Ingredients change according to the seasons, and many of them come straight from Japanese farms, forests and coves. Most of the courses are either vegetable- or seafood-based, although in modern times some of the more cuttingedge chefs (like Murata) venture into carnivorous territory. Like browsing a museum or gallery that rotates its masterpieces, one of the marvelous things about kaiseki is that you can come back tomorrow for something completely different. Not a single course is repeated. My waitress sinks to her knees, bows low and announces the formal start of the meal. After pouring a cup of sake, she removes the cover on my first course — the cleverly crafted tomatoes — which set the summer-hued theme for the feast. And so it flows from there through seven more courses, all of them different in flavor and appearance, with names I can barely pronounce and like nothing I have ever before tasted. As I tenderly devour my shiizakana hotpot — boiled eggs, roasted eggplant and fish seasoned with mitsuba (Japanese wild parsley) and sansho (pepper powder) — I wonder about the ancient monks who supposedly created this feast.