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  • We all dream of it at some point or another don't we?

  • Escaping to a sacred mountain temple - somewhere remote, somewhere quiet

  • where we can meditate and get away from it all.

  • The stresses of the daily life, the stresses of social media and the news and everything

  • and that is exactly what we're gonna do today.

  • It's the brainchild of one man; this man.

  • Ryotaro: Alright so today - you know you've been so online recently, like on Twitter and Facebook

  • and of course YouTube, and it's too much interaction as well.

  • They get you to your answer to comments, and they go "it's just what you'll be doing"

  • You'll be too nice it's almost like.

  • Chris: Yes, I'm too nice!

  • Ryotaro: So I'm taking you to this temple; which is 1,200 years old

  • and then put you into this strict---very strict training; Yamabushi Mountain training

  • Chris: Hmm...

  • Ryotaro: Yeah, you will love it.

  • Chris: But before we get to the strict mountain training and the secluded mountain

  • we're first going to one of the best most critically acclaimed restaurants in all of Tohoku

  • because it's quite near the mountain

  • So---before things get strict they're first gonna get rather gluttonous indeed.

  • [Ravenous side glance]

  • The region we're visiting surrounds the town of Tsuruoka in Yamagata, about a 30-minute drive south of the town

  • I once lived in, where I worked as a teacher for three years, and I'll gladly admit it's a region

  • I miss living in for the scenery alone and for its somewhat mystical surroundings

  • thanks to the area's roots in the religions of Shintoism and Buddhism

  • but more on that later because first there's food to be had.

  • So this restaurant, the Ai. Ché-cciano, is owned by a chef called Mr. Okuda

  • and he was counted as one of the best hundred chefs in the whole world

  • Chris: in the whole world!?

  • Roytaro: in the whole world, yeah.

  • Chris: Born in Tsuruoka in 1969, Masayuki Okuda has prepared food everywhere

  • from the World Economic Forum

  • to even serving the Pope in 2012.

  • His reputation comes from his philosophy of carefully sourcing local ingredients

  • which had been selected to cultivate a deeper appreciation for the food - and for the local area itself.

  • In the case of the Ai. Ché-cciano restaurant, he's managed to fuse Italian style dishes

  • with ingredients within a 30 Kilometer radius of the kitchen; from the nearby mountains, to the Sea of Japan.

  • So our first course has arrived and it is

  • Flounder, the fish from the Sea of Japan, just about 10 Kilometres that way---

  • so all the food here's local, but it's the salt that's the really interesting thing.

  • The salt has been harvested on the night of a full moon

  • when the water changes current, apparently it's the best time to get the salt from the sea

  • and the thick large grains of salt---

  • accompany the Flounder rather well.

  • You wouldn't normally think of those kind of things

  • but it's that kind of consideration that goes into the food here that makes it such a critically acclaimed place

  • and now Ryotaro is gonna review it for us.

  • Ryotaro: You actually feel the salt because---

  • Chris: well I should hope so, it's harvested on the night of a full moon.

  • Ryotaro: So this is the salt; normal salt is finer and a smaller scale, but this salt comes in this size

  • and so when you actually put it in your mouth you should feel the salt.

  • Chris: You put the salt in your mouth and you feel the salt...you've put my food reviewing to shame.

  • Flounder

  • Flounder

  • Chris: Yeah - floundering review.

  • So we got our next dish; which is Fugu-infused risotto.

  • I think it's the first time I've ever had Fugu actually---

  • the Blowfish which can kill you, so it's the most dangerous risotto I've ever had.

  • It's got seven herbs on top which are there to

  • cleanse the palate before the main course.

  • Looking at this risotto makes me very happy because it reminds me of a comment that I read yesterday

  • (Laughing) about Ryotaro

  • "Why do we never see Natsuki and 'Risottoro' in the same video, do they hate each other?"

  • (Laughing)

  • The reason you never see Natsuki and 'Risottoro' together is because they're actually the same person

  • with a severe case of split personality disorder---

  • Ryotaro: What!?

  • One of them smokes 30 cigarettes a day and the other version is just bald

  • but all I know is your new name is 'Risottoro' from here on in.

  • (Laughs in Risottoro)

  • Chris: It seems rather fitting that after receiving this comment yesterday you're now---

  • Ryotaro: 'Risottoro' with a British accent, is that right?

  • (Laughing in Risottoro pt. 2)

  • Chris: Risottoro!

  • Ryotaro: The blowfish!

  • Blowfish---

  • is definitely really worth risking your life

  • because it's so good.

  • Chris: You heard it here first; straight from the mouth of 'Risottoro'

  • Ryotaro: Okay, so we now have pork, it's called Yamaguchi pork

  • yeah, it's a local pork 'grown' in this area

  • and it's plain and what's so special is that it's been matured and it almost tastes like dried ham

  • Chris: Serrano Ham?

  • Ryotaro: Serrano Ham, yeah.

  • It's charcoal-grilled too, so it's crispy on the surface and very juicy inside.

  • Chris: What about the Fish?

  • Ryotaro: It's Winter Cod.

  • Chris: Winter Cod---

  • Ryotaro: Since they caught the Cod in the Winter it's got a lot of fat in it so it tastes different---

  • Chris: The Cod actually changes flavour throughout the seasons?

  • Ryotaro: Yeah.

  • Chris: That's quite cool, didn't know that!

  • Ryotaro: Well yeah, of course, you don't know anything. So anyway---

  • (Laughing)

  • Chris: You know, numerous are the times that I've visited a restaurant that hasn't quite lived up to its reputation

  • Ai. Ché-cciano is not one of them.

  • It's not every day you get to go to a restaurant where so much thought goes into the ingredients.

  • The way they use sauce and the way it's prepared---

  • long will I cherish the memories of the Yamaguchi pork and the Blowfish 'Risottoro'...

  • (Sideways glances)

  • ...he doesn't look happy.

  • And now we are off to a mystical mountain to get rather spiritual isn't that right, Ryotaro?

  • Ryotaro: Yeah, we're going to see some ghosts

  • [Ghostly glare]

  • The shrine we're staying in rests on the sacred secluded peak of Mt. Haguro

  • and holds the record for having the thickest thatched roof in all of Japan

  • and that's a lot of alliteration...

  • but it's 2 meters thick because, despite being only 414 meters, Haguro receives a ridiculous amount of snow.

  • Just to give you a sense of scale to the snowfall they get here; look at this---

  • So Ryotaro how tall are you?

  • Ryotaro: Uh I'm...5'6" or something?

  • Chris: 5 foot six, 5 foot seven?

  • Chris: So that's at least twice your height - about 10 foot.

  • That's what they have to deal with here every winter, and then they have to deal with people like this coming

  • just to make things worse.

  • (Laughing)

  • So this is the room I'm staying in in the temple, the key word here is 'cozy'

  • and that's because of the kerosene heater.

  • in Japan in winter you live and die by the grace of the kerosene heater.

  • Because it's 28 degrees in here it's lovely and warm and cozy, but out here---

  • It is a mere...fuck-all degrees Celsius, it's so cold.

  • You can see the snow falling out there a little bit, but if I go like that

  • (Exhale)

  • you can see my breath, it's magical.

  • In there - nice and cozy

  • out here - it's like a fridge so let's get back inside.

  • So we've got the kerosene heater and the futon there with no less than three blankets to keep me warm

  • and then over here---

  • this is my favourite room

  • this is the room that I like to call the 'Tea Room'

  • come on in.

  • So you can sit here, enjoy your tea, watch a bit of television, and enjoy the second kerosene heater

  • which I haven't put on yet but I'm definitely gonna put on soon because it's absolutely freezing in here.

  • Because of the Shoji sliding doors; as beautiful as Shoji sliding doors are they're terrible insulators

  • and out here we've just got...well that's it basically

  • that's the edge of the temple.

  • in a way though the snow acts like an insulator itself because it piles up about a meter or two high

  • throughout the winter months and kind of helps insulate the building

  • but let's keep the door shut to keep warm.

  • That was pretty stupid on my part.

  • It's like a puzzle closing Shoji sliding doors is like an exciting puzzle - a puzzle which is very simple.

  • 'Yamabushido' is the term used to describe the mountain aesthetic practiced by monks for over 1,500 years.

  • In recent times the secretive practice has opened up to anyone who's looking to detoxify themsevles

  • in a five-day practice held in the summer months; where participants live by a strict aesthetic

  • of Buddhist vegetarian cuisine

  • travelling in silence across mountains, forests, rivers, and even meditate in waterfalls.

  • It's overseen by Master Hoshino; probably the coolest looking man I've ever seen

  • and a 13th generation of his family to live as a Yamabushi priest.

  • However, given it's the winter months and the temperatures hovering around zero degrees,

  • we're gonna be practising for several hours.

  • Before we begin we asked master Hoshino to help define the concept of Yamabushido.

  • So here we are at the base of Haguro Mountain, and I'm dressed in this white costume

  • In Japanese it's literally 'Shiro Shozoku' right?

  • Ryotaro: Yeah, you pronounce it alright.

  • Chris: Good pronounciation there.

  • But it literally means white costume and this mountain

  • Haguro Mountain represents rebirth, and to be reborn you first need to be dead and in Japan at a funeral

  • the body is wrapped up in white cloth, and thus being wrapped up in white cloth

  • we're technically dead, metaphorically dead, not literally dead that would be---

  • awful.

  • Dead. Simply dead. Simply red? No, simply dead.

  • Why do we let him go anywhere near the camera?

  • So this is Takeharu and he's our guide for today

  • I'm wondering why can't we speak while we're going into the mountain?

  • What's the significance of not talking and being silent?

  • Takeharu: Because it's gonna be a training practice; if you think about things to say or talk

  • then you cannot be in the moment.