Interview With Takanori Nakamura, Seventh-dan Kendo Artist and Gourmand

Takanori Nakamura

Born in Hayama, Kanagawa Prefecture, he has commented on fashion, culture, gourmet, travel, and luxury lifestyle in magazines, newspapers, and on TV. In 2007, he received the title of Chevalier (knighthood) in Champagne, France. In 2010, he also received knighthood in Cava, Spain, which is famous for its sparkling wine. In 2013, Nakamura became the chairperson of the Japanese council for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. He is a 7th-dan kendo instructor, and is also an instructor for the Japan Tea Ceremony Association. (May 2017)

A New Challenge as a Gourmand

To begin, could you describe your work?

Mr. Nakamura: I mostly write columns, and while I do write essays, I often write for magazines as a columnist. Recently I have been writing for the Nikkei regularly.

Could you talk about your work for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants?

Mr. Nakamura: Originally, I was only writing, however, once I became a regular on NHK BS1’s El Mundo (a program that focuses on international topics), I started to be invited to talks and also gave lectures. Recently, I starred in an international commercial for InterContinental Hotels Group as a gourmand, and I think that I will have similar opportunities in the future.

“Sophistication: A Sensory Experience” (Featuring Culinary Connoisseur Takanori Nakamura)
https://life.intercontinental.com/sophistication/

What kind of genre would you say culinary criticism falls into?

Mr. Nakamura: It is a critique, so I would consider it a literary art. I think that the quality of expression is required.

What is the difference between cuisine and gastronomy?

Mr. Nakamura: Recently, the term “gastronomy” is becoming frequently used around the world. This directly translates to bishoku-gaku (美食学) in Japanese. However, in the case of bishokugaku, it is not only the food on the plate that is considered, but also the culture and aesthetic elements that surround the dish. For example, the historical background of a recipe, the artistic experience, dishes, the spatial and architectural elements of the restaurant are taken into account, along with other decisions such as wine, drink, and cigar pairing. Although this approach of gastronomy has a rather short history, I believe that the study of bishoku will eventually mature and be well recognized, just as the automobile reviewing has matured 150 years past the invention of the automobile, and likewise with critique of photography. Also, because food, clothing, and shelter are essential to humans, understanding gastronomy is important for people’s daily life.

So it’s a job that requires extensive knowledge. What drew you to this field?

Mr. Nakamura: It was really just an outcome of the circumstances. Whether I can continue to be recognized as a credible critic will depend on my future performance. Although I enjoy eating the food, I actually wasn’t very interested in this job at first. Gastronomy is a very specialized art with a lot of history corresponding to it. Evaluating and criticizing the food is a lot of work both physically and financially.Even when the offer came for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, I knew it would be a lot of work, but I couldn’t turn down such an interesting offer, and I am generally up for the challenge for things like that. Although I’m sure there are other easier ways to make a living, it’s in my nature to prioritize the things that interest me the most.

Kendo is Neither a Hobby nor a Job

What is kendo to you?

Mr. Nakamura: People often assume that kendo is something that I do as a hobby or just for fun, but to me, it feels like something more than just a hobby. It’s not my job, it’s not my hobby, and it’s also not something I do just for fun. Although I wouldn’t tell this to my clients, I sometimes prioritize kendo over my job, and in some cases, even over dates! My job is important of course, but I treat kendo with the same level of seriousness as I do my job.

Have your kendo and tea ceremony experiences been useful in your job?

Mr. Nakamura: My job is to convey things to people. When you think about it, even salesmen have to communicate to customers what the products are, and in the same way, engineers have to communicate their ideas as well. In my case, although I am just putting words and sentences together, the aspect of moving people emotionally with my words is similar to the arts of kendo and tea ceremony.

For example, the way you take pauses in conversation?

Mr. Nakamura: Yes, and also the pace of communication. I think that’s the point of kendo and tea ceremony. For example, foreigners and Japanese people have different ways of communicating. Westerners may hug or shake hands with those they are close to. If you adjust yourself according to the person you are engaging, it will become easier for us to relate to each other and work together. In kendo, depending on whether you are up against a child, or an eighth-dan instructor, you will pace yourself differently. Recently, I’ve begun to realize just how important it is to have a sense of the relationship both when doing kendo and my job.

Why Do Kendo?

Mr. Nakamura: Just as I’ve experienced, since kendo becomes really helpful later in life, I’ve always wanted children to do kendo.

People don’t seem to be aware of how useful kendo can be.

Mr. Nakamura: Although paradoxical, doing kendo because you think it will be useful isn’t necessarily a good idea. As with many kendo athletes, I didn’t realize how helpful it was until later. The same thing is true for tea ceremony—if you do it because you think it will help you in the future, your motivation to continue will not last. You need to be able to enjoy what you are doing—be it kendo or tea ceremony—if you want to continue it for a long time and gain the intuition for the art.

Do you think it is not good to stick too much to form?

Mr. Nakamura: In both kendo and tea ceremony, it is very important to pay attention to form. Form has been sophisticated over many years, and is a rational thing. However, if you focus too much on style and following every rule, you may end up neglecting the essence of the art. Even in the case of tea ceremony, its style has changed from before Sen no Rikyu’s influence. He thought seriously about how supplies and flowers should be arranged in order to best entertain the guests. I think that tea ceremony is essentially about entertaining the guest you are serving. If you are too focused on style and following all the rules, you will not be able to produce good tea. Of course, the easiest way to learn tea ceremony is to study all of the techniques developed by the tea ceremony masters in history. However, I believe that it is important to go beyond that at times.

So you have to let go of your defenses like shuhari (守破離)?

Mr. Nakamura: I think you have to aim to own what you are doing, whether it is tea ceremony or kendo. Then you can go beyond the basics that you’ve learned, as long as you have a good awareness of what you’re doing.

What do you mean by owning it?

Mr. Nakamura: You know, even with different kendo athletes, you get a different image of each athlete’s form of kendo. They have kendo in their nature. I think that it’s important to perfect that ability that they have within them. Each kendo athlete needs to perfect their own skill.

This is a really simple question, but why do you choose to continue kendo?

Mr. Nakamura: Because I enjoy it.

Same here.

Mr. Nakamura: It is really important to enjoy it. There’s nothing like that feeling of time stopping that I get when I’m doing kendo. I do get a similar feeling when I start working on one of my reviews, or serve tea, but when I do kendo, I feel something really exceptional.

Where do you think that feeling comes from?

Mr. Nakamura: I guess it’s because kendo is about confronting death. Even though we’re using bamboo swords, it’s essentially about combating and killing the opponent. We face our own karma through kendo. You have to face the fear of death, and at that moment, it is the so-called katsujinken (活人剣) that makes the best use of both the opponent and yourself. Although I have never been in such a position, I get to experience something like this in kendo, and this is why combat sports are an artform. An art like kendo is really unique, and I think it should be recognized as a world heritage.

What does it mean to explore an artform?

Mr. Nakamura: I think it’s to see beauty in the techniques themselves, and to overcome one’s cowardice. That’s what martial arts are about. That’s where the beauty lies. It’s rare in the world to find a culture that finds beauty in combat, but that’s what we see in Japan in the form of kendo. I want the world to become more aware of this beauty.

It truly is uniquely Japanese to see beauty in combat. Thanks for sharing these invaluable thoughts with us today.

Interviewer

Go Ueshima, CEO


Born in 1987 in Sendai. When he was in high school, he studied under Mitsunobu Sato. Selected eighth-best of inter-high school kendo team competition.

After graduating high school, he became a business development manager for a restaruant chain with 200 stores in the United States. Afterward, he worked as a salesperson at a foreign internet advertising firm, and later worked in the sales department and in the executive office leadership position of Inova. In January 2017, he founded Bushizo.

Yusuke Kodo, Director

Born in 1984 in Hokkaido, Kodo graduated from the Rikkyo University Faculty of Law. While he was in university, he helped publish the first issue of an independent magazine, and also helped with the marketing of an apparel brand. In 2008, he started working for Yahoo Inc, where he helped with the marketing of products using search-linked and display advertising. In January 2017, he founded Bushizo. He has been doing kendo since he was six, and continues it to this day.

 

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