Feb 23, '24

Embarking on an Unforgettable Epicurean Odyssey Across Japan: A Celebration of Gastronomy

Aiste Miseviciute

Embark on a transcendent culinary voyage to the northern expanse of Japan, where Hokkaido beckons just a 2-hour flight from the bustling metropolis of Tokyo. This captivating island offers a unique opportunity to savour some of the finest foods Japan has to offer, set against the backdrop of a majestic winter wonderland or a verdant summer paradise. Hokkaido’s pristine landscapes and abundant local produce set the stage for a culinary scene that competes with its own natural beauty.

Indulge your taste buds with succulent crab dishes, hearty miso ramen, and an array of other culinary delights, each region within Hokkaido presenting a distinctive flavour profile. The mere mention of Hokkaido evokes visions of world-class seafood — crab, oysters, sea urchin, ikura, and scallops — harvested from the icy waters surrounding this enchanting land.

Beyond its culinary prowess, Hokkaido boasts breathtaking natural wonders, adorned with six picturesque national parks that invite exploration and awe-inspiring adventures. For those seeking a tranquil retreat, Hokkaido is home to numerous hotels and ryokan offering a peaceful sanctuary with traditional Japanese hot springs known as onsen.


Himeshara, Sapporo

Himeshara Sushi may be situated in an unassuming yet very Japanese street setting, though upon entering you’re immediately transported into the universe of a culinary craftsman. This is one of Sapporo’s favoured sushi restaurants. Headed by Akira Tanaka, a veteran sushi chef and Hokkaido native with over 40 years of experience, Himeshara Sushi is a masterpiece of culinary innovation.

You instantly feel his passion which envelopes you and warmly welcomes with a sense of anticipation for what’s to come. With the sea on his doorstep, Tanaka seamlessly combines Edomae sushi techniques with the best locally caught seafood Hokkaido has to offer. A must-try is Tanaka’s signature “Botan-ebi,” a round sushi wrapped in a generously sized shrimp, with shrimp head miso and topped with fluorescent blue eggs. Watching him work, I became fascinated by his small touches and use of ingredients. He literally makes the sushi dance.

I have no hesitation in saying, this is probably one of the best sushi experiences I’ve ever had.


Otaru Sankaku, Otaru

Curious about the origins of these exceptional ingredients? Look no further than the Otaru Triangle Market, a small seafood market in Otaru that has been operating since 1948. It’s also somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for such a long time.

An easy 40 minutes by train from Sapporo, the journey hugs the coastline giving you spectacular views across the sea. Arrive at JR Otaru Station and the market is just over the road.

The first thing that strikes you is its size. It’s not big but the alleys are packed with stalls offering freshly caught fish, live crabs, scallops, sea urchins, and more. Dotted throughout are small restaurants including my destination Ajidokoro Takeda. Located in the centre of the market and directly managed by Takeda Fishery, Ajidokoro Takeda offers a diverse menu that delights locals and visitors alike. I was served a generous portion of ikura, crab, and plump sea urchin that’s as fresh as it gets. Delicious.

The lively atmosphere, with shopkeepers calling out and the bustle of the energetic crowd of buyers and sellers makes it a journey worth taking, and an unforgettable experience.

Shiguchi Hotel, Niseko

Here I truly escaped the urban clamour. Shiguchi Hotel in Niseko is the epitome of tranquillity, from its relaxing ambience through to its use of traditional Japanese construction methods. I arrived in freshly laid snow which added to the atmosphere and felt harmonious with the founder Shouya Grigg’s aim to provide a disconnect from the outside world and technology. His desire is for guests to connect as much as possible with nature, as reflected in the hotel’s organic and natural design. As an ex-fashion photographer his eye truly framed the setting. Nestled in the mountains, surrounded by nature, this is a serene retreat that features interiors adorned with antique and modern ceramics, ink paintings, and sculptures from Grigg’s private collection.

Shiguchi Hotel

The villas are simply stunning, providing lots of personal space while making you feel very much at home. For me, it felt like a meditative experience, observing the snow and the ever-changing landscape.

Somoza Restaurant at Shiguchi Hotel

Adjacent to Shiguchi Hotel, Somoza restaurant graces a 150-year-old kominka with culinary brilliance. Chef Ozeki Tatsuya is a young Japanese chef who has curated a menu rooted in French cooking techniques, utilizing seasonal and local ingredients sourced from Hokkaido.

As you enter, you pass through a gallery of beautiful craft pottery and pieces by artists from Hokkaido. A long communal bench table runs the length of the restaurant and to the side is an open kitchen. The ambiance is cosy and like dining in someone’s home.

The sommelier orchestrates delightful pairings with local wines and craft beers, providing a sensory experience complemented by panoramic views of the valley and mountains.

Somoza Restaurant at Shiguchi Hotel

Kouun Ryuusui, Niseko

Travel further on the scenic mountain trail in Hokkaido, and you’ll discover more culinary excellence at Kouun Ryuusui. Nestled in the enchanting village of Niseko, this is the smallest of sushi and kaiseki restaurants. Under the expert guidance of Chef Takashi Anezaki, this is an up-close personal experience and serves no more than a handful of seats.

Cooking alone while a lady serves the food, Chef Takashi Anezaki seamlessly combines the region’s finest offerings. Fresh, seasonal seafood and creative culinary mastery converge, offering an unparalleled gastronomic experience. Not only were both wonderfully welcoming, but the potato dish served (and this may sound unusual for the humble potato) was simply the best potato I have tasted!

Kouun Ryuusui, Niseko

The Peninsula, Tokyo Wellness

Even though The Peninsula is in the centre of the largest city of the world, you really don’t feel the big city vibe and whenever I stay here, I can honestly say, I am able to disconnect.

Unlike most luxury hotels in Tokyo that begin on the upper floor, The Peninsula has an entrance on the ground floor which faces the lush green Imperial gardens. As a result, it has an understated luxury feel from the moment you arrive.

The Peninsula, Tokyo Wellness

The spa and wellness centre provides a genuine sanctuary for rejuvenation. Its range of treatments and its Olympic size swimming pool are the perfect conclusion to my travels and an ideal homage to personal well-being.

While enjoying a very wholesome vegetarian breakfast, overlooking the breathtaking Imperial Gardens, I reflected on Japan’s opulent culinary heritage and serene retreats.

The Peninsula, Tokyo Wellness

I really don’t believe there is anywhere in the world that guarantees such an indelible experience for those in pursuit of the perfect blend of gastronomy and tranquillity.

From the northern reaches to the heart of Tokyo, let Japan’s culinary excellence enchant and satiate your senses on this gastronomic odyssey, creating memories that linger long after your journey concludes.

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