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.
Psychology relates to the emotional and mental state of a person. It can centre on many different things pertaining to internal characterisations. Some examples of this include insecurities and fears. These are two internal things that many people struggle with to some degree or another, and they impact the decisions that people make externally. For example, if I’m afraid of death, there is a very good chance I will avoid hospitals and any situation that will make me face my own mortality. Another example: if I’m lonely and far away from home, I will more than likely gravitate towards things that remind of the things that I am missing, such as Indian curries (my mom makes phenomenal curry). If we think about psychology in this sense and how food can be a major cursor in our mental associations with emotions, we have the substance of what makes Kakuriyo so great.
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).
Ritsuko 01 Ritsuko 02 Another character we have is Ginji. We encounter Ginji relatively quickly in the beginning. He is a nine-tailed fox ayakashi who helped Aoi when she was much younger and is part of the main cast to an extent. One of the things that I love about Ginji is his eagerness to help other people and his passion for cooking. There are quite a few sporadically placed episodes that revolve around Ginji and each one is about compassion, empathy, and trust in various levels. One episode even follows along his history of anguish and loss, which further highlights his capacity to identify with another person’s suffering. Food for him isn’t about just having a good meal but it’s about providing comfort to the less fortunate, whether that entails dealing with grief or being unable to feed yourself due to dire circumstances. In Islam, we have a holiday dedicated entirely to giving meals to needy people and Ginji’s episodes reminded me a lot about those practises.
Ginji Kakuriyo Eps. 01 f The last character I want to discuss is someone I’m going to refer to as Unnamed to avoid spoilers. Unnamed’s story was probably the one that I felt the most kindred of connections to. They were abandoned a long time ago and they are feared because of how unique they are and what they represent in the ayakashi realm. Because they were left and forgotten, their emotions are strong and intense, pertaining specifically to fear, sadness, and loneliness. When Aoi makes a meal for them, other familiar faces that sprout up through the series are come along and it creates this stunning portrait of a nurturing environment; of how monumental it can be to someone who’s lonely to feel accepted and loved. Friendships are taken for granted everyday in one way or another and I love that this story fixates on the importance of appreciating the little moments you have with people who can make you feel meaningful and less alone in the world. Even the food that is cooked are flavours that encompass umami, or a savouriness, that makes you want to take it in and make it last as long as possible (my favourite food flavours ever).
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!