at a mi­nus­cule tem­ple in Otsu, a town in Shiga Pre­fec­ture, meals made all the more re­mark­able by the fact that Murase had lost an arm and the use of a leg in an auto ac­ci­dent.

Shortly af­ter watch­ing the film, Tana­hashi gave no­tice at his job, moved to Otsu, and be­came Murase’s dis­ci­ple. He called his teacher a “char­ac­ter”

A farmer and his grand­daugh­ters har­vest sweet pota­toes at Mug­ino-ie in Otsu, a town on the shore of Ja­pan’s Lake Biwa.

but added, “I was very lucky.” Sit­ting med­i­ta­tion, called zazen, is the heart of Bud­dhist prac­tice, but Murase taught that this was un­nec­es­sary. Her rad­i­cal teach­ing was that the pro­found mind­ful­ness re­quired to cook with all of one’s be­ing was enough to at­tain en­light­en­ment. For her dis­ci­ple, this meant cook­ing from morn­ing till night. “No one made sesame paste from scratch,” Tana­hashi told me, but ev­ery week he spent hours in a lo­tus po­si­tion on the floor of Murase’s tem­ple, grind­ing sesame in a mor­tar. He seeded egg­plants (pic­ture for a mo­ment the num­ber of seeds in an egg­plant), peeled daikon, grated moun­tains of lo­tus root. The whole time Murase’s prom­ise stirred at the back of his mind—cook­ing could make you a Bud­dha.

SEV­ERAL hun­dred feet from Izusen, Tana­hashi and I knelt on the ter­race of one of Daitoku-ji’s most scenic sub-tem­ples, fac­ing a pond and a gar­den bathed in late-af­ter­noon sun­light. Sen no Rikyu was buried a few build­ings away. The sub-tem­ple was closed to the pub­lic, but Tana­hashi had wran­gled us an in­vi­ta­tion be­cause the head monk had, in a for­mer life, worked at his Tokyo res­tau­rant as a bus­boy.

The monk, Jobun Haruta, was dressed in a patched indigo robe and ap­peared to be in his mid 20s. He was im­prob­a­bly beau­ti­ful, and there was some­thing about his man­ner that sug­gested ease and un­flap­pable kind­ness. I’m as skep­ti­cal as any­one of spir­i­tual men, but he looked as if a lamp glowed in­side him. “A per­son who walks the path,” our in­ter­preter mut­tered. Haruta be­gan to seem even more re­mark­able when I learned that he was 40 years old.

Haruta agreed to demon­strate for us the rit­ual of a mid­day monastery meal. We watched as he knelt on the ter­race and un­wrapped sev­eral lac­quered bowls and a pair of ab­surdly large chop­sticks. He showed us the chop­sticks’ se­condary func­tion—an­nounc­ing the pe­ri­ods of a monas­tic meal—by clack­ing them to­gether. Be­fore eat­ing, monks re­cite five re­flec­tions, which in­still mind­ful­ness, grat­i­tude, and joy. Af­ter­ward, Haruta closed his eyes and chanted the Heart Su­tra, one of Bud­dhism’s most in­scrutable texts. “All things are empty: Noth­ing is born, noth­ing dies, noth­ing is pure, noth­ing is stained,” Haruta sang, lit by the set­ting sun. Then he la­dled miso soup and plain white rice into the bowls and pro­ceeded to eat with deep con­cen­tra­tion. We sat nearby, watch­ing him a lit­tle self-con­sciously. When he was done, Haruta cleaned the bowls with a piece of pick­led daikon, stacked, and wrapped them. Then he looked up at us and grinned.

Later, while we slurped warm matcha from lop­sided clay bowls, Tana­hashi sat be­side Haruta, put his arm around him, and posed for a photo. I couldn’t de­cide whether the look on Tana­hashi’s face was envy, ad­mi­ra­tion, or pride. Ear­lier, he’d told me that he was liv­ing alone in ru­ral Kyushu and mulling his next ca­reer move. “I’m in a slump,” he ad­mit­ted. In the mean­time, his for­mer bus­boy had be­come an im­por­tant fig­ure in the Bud­dhist world, and I won­dered what Tana­hashi was think­ing about, hav­ing traded the un­bend­ing rou­tines of monas­tic life for the in­con­stant prom­ises of worldly suc­cess. I never worked up the nerve to ask him.


to my share of mem­o­rable places, but none quite like Mug­ino-ie. Below a thatch-cov­ered farm­house, ter­races of vegetable rows cas­caded down a moun­tain­side all the way to Lake Biwa, which was cov­ered in morn­ing mist and glowed the color of old sil­ver­ware. We were 25 min­utes from Ky­oto but wouldn’t know it. A blue-black crow peck­ing the ground be­side me let out an in­quis­i­tive caw.

We were greeted by a farmer, a smil­ing man in his 60s named Takashi Ya­mazaki, who held his 2-year-old grand­daugh­ter, Yuki. Ya­mazaki said his grand­fa­ther had come here from Ky­oto shortly af­ter the bomb­ing of Hiroshima and Na­gasaki, when Ja­pan’s cities were dev­as­tated by war. He’d given up on ur­ban liv­ing and de­cided to be­come self-re­liant, eat­ing only what he could grow. Five gen-

er­a­tions of his fam­ily had sus­tained this or­ganic per­ma­cul­ture ex­per­i­ment. The eggs came from their hen­house, and ev­ery­thing they ate grew on this land. Af­ter speak­ing about the war, Ya­mazaki asked about Amer­ica. I gri­maced and said that the re­cent pres­i­den­tial elec­tion had left me shaken and scared. The farmer looked me in the eye and said, “Some­times ter­ri­ble things hap­pen to great coun­tries.”

We’d come to Mug­ino-ie be­cause it’s where Tana­hashi wanted to cook us a meal that demon­strated his mod­ern sho­jin and summed up ev­ery­thing he’d shown me. Tana­hashi said he first came here when he was a monk. I could see why he’d cho­sen it—be­side its stag­ger­ing beauty, ev­ery­thing about the place spoke to these ven­er­a­ble and vul­ner­a­ble culi­nary tra­di­tions and their mean­ing. Just below us, Ya­mazaki’s son har­vested sweet pota­toes. Yuki and her older sis­ter helped by hug­ging the dirt-cov­ered tu­bers, run­ning around and gig­gling madly.

Tana­hashi spent part of the morn­ing grind­ing sesame; he sat on the floor, slowly mov­ing the pep­per­wood pes­tle in a heavy ridged mor­tar, his back still and his eyes shut in con­cen­tra­tion. Later, in the farm­house kitchen, he cooked be­side an as­sis­tant, a slim 30-some­thing Lon­doner named Neil. Tana­hashi darted amid steam­ing pots and mix­ing bowls—sim­mer­ing sea­weed, slic­ing chest­nuts, mea­sur­ing out spices—and con­ferred with Neil in Ja­panese. The seren­ity of the sesame-grind­ing ses­sion had evap­o­rated. He looked har­ried and quite pos­si­bly ner­vous—in other words, like a chef preparing a big meal in an un­fa­mil­iar kitchen.

Though he was preparing lunch, the meal wasn’t ready un­til three. Some­one had opened the screens in the farm­house, and we gath­ered around a low ta­ble with a view of the moun­tain and the lake and all the glo­ri­ous par­tic­u­lars. I was feel­ing im­pa­tient and hun­gry, but the dishes Tana­hashi fi­nally brought from the kitchen made every­one fall si­lent.

Af­ter am­brosial sesame tofu there was a rich broth of mush­rooms and grated turnip, gar­nished with mizuna stems, a lo­tus-root cro­quette, and two col­ors of chrysan­the­mum. Fried bun­dles of pa­per-thin yuba were filled with nameko mush­rooms, shiso and, un­ex­pect­edly, cin­na­mon. An oddly uni­fied cool salad of tofu, fuyu per­sim­mon, ap­ple, mus­tard, and hand-ground sesame paste was fol­lowed by the cen­ter­piece—a dish Tana­hashi named Fuki-yose, or Au­tumn Leaves. On a huge red-spot­ted per­sim­mon leaf, he’d ar­ranged roasted chest­nuts, gingko nuts, fu, shi­itake mush­rooms, lo­tus root, Ky­oto car­rot, bur­dock, and the caramelize­d, slightly gar­licky bulb of the lily plant. Tana­hashi fin­ished the meal with sliced figs and grapes en­cased in trans­par­ent cubes of sweet­ened agar-agar, an el­e­gant dish that nonethe­less got in­dexed in my mind as Bud­dha’s Jell-o.

All of it looked ar­rest­ing, with fla­vor and tex­ture com­bi­na­tions that some­how man­aged to taste har­mo­nious yet con­sis­tently sur­prise. More im­por­tant, Tana­hashi had prepared a meal wor­thy of a fine-din­ing res­tau­rant kitchen, and he did it us­ing no an­i­mal prod­ucts, no scarce or ex­pen­sive in­gre­di­ents, noth­ing un­healthy or from far away. The lunch was ev­ery­thing he’d promised—a traditiona­l hymn to au­tumn pre­sented in a res­o­lutely mod­ern style. As we took in the meal, it seemed en­tirely pos­si­ble that, at a time of rapidly dwin­dling re­sources,

sho­jin might come to shape the way we eat, and sooner than we ex­pect. Af­ter we cleared the dishes, Tana­hashi sat down at the ta­ble, look­ing re­lieved and proud. For the first time since we’d met, he smiled with his whole face. A breeze came off the lake and blew through the farm­house. It was get­ting dark. On a two-lane road some­where below us, a stream of buses and trucks headed for Ky­oto and Osaka, but all we could hear was the wind in the cedars and, farther off, the caw­ing of a crow.

Jobun Haruta sips from a bowl of miso soup dur­ing a mid­day monastery meal (op­po­site page); the over­size chop­sticks are an im­por­tant part of the rit­ual.

The an­i­mated chef Ichiro Tanaka of Ki Haru in Ky­oto goes by Taisho, or “Gen­eral” to his reg­u­lars (op­po­site). This page, clock­wise from top: A glimpse in­side Ky­oto’s Kiy­omizu-dera tem­ple; chef Tanaka’s grilled onion, smoky and cooked to per­fec­tion; a...

Photograph­s by Wil­liam Here­ford

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