The year 2011 will be over soon. There are too many natural disasters, revolutions and problems in the world this year. For Japanese, 311 was a turning point to re-think about our lives. What is the life? What is the happiness? What should we do now for the future generations?

At the same time, we really re-realize the importance on "Kizuna (humans ties/bonds)". People have supported each other. People from the world have helped and cheered us. I really appreciate all of your supports for Japan. "Kizuna" in the world have helped people.

Hope 2012 will be a peaceful and happy year. I wish all of you a Happy New Year.


Tea Movie

A movie featured a tea farmer in Oita (the southern part of Japan) will be released on March, 2012. This movie tells the story of a young lady struggles with organic tea farming.

Since the situation of Japanese agricultural industry is really severe, people had been away from working for the primary industries and have persuaded more technology. But, recently, I feel more people have come to realized the importance of agriculture.

Hope this can be a cheering movie not only for Japanese tea farming but overall agriculture.

ad for the film


Gargle with Tea

Have you gargled with tea? Some do in Japan. We believe that tea, especially Japanese green tea, helps prevent from catching a cold. It is reasonable because the tea has a lot of catechin, which has the effect of killing bacteria.

Some schools especially at the tea-production areas encourage their students to gargle with tea during winter. Between classes, after PE class, before school lunch…..the all students gurgle with tea. According to those schools, fewer students catch a cold since they have introduced this system.

Coarse tea has more catechin than high-quality tea. Even tasteless tea made from used tea leaves has enough catechin to work for killing bacteria. Why don’t you try?


Christmasy Japanese Wagashi

In Japan, we enjoy Christmas; it is mostly as a part of commercialized event. During the severe cold season, the homey atmosphere makes us feel warm and happy. Illumination and Christmasy goods are everywhere. People spend money not only for the present but for Christmas fancy cakes.

Recently, even Christmassy Wagashi (traditional Japanese confectionery) can be seen. Wagashi is traditionally served with Matcha at tea ceremony, especially the types made of mochi(sticky rice), azuki bean paste, and fruits, so originally it is far from Christmasy sweets. Yet, what is the  Japanese confectionery’s principle?  it is to place an importance on “season”.

Now December is associated with Christmas even among Japanese. So, why not?


Christmas Ornament from Tohoku Granma

Our lives, especially those for people in Tohoku area, have completely changed since March 11, 2011. Survivors have still been having hard time physically and mentally. Many lost their jobs, which don’t mean they just lost their bread and butter. They lost their hopes.

Now, the new project has set up for women in the devastated area in hopes that they can regain their daily lives and hopes for the future. It is called Christmas Ornament from Tohoku Granma.

Those ornaments are made of organic cotton one by one by the affectionate and solid women’s hands, giving us warm feeling and the strength to go on living.

I wish you all Happy and Peaceful Christmas!

*Granma Project: http://grandmaproject.jp/  (Sorry, only Japanese!)


Tea Stations

Because of move and change of Internet provider, my PC didn’t work for a while. Still busy in moving, I haven’t fully ready yet, but I am back again. Anyway…..

Pet bottled drinks are really popular in Japan, yet more people start to carry “My Bottles (their own thermal tea bottles)” now. Especially, among young “My Bottle” people, “tea stations” have been paid attention. People can get freshly brewed-tea such as Sencha, Hojicha, Wakocha (Japanese black tea) at the reasonable price at some tea shops and cafes. (as of Dec 2011, about 180 tea shops and 40 cafes offer this service)

Why the tea stations are are getting popular?

There are several reasons; Less expensive than buying Pet bottled drinks: people can get warm drinks anytime even this cold winter time: eco-friendly because bottles can be used again and again.

Recently, the sales of Japanese tea leaf have been declined especially among young people. This tea station system could help the future of Japanese tea industry.


New Variety - Nagomiyutaka -

Development doesn’t stop. More tea varieties are born every now and then.

Recently, one promising variety “Nagomiyutaka” (cultivated in Miyazaki) has attracted to the tea farmers.

At this point, the variety “Yabukita” is the most popular to produce Japanese tea. According to Miyazaki agricultural research institute, the new variety is better quality and can produce more than Yabukita. It is characterized by sweeter aroma and more refreshing aftertaste. The tea produced by Nagomiyutaka hasn’t been on the sale yet, looking forward to it!


Coffee & Matcha

Have you tried coffee mixed with Matcha? I have never tried. To be honest, I had never ever thought about that.

Recently, Coca-Cola(Japan)Company, Limited has bravely released “ canned coffee mixed with Uji-Matcha”.

The question is…Does coffee go well with Matcha??? You will see!!


Cute Tea Pot

What do you think it is? It is a funny, cute stuffed toy tea pot called “Yame-chan (literal; dera Yame) ”. I found it at a tea shop.

Yame is the name of the city located in Fukuoka, Japan. As you may easily guess, Yame tea is one of largest Japanese tea production, especially Gyokuro. To be honest, I haven't been to Yame, yet, but I would love to visit!

The greatest appellation of gyokuro is Yame, in Fukuoka Prefecture in terms of both quality and quantity. More than 40% of gyokuro is produced in Yame, and in the national tea jury in August 2007, gyokuro of Yame held all the ranking positions from first to 26th as the best gyokuro.The Uji district is the oldest gyokuro-producing region in Japan. – Wikipedia -


Tips and Tips - Preparing Sencha & Gyokuro -

In order to prepare Sencha and Gyokuro, you have to take care of "water temperatures". If you find difficulty in obtaining appropriate brewing water temperatures,  remember this. "Transfer hot water from pot to pot." Each transferring lowers the temperature by about 10 °C. So, just transfer several times until you get appropriate water temperatures. (ideal temperature; 50-60°C /122-140°F for Sencha, 40- 50°C /104-122°F for Gyokuro).

When you don't want to measure accurate amount of hot water, pour hot water until it rises about 5mm above the tea leaves in the pot, and steep them until they absorb the water. (It takes about 90 seconds.) Use **mawashitsugi-method and don’t miss the very last drop.

Don't throw away the tea leaves right after you prepare a cup of tea. You can enjoy several steeping of Japanese tea as follows:
For the second infusion, add just hot water (the same temperature as the first infusion) enough to cover the tea. Steep for 5-10 seconds and serve it. Be sure not to leave any tea in the teapot. For the third and subsequent infusions, fill the pot with hot water, steep for 5 seconds and serve it.

And.....if you find it difficult to use **mawashitsugi-method, just transfer all the tea from the teapot to another empty one. With this, you can share the tea with the perfectly equal strength and color.

These are tips and tips to prepare Sencha and Gyokuro. Got it?

 A temporary vessel for adjusting water temperatures

Pour tea a little at a time into each cup in turn, and then fill it in the reverse order. With this, the color and strength of tea will be the same as it is.


How to Prepare Gyokuro & Sencha

Gyokuro is the highest grade of Japanese green tea that is prepared by tea leaves steeped in hot water. Sencha, characterized by refreshing fragrance and taste, is the most common tea in Japan. To make Gyokuro and Sencha, tea leaves are steamed and dried as they are rolled into needle shapes.

Now, why don’t you prepare Gyokuro and Sencha?

< Gyokuro & Sencha (2 servings)>
 1) Warm a teapot, *yuzamashi, and teacups with boiling water beforehand. Pour 90ml of boiling water into *yuzamashi to let it cool down to 50-60°C (122-140°F) for Sencha. For Gyokuro, down to 40- 50°C (104- 122°F).

2) Place 5g of tea leaves in the pot, and add the cooled hot water. Steep for 1-2 minutes and serve by pouring tea using **mawashitsugi-method. Make sure to pour until the very last drop, which holds the highest concentration of flavor.

 A temporary vessel for adjusting water temperatures

Pour tea a little at a time into each cup in turn, and then fill it in the reverse order. With this, the color and strength of tea will be the same as it is.



Japanese tea and Sweets

Sencha is the most common and versatile tea in Japan. Interestingly, you can enjoy different taste depending on how to brew.

The keys are;
1) The hotter temperature of hot water brings the refreshing aroma and pleasant bitterness.
2) The lower temperature of hot water produces umami and mildness.

When your tea is ready, why don’t you enjoy with sweets?
* Sencha using hotter temperature water goes well with refreshing and sour sweets such as  tart with fresh citrus fruits, macaroon with citrus jam.

*Sencha using lower temperature water, it goes well with milder and creamer sweets, but not too rich such as tart with fresh berries, fruit mousse, sponge cake.

If you love sweets using chocolate, toffee, caramel, nuts or cinnamon, Hojicha would be recommendable. The delicious aromas, both those sweets and Hojicha have, will enhance the taste each other. And, to prepare Hojicha, you can always use hot water!


Black Tea Day - Nov 1st -

In Japan, November 1st is “the day of black tea” set by Japan Tea Association in 1983 to spread the consumption of black tea.

The question is… why "November 1st"?

Apparently, it was the very first day that Japanese ever had “black tea”. Who was the luckiest person?  It was a Japanese castaway, named Daikokuya Kōdayū. In 1783, his ship drifted on the way to Japan, but managed to escape to the Russian mainland. People there saved his life and he stayed for a while. Eventually, he had Catherine the Great allow them to go back to Japan. During his stay, he was invited to her tea party, and had a cup of tea. This is why Nov 1st  is chosen as  “the day of black tea” in Japan.

He was not lucky to drift, but lucky enough to alive and come back to Japan, and have a nice cup of tea. Don’t you think?


Wakocha Gathering

I’ve talked about Wakocha (Japanese black tea) a lot on my blog, so you may know Wakocha is the recent trend in Japan.

Still, it is not widely well-known enough even among Japanese. In order to promote Wakocha, an event was held last week in Iruma city. A lot of tea farmers, the tea promoter, and the shopkeepers and the tea-lovers gathered together. I joined it as a consumer. We tasted various types of the teas, discussed how we should improve the quality, and learned how we should promote them more widely.

Now, at least 300 kinds of Wakocha are produced. I am not saying all are good, but the quality overall is getting better for sure.

Japan used to produce black tea a long time ago just for exportation, but the business failed. I assume it is because Japanese tried just to copy “black tea” such as Darjeering, Uva and Assam only for business. However, needless to say, the condition in Japan like the soil and tea variety is different from that in India, Sri Lanka etc. Of course, the business ended in failure then.

Now, people are aiming to make “Japanese-flavor” black tea in order to enjoy and stimulate our tea business. In earnest!


Bubbling Tea

You may hear about the Lepet-so( or Lahpetso), which is the tea “eaten” in Myanmar. It is often considered pickled tea.

There are similar kinds of teas in Japan too, called “Bukubuku-cha”, “Batabata-cha” “Botebote-cha” etc. They are like “bubbling tea” to eat. Tea is foamed with chasen (a bamboo whisk) and, rice, cooked beans pickles or some other grains are added into the tea. The origin of those bubbling teas is said to satisfy one’s appetite in old times when people didn’t have enough food. Even with a little food, tea could provide better nutrition. They are" tea of the wisdom for life".

Unfortunately, these are not common and well-known even among Japanese nowadays. Those tea culture are preserved only at some local areas (such as Okinawa, Toyama, Niigata and Shimane prefectures) as their traditions. I have to confess, I have never tried it…..

However, this is a part of Japanese tea culture. If you are curious what they are, check it out!

This is “Bukubuku-cha” in Okinawa.



The Seacret of "CHA"

Have you seen this character?

This is “CHA (tea) ” written in Japanese Kanji.  (*Kanji is often translated as Chinese character.)

Broken down into smaller parts, the character of tea can be implied “Human beings are between grass and wood”. That is, the word of preaches that people are embraced and protected by the blessings of nature. Tea is one of them.

There are various views of the origin of the character, and especially I like this interpretation. Tea has been with us for a long long time.


My Pet "Camelliia"

This is my “pet”. It looks like a bag, but it is not. It’s a simple, almost square a piece of cloth called furoshiki.

Photo from Musubi
Furoshiki are used not only for carrying things, but for making gifts look more beautiful by changing how to tie. This represents the concept of Japanese culture, which is “versatile”. Think about chopsticks. Japanese use them when cutting and picking foods. We don’t have to use knife, fork and spoon eating Japanese food. How about Kimono? They can be adjusted to fit anyone’s size and shape. Versatile, isn’t it?

Furoshiki is not exceptional. One piece of cloth can carry all kinds of object such as cans of tea, wine bottles, watermelons and even PC.

two bottles of wine
Also, furoshiki often have auspicious pattern, and it is believed that wrapping gift with the lucky patterns keeps the gift pure. Furoshiki are not just cloths to wrap things to give. They also wrap the sender’s thought and heart for others.

…..And, does this topic have something to do with tea? Yes, see the pattern on my pet furoshiki. That’s “camellia”. And, think about tea plant. Camellia sinensis!


* My favorite Furoshiki shop:
YAMADA SEN-I CO., LTD  http://www.ymds.co.jp/index.html
Musubi (its brand name) http://www.kyoto-musubi.com/

Special Thanks:  All photos are from "Musubi"


Green Tea Cosmetics –for the revitalization -

A Japanese cosmetics company has set up their new brand “QUON”, which focuses on “organic Yamato-cha (green tea produced in Nara)”. Some cosmetics have already put on the market, attracted people who are concerned about organic products. Strictly speaking, the tea used for the cosmetics are grown by “Nature Farming"way.

In general, Japanese agricultural industry is facing difficulties. Organic type of farming is even more difficult to take care and manage. Therefore, more farmers give up their jobs and abandon the land.

The new challenge to collaborate a cosmetics company and sincere tea farmers can pave the way for the better future of Japanese tea farmers, eventually bringing the revitalization of Japanese agriculture.


Zen Expression in the Tea Ceremony

As you may know, the concept of Japanese tea ceremony is strongly related to Zen Buddhism. There are lots of expressions linked with Zen Buddhism, particularly associated with the Japanese tea ceremony.

For example,

Ichi-go ichi-e
Treasure every meeting, for it will never recur.” The day will never come again. The time will never come around. The expression reminds guests that each tea gathering is very special in the context of tea ceremony.

“Harmony, respect, purity and tranquility.” The concept of the simple 4-word is seen not only for tea ceremony, but most of the traditional Japanese culture. This is the time-honored Japanese soul and spirit

“Willow is always green, flowers are always crimson.“ This line signifies natural, genuine and pure. Everything in this world has its own form, color and aroma. Value and appreciate its own special quality as it is.
It literally means "cloud goes and goes and water flows and flows". It implies 'freedom' such as clouds and water. It preaches that lead oneself according to circumstances.


Espresso, but Tea!

What is espresso?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition of espresso is this: a type of strong black coffee made by forcing steam through ground coffee beans.

I got it! However, it doesn’t seem to be fit for Japanese beverage industry. Recently, something “espresso” is the fad. Of course, we have real coffee type of “espresso”. Nowadays, espresso for tea have appeared on the market.

For example, “Espresso Tea”, “Espresso Tea Latte”, “Espresso Tea with lemon” (black tea type)  and “Green ESPRESSO (green tea type)”….. . 

Surprisingly, another new type of tea product will be on the market soon. Its name is “Teagurt”. It seems to be a yogurt-tasting peach-flavored tea. Hmm….this is more interesting.


The Age of "Tea celebration" -Chaju-

The third Monday of September is “Respect-for-the-Aged Day” in Japan. In 2011, it falls on September 19. I am not sure this is because Japan is the country of longevity or not, but anyway, we  celebrate longevity with giving special names to some ages such as;

“Kijyu” (Happy celebration) is the special name of 77 years-old.
“Sanju”(Umbrella celebration) for 80 years-old.
“Beiju”(Rice celebration) for 88 years-old
“Hakuju”(White celebration) for 99 years-old  ...etc.

I know those special names like umbrella, rice and white sound weird. Do they have something to do with longevity?? I am afraid, not.… It’s a just word-play using Kanji (Chinese character).

And there are more. When people live much longer enough to be 108 years-old, they also have another name called “Chaju”, literally means “Tea celebration”. I really doubt I would live to be 108 years- old, but for sure there are some “Chaju” people in Japan and in the world.

Happy “Tea celebration”!!


"Plump" Autumn

Autumn is the harvest season. So, we often call this season “autumn for a good appetite”.

There is a special event which stimulate our appetite in Kyoto. A hotel Kyoto Shin-Hankyu held an event which features high-quality “Uji” Japanese green tea (known as Uji-cha). Various kinds of dishes and dessert used Uji-cha are served such as lobster with Matcha taste mayonnaise, Stir-fried salmon and scallop flavored with Sencha, Uji-cha cocktail, Matcha tiramisu and Matcha cream puff etc. Sounds yummy…..

To me, Autumn can be a “plump” season.


A Rabit in the Moon

The hot and humid summer is fading. We feel "a little something autumn" these days like more nice and cozy breeze and the longer nights. We see more seasonal foods thanks to the harvest season, too. Therefore, in Japan, there are several nicknames for the season such as “autumn for sport”, “autumn for reading”, “autumn for a good appetite” etc. 

Also, it is the beautiful season to view the moon. We enjoy moon-viewing known as “tsukimi”, particularly, this season.

a rabbit pounding rice-cake
 in the moon

Speaking of which, would you come up a special motif when you  see the contrast between the brighter highlands and darker maria? For Japanese, a rabbit comes to our minds. More specifically, we believe “a rabbit pounding rice-cake” lives in the moon. Isn't that interesting? This explains why the moon or rabbits are often used as a motif for traditional Japanese sweets during this season. Those designs give us the sense of autumn.

Now is the time to enjoy teatime after long-heating sticky summer. Right?

rabbit shaped sweets


Cheese and Tea!!

Many of you may believe that the paring of cheese and wine is the best. I totally agree with that. But, I think “cheese and tea” are also great friends.

I joined a special get-together “Cheese and Tea Lunch” hosted by a tea and a cheese experts and a French café the other day. They created their own menus used various kinds of cheese only for this party,  and served with various kinds of tea.

Here is the menu:
1) Cake Sale(mimolette) & Pu’ercha
2) Stuffed tomato(red Leicester) & Assam
3) Salad with blue cheese dressing(fourme d’ambert mons)& White Peony
4) Cream Puff(carre de l’est) & Darjeeling
5) Far Breton (mahon menorca) & Wuyi rock tea from Fujian province
6) Blue cheese macaron ( Roquefort mons) & Heab tea

I tried different pairing, finding different flavor and aftertaste. For example, I preferred mimolete and Wuyi rock tea (rather than Pu'ercha), because I tasted it milder and smoother. And, aftertastes were different according to the pairing. “Fourme d’smnrty mons & White Peony” gave me a slight cheese flavor’s aftertaste, while “Fourme d’smnrty mons & Pu’ercha” blended well in my mouth and left no distinctive blue cheese flavor. I really enjoyed multiple facets of the combination of cheese and tea.

To be honest, it is hard to say Japanese green tea goes well cheese, so there was no green tea on the list, but the marriage of cheese and tea in Japanese way is great!


Chanoma - tea of space-

As our lifestyles have changed, some languages have also changed. A Japanese term “cha-no-ma” is one of them.

"Cha-no-ma", literally means “the space of tea”, referrers to a place where family members get together to chat, eat and relax. That is, a living room. I am not sure about its origin of the word, but in a good old days, when family members spent time together in the same place, tea was always there. “Cha-no-ma” is a nostalgic word  associated with cozy and relaxing time in a large family.

Now, the time has changed. The family is smaller, and we live in busier society, and hustle and bustle of life. Eventually, the term of "cha-no-ma" is on its way out. We call the room “ima (literally, existing room)” or “living room” nowadays.

But still, whatever the term is, whatever the size of family is, spending time together among family while having tea will make us mellow out, always. 

Manga "Sazae san"
Sitting in a family around a table in "cha-no-ma"

*Sazae san (One of the most popular manga among men and women of all ages)   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sazae-san

Kamairicha made by Mr Kajihara in Kumamoto

Japan usually has a lot of rain this time of year. We need it to some extent. However, the situations are getting much worse, much more ext...