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Thursday, Sept. 23, 2010

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No peeking: Blindfolded diners at "Journey in the Dark" enjoy local dishes from Minami-Satsuma in Kagoshima Prefecture. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

Not seeing and yet still believing

Heightening your senses by being kept in the dark can take you on a different kind of journey


Staff writer

I n January 2008, Kakuho Aoe, a Buddhist monk at Ryokusenji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo, began holding monthly "dark dinner" events, for which participants were blindfolded before being served their meals. Following the success of those events, he is now adding something a little different to the menu of his culinary experiment — "Kurayami no Tabiji" ("Journey in the Dark").

Open to the public during the Shinagawa Shukuba Festival this weekend (Sept. 25 and 26), participants of "Journey in the Dark" will be blindfolded before being served, just like at the dark dinner events. This time, however, they will not only be asked to rely on an enhanced sense of taste to further enjoy the process of eating, but they will also be taken on a journey to the scenic, seaside city of Minami-Satsuma in Kagoshima Prefecture in the southern Kyushu region.

How is that possible?

During a press preview event held last week, attendees — including this reporter — were blindfolded and led into a large tatami room in the Asakusa temple. As we all sat down on our knees, we were told to "tighten your eye masks," a humorous spin on the "fasten your seat belt" announcement heard just before takeoff in an aircraft. Then, as the sound of an engine blasted out from somewhere in the room, we realized we are embarking on a virtual trip to Minami-Satsuma.

During our darkened journey, we were taken to a local fishing port to try our hand at net fishing, sample handmade satsuma-age (deep-fried fish paste), sip local imo-jochu (shochu made from sweet potato) and listen to a local folk song. A fisherman, a brewer and a couple involved in sea-salt production also shared stories about their vocations and what life in the small farming/fishing community is like.

The purpose of "Journey in the Dark" is to help Tokyoites and other city residents familiarize themselves with Minami-Satsuma (and its local delicacies), explained Bunpei Sasaki, president of Machiori, a Tokyo-based startup that organizes the Shinagawa event. And the intimacy of the event achieves this really well. After an hourlong presentation in the dark, a city on the southernmost tip of Kyushu island, which you're unlikely to have heard of before and has a population of less than 40,000, will feel much closer — you might even begin to contemplate going there for your next holiday.

Aoe, who is involved in the virtual-tour event as a general producer, said he wants to use "Journey in the Dark" as a way to revitalize local communities. "This has great potential to casually stimulate people's curiosity about areas that they had had no previous links with," he said. "It also offers (regional tourism promotion officials) an opportunity to bring in more tourists."

The volume and variety of food to be presented is probably not enough to satisfy the gastronomically inclined (or those who are just hungry), but it makes for an interesting diversion from your regular weekend activities if you happen to be in the Shinagawa area. And if still hungry, the Shinagawa Shukuba Festival in Seiseki Park will also have booths from restaurants and breweries from Minami-Satsuma offering regional delicacies.

Those who are interested in attending "Journey in the Dark" should turn up at the park and ask anyone running a booth to direct them to the event site.

Tickets to "Kurayami no Tabiji" ("Journey in the Dark") are ¥3,000 and it is held in Japanese only. The event is part of the Shinagawa Shukuba Festival, which is being held in Seiseki Park (2-7-21, Kita-Shinagawa, Shinagawa, Tokyo), a 5-min. walk from Shin-banba Station on the Keihin Kyuko Line. The festival is from 11 a.m. till 8 p.m. on Sept. 25 and from 10 a.m. till 5 p.m. on Sept. 26. For more information, call (03) 6273-7041 or 090-9524-6227, or visit www.sunkujira-pj.com


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