Philosopher Soetsu Yanagi (1889-1961) discovered the beauty in miscellaneous daily utensils created by anonymous craftsmen in the waning days of the Taisho Era (1912-1926).
More than 90 years later, "mingei" (folk craft) is garnering attention once again.
Tottori was a key location in the mingei movement, and Shoya Yoshida (1898-1972), an otolaryngologist based in the city, was one of the advocates of the ideas upheld by Yanagi. Besides working as a doctor, he passionately guided the production of utensils and worked to popularize them as a mingei "producer."
In 1962, Yoshida opened Takumi Kappo, a regional cuisine restaurant, hoping that people would "eat from fine utensils and woodwork made by hand and appreciate them." It stands next to the Tottori Folk Crafts Museum displaying fine pieces from all ages and cultures, and the Tottori Folk Crafts Shop that promotes new craftsmanship.
Visitors opening the restaurant’s glass-fitted wooden door are greeted with a stone floor, table and chairs made of zelkova, and lights covered with traditional washi paper. Yoshida took charge of the interior and furniture design, giving it a solid yet sophisticated feel.
"Perhaps you feel a Chinese element," says Ichiro Abe, the restaurant's 62-year-old proprietor. He became the chef and manager 20 years ago, and has preserved the spirit of the founder.
In 1938, while he was taking part in the folk art movement, Yoshida went to China as an army doctor. Although he was relieved from service after two years, he energetically walked around to take a look at the ceramics and dyed items in China until the end of the war.
The recipe for "susugi-nabe" is one of the things Yoshida brought back from China. Using a "pot with a chimney in the center," thinly sliced mutton is immersed in the hot water and moved around as if "rinsing" it. "Susugu" means to rinse in Japanese.
After he came back to Japan, Yoshida changed the meat to beef and taught the recipe to a restaurant in Kyoto.
A restaurant in Osaka went on to call the recipe "shabu-shabu", but Yoshida’s is said to be the original form.
Although hot water was used before, Abe improved the recipe to use soup made of "gyusuji," or beef tendon.
When making the dish at home, "konbu" kelp stock is recommended.
Abe also prepares his own sesame sauce and chili oil. To make the oil, he mixes the hotter chili produced in Tottori and the sweeter chili from South Korea. The flavor of the marbled meat, aroma of the sesame and the spiciness of the chili oil blend nicely on the tongue.
Born in 1956 in Tottori, Abe studied at a culinary school in Tokyo before working at Zakuro, a shabu-shabu restaurant, for about five years. He returned to his hometown and ran a Japanese and then a Western cuisine restaurant, as well as a ramen shop, before joining Takumi Kappo in 1998. The restaurant is about a 5 minute walk from JR Tottori Station.
360 grams beef slices (gyu-rosu)
Some Chinese cabbage, komatsuna leaves, bean sprout, shiitake mushroom, white part of green onion, glass noodles (harusame), dried kelp for stock
40 grams white sesame seeds
30cc light-colored soy sauce
100cc dashi stock
Chinese leek (nira) and chili oil (rayu)
To make sesame sauce, parch sesame and grate thoroughly in mortar. Mix soy sauce, vinegar and dashi stock, pour in mortar and mix. Add finely chopped "nira" Chinese leeks and drops of chili oil.
Pour 800 cc water with dried kelp in pot and place on heat. Remove kelp right before water comes to a boil. Immerse meat in boiling water, dip in sauce and enjoy. Cook other ingredients as well.
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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column