Showcasing the best of Japanese cuisine, culture


Staff Writer

Japan Night, one of the most popular events during the World Economic Forum meeting, will return to Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 21.

Annually held on the sidelines of the WEF meeting in Davos, Japan Night has entertained meeting participants with Japanese food and culture, aiming at deepening international political and business exchanges between Japan and the world.

In previous years, the Japanese government and the private sector jointly hosted the event, providing an opportunity for the leaders from each country and various fields to mingle while enjoying delicious Japanese foods and beverages.

This year, the Japan Night Organization Committee is made up of representatives of 23 of the leading private sector companies in Japan. This new initiative may showcase the unity and collaboration of Japan’s private sector.

Every year, the Japan Night reception at the Central Sporthotel Davos is filled to capacity with more than 500 guests, including government leaders, business executives and academic experts from around the world. Around 80 percent among them are non-Japanese, including WEF founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab, and many other VIPs. With such ability to draw many guests, Japan Night is recognized as one of the most beneficial events outside of the official sessions.

Among the evening’s highlights are the opportunities for participants to sample Japanese cuisine.

It is still fresh in our minds that a team of chefs from Tohoku, who have been supporting the disaster-stricken area in the aftermath of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, beautifully demonstrated the richness of Japanese culinary arts, as well as Japan’s resilience at Japan Night 2012.

Since “washoku, traditional dietary cultures of the Japanese, notably for the celebration of the New Year” was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2013, Japanese cuisine has been garnering wider attention.

The buffet at the upcoming Japan Night will be catered by Hotel Restaurant Ryokan Hasenberg/Usagiyama in Widen, located 20 km from Zurich, Switzerland.

“We are the only Japanese restaurant in Switzerland to receive a Michelin star and one of only five in Europe,” said Masafumi Kurahayashi, general manager of Usagiyama. “Our team comprised of the chef at Usagiyama and our winter-season branch restaurant Nito at Kulm Hotel St. Moritz will prepare all the food for the reception,” he said.

Far from Japan, it is not easy to get the seasonal ingredients necessary for Japanese dishes.

“In terms of a sense of the season, there is a difference between Switzerland and Japan. So we combine seasonal ingredients from both and note it on our menu card. Since opening 13 years ago, we have changed our menu every month, rarely offering the same dishes,” Kurahayashi explained.

As always, sushi will be the most popular delicacy at Japan Night.

“At such a large-scale reception, it’s nice to serve in dorabachi (large-size flat bowl) or in funamori boats to show omotenashi (Japanese traditional hospitality). But as people rush to the sushi counter every year, the dishes empty in a matter of seconds,” Kurahayashi said. “So people only have a chance at the beginning of the party to appreciate our sushi presentations,” he said.

In addition to standard sushi plates, the buffet will include various authentic Japanese dishes, such as tempura, chawanmushi (pot-steamed egg custard), kenchin vegetable soup with udon noodles and Japanese-style stewed chicken with vegetables. Many of the dishes will have vegetarian versions as well.

There will also be more casual staples such as Japanese-style curry and rice, as well as gyoza dumplings.

This year, Kobe beef from Hyogo Prefecture and kamaboko (steamed fish cakes) from Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture, transported directly from Japan and prepared by Usagiyama chefs, will add some glitz and glamor to the buffet.

“With what we have (moteru), we do our best (nasu). That’s our way of omotenashi,” Kurahayashi said.

As for beverages, there will be 10 brands of sake from Fukushima Prefecture, as well as Japanese whisky in addition to the hotel’s lineup.

Another attraction of Japan Night is a presentation of traditional Japanese culture.

Kagami-biraki (sake barrel opening ceremony) is a traditional Japanese custom performed at celebratory events in which the lid of the sake barrel is broken open using wooden mallets. The term kagami refers to the lid of the barrel and carries a symbolic meaning, as the lid’s round shape symbolizes harmony. Thus, the ceremony in which the lid is broken open represents opening up to harmony and good fortune.

Although this attraction was previously conducted in the middle of the party, this year, it will be performed at the beginning to open the reception. Representatives of the organizing companies will take mallets in hand and together break the barrel dressed in happi (traditional Japanese straight-sleeved coat). After sake has been served to all attendees, there will be a toast to kick off the evening.

Additionally, there will be a live performance of calligraphy by Okinawan artist Maaya Wakasugi. Now based in Europe, the artist has been exploring his unique style of “ancient letters.” He has contributed to various art projects, including a logo for the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Facilitating people-to-people contact by offering a venue to exchange views in a friendly manner over the country’s unique dishes, while presenting traditional culture, Japan Night 2016 will surely reaffirm the country’s global contributions.

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