If I ever imagine a Japanese Eden it would be in the form of Ukai-Toriyama in Takao-san (Mt. Takao), a sprawling compound of lush greens and Japanese Maple trees, divided by creeks, united by bridges, and dotted with a multitude of pavilions, none of which has the same architectural design.
When my friend asked me out to eat lunch here -a mountainous area 50 minutes away from Tokyo’s Shinjuku station by an express train- I had no earthly idea that I would end up in such heavenly a place. From Shinjuku-eki, we took the Keio train to Takaosanguchi. A complimentary bus from the Ukai Toriyama company picked us up and delivered us to the second restaurant (the first was a smaller one at a lower level of the mountain).
Reservation had been made for 4 people the day before; otherwise, it would be almost impossible just to walk in and expect to get a pavilion. There is no dining hall; instead, the vast area is host to numerous pavilions scattered throughout. To reach any of these private rooms, one has to navigate on a pebble track under a canopy of trees while listening to the sound of flowing water in the creek down beneath the many bridges that have to be crossed. I do not think anyone would mind.
Ukai Toriyama, a set on Flickr.
We chose the highest course in the menu and were rewarded with a parade of small dishes containing many different Japanese vegetables and meats. At one point, each of us was given a suspended rock that was really hot. This was to be the place to put our raw beef with ground miso topping. As there really is no such thing as “main entrée” in a Japanese meal, each dish bears equal weight.
(When we left Tokyo, it was actually raining very hard. As we were waiting in a station somewhere along Tokyo and Takao-san, an earthquake shook the northern part of the country [6.8 in the Richter scale]. We did feel the train rocked back and forth while in its stationary position.)
It was still grey when we reached the mountain, but as we consumed our repast, the cloud broke and the sun appeared, sending his mighty rays to our compound but they were filtered by the leaves of the Maple trees. The effect was just so beautiful that neither words nor photographs could capture its essence.