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01月03日

The Best of Japanese Dining and Design, Under One Parisian Roof

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Ogata Paris’s atrium-like central space, with an oak staircase with treads hand-finished using the traditional Japanese <em>naguri</em> wood-shaving technique.
Ogata Paris’s atrium-like central space, with an oak staircase with treads hand-finished using the traditional Japanese naguri wood-shaving technique.Credit...Joann Pai

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  • Jan. 2, 2020, 12:27 p.m. ET

In Paris’s modish Marais, on a narrow street off the Rue Vieille du Temple, sits a grand 17th-century building that last housed a quincaillerie, or hardware store. It is here that the Tokyo-based architect, designer, restaurateur and chef Shinichiro Ogata has set his newest project — Ogata Paris, a multistory complex opening next week and comprising a tea shop and tea salon, a full-service restaurant, a pastry shop, a bar, an art gallery, and a crafts and houseware store. It is a tour de force of one man’s vision of the best Japan has to offer; nearly every detail, from the cocktails to the glasses in which they’re served, has been designed by Ogata himself. It’s also his first solo foray into France, though his considered approach — to seek beauty and balance in all things — is the same one that’s governed all of his pursuits, including a bistro set in a plum tree-filled garden in Tokyo’s residential Meguro Ward and a collection of tree-free bamboo and bagasse paper plates made to look as thin and refined as china.

On a walk through the site while it was still under construction, as workers sawed, sanded, hammered and welded, Ogata paused and ran his hand along a rough slab of limestone lining the stairwell leading to the basement, where the contours of the 32-seat tearoom were beginning to take shape. “This stone is original,” said Ogata via a translator. “It is very important to keep a part of France so as not to be imposing. To me, France is outside and we are sharing some space to bring Japan within.”

This concept of shakkei, or “borrowed scenery,” originated centuries ago as a Chinese gardening principle. The idea is to incorporate eternal elements of background landscape — a view of a lake or a distant hilltop, for instance — seamlessly into the foreground of a man-made setting. In the 1960s, as Modernist architects began blurring the boundaries between indoor and outdoor space, the concept migrated from the garden to become a tenet of Japanese contemporary design. Here, Ogata takes it a step further, extending the principle to the built environment itself. That means preserving the bones of the building and adding his own nods to French architecture: In the hall next to the tearoom — which will eventually be reserved for the burning and smelling of incense — a worker knelt to brush the floor, laid with the sort of hexagonal ceramic tiles you would be likely to find in a French grandmother’s kitchen, even if instead of the customary reddish-brown, these tiles were an unadorned, concrete-like gray.

Despite its concessions to its context, though, Ogata Paris is above all a homage — in the form of a showcase — to the most enduring of Japanese crafts and artisanry, and, more broadly, to the idea of Japanese-style pleasure. Ogata has long devoted himself to the excavation and expression of beauty according to what he sees as the five pillars of Japanese dining culture — tea tasting, properly using a utensil, savoring a meal, hospitality, and contemplation and reflection. He is particularly passionate about the tea ceremony, a highly choreographed ritual that dates back to ninth-century Japan, when a Buddhist monk served the Emperor Saga a cup of tea.

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The building’s ground floor tea boutique, which offers hojicha, gyokuro, matcha and sencha. Additional tea types — blends made from imported leaves — are stored in the paulownia wood wall cupboards.Credit...Joann Pai
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Hitokuchigashi, or tea ceremony treats consisting of soft, bite-size spheres of bean paste, with flavors ranging from natsume, made with toasted nuts, dried dates and fermented butter; moegi, made with matcha and macerated grapes; and torinoko, featuring ginger and honey jelly.Credit...Joann Pai

The cathedral-like ground floor of Ogata Paris is a hushed, dim space with vaulted double-height ceilings, a central skylight whose effect is heightened by the glass circle on the otherwise white terrazzo floor and, to the side, a bubbling pond sculpted from rough stone. The walls are covered with Shikkui plaster — a matte formula incorporating lime and egg shell dust that is Japan’s answer to Venetian stucco — and between them will be a takeaway shop offering traditional wagashi, or Japanese confectionery, such as hitokuchigashi (soft, bite-size spheres of red and white bean paste with a hazelnut, a dried date or a swirl of thickened honey at the center). The adjacent tea shop will have its own roaster and a counter of copper-topped black stone — a nod to the Kyoto-made tea caddies handed down from one generation to the next in Japanese families — where guests can choose between rare green varieties such as hojicha and gyokuro.

There won’t be any music in this sensory wonderland — just the sounds of trickling water, clinking glasses and parchment paper being wrapped around any number of treasures, including Ogata’s eco-friendly Wasara line of paper tableware and a rotating selection of vintage pieces, such as hand-carved elm and camphor wooden bowls, that he has restored and updated through his S[es] line, which has rarely been available outside Japan. The upper two levels will house a gallery showing art and antiques (Ogata plans to open with a show dedicated to washi, or Japanese paper, and lacquer objects), as well as contemporary photography by Japanese and international artists. An adjacent bar will offer tea-infused cocktails, while a Japanese restaurant presided over by chef Kazuki Watanabe, who has worked with Ogata for 16 years, will serve an ever-changing menu of refined court-inspired dishes like duck and pear salad in a black vinegar and sudachi sauce or yellowtail cooked in sake and dressed with puréed turnips.

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The restaurant’s main dining area, which is decorated with a mix of wenge, hiba and teak. There are also custom chairs made with braided oak.Credit...Joann Pai
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A chef prepares a presentation of duck marinated in teriyaki sauce.Credit...Joann Pai

For both its size (over 8,600 square feet) and breadth, the project is the apotheosis and synthesis of everything the designer has done. Shinichiro Ogata was raised in Japan’s Nagasaki Prefecture, on the west coast of the volcanic island of Kyushu, sometime after the Second World War (he prefers not to share his age) and described the post-atomic landscape of his youth in surprisingly pastoral terms. “There was a lot of nature around the house,” he said. “All the ingredients, the vegetables, were really fresh.” His parents helped form his deep respect for the natural world, but they and the area provided worldly inspiration, too. “There’s a port in Nagasaki and there had been Dutch and Portuguese coming in,” said Ogata, referring to traders who arrived in the mid-16th century, some 300 years before Japan was officially opened to the West. “It’s a place where Occidental culture was quick to spread and where different kinds of influences and cuisines coexisted.”

In 1988, Ogata moved to Tokyo to study and work in interior design. For inspiration, he began to make annual trips to New York, a place he’d worshiped from afar as the quintessential metropolis. But the urge to leave home, once sated, revealed an unexpected truth: “I realized the important thing was that my identity is Japanese,” he said. Indeed, this realization has reverberated through his every aesthetic undertaking. In 1998, he opened Higashi-Yama, a beloved Tokyo restaurant (also in Meguro) serving washoku (which translates to “the food of Japan”) that’s renowned for its light-drenched, monochromatic interior as much as its seasonal traditional fare. That same year, he established his design studio, Simplicity, which led to an array of creative jobs, including, in 2004, the interior design of Sansou Murata, a ryokan (traditional inn) in northeastern Kyushu.

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A tea master pours water from a hishaku at the polished burnt wood bar of the basement tea salon.Credit...Joann Pai
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A selection of wagashi (Japanese confectionery), including mame daifuku, with a sticky rice outside and red bean paste inside; awa mochi, which is made from millet; and hon warabi, or mochi made with brown sugar and powdered with crushed soy beans.Credit...Joann Pai

More recently, Ogata has designed Japanese outposts for a wide range of foreign partners, including the Australian skin-care brand Aesop and the French chef Alain Ducasse, who opened a now-shuttered branch of one of his restaurants in Osaka. Ogata has also published three books on his aesthetic philosophy, and teaches design courses at the University of Tokyo. On the day I met him, he had just returned from Manhattan, where he was finalizing things at Odo, his 14-seat kaiseki restaurant on West 20th Street — another part of his international expansion.

“I’m not very inspired by Paris in the present,” he said. “But I have a great respect for France because it’s a country that preserved its culture and exports its value to the world.” The French, whose fascination with 19th-century Japanese painting and decorative art led them to coin the term Japonisme, have reciprocated the interest, and the exchange — in food, fashion and design — is ongoing. After all, these are two countries where style is considered essential to life.

As I got up to leave, I complimented Ogata on the beautiful Japanese-looking garment he was wearing under his coat. He laughed and then told me it wasn’t Japanese at all, but by the Belgian designer Dries Van Noten. “A lifestyle can be shared anywhere,” he said. “The important thing is not to draw lines.”

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