From the very first sip of aromatic otoso sake and steaming-hot ozoni soup, we always love the time-honored ritual and ceremony of New Year's in Japan. But even more than that, we like it when the hallowed traditions are brought up to date and placed in a contemporary context. That's the way they do it at Matsubara-an.

At first look, this restaurant in genteel Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, seems nothing but traditional. It occupies a stately, 70-year-old timber town house set in its own spacious garden. You enter through an imposing wooden gate and relinquish your shoes at the exquisite entrance hall. However, once inside, you find that appearances can be deceptive.

The main dining room is beautifully restored with impeccable shoji screens, period lampshades, retro furnishings and views out onto the garden. But the tatami mats are covered with carpets, and instead of zabuton cushions you sit at stylish modern tables and chairs.