Even the most experienced traveller learns something every day in Japan. The gal arrived at the lovely Mandarin Oriental Tokyo luxury hotel and there, outside the main door, was a bike. Up in corner suite 3601 there was a bonsai, above, with a descriptive note. Bonsai, which originates from the Chinese word penzai, is an aesthetically-pleasing miniature tree, formed by putting it in smaller containers. You contemplate it, you think about the world (this particular bonsai is a Yezo spruce and it came, 30 years ago, from 5,000 ft up in the Hokkaido mountains, and it has been shaped and re-potted every three years).
As always at this lovely hotel I head down to the amazing Sembikiya gourmet store in the main ground floor atrium of the building. As well as the customary $250-plus melons, individually wrapped, now there are seasonal strawberries. Back up in corner suite 3601 I had an exquisite display of five designer strawberry varieties – see the video below. I quickly tried two kinds. Amaou, exclusively from Fukuoka Prefecture, are named for A, red, MA from circle (marui), O for big (ookii) and U for tasty (umai). The other strawberry, also big and all red, was a Skyberry, from Tochigi Prefecture, where, after 17 years’ development, it was launched in 2011. See what I mean about educating-Rita, sorry, educating the gal?
Time for a cycle ride. By going straight, and counting the number of traffic lights I had to wait for, meticulously, I got somewhere, goodness only knows where, and back again, in time for my next lesson. This was on lacquer work, which I had always thought was a kind of papier-mâché. No, it is made from highly toxic sap from the Toxicodendron vernicifluum, or Chinese lacquer tree. The sap is filtered, heated and put on to a base, and kept in a warm chamber for at least 12 hours to allow it to solidify. This gorgeous little pot came on a tray surrounded by dozens of origami birds under half the size of my smallest fingernail. Time for a change of lesson. Next in the curriculum at this fascinating luxury hotel was dinner in K’shiki, where we started with pizzino, squares of pizza dough holding three cheeses.
After this, a whole treccia from Puglia was – just as we had when last eating with the now-GM here, Paul Jones, then GM of Mandarin Oriental Taipei – presented table-side, carved, and served with different colours of tomatoes, anchovies, parsley and seasoning (what to drink? we could have gone for one of bartender Giancarlo Mancino’s artisanal vermouths, flavoured with cherry blossom, but we opted for Cooper Mountain Vineyards 2013 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley). Talking of drink, how stylish to be brought, unasked, a spinach smoothie when working out, as dawn broke; an hour later it was outstanding coffee, to go with really superb healthy breads – a rarity in Japan – back in K’shiki at breakfast. As at Prego in Singapore a couple of weeks ago, I thought how well Italian restaurant counters adapt to breakfast service, plus they are good marketing for returning for main meals, later in the day (IF you can get a table, that is). SEE THE VIDEO, BELOW, OF SUITE 3601