Tennou no Ryouriban


It is New Year’s Day in 1904 (Meiji 37). The Akiyamas of Fukui Prefecture, led by the father, Shuzo, are filled with hope. The eldest son, Shutaro, who has his sights set on becoming a lawyer, has returned home. His only worry is his 16-year-old second son, Tokuzo. Shuzo’s anxiety proves right. Tokuzo is expelled by the temple where he was training to be a monk. Amidst the new year celebrations, Tokuzo is carried into the house in an unconscious state. The Akiyamas fret that he maybe dead, but according to the monk who brought him over, he had debased a monk’s grave in a graveyard while drunk on alcohol. Concerned about the future of his son who gives up on whatever he does easily, Shuzo arranges for Tokuzo to be taken into the Takahamas of Sabae who run Matsumaeya, a kelp wholesale business. Tokuzo thus begins a new life as the husband of the family’s eldest daughter, Toshiko. It is surprisingly easy for him to get accustomed to the job of a kelp wholesaler. Tokuzo is able to distinguish the kelp from different places of origin with his keen sense of smell, and even Toshiko’s father, Kinnosuke who is the owner of the business, gives Tokuzo due respect. Tokuzo gradually fits into the Takahamas, and a smile event appears on Toshiko’s face. Then one day, Tokuzo’s interest is aroused by an indescribable smell wafting out from the kitchen while out on a delivery to the Sabae regiment. In the kitchen, Sergeant Tanabe Yukichi, who has been preparing ingredients that Tokuzo has never seen before, is about to cook meat, which is not part of the dietary habits of the prefecture. Unable to suppress his excitement, Tokuzo continues to watch Tanabe’s cooking with great interest. With some encouragement from Tanabe, he takes a bite of the freshly-fried cutlet and is jolted in a way he has never experienced since he was born. This is the moment that changes Tokuzo’s life. After that day, he starts to lie about making sales pitches, and takes lessons in cooking from Tanabe at the Sabae regiment. He does not grow tired of the food, which he has never seen and eaten, and feels happiness for the first time in his life. This motivates him to have the impossible dream of becoming a chef of Western cuisine. In order to achieve this dream, Tokuzo goes to Tokyo to get a fresh start. He has to face numerous challenges which fuel his growth. He travels to Paris in France for training, which is rare for a Japanese in those times. Battling discrimination and prejudice, he becomes the chef of the grand Hotel Ritz, and eventually takes charge of the Emperor’s kitchen as the chief steward of the Imperial Household Department at the young age of 26. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, he struggles to find out what he can do for his country and mounts diplomacy with food.

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