This is a painting by Sen no Rykiu called the intoxication of the moon-Suigetsu
I have been around Nihon Ryori since the age of 5 and was fortunate to absorbe the many aspects that materialises around this beautiful culture and cuisine which filled my hart with many feelings for the japanese culture and life itself from deep within.
I have studied and still am studying the living culture of japan and of life from may perspectives but of course having dedicated myself to being a Japanese chef, it is what I am on a journey on , to constantly rediscover deeper and deeper, as to what it’s nature really is. Coming closer and closer to the essence of life ultimately helps me appreciate the depth that lies within Kyoto Ryori and Nihon Ryori .
Many activities help me to find these connections to japanese cuisine. Nature is the most prominent of teachers and following this root definitely brings you very close to the essence of japanese cuisine.
Tea ceremony is a wonderful aspect to practice as well as Ikebana, Kyudo, pottery, poetry and reading as well as meditation are all examples of things that help to study this beautiful cuisine.
Kyoto Ryori having its roots in the tea ceremony and by the 16th century, tea drinking had spread to all levels of society in Japan. Sen no Rikyū , is perhaps the most well-known—and still revered—historical figure in tea ceremony, followed his master Takeno Jōō‘s concept of ichi-go ichi-e, a philosophy that each meeting should be treasured, for it can never be reproduced. His teachings perfected many newly developed forms inarchitecture and gardens, art, and the full development of “the “way of tea”. The principles he set forward—harmony (和 wa?), respect (敬 kei?), purity (清 sei?), and tranquility (寂 jaku?)—are still central to tea ceremony.
The tea ceremony has its influences from Buddhism and Shinto aspects reflecting that it is not the object that we perceive itself that is so fascinating but what we want to cultivate and find within!
“Though many people drink tea,
if you do not know the Way of Tea,
tea will drink you up.”
Human being in tune with the universe- to better oneself and living in line with the ultimate potential that is limitless through the way of tea.
This is just brief. The japanese works of cultural documents are to vast to mention in detail in this short blog but you will find many references and I encourage you to study.
The discipline of japanese cuisine is intense but this is another aspect which I will write about another time.
My personal journey as a japanese chef is unconventional but no less valuable then a full traditional training in Japan itself. I will write a article about my journey soon.
The reason I am writing this short article is because here in the west we have so many japanese restaurants that are not japanese at all and the essence and the way of life/tea/ culture is little bit left aside which is terribly sad.
Being a japanese chef is a way of life and we cultivate all to our own limitations. I would like to braden those limitation here in the west as we now encounter a time that may be more open for this. We now have developed a strong sense of seasonality and sustainability here in the UK, in New York it is even more established and is part of urban life in a big city, japanese cuisine is the ultimate celebration of this.
My master said that he could explain everything there is to know about being a japanese chef in 5 minutes, however it would mean nothing! He always sed when he does anything he does it with his whole life and totality possible and this nobody can just explain to anyone.
I get approached constantly about helping owners to produce another Nobu chain which I can understand. Nobu is a great business module and so attractive to be a owner of however this is already done and there is so much more to consider. Japanese Culture cuisine can be a great and endless possibility’s for new ideas can arise creating new concepts that may be more suitable for the times we live in now.
At the very center and hart of everything in life there is only ultimate potential and working from and with this is what really makes me happy as a chef.
I did not become a chef because I wanted to be what I saw, I became a chef because what I realised which was a direct universe of beauty from within, an expression of this ultimate potential and universal vibration so close to life and how nature expresses itself is no short of a miracle.
Over and over you will find paintings in Zen and in japanese culture that reference enigmatic moments captures as in the painting of the tea master Sen no Rykiu the intoxication of the moon which is a beautifull example of a man that is at one with Nature and the universe at a very refined level.
I grew up very close to Mifune’s Restaurant in Munich run my his son. This is were I was first exposed to the culture of Japan. He actually acted in a movie about Sen no Rykiu called Honkakubô ibun- Death of a Teamaster. Toshiro Mifune was a great actor of Japan filming many cult movies.
A very great chef of Kyoto once told me to not try and copy and try to be like me but to find my way through nature and the practice of Zen.
I believe that Zen is free of religion and we can find the pure essence of it anywhere.
I wrote this article because the spiritual aspect is very important to my personal work and has been the catalist and soul of Kyoto Ryori but not many chefs in the west speak this aspect that I know. mostly ithe discussions revolve around sciences however it is good to put the science and the perceptive spiritual culture together. Some chefs do have a very strong bond to nature in there work which is wonderful to see and these chefs usually are the ones that resonate the strongest with japan.
I just wanted to share this video with you as it is a very good introduction of principles that have been with us before we can imagine but is hard to explain. Through animation it is more easy to explain what we consider to be invisible or spiritual subjects.
This is just to encourage an open mind about how we live, what we do and how we work- the universe works and by getting closer to that ,we will find only miracles.
Science and religion spirituality is coming closer and closer like never before helping us to understand and suport us to create new designs and ideas that will be better for our environment and the spirit of man living more harmoniously for the future to come.
There is so much to say on this subject however I am only able to provide a glimpse by showing this simple video and my feeling on the matter.
Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace
Every so often there comes a man that is able to see the universe in a totally unique way.
Who’s vision upsets the very foundations of the world as we know it.
Someone that longs to grasp the hidden design of the underlying principals of nature.
To look for the harmony in ones ideas and creation but not only in nature but in the world of man.
We all surely can think of many people who we could describe as living this through out History and in every department from Science to politicians to philosophers, painters religious figures, chefs, architects and ordinary people etc.
This being the basic force behind this kind of person, is on who searches for true meaning and relevance of ones own existence, for people who feel and think beyond the superficial and the appearance of things.
Naturally the ideas such a man would in essence reflect exactly that.
Looking to man’s ambitions are misleading the true creative seeker.
There is a need for true internal realness and realization being fully alive and radiating.
The longing for this authentic experience and realisation is making sense of ones life itself.
Nature is the balance in mans life holding answers on any subject imaginable of what we seek so deeply.
Nature on all levels hold a wealth that surpasses any human conception and only in the true balance do I feel is any meaning truly realised.
These kind of people who come along every so often are able to say: hang on a moment and redirect our delusions to perhaps, point at what is essential that – which makes us true human beings.
Pointing to humanity, the perfect essence of anything divine and natural in man, is for some the only thing worth living for.
Anything other then exactly that is scratching on a surface.
It is due to such men and woman we have many light barers in this world throughout the history of man -that help us not to feel mad or bad for feeling, seeking and questioning.
From many angles they help us put relevance and security into the steps we take through the unknown.
Values make a hart, love gives us the vision and anything driven by this gives us meaning and purpose.
How can man exist without it?
How can we accept that modern achievement and goals giving us the right to walk over someone else?
What kind of strange values are acceptable in the name of getting were you want to be in life?
Survival of the strongest is indeed how it is in a jungle however I have seen that in a jungle and when in the face of danger even in animals will stand up and protect and defend there loved ones.
Animals dont kill to upset and hurt someone premeditated like humans do! They kill to eat and only take what they need and at one point they also will be eaten.
Morals and hart is not necessarily a religious reference however a humanistic one.
Ideas and creativity for me personally – can also have souls, spirit and essence potentially transcending this illumination of humanity and brilliance – so much so that this is what I look for myself.
This is my holistic overview and I strive for this kind of concepts in anything that I design or would like my creations to reflect.
It is not easy as you have to really craft this and design it well, it may be more of a process of seeing the connection between things, an insight – recognising the profound design that nature offers to us to experience through becoming still and filled with humility. Your manifestation of it is only a limited point of view however this can significantly help others to feel and become closer to this perception and feeling.
Certain things in life do definitely help me to see things.
As in Japanese tea ceremony all the external ways you may observe and seeming very cultural and ritualistic perhaps even old teaches hugely profoundness as it was designed to help to cultivate peace and humanity through the art of drinking tea.
This is very closely also pointing to the phenomena of the magical relation of humility between man and nature very clearly resembled in the tea ceremony cup making process were man makes something from the element of earth then the glace becoming a force that can never be repeated in the same way and the most enigmatic part of manifestation of the collaboration between man and nature.
The most sophisticated thing I have ever sen is exactly this the relation between man and nature united though love harmony and humility.
That is surely worth striving for.
What a shame we destroy so much of life in our constant lust for profits never creating good designs.
We design in a way that we neglect many parts only making the design serve profit then causing things like pollution However a very good designer will create a design that even thinks of those things making what ever design benefit everyone completely with out damaging.
“‘From Cardboard to Caviar’ is a pretty unusual fish farming project but it’s a textbook example of ‘Cradle to Cradle’. The project gets cardboard packaging waste from stores and restaurants, shreds it and sells it to stables as horse bedding. Once the horse bedding needs replaced, it is collected and feed to worms in a composting pit. When the worms are all fattened up, they are fed to the sturgeons who will produce caviar. Then, the caviar is then sold back to the restaurants where the cardboard was collected from.”
This is how nature works it is a recycling nature so why we do not design the same way?
As a chef we often just do what the industry does and coming out of that box immediately causes concerns to investors etc.
It is alway anticipated that a significant amount of pollution and damage as a byproduct of our business is acceptable as is hurting some people.
I dont believe either is necessary at all.
No matter what… to continuously stive to help the world in any way even if it seems impossible is definitely worth living for.
It is truly a cultural thing like this that contain something even bigger then culture itself and it will be a gift to those that are jet not born and in a world that is declining. Maybe we will all realise that greater designs may safe our world if not maybe these things in the japanese tea culture will at least be the memorie of what it once was and how to connect no matter what in the here in now? I hope we manage to take care of our world as those jet to come deserve to also enjoy it as we once did.
The characters wa kei sei jaku as written by Dr. Genshitsu Sen, fifteenth-generation Grand Master of the Urasenke Tradition of Chanoyu.
The Philosophy of Chado
The underlying philosophy of Tea evolved from Zen Buddhism. Zen is the Japanese counterpart of the Chinese word chan, which is a translation of the Sanskrit word dhyana, meaning the meditation that leads to deep spiritual insight. Both Tea and Zen emphasize a way of training body and mind in awareness that has potential to become a rigorous spiritual discipline. Urasenke founder, Sen Rikyu (1522-1591) summarized the principles of the discipline of Tea into four concepts: wa, kei, sei, and jaku.
This word connotes a feeling of oneness with nature and people. At a tea gathering, harmony plays between host and guest, guest and guest, mood and season, the food served and the utensils used. Sensitivity to the changing rhythms of the seasons, and harmony with these changes are once source of ever deepening pleasure in the practice of Tea. The unpredictable nature of weather is an integral part of a tea gathering and is not to be shut out, ignored, or considered inconvenient. This harmony with nature quietly leads one to an understanding of the evanescence of all things and the unchanging in the changing.
Respect results naturally from a feeling of gratitude. Respect is extended not only to the other people with whom one interacts but also to one’s daily life, and even to inanimate objects, such as utensils as a product of human effort or whatever has come into existence. The etiquette observed in the tearoom helps a student of Tea to learn to apply the principle of kei. To the uninitiated what may appear at first as excessively strict and formal is in actuality a means of incorporating, internalizing the spirit of respect. The hospitality of the host, the concern of the guests for each other and the host, and the careful handling of the utensils exemplify this respect.
Cleanliness and orderliness, in both the physical and spiritual sense, are a very important part of the study of Tea. Rikyu must have learned the importance of simple acts of cleaning in his study of Zen. Even the most mundane acts—washing dishes or cleaning floors—are the seeds of enlightenment. In the words of a man of eighth-century China, “How wondrous this, how mysterious! I carry fuel, I draw water.” When the host cleans the tea utensils, he or she is simultaneously purifying heart and mind through total concentration on this task. The guests, before entering the tearoom, pass along a garden path and rinse their hands and wash out their mouths at the low stone water-basin, thereby purifying themselves of the “dust” of the everyday world outside the tearoom. Sei also implies simplification, that is, the elimination of all unnecessary elements. The appearance of the garden path and tearoom are examples of this kind of simplicity.
It is often remarked in the practice of Tea that, although a person can work towards attaining the first three principles, the last cannot be attained by direct effort. However through a constant practice of harmony, respect and purity, a person whose heart inclines towards Tea is prepared to approach the utter stillness and silence of jaku. This tranquility is far from a dreamy psychological state. Instead it is the dynamic force of one’s innermost being that infuses the practice of Tea and gives significance to the tea gathering, similar to the words of one of Sen Rikyu’s predecessors, “be heart’s master, not heart mastered.”
The understanding of earthen ware, poetry, plates and vessels for kaiseki is something Westerners are not really used to unless they have had some direct experience or study of this unique appreciation.
This is imbedded deeply in the culture of japan. To understand this one has to really go to japan and learn about this and see how a certain japanese person or someone with same feelings in the hart holds a piece of ceramic and watch them how they see and experience this.
One needs to be in that environment and moment.
I find japanese culture really has showen me how to appreciate and take care in my work and in my life. I was working in Ryugin and some of the plates were 100ds of years old and there might only be a set of 4. We wash them all by hand taking care as if it were a real baby.
In a sequence of high kaiseki it is a wonderful experience when the chef presents his special plates that fit the moment and season. You eat and taste in a completely different way.
It is very humbling and precious and one is filled with great respect and humility as well as gratitude.
A feeling and understanding we really do not have at all in Western culture we almost never really see the plate as anything in particular as Japanese culture does.
These vessels for the tea ceremony hold illumination and enigma. They have a presence which is also the very thing which is the essence of keiseki.
Alone the complete hart and intention of the potter is incredible so there is a linage from nature, to maker to chef or tea master to customer that is so significant and transmitting the highest of humanity and nature in the here and now.