A Kaiseki cuisine is not just a meal in Japan, it is a quintessentially Japanese experience. Often served in ryokan as a part of your stay there, it is a multi-course high-end meal that tries to incorporate the locality and season as best as it can. Kaiseki meals used to be for the nobility only, and nowadays you still pay a premium to have this classic meal but it is very much worth it.
What is central to the concept of kaiseki is to show omotenashi to the guest, which means hospitality that goes above and beyond, an idea that high-end Japanese restaurants and hotels are very proud of. It means that before the guest even realizes that they want something, it is already presented to them by the host. Details and visual presentation are also very important to reach omotenashi standards.
The Different Courses
While obviously the exact ingredients will differ per region and season, the courses usually follow a certain standard. The meal will often include a small appetizer with a glass of sake, a simmered dish, sashimi, an expression of the season, something grilled, and to really make you feel satisfied, a rice dish. Of course, the meal is finished with a small dessert and a cup of matcha tea. The order may vary, and so will the contents. There are also cheaper versions of a kaiseki meal where you may get fewer courses.
One thing is for sure, when you get a kaiseki meal, you will not only enjoy the food with your palate but also with your eyes, since it is characterized by a discreet but elegant presentation in quality dishes.
If you come to Japan, make sure to include at least one night in a ryokan where they will serve you a kaiseki meal, it is an amazing culinary experience that is hard to get anywhere else.