Written by Mitsuko Takahashi
Akasaka Kinryu (1) - Experience The Best Of Japan's Cultural Essence
Akasaka Kinryu is an elegant traditional Japanese restaurant (ryotei) located in Akasaka, Tokyo. Their exquisite cuisine, wonderful art collection and performances by geisha artists will make a visit to Akasaka Kinryu unforgettable!
Enjoying exquisite Japanese cuisine in an elegant traditional interior is an experience I wish all visitors to Japan could have. Besides the new, luxurious restaurants which provide such services, there are also traditional Japanese restaurants with a history that goes back at least a century. They are called ryotei, and are facilities whose interior and services are a collection of the best that Japanese culture has to offer.
Today, I would like to introduce to you the charms of Akasaka Kinryu, a ryotei located in Tokyo's elegant Akasaka area. In the second part of this article you will be able to read an interview with Mr. Yoshinobu Akiba, the owner of the ryotei, and with Ms. Ikuko, a geisha whose performance can be enjoyed at Akasaka Kinryu, so please do check it out.
What is a Ryotei?
In the olden days ryotei used to be exclusive members’ restaurants decorated with tasteful works of art and ornaments, where luxurious cuisine and sake were served. Beautiful geisha (highly skilled women performers) accompanied the guests performing Japanese traditional dances and music. A collection of the best of Japan's cultural essence, ryotei used to be the favorite place of powerful people such as military officers, politicians and affluent businessmen to secretly meet and entertain themselves, as well as to make important decisions, as their privacy was protected in the rooms of the ryotei.
Before World War II in Tokyo there used to be geisha dwellings in areas such as Akasaka, Shinbashi, Kagurazaka and Mukojima (near Asakusa). Among these, Akasaka and Shinbashi attracted the most skilled geisha and first class customers. Ryotei had been exclusive social networking venues for politicians and businessmen and many national level decisions were taken here. In recent years however, transparency became and issue and politicians stopped meeting at ryotei. Authentic traditional restaurants with a long history began to close business one by one, and only a handful survive now.
A New Business Model for Ryotei
Akasaka Kiryu ("Golden Dragon") is a good example of a ryotei which changed its business model, adapting to the needs of our time. Customers can enjoy the best Japanese cuisine in Kinryu's tasteful rooms and garden. It opens its door to art lovers who wish to witness geisha practicing Japanese traditional musical instruments every Monday afternoon. Upon the customers' request, geisha can perform their arts with a live orchestra (in Ikuta Style) for two hours upon payment of 1000 dollars (the price for a meal is separate). For instance, if you come in a group of ten, each member would pay 100 dollars to witness an authentic performance by geisha artists.
Mr. Yoshinobu Akiba, the third generation owner of Akasaka Kinryu, is a true innovator in having managed the ryotei according to this new business model and making it prosperous. Mr. Akiba worked at a trading company and stayed in Los Angeles for 6 years before he joined his grandmother’s ryotei.
Ryotei restaurants usually did not accept first time customers without a recommendation from regular customers. However, Mr. Akiba opened its doors to ordinary customers. The ryotei offered luxurious and pricy entertainment but he made the menu more reasonably priced. As a result, we are able to enjoy the best of traditional Japanese meals of the season in a tasteful Japanese room. Kinryu is ready to cope with special requests such as vegetarian dishes and halal food (a notice is required in advance).
The Japanese Cuisine at Akasaka Kinryu
When visiting Akasaka Kinryu, we recommend you try their Kinryu Kaiseki course menu (12960 yen). During lunch time, guests can enjoy inexpensive dishes such as Sukiyaki (2700 yen) and the good value Japanese course (1620 yen).
The Exquisite Interior of Akasaka Kinryu
One of the rooms at Akasaka Ryotei is the grand dining room with a stage for geisha to perform their live dances. The floor is covered with traditional tatami but customers sit at the table if they wish to sit comfortably.
This room is facing the garden and you can enjoy Japanese kaiseki cuisine (festive traditional meal) in a tranquil atmosphere.
Their art collection includes curiosities such as these pottery items. If you are interested in Japanese traditional pottery, you can take a look before heading to the dining room.
There are even old Noh masks on display. The picture above shows an "Okina" (old man) mask and a "Hannya" mask (used to portray jealous women in Noh theater).
The inner guest room on the second floor looks has a very private atmosphere. Erotic paintings from around the end of the Edo era (1603 - 1868) decorate the ceiling.
A modern lighting shade designed by George Nelson which matches perfectly with the traditional Japanese room, creating a soft atomosphere, making dishes look delightful and the conversation pleasant. They even uses chairs and tables made by the Italians Cassini and Mario Berine.
The paintings are changed every season. Now in autumn they display paintings of Clifton Karhu, a woodblock artist.
A rare Tang tricolor ware from China. Such precious items and many other can be admired at Akasaka Kinryu. Just by seeing these art objects you will get a feel of the this ryotei's rich history.
The impressive interior of Akasaka Kinryu, their exquisite art collection and wonderful cuisine make this ryotei a very special facility, with a rich history. I warmly recommend to all international visitors to Japan to visit Akasaka Kinryu and get a taste of authentic Japanese culture.
Please read the second part of this article, which contains an exclusive interview to the star performer of Akasaka Kinryu, the geisha Ms. Ikuko, and to Mr. Akiba himself. Their wonderful stories will become one more reason for you to visit the amazing and history rich Akasaka Kinryu.
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