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Temple priest's blind taste restaurant helps eliminate food prejudice

Kakuho Aoe (Mainichi)

A Buddhist priest has been successfully running "Blind Restaurant" at his temple in Tokyo, in which people dine in a dimly lit room while wearing eye-masks to face food without prejudice, for about a decade.

    A growing number of companies have introduced the project as part of training sessions for their employees.

    Kakuho Aoe, chief priest at Ryokusenji Temple in the Asakusa district of downtown Tokyo, began Blind Restaurant in 2006 to help people eliminate their prejudice against food by dining at an unusual venue.

    The only child of a Buddhist priest, Aoe, 39, went to the United States after graduating from high school because he did not want to take over the position of chief priest from his father.

    Aoe, who was aspiring to become an entrepreneur, obtained his master of business administration degree at California State University, Fresno. At the time, he believed that he could do anything if he had a lot of money.

    However, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States served as a turning point for him. Aoe said, "I was stunned by the fact that I was unable to do anything" to respond to the incidents while rescue and medical workers were working hard to save victims.

    He then began to seriously think about the true meaning of life. He began to abandon things which he thought were unnecessary for his life, and returned home in 2002. He learned Buddhism again from scratch, and became the 14th chief priest at Ryokusenji Temple. He then launched an "internet temple" through which priests from different Buddhist sects dispatch information on the religion, and even holds events jointly with Shinto shrines.

    He is known as "chef-priest" at Blind Restaurant. He has produced transparent tomato juice and terrine that is designed after a picture of Amitabha Tathagata, a celestial Buddha.

    "Food is a happy common language in the world. I'd like to propagandize Buddhism through food," Aoe said.

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