Kakuriyo -Bed & Breakfast for Spirits- (かくりよの宿飯) is a josei, supernatural light novel series by Midori Yūma that was adapted into an anime in Spring 2018 with a total of 26-episodes. The anime was produced by Gonzo and directed by Yoshiko Okuda. My first impressions of the series were less than enthusiastic, and I truly believed it would become a low-quality experience. However, upon completing it I found myself wanting to go back and re-watch certain episodes immediately. I was left with strong feelings of happiness and warmth. The series encapsulates the essence of the psychological effects of food and I loved it quite dearly.
Kakuriyo is about a young college student named Aoi who has the ability to see ayakashi (also known as yōkai; Japanese supernatural beings) just like her grandfather. Shortly following her grandfather’s death, an Oni demon appears before her at a local shrine and whisks her away to the realm of ayakashi. Upon arriving, he tells her that she must marry him in order to pay off her grandfather’s outrageous one-hundred-million-yen debt as per the contract the two individuals signed many years ago. Appalled by such a notion, Aoi refuses and offers instead to work in the ayakashi realm so that she can pay off the debt through hard work. A few plot steps later, she becomes a cook at the local inn owned by the Oni demon.
Kakuriyo can be wholly unsuspecting, particularly with the beginning episodes, as they are quite humdrum to say the least. Nevertheless, in the first half of Kakuriyo, we learn a lot about Aoi and her upbringing. She was abandoned as a child and her grandfather raised her. Because they shared this connection via ayakashi, he also taught her to cook and helped her comprehend that most ayakashi can be peaceful beings, especially when good food is involved. Since their palettes tend to be more sensitive to a different sort of flavour style, he also taught her how to cook according to their tastes. After she gets situated in the inn, these seemingly irrelevant gastronomical lessons end up paying off in wonderful ways, both for Aoi and the inn’s business.
This was extremely contemplative to me. I learned how to cook traditional Indian food from both my mother and my grandmother. These two women have complementary cooking styles, yet they also have enough differences to those styles that set them apart. They are/were brilliant cooks (my grandmother passed many years ago). Thinking about their methods and the time I spent learning from them and listening to their explanations while watching this anime, I started to appreciate that it was more about traditions, both familial and cultural, rather than the food itself. It was also about family togetherness and learning to be compassionate and giving. For my family, going hungry is a sign of sadness and bad fortune (literally and metaphorically). Additionally, so many of our cultural practises revolve around unique meals and meal preparation methods. I saw these same themes in Kakuriyo with each new mini-arc.
The anime is pretty episodic for the most part. The overarching premise of Aoi paying back her debt does hang in the air and is referensed here and there, however, each episode or two focuses on her interactions with a specific set of characters or situations and how she goes about in resolving the issues presented therein. In this way, it creates a casual and kick-back atmosphere. This will appeal to some watchers and not to others. For me, as long as its done in a way that isn’t outrageously unbelievable or obnoxiously offensive, I can find ways to enjoy myself with it. Another thing this episodic quality allows for is that it concentrates on a specific sets of emotions associated with the people and the dishes that are shared, examining the psychological power that food has on people.
Ritsuko is a human woman who is married to a member of the ayakashi royal family. She left the human realm behind a long time ago and chose to live her life quite distantly from all that she knew. In her story, Aoi cooks up food celebrating a special event and the meal she makes for Ritsuko and her husband are very similar to the dishes that the woman ate many years ago living in the human realm. The feelings that are evoked and drawn upon here consist of nostalgia, homeliness, a sense of longing, and bittersweet joy that comes from recalling beautiful memories. How many of you can recall a meal or a dish from when you were younger that reminds you of something precious or sentimental? For me, it’s my grandmother’s small squared fried potatoes cooked with gharam masala. I’d visit her every weekend and my grandma would feed this to me for lunch with homemade roti (Indian tortilla).
All in all, as a food lover, and as someone who is addicted to narratives about interpersonal interactions and relationships, and also as an individual with the greatest appreciation and admiration for classical, traditional Japanese aesthetics—including food, attire, music, and history—I highly recommend Kakuriyo -Bed & Breakfast for Spirits- to anyone that is in the market for a feel-good series that will constantly make your mouth water.
7.5 inari sushi 10!