Ryotei (Japanese-style restaurant) (料亭)

Ryotei refers to a high class restaurant serving mainly Japanese cuisine. Ryotei is often used for occasions such as receptions of enterprise, feasts, business negotiations, confidential talks between important persons and politicians. The price also differs according to the restaurant, and you may not enter without an introduction depending on the restaurant.

It is a place compiled of Japanese culture such as feast cuisines, tableware, plates and utensils for Japanese cuisine, tea-ceremony room style of building, Japanese garden, work of art, furniture, geisha (Japanese professional female entertainer in kimono at drinking party), and Japanese music, where one can enjoy the orthodox traditional Japanese culture to the full.

Today, in general, it is referred to as a Japanese style restaurant where tables or rooms are for reservation and a professional full-time chef is employed to prepare cuisine other than sake, a geisha delivers the cuisine to the reception room, and other geisha are performing entertainment. This business type is also called Machiai-jaya (Japanese-style tea house restaurant with geisha).

Outline

As a rule, reservations beforehand for a table are required. Often, the cuisine centers on Japanese food, and is served in a private room. While having your meal, you can drink Japanese sake, chat and enjoy a geisha's performances.

Occasionally, the charge is paid on the same day by cash, however it is often paid some days later by bank transfer, etc.

Since there is no clear criteria, many Japanese restaurants nowadays claim themselves to be 'Ryotei' because the term 'Ryotei' looks luxurious and sounds good, however, they are not really 'Ryotei.'

Explained here is the so-called kappo-ryotei (fancy restaurant serving mainly Japanese cuisine).

The judging criteria are mainly as follows:
'Geisha can be called upon.'
'Catered food is offered to the Machiai-jaya (Japanese-style tea house restaurant with geisha) in the vicinity, etc.'
'It is affiliated with the Traditional Japanese Cuisine Restaurant Association.'
'It is affiliated with the Zenkoku Mebaekai Rengokai (Junior Traditional Japanese Cuisine Restaurant Association).'
'It is recognized by the government and financial sector of the land.'
'It has status and is of dignified appearance.'
'It has years of history and its roots have penetrated into the region.'
'It can serve traditional elegant Japanese cuisine and provide high-class reception.'
and so on.

However, even if the above-mentioned requirements are met, a Japanese garden etc. often may not exist because of the site. The number of ryotei in the whole nation is around 60 in Tokyo, and also less than one hundred in Kyoto. Even including the provinces, there are only a few to about some tens in each prefecture, so totally it is just about a few hundred in the whole nation (data from Traditional Japanese Cuisine Restaurant Association and Junior Traditional Japanese Cuisine Restaurant Association).

Japan-style restaurants up to now

Until recent years, normal people could not easily enter a ryotei.
It is the so-called 'No first visitors without invitation.'

A new visitor had to be either be introduced by another person who is already a guest, or invited by the ryotei, or else, he/she could not enter.

Therefore, the customers were limited mainly to the very few VIP such as politicians in various places, managers of powerful enterprise, famous financiers; various receptions and gatherings were held for such VIPs.

Present situation and details, others

Up to now, ryotei have been thought to be an unknown space shut out from the general public, however in recent years, they are opening nationwide with increasing customers from the common people sector. This background has been attributed to the burst of the economic bubble and the drastic decrease of the mutual receptions among bureaucrats (however, be aware that there are still some ryotei which refuse visitors without invitation). Before, ryotei were used almost every day by the receptions among enterprises, politicians, financiers and bureaucrats, however, now these receptions are rare, so ryotei nationwide are lowering prices to be reasonable for common people, changing the style, providing various plans and events to attract customers. Moreover in recent years, large-scale ryotei also devote their efforts for wedding ceremonies and reception banquets, that can be seen nationwide.

However, there are a lot of ryotei that closed due to the drastic change in usage rate and the decrease of customers. There are also viewpoints that the cause lying on both the ryotei side and the customer side. First of all, it is thought that the ryotei side could not respond fast enough to the drastic flow of the era; they could not lower their pride by popularizing their food menu. Second, it is thought that customers didn't know how to use the ryotei for the first time; they could not understand the contents and meanings in the food menu.

The usage charge is basically expensive. Food, drink, table fee (and room charge), service charge (and serving fee) and tax are basically included, moreover if geishas are called, there will be additional charges. Each charge is different respectively, according to the ryotei and location. However, as previously described, because ryotei are making their prices more reasonable, there are a lot of plans or set menus which attract everyone.

Expensive and high class are the main images of a ryotei. Even if a main dish is taken, the ingredients are often high grade and specially selectedl; the layout of the tables, the interior design, the facilities, the furnishings, the perfect service, the traditional Japanese performances, all these are incomparable from other food stalls or restaurants, these are the origins of the term high class.

For example, neither the building nor the table was made by modern tenant companies, rather they are traditional tea-ceremony-room style of buildings or Japanese architecture. The earthenware utensils used were made in kilns by famous potters. It is also not uncommon that the hanging scrolls, paintings, furnishings, etc. are real items of eminent artists in Japan. Such furnishings are allowed to be rearranged in accordance with season, guest's purpose, etc.

The cuisine is purely Japanese style foods; in order that the best ingredients such as vegetables, the fish, and meat are available for the day, preparation deliberately starts several days before. Reservations are said to be necessary because it takes time for the room arrangement and preparing the cuisine.

Besides high quality of the ingredients, it also requires the superior techniques of the chef, who is required at least ten years of training before a chef is recognized.

Besides the usual enjoyment of Japanese cuisine, and as a place of receptions, feasts, appreciation of dance by geishas, and table games, ryotei are also used frequently as a hall for exhibitions or various events.

Main Ryotei

The top three Japanese restaurants are Kitcho, Shinkiraku, and Kanetanaka.

(From the judgment criteria of history, scale, customer's types, influence on other restaurants nationwide, reputation, style, ownership of artwork, building, and other episodes, these three restaurants are said to be the top three ryotei in Japan.)
Minokichi - Kyo-ryori, local cuisine of Kyoto
During the mid Edo period (under the rule of Emperor Kyoho), this ryotei originated from a restaurant of freshwater fish cuisine established near the Sanjo-ohashi Bridge, Kyoto. In 1950, it moved to Awataguchi, which is next to Nanzen-ji Temple.

Tsujitome - Chakaiseki, dishes served before tea ceremony
The well-known gourmet scholar, Kaichi TSUJI, was the second owner of the restaurant. Though there is a Kyoto head restaurant and a Tokyo branch (Akasaka) restaurant, the Kyoto head restaurant is specialized in delivering cuisine to tea ceremonies, etc.

Shofukuro - Chakaiseki (dishes served before tea ceremony), feast cuisine
Founded in 1868. Located in Yokaichi City (Higashiomi, Shiga Prefecture), which is remote from big cities, it is well-known widely as a restaurant of tea-ceremony dishes and a lot of guests even come all the way from Kyoto, Osaka, etc.

Komatsu - former ryotei for navy
On his way to the Battle of Toba and Fushimi, Imperial Prince Komatsunomiya Akihito was defeated at arm-wrestling by the ryotei's owner lady at the time, Etsuko MORI while having a sake feast, so he granted the ryotei his name. During the war, it even had a branch restaurant in the Truk Islands, and it was a favorite ryotei for top generals of the navy such as Isoroku YAMAMOTO and Heihachiro TOGO. Even nowadays, it is a famous ryotei in Yokosuka. Its nickname is 'Bain'.

Tankuma - Kyo-ryori, local cuisine of Kyoto
It was established along the bank of the Takase-gawa River of Kyoto in 1928. It is divided into Tankuma Kitamise (Tankuma North Restaurant) Group succeeded by the founder's eldest son Kumazaburo KURISU, and Tankuma Minamimise (Tankuma South Restaurant) (also called Tankuma Honke - Tankuma Main Restaurant) succeeded by the second son.

Nadaman - the restaurant which Mansuke NADAYA established in Osaka during 1830 is the parental form. From the Taisho era to the Meiji era, it developed into a food shop. In 1974, it moved from Imabashi of Osaka to Kioi-cho of Tokyo, and settled its main restaurant "Sazanka-so" (Sasanqua Teahouse) inside the garden of Hotel New Otani.

Genyadana Hamadaya - Founded during 1912 in Ningyo-cho, Nihonbashi as a ryotei. In the Michelin Tokyo version issued in 2007, it was granted the highest rank of three stars.

Nanchi Yamatoya (literally "Japanese House of South Land) - Founded in 1912 as a tea house, it adopted a parental form of Geisha-okiya (dwelling of geisha). Though it was known as a ryotei with a Noh stage, the main restaurant in Soemon-cho was closed in 2003; now, it remains as Yamatoya in Sogo Department Store. Besides the 'Yamatoya-Sangen' in the group, there is 'Kyoyamato (Yamatoya-rinsen)' as goodwill branch.

Hoshigaoka-saryo (no longer exist) - Originally, it was a ryotei opened in Nagata-cho of Tokyo with the help of Tomomi IWAKURA and others. In 1921, Rosanjin KITAOJI established Bishoku Club (a club for Gastronomy), and in 1925, he borrowed this Hoshigaoka-saryo (Star Mountain Tea House) and opened business as a membership ryotei; but it burnt down during the war. After the war, Tokyu Corporation ran the shop as a Chinese restaurant without Rosanjin's intervention, but before long, it closed; the site became the Tokyo Hilton hotel (later it became Capitol Tokyu Hotel).

Remarks

Ryotei (classical Japanese-style restaurant), Machiai-jaya (Japanese-style tea house restaurant with geisha), and Okiya (geisha dwelling); the three types of business are called the 'Sangyo (three businesses),' and the districts where these businesses were permitted are called 'Sangyochi (places for three businesses).'

In the karyu-kai (world of the Geisha - Japanese professional female entertainer at drinking party), the fees (gratuity) paid to a geisha are called, 'Hanadai' (fee to Geisha for flower), 'Gyokudai' (fee to Geisha for jeweleries), or 'Senkodai' (fee to Geisha for incense).'

Traditional Japanese Cuisine Restaurant Association (hereafter, Japanese Restaurant Association) is a union in which a restaurant or food stall from all over the whole nation may join. The union members are composed of proprietors or proprietresses of restaurants. Whereas 'Traditional Japanese Cuisine Restaurant Association' is a nationwide body, there may be a 'Regional Japanese Restaurant Association' in each region. Training or seminars such as opinion exchange, reunions, national competitions for the union members are held regularly in various places nationwide. Usually, it arranges conferences or training in the sub-association of each region.

Zenkoku Mebaekai Rengokai (Junior Traditional Japanese Cuisine Restaurant Association) is an association of young owners of restaurants or food stalls.
Common name: Mebae Association
An organization under the immediate control of the Traditional Japanese Cuisine Restaurant Association. There are Chiku Mebaekai (Regional branches of Junior Traditional Japanese Cuisine Restaurant Association) all over the 37 regions nationwide, and the number of members is about 500 at present. There is Junior Traditional Japanese Cuisine Restaurant Association as a centralized nationwide body. Similar to the Traditional Japanese Cuisine Restaurant Association, training or seminars such as opinion exchanging, reunions, national competitions for the union members are held regularly in various places nationwide.

Even for some ryotei that refuse visitors without an introduction, if the table is reserved via by a gold card or a black card of certain credit cards at the service desk, even first visitors without introductions can enter the ryotei. This kind of service is particularly famous for Diners Club International.