About three years ago, Kakuho Aoe , a Buddhist monk at the Ryokusenji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo , began to host a monthly ” Dinner in the Dark”. Diners at these events were blindfolded before being served their meals. The Dinners in the Dark were a resounding success though I’m not sure why . Perhaps it was the novelty of the experience . In any case , Mr. Aoe has now built on his success with the even more innovative ” Kurayami no Tabiji ” ( Journey in the Dark).
Participants in ” Journey in the Dark” are blindfolded too but this time they are taken on a virtual journey before being served their food. At a recent such event , diners were transported to the scenic seaside city of Minami- Satsuma in Southern Kyushu.
Sounds strange ? Well , this is how it was done .
After the diners were blindfolded , they were led to a large tatami room at the Asakusa temple and told to make themselves comfortable. As they sat back on their knees, they were told “Tighten your eye masks ” ( a humorous take on ” Fasten your seatbelts “). Then came the sound of an engine and they realized that they had started on their virtual journey.
During the Journey in the Dark , they were taken to a local fishing port to try their hand at net fishing. They also sampled handmade satsuma-age (deep-fried fish paste), sipped local imo-jochu (shochu or rice wine made from sweet potatoes) and listened to a local folk song. A fisherman, a brewer and a couple involved in sea-salt production shared stories about their vocations and what life in the small farming/fishing community was like. The food served to the diners was not overwhelming in terms of quantity , but it consisted of specialties from the Minami- Satsuma area .
Journey in the Dark was intended not as a gourmet experience but to interest participants in an unfamiliar area which they would be unlikely to visit otherwise. The same week that it was taking place at the Asakusa temple , there was a travel fair at the Seiseki Park in nearby Shinagawa. There , visitors could familiarize themselves with Minami- Satsuma and sample regional delicacies at the various food stalls and booths. Organizers hoped that some visitors would be interested enough to contemplate going to Minami- Satsuma for their next holiday.In this way they hoped to encourage regional tourism.
Journey in the Dark sounds like a great idea. When we are denied the use of one of our senses , the other senses are sharpened. Being blindfolded while eating might make the food taste even better. Similarly , the experiences offered to participants are of the type they would not be able to get on their own . Most tourists tend to scratch the surface of what is able and to concentrate only on famous landmarks . And finally , the Journey offers people an opportunity to” travel ” without actually going there, if they don’t have the time or the money to do so.I think it would appeal to “travelers” rather than ” tourists”.
I wish something like this is started in the U.S. Who for instance would not like to ” Journey in the Dark ” to New Orléans , particularly during Mardi Gras ? Blindfolded patrons could sip their Sazeracs as they listened to the sounds of a lively jazz band. They could be taken on a virtual tour of a bayou in one of those propeller driven boats . The experience could be recreated by playing the sounds of a loud engine while a powerful fan blowing on the patrons gave the illusion of speed. Pump in some heavy , moist air ; increase the temperature and gently swipe diners faces with soft dusters as if by overhanging vegetation. It might be just like the real thing particularly if the floor could be made to rock a little. Back from the tour of the bayou , patrons could listen to ( recorded) talks of Louisiana life as for example , what it was like to work on a shrimp boat or an oil rig as they sampled their appetizers. Popcorn shrimp, anyone ? Dinner could consist of N’Awlins specialties like Gumbo, Jambalaya or Shrimp Creole or Dirty Rice . After dinner was over , they could take off their blindfolds, experience the sights and sounds of a Mardi Gras parade and dance to the sounds of a live band. Who wouldn’t want to have such an experience . I know I would .
( Partly based on an article in The Japan Times )