Asia Product Manager Lisa Sun recently returned from a trip to Japan where she had the opportunity to visit local artisans, one of the most memorable experiences in her long history of traveling. Upon her return, she spoke with Mr. Jiro Takeuchi, hotelier of Kayotei, Ker Downey’s preferred ryokan in Kanazawa, about their artisan experiences and his history in the industry.
One of the most memorable and amazing experiences in my decades of travel was a one-on-one encounter with several humble, incredibly talented artisans on my recent fall visit to Kanazawa, an easy 2.5 hour journey on the speedy bullet train from Tokyo. Kanazawa is a superb destination, a UNESCO Creative City known for its regional handicrafts and folk arts. This wonderful city is rich in cultural sites including its castle garden, historical samurai and geisha districts, temples, art museums, along with its wonderful food! A visit to this historical jewel of Japan, a rival to Kyoto, merits at least two to three days.
Kanazawa has long been known to house some of the best artisans in pottery, paper making, and lacquer painting this world has to offer. They are widely regarded as the most talented creative masters of their time.
And I had the rare and wonderful opportunity to watch them in action! When I first met these artisan masters, I was initially too timid to talk to them but quickly gained my courage and found them both warm and welcoming, humorous and upbeat. It was so inspiring to watch these gentle, talented artisans work – they exuded patience, energy, drive, and passion in every detail of their craft. I will never forget seeing the potter bringing life and beauty to a simple ball of clay in mere minutes, right before my eyes!
Over a lifetime of hard work, commitment, and passion, mixed in with blessed talent and skill, often passed over several generations, these highly respected artisans are truly living national treasures in Japan! I feel incredibly privileged in having the very special opportunity to not only meet with them, but also engage in fascinating discussions with them, learn about some of their lifelong challenges and even take part in a private lesson from the masters themselves. Any traveler in search of the authentic artisan culture of Japan should not miss this once in a lifetime experience as curated only by Ker & Downey’s team of experts.
After my trip to Japan, I had the chance to catch up with Mr. Jiro Takeuchi, the well-respected general manager of Kayotei who has special relationships with a network of top notch artisans which he developed over the many years. He and his team work closely with them, and can arrange for special access visits and one-on-one meetings for our clients.
Could you tell us how long have you been in the industry and how you entered it?
I spent 10 years in the hospitality (hotel) industry in Canada, US, Hong Kong and in Japan and then joined the Kayotei ryokan in 2000, where I have been since.
Why did you choose Kanazawa as your base?
God gave me the wonderful opportunity to learn about ryokans and to work for the Kayotei.
What would be some of the reasons why a guest would choose a ryokan over a hotel?
Ryokans are very unique, and found only in Japan. Staying in a ryokan is one of the best ways to experience authentic lifestyle in Japan.
What are the best months of the year to visit Kayotei?
This is a tough question to answer! Japan has four seasons and many things vary with each season, including produce and ingredients, views from the rooms and hot spring baths, amongst others, although all seasons are beautiful in their own way! Some of our guests prefer the green spring season, some like the colorful foliage of the autumn season and others enjoy the snowy winter season. It all depends on each guest and is difficult to say which season is the best.
The cuisine at Kayotei is known to be unique, including your Japanese breakfast which many of your guests say is the best! Could you tell us why, e.g., what are some delicacies served, and what make them so special?
Our Chef Ebihara says “the key is our fresh local healthy ingredients”, e.g, rice grown organically using the aigamo method, organic eggs, organic tofu and nori laver seaweed hand-picked fresh from the ocean. Our guests also really enjoy our chef’s popular dashimaki tamago Japanese omelette.
Your artisan experiences receive glowing reviews from our clients and our team who have stayed with you. Who are some of the artisans with whom you can arrange a tour?
Woodcarver, Japanese paper washi maker, gold leaf makie maker, Kutani porcelain potter, soba maker among others.
Due to cultural differences which may not be known to western visitors, could you share some recommended tips on etiquette when visiting an artisan?
Our artisans are private entrepreneurs and mostly family-operated businesses; each family member works hard to maintain their high quality methods of traditional production while preserving the respected culture of their craft and the region. A visit to their private homes and studios does require special permission in advance, and is not open to the general public. When visiting artisans, it is customary and good etiquette to display respect and appreciation to the artisans. Gratuities are also very much appreciated.
What would you say makes your ryokan special and unique from the others?
We as a ryokan see ourselves as a means to showcase the culturally rich and beautiful region and its people to our guests. We aim to provide the heartwarming service and hospitality one can only experience at our Yamanaka hot springs region.
Our deep thanks to Mr. Jiro Takeuchi and his team for taking the time to speak with us. A visit to these artisans can be arranged exclusively through our well-connected partners. Please contact us to incorporate an exclusive one-on-one meeting with these amazing artisans, guaranteed to leave you inspired, and a top highlight for any visitor to Japan!