In many Asian cultures and Buddhism, lotus (蓮 or ‘hasu’ in Japanese) has long been admired for its divine and pure beauty blooming out of impure muddy waters. Almost all parts of a lotus plant, ranging from its grains, seeds, to its petals, have a variety of uses in our daily lives; one of which is a rich supply of nutrition – food.
When it comes to the food industry, Japan with its reputation of having a highly cultivated taste of food art by no means missed out on this beautiful plant. It goes without saying that Japanese people, as well as admirers of Japanese cuisine, have always valued not only the taste but also the artistic presentation — food for the eyes and the stomach. This combination of the wisdom of the lotus flower in Buddhist culture and Japanese-style food art can be found at a unique restaurant in Usuki City (臼杵市), located on the east coast of Oita prefecture.
Usuki city is well-known for its national treasure of Usuki Stone Buddhas (臼杵磨崖仏 or Usuki Magaibutsu) and its lotus festival that occurs every July and August at the breathtaking lotus fields in front of the Stone Buddhas site. Tourists usually organize their visit to the city around this time so that they can partake in the cultural activities of the festival as well as enjoy an informative tour at the historic site, where dining at the Sekibutsu Kankou Center – Kyozen Usami (石仏観光センター・郷膳うさ味) is a must.
This restaurant was founded in 1926 as a tourism spot next to the famous Stone Buddhas that provides a wide variety of Usuki local souvenirs on the first floor of the building such as Usuki crackers (senbei), miso, seafood, and so on. However, the actual restaurant is on the second floor. Throughout the year, Kyozen Usami serves regional cuisine such as sushi, blowfish cuisine (fugu), dango soup (dangojiru), but only during July and August – specific dates are subject to change every year so keep an eye out for posters at the tourism information center at local train stations. They also exclusively serve limited lotus cuisine sets too.
Although it runs for two months, you cannot enter without a telephone reservation in advance (as soon as possible) because it coincides with the lotus festival when tourists flock to the area.
According to my host family who have lived in Usuki for the past 30 years, lotus cuisine used to simply be a bit of creative ‘spice’ to the city’s local attractions, but the delicate preparation and presentation of lotus cuisine has spread nationwide quickly and has become a highly recommended place to visit in Oita in summer. From personal experience, it is definitely worth keeping an eye out on dates, making a reservation, and traveling to the city. There is also a set price, which saves any confusion when ordering and can confirm it is the best value for money!
The peaceful Zen atmosphere in the restaurant, surrounded by the greenish embrace of the lotus fields, is perfect for relaxing with friends and family. There are no words to describe the food because its beauty and taste are beyond any fancy adjectives; every item of food is handmade and artfully arranged on beautiful plates and other utensils.
Although lotus cuisine may not suit everyone it is unlike any other dining experience in Japan especially for those fascinated by the artistic blend of Japanese food culture and the unconventional ingredients of the lotus flower. Moreover, it is undoubtedly an incredible experience for vegetarians and those who seek simplicity in their love of food.
Now, food lovers, photographers, and critics, it’s your turn! Choose your weapons and head to Usuki this summer for a beautiful adventure.
Tel: (+81) 972-65-3333