Located on the top of a small hill overlooking the rural town of Yoshino, Cafe Les Vagues is a one-of-a-kind establishment with excellent home-made cooking that combines both western and Japanese traditional flavors. The cafe is the creation and continuing passion project of skilled cook and all-around friendly human being, Ms.Terashima.
Located on the grounds (and an extension of) Hoto-ji Temple, the cafe has a comforting atmosphere that makes visitors feel right at home as soon as they walk in the door. The temple complex also features a guest house and special activities, such Buddhist sutra tracing (“shakyo”) and Buddha image tracing (“shabutsu) for those who are interested. Furthermore, location offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountain scenery of Yoshino and is conveniently located within just a 5-10 minute walk of Yamato-Kamiichi Station.
Ms.Terashima, Cafe Les Vagues’ owner, operator and chef
Cafe Les Vagues was established few years ago, when Ms.Terashima says she wanted to create a business that would allow her to express her love for cooking and provide a space for other social activities. The food served at Les Vagues is all prepared by Ms.Terashima herself, with the menu changing depending on what she feels inspired to create.
The grounds surrounding the Cafe and Temple are filled with gardens that she and her husband (the head priest of Hoto-ji Temple) raise and often harvest food from directly to use in her homemade meals. Upon hearing this, I asked her the silly question of what she likes to do in her free time. Hearing my question, she gave me a wry smile and politely responded that she has no free time; evidence of the somewhat absurd nature of my question could be seen all around us in the thoughtfully designed surroundings of the cafe. Ms.Terashima was clearly a person who turned “free time” into her life’s work.
Ms.Terashima’s expertly designed goods are also for sale for interested buyers and she actually teaches lessons and workshops on flower arrangement. This philosophy of beautiful design also finds it way into the presentation of her lunch sets to her guests. Each meal seems to resemble a work of art of its own. With complimenting colors and different sides arranged in interesting ways. The meal I ordered included a fresh salad, fried sweet potato with plum sauce, a slice of quiche with fresh tomato sauce, and homemade konnyaku slices. Outside of tasting great, I found that the combination of both light and heavy food choices made it a very well balanced meal. In the warmer months, guests can enjoy dining outside on a built under a beautiful cherry tree overlooking the forest.
In the spring, Ms.Terashima even takes her guests on outings into the forest to harvest wild plants (including young bamboo) which grow in the area. She states that all participants are asked to harvest enough for the next visitors to enjoy; in this way, the spirit of the experience reflects the Buddhist teachings of the temple. She elaborates that her cafe is inseparable from the temple in the way that it operates: it is not intended to be a business or tourist spot, but rather a place of life and community. Ms.Terashima also does her best to set up events that local people can participate in and enjoy, such as music performances and workshops.
The reason for opening Les Vagues
As to the origins of the special communal feel of Les Vagues, Ms.Terashima says she was inspired by the churches she visited while touring Europe. Churches over there, she explained, had a quality of brightness and everyday life to them, often serving drinks to visitors. Buddhist Temples in Japan, in contrast, are usually much quieter, dimly lit places that are often only used for ritual purposes. Therefore, she wanted to bring that feeling of everyday life to Hoto-ji in her plan for the cafe.
To my eyes, the grounds of Cafe Les Vagues definitely had a feeling of life that was impossible not to notice with its thoughtful interior design made up of antiques and handmade flower arrangements. Guests relaxed and chatted under large windows overlooking the forest while Ms.Terashima’s pet goats (one black, one white) could be seen wandering the hillside below the temple complex, eating leaves and braying. Indeed, Cafe Les Vagues feels much more like a home than a business.
Looking towards the future, Ms.Terashima says that her plans are simple: to continue enjoying operating her business. She welcomes everyone to come visit Les Vagues and Hoto-ji Temple as guests in her home, which I feel should be emphasized as being quite different from a tourist destination or standard restaurant / store.
Luckily, for those also looking for sightseeing as well, Les Vagues is also located not far from the famous historical temple district and UNESCO World Heritage designated area of Mt.Yoshino. When I asked Ms.Terashima what locations she would recommend to those interested in sightseeing, her answer was Mt.Yoshino and especially Noten-okami Temple, a beautiful, but largely overlooked structure built over a river in a shaded valley below Kinpusen-ji Temple. Personally, I can’t think of a better combination for visitors than Ms.Terashima’s wonderful cooking with a side of exploring Mt.Yoshino for a day or two.
Thinking about visiting the Yoshino area but not yet sure where to stay or what to eat? Why not make Hoto-ji Temple’s guest house and Cafe Les Vagues your go to base for exploring the area? Can’t stay the night? Then just make reservations for lunch or some coffee. Don’t miss out on visiting this wonderful gem of Yoshino.
Cafe Les Vagues
Address：Kamiichi 1946, Yoshino-cho, Yoshino-gun, Nara
Business hours：9:00～17:00（Lunch：11:30～15:00[L.O.14:00] ※Reservation required）
Regular holiday: Irregular holiday
For more information about flower arrangement workshops and lunch, please see here.>>
Cafe Les Vagues and Hoto-ji Temple (the same place) are located on a small hill about Yamato-Kamiichi Station, which is 2 stops from Yoshino Station (that provides access to Mt. Yoshino). After exiting the station, getting to the cafe requires a short walk up a narrow, steep path (look for a path with a white guardrail to west of the entrance) through a bamboo forest that will take you about 5-10 minutes, depending on your fitness level. If you have heavy luggage, it may be best to use the station’s lockers to store it before making the ascent. There is also a small narrow vehicle road that leads to the temple that you can find on Google Maps.
Ms.Terashima and her husband do not speak much English, but do their best to accommodate all visitors. As such, speaking some Japanese would be helpful to having a meaningful conversation, but is certainly not expected to visit the cafe and temple.
About the guesthouse
Bedroom：1 western style, 2 Japanese style