It’s raining, humidity is high and traffic is at its after work peak hour best in Tokyo. We are in a taxi racing to get to the Four Seasons Hotel at Chinzan-so before dark. The big boss, Boots, has rung the Fuminator to see where we are. Boots has planned a very special evening for us which involves getting there before dark.
We are greeted by our Japanese colleagues as soon as we get out of the taxi. Handshakes, hugs and hellos are exchanged before our group is whisked off to the Chinzan-so gardens by two yakata clad ladies. Boots was anxious about us arriving before dark, the plan is for a pleasant stroll through the gardens to our dinner destination, located at the bottom of the gardens.
One of the truly beautiful pleasures of Tokyo are the gardens. For those that only spend a couple of days here you are faced with building upon building, a concrete desert. There are the well known gardens on every tourists’ agenda, but it is the little known ones that are pure magic. I find nothing more magical than discovering a small pocket of well manicured and maintained garden amongst the concrete hustle and bustle that is Tokyo.
The Chinzan-so Gardens were built by Prince Aritomo Yamagata during the Meiji era 1868-1912.
The area was famous for its scenic beauty and once was known as Tsubaki-yama (Mt Camellia). It was here that Prince Yamagata build his mansion during the Meiji era and called it Chinzan-so (House of Camellia).
In later years Baron Heitaro Fujita transferred a three story pagoda to the gardens and placed other cultural assets there to add a ‘taste of elegance’ to the gardens. Beside the additions, the garden was left as Prince Yamagata had first designed it.
Today the gardens are the centre piece of the Four Seasons Hotel and the Chinzan-so Centre.
We were lucky that the rain eased for our tranquil walk through the gardens. It was still extremely hazy and humid, a light mist gave a slightly magical feel to our walk. It also played havoc with my camera, so I apologise for the not so great garden pictures.
The Three Story Pagoda is the symbol of Chinzan-so and is believed to be 900-1000 years old. Not one single nail was used in building this pagoda, which originally stood in the grounds of the Chikurin-ji temple, deep in the mountains of the Hiroshima Prefecture.
At the end of our walk our path stops at the first of five houses which make up Mokushun-do, our destination for dinner. The houses have a long and distinguished history. They were relocated to the gardens from Kyoto and I believe are around 500 years old.
The lovely ladies that guided us through the garden show us to our private traditional style dining room. I am taken back by how spacious the tatami mat room is for the eight of us. The major feature of the long room is a long table with four legless lacquered wooden chairs either side. It is traditional seating, well, it has the comfort of under table leg room to save us from having to sit cross legged or on our knees. There is an arm’s length space between each ‘chair’, as I said, very spacious.
It is now that I find out our guides will actually be our hostesses for the evening as well as cooks of the BBQ. There are two large stone hot plates, one situated at either end of the table. I am advised that the stone is actually lava plate which has come from Mt Fuji. If this evening wasn’t already special, to find out I will actually be eating from something cooked on part of the sacred Fuji san is pretty humbling.
Drinks are ordered to start the meal. Boots knows me well, I am not a beer drinker, he tells me he knows what I would like to drink. He is spot on when he orders chilled sake. I love sake and it is nice to see over the past few years that Australia is starting to import more of the decent sakes. Unfortunately it never tastes as good as it does when drinking it in Japan.
We start with a selection of beautifully presented small plates.
Next our yakata clad hostesses fire up the BBQs and the fresh ingredients of our main meal are bought to where they will prepare our meal.
With tummies full, and very happy due to good company and sake we walk through the gardens again, this time is via lantern. There are also lanterns along the path, which give the garden a gorgeous glow. Light misty rain fills the air along with the night sounds of the garden. We can just hear the hustle and bustle of Tokyo in the back ground as we make our way back to the hotel’s main reception and waiting taxis.
If you enjoyed this article on Japan you may enjoy these; Nishiki Markets, Kyoto, Kaisendonya Jizakanaya Restaurant, Kayabacho, Tokyo & Mitsukoshi Food HallChinzan-so 10-8, Sckiguchi 2-chome Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 112-8680 Japan http://www.chinzanso.com/english