Dinner at the ryokan.

Ryokan Meals

Meals at my Ryokan at Mount Haguro

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The meals were wonderful, as were all the other aspects of my stay at the Tamonkan ryokan.

Kaiseki or kaiseki-ryōri is a traditional multi-course dinner. The preparation and presentation are both important.

Kaiseki is a meal for Emperors, priests and monks, and samurai. It's based on Imperial court cuisine from the 9th century before the court moved from Nara to Kyōto, shōjin ryōri or the cuisine of Buddhist temples and monasteries, and honzen ryōri of samurai households.

The meal consists of several small dishes incorporating fresh local ingredients. Each is served in its own small dish or bowl or cup.

A bentō box meal is, in some sense, a simple low-cost kaiseki meal that you can buy at the train station, something I consider a requirement for a Shinkansen trip. However, bentō is kaiseki in only a very limited sense! As you will see below...

I had reserved my room through Booking.com and had selected the breakfast-and-dinner option then. My host verified that when I arrived, and asked then if I was vegetarian or if I also ate seafood and egg dishes. Yes, with seafood and eggs, please! I'm sure that if I had demanded a vegan menu, they could have handled that. Although my host probably didn't speak Esperanto, which strict veganism insists upon.

Dinner on Arrival Day

Yes, of course I'm wearing the yukata or casual lounging kimono the ryokan provides for guests. After my return I purchased my own.

I'm in pajama pants and T-shirt with the yukata over that, tied with the obi or sash. You wrap it with the left side over the right and tie it with the obi or sash.

Dinner at my ryokan at the base of Mount Haguro.

महायान` or Māhāyana is the largest branch of Buddhism, having developed in India in the first century BCE and spread north, east, and southeast from there. Several of its canonical scriptures prohibit eating meat, such as the Śūraṅgama Sūtra and Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra. Māhāyana Buddhism is the dominant branch in Japan. Its vegetarian cuisine is based on the Dharma concept of ahimsa or non-violence toward all living beings.

Lankavatara Sutra
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Mahayana Buddhism
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Nowadays it's mostly the monastic community that maintains a strict vegetarian diet, along with avoiding strong-smelling plants such as garlic, onion, and leek, as they are thought to excite the senses.

Dining room at my ryokan at the base of Mount Haguro.

Miso or みそ is a paste made by fermenting soybeans with salt and kōji, the fungus Aspergillus oryzae, and possibly other ingredients. The kōji mold has been described as the "national fungus of Japan" due to its crucial role in producing miso, soy sauce, and other traditional foods, plus alcoholic beverages such as sake and shōchū.

Miso soup combines the miso paste with a stock containing kombu or edible kelp with thin flakes of fermented katsuo or skipjack tuna. This bowl also has small brown-capped mushrooms and slices of a much larger mushroom.

Miso soup with mushrooms.

This dish combines sliced bamboo with a shiitake mushroom.

Bamboo and mushroom.

However, I'm neither a botanist nor a mycologist, and I'm at a loss to fully explain what most of the remaining pictures depict.

Bamboo and mushroom.

Japanese cuisine contains many products of fermentation, such as these pickled vegetables.

Pickled vegetables.
Pickled vegetables.

Tempura is a technique of deep-frying vegetables and seafood in a thin light batter.

Tempura vegetables and shrimp.

Grilled fish, of course, with thinly sliced pickled ginger.

Grilled fish.
Pickled vegetables.

Of course a meal will be accompanied by rice.


Dessert resembled flan, I believe this was tofu with honey.

Sweet dessert, flan-like with honey.

Breakfast on Day Two

Breakfast at my ryokan at the base of Mount Haguro.
Breakfast at my ryokan at the base of Mount Haguro.

Bamboo was featured in several dishes, such as the steamed shoots with sesame seeds at left.

At right are two fish cakes.

Bamboo shoots with sesame seeds, two fish cakes.

Pickled vegetables, miso soup.

Pickled vegetables, miso soup.

Grilled fish and bamboo shoots.

Grilled fish, bamboo shoots.

Pickled vegetables.

Pickled vegetables.

The dish at left has an omelet, it and the others have pickled vegetables.

Omelet, pickled vegetables.

At left are nori sheets, dried Pyropia red algae. It's used to wrap sushi and onigiri or rice balls, and it can also be a snack or side dish. And at right, more pickles.

Nori sheets, pickled vegetables.

And, of course, rice and hot tea.

Rice and tea.

Dinner on Day Two

Dōgen Zenji, also known as Dōgen Kigen, founded the Sōtō school of Zen Buddhism in Japan. He wrote an influential essay titled Tenzo Kyōkun or "Instructions for the Cook". It contains:

In preparing food, it is essential to be sincere and to respect each ingredient regardless of how coarse or fine it is. [...] A rich buttery soup is not better as such than a broth of wild herbs. In handling and preparing wild herbs, do so as you would the ingredients for a rich feast, wholeheartedly, sincerely, clearly. When you serve the monastic assembly, they and you should taste only the flavour of the Ocean of Reality, the Ocean of unobscured Awake Awareness, not whether or not the soup is creamy or made only of wild herbs. In nourishing the seeds of living in the Way, rich food and wild grass are not separate.

Dinner at my ryokan at the base of Mount Haguro.

Chopsticks are hashi, a chopstick rest is a hashioki.

As for the miso soup, you pick up the bowl and drink from it.

Miso soup.

Miso with a sesame seed sauce, and vegetables.

Miso, sesame seed sauce, vegetables.

Bamboo shoots, steamed and pickled vegetables, and mushroom with fish cake.

Multiple small dishes of picked vegetables, bamboo shoots, steamed vegetables and mushroom with fish cake.

Bamboo and vegetables on a beautiful dish.

Pickled bamboo and vegetables.

Tempura vegetables.

Tempura vegetables.

Grilled fish.

Grilled fish.

Dinner on Day Three

This would be my last evening at the ryokan.

Dinner at my ryokan at the base of Mount Haguro.

Miso soup with mushrooms and thinly sliced green onion.

Miso soup with mushrooms and onions.

Grilled bamboo.

Grilled bamboo.

Grilled salmon and pickled vegetables.

Grilled salmon and pickled vegetables.

Chicken katsu is made with panko crumbs.

Panko is the combination of two Japanese words, pan meaning "bread" (from the Portuguese pão, as Jesuit missionaries brought bread-baking to Japan) and -ko meaning "flour" or "powder". Panko is made from bread baked in an electrical oven, forming no crust, then ground to thin slivers. It results in a crispier, airier, lighter breading coating.

Here are three slices of a chicken katsu cutlet along with a shrimp or prawn or crevette or whatever you call these edible aquatic crustaceans. Very edible.

Katsu chicken and shrimp.

Katsu is usually served with a brown tonkatsu dipping sauce, seen here to the left of more pickled vegetables.

Dipping sauce for katsu and pickled vegetables.

Soybeans and miso at top, pickled mushrooms below.

Soybeans and miso, pickled mushrooms.

Then a dessert of miso and boiled egg slices covered in honey, along with a candied plum.

Miso and honey.
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What wonderful meals! My room, along with breakfast and dinner every day, cost just ¥ 9,350 per night, equivalent to about US$ 70.

Next❯ Base of the Mountain Path — Suga Waterfall

Other topics in Japan:

Prehistoric Yamato
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Tōhoku region, northern Honshū — Nikkō, Aizu-Wakamatsu, Mount Bandai, Yamadera, Mount Haguro, Aomori
Kansai region, central Honshū — Kyōto, Nara, Kōya-san, Ise, and Ōsaka
Inland Sea — Takamatsu, Naoshima and the art islands, Hiroshima
Kyūshū — Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Kagoshima and Sakurajima, Oita, Mount Aso
Kantō region — Tōkyō and nearby
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