When sittign down to the meal, it was papparent that while th meal was vegetarian, it was quite different from any vegetarian meal I had ever had in any country. There was a riuce patty, a sort of faux hamburger covered in katsup, there were two friend tofu “onion rings”, there were a few agar dishes, including a tomoto suspended in clear agar, an agar soup, and a dessert with fresh blueberries on an agar base. There was also a mayonaaise salad and a small soup with root vegetables. It was an elaborate meal in its color, texture, and arrangement.
We had time to interview Shuzue-san in the quite time after dinner. We were ushered into her kitchen… she has been a vegetarian for 13 years. Although influenced by macrobiotic principles, many of her recipes are her own and come from her own ingenuity as a chef. When asked why she went vegetarian, she said she is trying to be more “whole”… her daughters’ ballet teacher, a very impressive and active woman, once chalked up her vitality to brown rice and vegetables, which influenced the diet of Shizue-san. I asked if people came to Radon specifically for the vegetarian food… she doesn’t think so, but people do ask for it.
The inn is 5th generation, now owned by her parents, Shizue-san, and her brother. Although she grew up at the inn, she did leave for awhile. She moved away for 10 years when she was first married and had her 3 daughters. Her husband ran a business in another town. The business went unde r and when looking for something else, he decided to join her family’s business. So, leaving the family behind, he moved to Nakayamadaira to live with his in-laws and began to learn how to run the ryokan. Tragically, he passed away at 43 years old (7 years ago now) leaving Shizue-san a widow at a very young age. But having made the decision to run the hot spring, they stayed there after his death. Her daughters are now in their 20s, 2 of them have moved to arts careers, but the youngest daughter does work at the ryokan. As part of the loss of her husband, she describes her diet as being a reflection of being more “whole”being the most whole person she can be, a powerful thing to hear from a woman who has gone through a lot but seems to be bearing it with grace. At 50 years old, she looks 10 years younger, and she seems quite proud of the work they have accomplished in keeping the onsen a hive of activity even if the rest of the town is fading.
August 7, 2010