Horigotatsu @ Wadakin [Wajima Nuri]

My guest is a professor of philosophy, who has written on the subject of “mind prints” the structural thinking of mankind. We are on our way to visit one of the most profound buildings on our planet, the Ise Shrine. It isn’t a monument that was built and left to decay, it isn’t an event, it is a process, a structure that embodies the thinking of all eastern culture.

When you eat in Japan, you basically have three options, a table, tatami or tatami and horigotatsu. This is a space beneath the table where you can sit and place your feet comfortably and avoid having to cross your legs.

We walked from the Matsuzaka station, it was very windy, a sunny day, it was a short walk of 8 minutes. Once we arrived, we were greeted by the manager Mr. Matsuda, with whom we had well prepared our visit.

Before agreeing to go to Wadakin, we asked permission to carry our own bottle of wine with a corkage fee. The restaurant made it very complicated and we almost didn’t make it. You would think that a restaurant of this level would have more than three wines to choose from. They offer one red, white and rose. When I heard that, I became suspicious of walking into a tourist trap. I thought about it right up and until the meat was presented. Believe me, it took so much negotiation that it almost made us pass over Wadakin. Sometimes Japanese are so complicated over protocols that it gives you a massive headache.

In fact there are other choices in Matsuzaka but they almost all serve sirloin, and I didn’t want any oily beef. The beef from mie prefecture is known for its fatty marbling and if you dare attempt to eat more than a few hundred grams, you risk the chance of getting sick. I have seen it before, as the eyes are bigger than the stomach.

Walking into Wadakin’s grand entrance we are greeted by several staff. I announce myself and they know exactly who we are. Removing our shoes, we step up to a raised area and now we are officially on their territory. Without any further hesitation, I am asked for my wine, which I have over, a bottle of Pacalet’s Echezeaux 2010, a wonderful red burgundy.

You arrive to a tatami room to find a long table, large enough for a large party of 6 or more. Our two seats are all ready set at the end all of the table and it feels regal. The long black table dominates the space, a large black mass, yet it’s silky soft and the space seems more cozy than you think.

A natural feel to it, as the light reflects through the shoji screens, the tokonoma has some flowers and a pairing of sakura. The room feels perfect, a feng shui master piece of nature’s energy in harmony. We are seated, offered a glass of ume juice and a small amuse bouche. The meal has begun, we are relaxed as I order a “bin beer”, a customary bottled beer to arouse the palate and make our appetites flow.

The table keeps us on guard, it is made from urushi pronounced “oo-roo-shee” and is one of the most durable natural lacquers known to man. Urushi lacquered dates from 9,000 years ago, it is made from the sap of the urushi tree.

The urushi sap is collected, and as it dries, it hardens by absorbing moisture from the air. After it has hardened, the urushi retains some water, making it look perpetually wet and shiny. The black color is produced by adding iron powder, which produces a chemical reaction with the urushiol, turning the urushi to a deep black color.

The attendant explains about this urushi is named “Wajima Nuri.” It is different from other types of lacquerware in several ways, including that it is produced in Wajima. One distinction is the use of linen cloth to reinforce fragile parts of any structure. The fabric is coated in urushi and then carefully applied to the wood, and smoothed out.

After the fabric and urushi has hardened, the whole surface is sanded and coated again and again, so the fabric is no longer distinguishable from the rest of the object. Other distinctions include the type of wood used, and the application base coatings of a special lacquer paste made of urushi and a type of soil called “ji no ko”, the powder of the earth.