Three-and-a-half million individuals cross via Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station day by day, so it’s exhausting to imagine that amidst the mayhem of the unrelenting crowd, you could possibly attain a vegan paradise in lower than a few hours. Yet that’s precisely the case, and the environment friendly transportation system appears devised for liberation from the world’s most populated metropolitan space. Two trains, a bus, and a cable automobile—every extra sedately paced than the final—lands you in Oshi, a magical village on Mount Mitake boasting 25 tranquil shukubo. If you go to, be forewarned: Your life won’t ever be the identical once more.
Walk into historical past
Normally, shukubo point out Buddhist temple lodgings, however Japan’s indigenous faith, Shinto, has shrines. Each of Oshi’s shukubo, full with with its personal priest, supplies spiritual companies for donating members, but in addition operates like a conventional inn (faith is certainly not required). For 1200 majestic years, Musashi Mitake Shrine has drawn pilgrims. First have been mountain ascetics, performing troublesome rituals searching for religious development. Later, there have been samurai. Commoners, lastly allowed round 1600, fashioned associations via which to save cash and ship representatives, who stayed within the shukubo. Visitors at this time are typically hikers having fun with the untrammeled nature of the 485 square-mile Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park. Luckily, it’s additionally a vegan paradise. With advance discover, most shukubo will omit animal merchandise totally, an answer made simpler by the truth that native specialties are already of the vegetable selection: contemporary wasabi root, sourced from clear streams feeding into the speeding Tama River, and konnyaku “sashimi,” handmade in every family from konnyaku potatoes harvested on the mountain.
Choose your individual journey
At Mitake Station, each different passenger appears dressed for severe climbing. Some guests select to remain at a shukubo that provides takigyo, huddling beneath a cool waterfall at daybreak—an expertise much like these sought by historical ascetics. My journey companion and I chosen two lodgings identified for panoramas and provisions: Mitake Sanso and Kuraya. As with many conventional Japanese lodgings, pampering begins the second you step over the brink, which at Mitake Sanso was a roofed torii gate adorned with a good-sized shimenawa, a straw rope embellished with paper shide indicating a sacred area. We arrived within the late afternoon, and have been greeted by Youko Kanai, chef and co-owner along with her husband, Kunitoshi Kanai. After being proven to a tatami room overlooking the majestic forest, we become the yukata and haori jackets supplied, and eagerly made our strategy to the ladies’s tub. Because I discovered to cook dinner whereas dwelling in a thatched farmhouse within the mountains close to Kyoto, I used to be aware of lots of the sansai (wild greens) nonetheless generally used at these shukubo, so it was like assembly previous pals at each meal. However, the frilly multi-course meals, much like shojin ryori—the meals of Buddhist monks—have been nothing I’d skilled earlier than.
Bring new dimension to consuming your veggies
On our first night there, one of many many vegan delicacies served to us in a personal eating room at Mitake Sanso was konnyaku sashimi with ginger and mustard; a stewed mixture of bamboo shoots, kabocha and Japanese snap peas; fried eggplant and contemporary myoga (Japanese ginger); home made pickled daikon in two colours; stewed wasabi stems; dried persimmon; and contemporary scallion with miso paste. And these have been simply the appetizers! The second course was a stunning blended tempura kakiage with quite a lot of sansai, reminiscent of kogomi (ostrich fern) and koshiabura, which accommodates vitamins that assist decrease hypertension whereas offering a heap of antioxidants. Floating within the clear kelp broth was a sprig of mitsuba and a fragile flower of fu, the gluten utilized in a lot Buddhist vegetarian delicacies. After one other tub and a snack of some tea and rice crackers, which we loved in our room—adopted by a nightscape twinkling with faraway lights—we settled on our futons for a restful sleep. We awoke early, dropped our baggage at Kuraya, and hiked to the Rock Garden, a forested valley dotted with stones and waterfalls. Lunch out at one of many easy eating places lining the purchasing avenue on the way in which to the shrine was soba, one sizzling and one chilly, and a few extra konnyaku sashimi.
Experience highly effective, historical culinary practices
Up the road from Mitakesanso, Kuraya is a 30-year-old constructing changing an Edo-era thatched one. This constructing was a sister to the Tangible Cultural Property Baba-ke Oshi Jutaku (House), standing now in newly rethatched glory. All 4 meals we ate on the shukubo have been shocking of their simplicity, seasonality, and presentation, however Kuraya’s breakfast stood out for the depth of taste in such humble dishes as stewed konbu (kelp), carrots, burdock root, and soybeans; steamed uguisuna (mini turnips); and sautéed udo (Japanese spikenard). My associate and I agreed that we had by no means skilled extra centered and grounded mealtimes than throughout this journey.
Notably, the eldest proprietor of Kuraya—priest Yutaka Suzaki—is anxious in regards to the village’s economic system. But primarily based on the meals alone, plainly for the vegan-friendly shukubo of Mount Mitake, the long run is vibrant. Whether you need your go to to revolve totally across the pristine nature of the nationwide park, or you might be searching for a multi-pronged journey together with daytime gallivants to Tokyo adopted by nighttimes stress-free over an unimaginable vegan meal, luxurious tub, and blissful sleep, there’s something right here for everybody … so long as it’s paradise, and unsurpassed rest, you might be hoping to search out.
Freelance author and translator Maggie Hohle lived in Japan for 15 years, studying native culinary practices from widows in her Miyamacho neighborhood.
Photo courtesy of Molly Hohle and The Chopstick Chronicles