Tea From Capsule Toy Machine

Have you ever tried capsule toy vending machines? We usually call the vending machine “gacha-gacha”, which is onomatopoeia for the sound of capsul’s falling. Of course, I have done “gacha-gacha” when I was a kid.

I heard that the machines are now installed at  Narita International Airport, and they are very popular among tourists waiting for return flights to use up leftover coins. Some of you may have got a small toy from the machine when you came to Japan. 

"Gacha-gacha" is not only Narita airport anymore. You are able to try it at Shizuoka airport too. Your prize is not a toy though. You will get a tea bag and a tin badge instead That’s Shizuoka! If you have 200yen at hand before leaving Shizuoka, why don’t you try “gacha-gacha” to get a teabag?!

Photo by Shimada 


More Genderless !?

In my age in Japan, boys had boyish name, and girls had girly name. The color of boy’s school bag used to be black while that of girl’s bag used be red. The color that boys were supposed to choose was blue while that of girls were pink. As such, things were often divided by gender. But recently, it’s changing. Sometimes, we cannot tell the person is boy or girl only to see its name. Some boys prefer red to black. Some girls like blue. It’s getting more “genderless”.

When I went to the tea market the other day, I found the similar situation in tea too. (I know comparing people with tea is stupid, but I didJ) I mean when I tried Sencha, some smelled a bit more like Oolong to me. Other Sencha tasted like more Kabusecha (covered tea).

Of course, the process of Sencha and that of Oolong is different, but the reason I found Oolong aroma in Sencha is, I think, mainly because of “withering”. Sencha was not allowed to be withered according to the tea industry rule. If it’s withered, it was taken as a bad quality. But recently, some Sencha are slightly withered on purpose. The standard procedure might have been good to mass-produce the similar taste tea, but people are getting bored, and turning away from the tea. Due to withering, the aroma of Sencha varies.

As for Sencha with slightly covered is not really categorized as “Kabusecha”, but adding a bit of Umami (savory) helps vary the taste of Sencha.

I am not saying the conventional Sencha is not good, but I’ve found it interesting to see more “genderless” Sencha. 


Yoshidayama Tea Market

An annual two-day outdoor tea market known as “Yoshidayama Dai Chakai (Yoshidayama big tea party)” was held on the site of Yoshidayama shrine in Kyoto. 

It reminds me of “Kitano Dai Chakai” hosted by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a preeminent daimyo in 16th century, in Kyoto. While it must have been extravagant for Hideyoshi to show off his power, the current version of tea party is more down to earth, which I prefer. Tea farmers and tea shops from various places including Kyoto, Nara. Kumamoto, Miyazaki, Kochi, Shikoku and Shizuoka in Japan gathered. 

We enjoyed more than 300 kinds of tea in total from about 40 stands. They are not only Japanese green tea, but Japanese black and Japanese oolong, Chinese tea, Korean tea and more  which made me excited. The site is not that convenient, and people need to go all the way to the site. Even so, the market seemed to be busier than last year. 

I went there as one of the customers, but I ended up working as a staff member for a tea farmer I know, ha, ha. It was just temporarily, but I was surprised to see his tea selling like "more than" hotcakes!

On that day, I took a German tea friend who just arrived in Japan the day before the event with us. Also I met some tourists from overseas who enjoyed Japanese tea there  other than non-Japanese living in Japan. I bet anyone both at home and abroad, and both tea-lovers and non-tea lovers are able to find a tea you like.

Unfortunately, I was too excited and busy to take enough photos....:-(


New Matcha Definition

While Matcha has gained its popularity in the world, I have seen and heard that the tea called “Matcha” are sold here and there. I mean the quality is poor. To me, some of them seem even far from Matcha that I know.

Japan Tea Central Public Interest Incorporated Association says that they are going to renew the definition of Matcha for the first time in 26 years.

The current definition only says that Matcha is the fine powdered tea which is ground with stone mill.

The new definition is to mention about its cultivation method and specify the process of, what is called Matcha. If the tea doesn’t follow the new definition, it will be called “Funmactsucha (lit; powdered tea) and clearly distinguished from Matcha.  This new rule doesn’t have any legal power, but the Japanese Association is planning to approach this idea to International Standards Organization.


Ninja and Mt Fuji Tea Bag

What do you associate Japan with??
Sushi, sukiyaki, ramen, manga….How about Mt Fuji, Ninja, and Japanese green tea?
If so, you may like those tea bags called “Fujichan” and “Nincha”.
"Fujichan", which is named after fujisan (Mt Fuji), is shaped like Mt Fuji, and " Nincha", which is named after ninja, is shaped like a throwing-star (shuriken in Japanese) which is a must for Ninja. 

According to the company, the tea inside is from Shizuoka and selected very carefully by a traditional tea wholesaler.
Personally I prefer tea leaves,but they can be one of the good souvenirs.


Hojicha is drawing power

As you know, Matcha is not only a drink anymore. It is also popular as one of the flavors of sweets and food.

Now it seems to be “Hojicha” turn.

Hojicha latte, hojicha ice-cream, and other hojicha flavored sweets are already common.
Recently, you can eat Hojicha ramen in Tokyo. It doesn’t mean the ramen soup is Hojicha. Hojicha is used as one of the seasonings, which helps take away the distinguish smell of meat and make the taste deeper.

Also, even the perfume giving impression of Hojicha has been on the market. The amount of an initial shipment was sold out within one week.

Hojicha itself has a toasty aroma and less caffeine. I like drinking hojicha as it is but it’s interesting to see how Hojicha is “developing”.

Hojicha scent (frm LUZ-store)


Zairai - cultivar or not? -

Recently, we've seen lots of varietal teas (both green and black) in Japan. How many tea cultivars are there in Japan now? Yabukita, saemidori, okumidori, sofu, koshun, fujikaori, shizu7132, benifuki, beniihkari, benihomare....to name but a few. Too many to count. 

Among those, there is one which always makes me wonder what to say. That is "zairai". It's a cultivar, but it is not really a cultivar.  

Zairai refers to "native" or "wild", and the tree grows in the wild for ages. Unlike other cultivars, clones aimed for desirable characteristics or to suit for the climate, zairai is a unidentified tea, which is not a cultivated variety.  For convenience, I sometimes introduce zairai as one of cultivars, though. Whatever it is....if you happen to find zairai tea, enjoy its taste with living a wild life.    

Photos by Green Farm Kajihara
*Green Farm Kajihara


Time for TEA!!

The magazines featuring tea with catchy titles have been published one after another recently, which wasn’t seen before.

Also more tea events have been held here and there. Soon, another tea event hosted by one of the giant department stores in Osaka is coming. The event has a title that says everything: “World Tea Festival”. 

Tea didn’t attract people. Tea was a just like “garnish” for sweets. but now people are fascinated by tea itself. Still, coffee is more popular here, but tea’s popularity has been rising sharply! Hope it will last….:-)


Nagata Agricultural Method

This is the black tea (fujikaori cultivar) from Ota Family’s farm in Ureshino city, Saga prefecture.

Since Ureshino is one of the biggest producing areas for “tama ryokucha (lit: ball green tea)”, they also process steamed “tama ryokucha”. In addition, they are also known for a special agricultural technique, which is called “Nagata agricultural method”.

To put it very simply, the Nagata method, started by Mr Terukichi NAGATA (1926-2006),  rejects any agricultural chemistry, pesticide and herbicide, and only supplements the nutrients in the soil with minimum amount of water and vegetable-quality compost. This helps bring out the nature and power of tea. (according to my research) 

I am not a farmer, but I can easily imagine that it must require immense time and labor to grow tea in such a special way. They grow several cultivars including zairai, sayamakaori, okumusashi, fujikaori and yabukita with this method. Unfortunately, I don't have their green tea in stock now, but luckily their black is on hand. :-)

* Tama ryokucha
Like regular Sencha, the leaves are either steamed or pan-fired after they are plucked. Unlike regular Sencha, which is rolled into needle shape at the final stage, there is no rolling process for tamaryokucha. That’s why the leaves are curly like a comma-shaped bead. Steamed tamaryokucha is  also called “mushi guri” or “guri cha”


"Bitter" for Tea and "Bitter" for Beer

George Orwell said “ Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to bitter” in his writing, A Nice Cup of Tea.

I like it, but my interest here is the word “bitter”. 

Unlike English language, Japanese has different words between bitter for beer and the one for tea. I mean “nigai” for beer, and “shibui” for tea. Also we say “nigai” chocolate for bitter chocolate, and "nigai" coffee for bitter coffee. We say “shibui” green tea for bitter green tea.

I know that English language has the word, astringency, for tea. But it is interesting to know  that “bitter” can be covered the taste both of beer and tea. 

Shibui” is astringency like tea while “nigai” is bitterness like beer, coffee, dark chocolate etc. If you are a tea person, it does no harm to know it.


All-Time High Price Tea !!

The first auction sale of the year in Shizuoka was held on April 24th

The price rose to a record high. Can you guess how much one kilogram tea is?? It’s 1,080,000 yen per kilogram!!!!! I know this is a season-opening festive market, but even so it’s ten times more than the best price before, which was 88,000 yen. 

In Japan, people celebrate the one who become 108 years old as “Chaju”, which literally means “tea celebration”. Taking the number 108 as a happy and lucky one, a buyer bid such a high price. What a generous buyer!!

This special hand-rolled tea is made from the cultivar of “Saemidori”. Roughly speaking, it would be more than 1000 yen per teacup. Would you like to try some? It can be a once-in- a lifetime experience^^) 

at the Shizuoka tea market (from Nikkei Online)

from  Nikkei Online


Shincha and Sencha

Did you know that Shincha is a kind of Sencha, but Sencha is not always Shincha??

“Sen” for Sencha means “to decoct” or “ to extract the essence”, and Sencha is the most popular tea in Japan.

“Shin” for Shincha means “new” or “fresh”, so Shincha means new tea, which is spring tea produced by first flush. When we say Shincha, it almost always refers to “spring Sencha”, which means that Sencha produced by first flush. Shincha is especially characterized by a fresh and grassy aroma since they are made from the fresh and young buds and leaves. 

You can buy Sencha in all seasons of the year, but  Shincha is found only in spring. Enjoy!

japanese character "Shincha" by Ippodo


“Hoga Sengen" in 2017

The Kyoto tea authority announced “hoga sengen” (budding announcement) on April 7th 2017.

It’s 2 days later than usual because the average temperature in March was a bit low. The announcement is annually issued when about 70% of new buds of “Yabukita” cultivar (the most common cultivar to produce green tea) cultivated at a research institute are grown about twice as big as the size of leaves which are wrapped the buds. Usually, about one month after hoga sengen, tea is ready to be plucked.

Sakura flowers are at their best now here. When finished, it is “tea” turn! 


Discover Premium Green 2017 in Kyoto

Tea Expo 2017 "Discover Premium Green" in Kyoto just started. Various tea events are planning to be held here and there in Kyoto thought the year. 

As its opening event,  "Sakura chakai (Sakura tea party)" in the open air was held on April 1 and 2. If lucky enough, we could take a walk along a row of Sakura and enjoyed the beautiful scenery while having tea, but…..a bit early for Sakura this year.

It's supposed to be this according to the leaflet.

Unfortunately.....a bit early for Sakura

Even so, it was a lovely day! People had a tea under the beautiful sky, which made it more special.

I had a Gyokuro and Sencha with sweets.

Of course, there are several booths to sell tea and tea sweets including Matcha ice cream and Hojicha ice cream (What a long queue for it!!) . I saw some tea farmers and tea people I know.

If you have a plan to visit to Kyoto this year, check it out if you can join the part of the tea event!


Shincha 2017 has come! - Tea Nouveau-

Japanese tea season starts from the southern part of Japan.

Tanegashima, Kagoshima prefecture is one of the earliest places where the Shincha (the first flush Sencha of the year) begins to be put on the market.

Usually, it’s around the end of March, but this year it just started because spring came a bit late. It’s the first time in 23 years since their Shincha put on the market  in April instead of March.

Whatever it is, much-awaited Shincha (literally means; new tea) season has come! Shincha season is going up north including to Kyoto and Shizuoka.

frm Shojuen


Japanese-ish :-)

These days, Japan is thronged with tourists from overseas. We see more souvenir stores here and there for them. Going in, you often see just "GREEN" area!! Sometimes, green for Wasabi, sometimes, green is for TEA!

I often find an interesting stuff that I don't see the regular supermarkets Japanese usually go to. This is one of them: Matcha Latte Liqueur.

I don't buy anything from those stores, but it is fun to see what they have. They have a lot of things which are "Japanese-'ish'".


Taste of Belover Home -Tohoku-

At 2:46 PM on March 11th , 2011, it happened. It’s been 6 years since the disaster of the magnitude-9.0 quake, tsunami and nuclear power plants hit in Tohoku area.
As of March 10th 2017, the death toll is 15,893, and the number of people left missing is more than 2553. And still more than 120,000 people remain displaced. It’s been 6 years, but we still have a long long way to go.

I was at a Tohoku fair held at a department store in Osaka at 2:46 PM today, and bought some food at the fair. 

This is one of them, called " Cream Box". It seems a very popular snack at Koriyama city in Fukushima. A guy of this store from Fukushima was saying, " This is just a slice of bread which cream is spread on, and you may not think "Wow, this is great!', but this is taste of our beloved home!!"

On the right time, all of customers and the staff members there observed a one-minute silence. I will appreciate the Fukushima's tastes including this cream box at home.


"Discover Premium Green" Year in Kyoto

Through this coming April till March in 2018, Kyoto will be full of tea!

Lots of tea events named “Discover premium green” will be held here and there in Kyoto throughout the year.You will be able to enjoy some hands-on experiences like tea-picking and tea processing, tea-ceremony at a golden house, and have special food and drink at the restaurants and tea rooms or so.

If you happen to visit Kyoto during the special year, you will find the fascination of tea in Kyoto!

"Discover Premium Green" ( in Japanese only)


Strawberry Tea + Creamy Vanilla Snack = !???

♪♪ I have a strawberry  tea, I have a creamy-vanilla Pocky (or Mikado) snacks, ah “strawberry layered cake”!?????  ♬ 

.........Can’t be!!

But Kirin Beverage Co.,Ltd,and Ezaki Glico Co.,Ltd, have turned into reality. 

Bottled "strawberry-flavored tea" by Kirin beverage and "Creamy vanilla-flavored Pocky (Mikado)" by Ezaki Glico appeared on the market on February 21st as a collaborative project. They say if you have this snack with this strawberry tea, you will enjoy the taste of  "strawberry layered cake" in your mouth!

This is not the first time for the two companies to work together. It's the third part of the series since the last two collaborative products were very popular. Does it mean they are good???

Whatever it is....it seems catchy especially among younger Japanese people.


Chagayu -Tea Rice Porridge-

I took part in a chagayu get-together hosted by Ms Takemura from a tea shop “Takemura Gyokusuien” in Kyoto. 

Chagayu, literally means tea rice porridge, is unsweetened and savory rice porridge cooked in tea. Rice porridge (called kayu or o-kayu) cooked in seasoned water is very common throughout the country, but chagayu is not. It’s customarily eaten in some areas including Nara, Wakayama and the southern part of Kyoto, not in the Kyoto city.

At the event, three different types of porridge cooked in three different teas including Sencha, Hojicha and very very smoky flavored Bancha were prepared. The nice aroma of teas were coming out while the teas in a bag were being boiled, which made me hungry.

Once tea is ready, put some rice into a pan and boil until ready. Put a lid on and wait for another several minutes. And then, here we are!

*Sencha one (on the left) : It tastes very refreshing.
*Hojicha one (on the right) : The toasty aroma is wonderful!
*Bancha one (on the top) : It's cooked with sweet potatoes: Very very very smoky aroma of the tea, which I love, is really good with the potatoes. It’s bit stickier than the others because of, I think, the potatoes.

Some other dishes accompanied by the porridge were also tasty. They were all made by Ms Takemura. She is really good cook! 

It is said that it's been more than 1200 years since people, mainly the Buddhist monks in Nara, started to eat chagayu. It is a simple dish, but I think chagayu is more than just that especially for people in some areas.

*Web: Takemura-Gyokusuien (in Japanese)   http://www.gyokusuien.com/index.html
They don't serve the porridge at the shop, but they have a great selection of teas. 


Spring Starts! -To the “Hachiju-hachiya” -

It was a lovely day today, an ideal for the first day of the spring!

Yes, today is called "risshun" referring to the first day of the spring 2017 according to the traditional Japanese calendar. 

And, if you are interested in Japanese tea. just wait another 88 days.The 88th nights from "risshun" is the most important tea day known as “hachiju-hachiya (lit; eighty-eight night)”. In 2017, it falls on May 2. It is believed that drinking green tea made from tea leaves picked on Hachiju-hachiya will bring you good health for the year. So, tea on the day can be called “good luck tea”. 

Tea festivals are annually held at tea-producing areas including Kyoto and Shizuoka on the day. Lately, a lot of tea lovers from overseas will join the event. If you happen to be in Japan on that day, why don’t you visit the tea areas!


Kobe Tea Festival 2017

KOBE TEA FESTIVAL supported by Sir Thomas Lipton was held in Kobe. It was one of the event to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Port of Kobe. The city is well-known as tea-lover's city, but surprisingly, it is the first time to host the big tea event. Luckily, the day I went was very warm and lovely day for the season. Unbelievably a lovely day!! Since the advertisement was not that enough, but so many people came in.

I enjoyed the tea tasting set served by Lipton. It was well prepared. They include Assam, Darjeeling, Uva, Nuwara Eliya and Dimbla together with some food to go well with.

Some tea shops from the area and Tokyo had their booths. People can sample and buy if they like. 

I was surprised to see so many people are in line to sample some tea.

Actually, coffee has been much more popular in Japan. Not many people were excited with tea. However, I can feel it is changing. I think tea will be in! As a tea geek, it is exciting!


Overtake Coffee

Japan is a coffee country. People drink coffee a lot rather than green tea and other tea. But I feel that it is changing. 

People are much more talked about tea, especially black tea including Wakocha, and many tea events held in Tokyo area last year. 

Unfortunately, the situation was not the same in Kansai area (including Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto). However, I feel “tea” will be in more even Kansai area too. Early this month, a special event of Wakocha at a renowned department store in Osaka was a big success. The tea shop owner for Wakocha held several mini-seminars a day for three days. All of them were soon fully booked. A guy, who is a cook, came to the event to look for Wakocha for him to serve at his own restaurant. Some came to get more Wakocha since, they said, they got hooked on the tea recently. 

There will be a big black tea event (both abroad and home) in Kobe for the first time at the end of this month. This spring, another tea event is to be held in Osaka. 

The tea is more than “creating a buzz” now. I’m very curious what’s going on the tea market this year. 


Happy New Year 2017

2017 has begun. 

Fortunately, it's been a lovely and mild weather for this season around my area.Many of Japanese were able to see "hatsu hinode", the first sunrise of the year, which is considered auspicious.

On the New Year's Day, people eat "osechi ryori", special meal for New Year's Day on the morning and go to "hatsu mowde", to visit the local shrine to pray for the year. 

New Year is the most important day for Japanese. When the year starts off auspiciously, we feel happy and relieved, and want to believe that it's going to be a good year. 

I really hope 2017 will be a peacefu year.