UKAI TORIYAMA RESTAURANT, Okutakao, Japan

During a trip to Tokyo in 2000 I had the opportunity to eat at (no...experience) one of the finest restaurants in the world, Ukai Toriyama.  The meal was as almost a religious experience.  After driving about 45 minutes from the city into a lush hilly area near the town of Okutakao in the foothills of Mount Fuji area (which you can also reach by train), you come across a torch-lit driveway into the restaurant parking area.  The restaurant itself is a five acres (yes, acres) in size.  You enter a traditional "house" (above) and are greeted by the hostess who is in traditional dress and will lead you through the intricate Japanese Gardens to your private tea house.  The gardens are full of waterfalls and water features (for example, I noticed that many of the downspouts direct the water-drops onto bells, which lightly ring when it rains). Just exploring the courtyard can take 15-30 minutes if you observe all the bridges, Koi, gardens, etc.

When you enter the private teahouse you are seated on a heated tatami mat.  There is a low table in the middle of the room with the center cut out of it and filled with white sand.  Before the meal is served the "ember girl" arrived to put glowing embers on the white sand.  Our Kobi steaks were served by another hostess.  I asked for mine to be "medium", which meant it was put over the embers for what seemed like a few seconds (medium in Japanese apparently means "raw, but warmed by the embers", despite this is tasted great). 

I'm told that they have a variety of special events during the year.  During one event they bring in thousands of fireflies that light up the gardens during the evening.  There is also a huge multi-story wooden temple on the property that was worth visiting after the meal and is used for special events. 

 

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