Tea ceremony in November

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

November is a special season for tea ceremony. They start to use a kind of fireplace used charcoal called “ Ro “. From November to April, they use “ Ro “ to supply hot water to make tea. Demonstrating how to handle charcoal is a kind of important skill of tea ceremony. For the host of the tea gathering, sharing the same fire with their guests as they surround the hearth is very meaningful thing to do. Probably that’s because fire is a significant thing for human beings. It’s a very nice thing to hear the sound of water boiling in the iron pot in the quiet tea room. People say it’s like listening to the murmuring of pine trees along the windy beach.

It’s kind of sad but reminds me of the beginning of my favorite season. As for the tea itself, they open a new tea caddy since this is the best time to taste it.

 

We also have seasonal confectionery called “ inokomochi “. “ Inoko “ means baby wild boars. Since wild boars are fertile, people wish for the prosperity of families. Inokomochi doesn’t look colorful but it tastes much better than it looks. Sweet sesame paste is covered with rice cake and soybean flour. This persimmon one is another seasonal pleasure. 

Here is a real persimmon and it is said that it contains a lot of vitamin C to make your skin beautiful and prevent you from catching cold and hangover. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 November is my birthday month and it should be a beautiful time but many things are happening these days. As I watch BBC World News, it covers major events happening in the Middle East whereas NHK News covers only domestic political issues. In reality, the Japanese economy is affected by the world and now we have a lot of relationships internationally through so called globalism. We can’t go without knowing what’s happening in the world. People might think that Japanese are indifferent to the issues or simply stupid. I hope the quality of mass media in Japan goes up. I also wish the people who are fighting would stop one time to have tea and talk.  

Tea Bushes and clouds

Monday, November 5th, 2012

I was just taking a walk around my neighborhood when I found myself surrounded by tea bushes. The harvesting season is already over and the bushes have been neatly trimmed while the ground below them is scattered with fallen leaves and strewn with mown grass, both of which help to fertilize the bushes. I also noticed some dainty white tea flowers among the trimmed leaves of the tea bushes. I love their round shape. They belong to the camellia family, but tea flowers are much smaller than other camellias.

 

The weather was perfect for taking a walk. I am really lucky in having sweeping views of Suruga Bay in front of me and tea terraces stretching up towards Mt. Fuji behind me. Since it has got colder Mt. Fuji is now wearing its white cap. I saw a line of cloud above the peak. When Fuji has umbrella-like clouds floating above it, that means it’s going to rain. At the same time I saw this strange cross-shaped cloud in the western sky. I don’t know what it means though. Anyway, according to the weather forecast, it’s going to be rainy tomorrow.

Green Tea and Japanese confectionery YOKAN

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

   

After long hot summer days, it finally got much cooler – sometimes quite cold, even. Now I think it’s time to enjoy hot green tea with Yokan.

 

This is my favorite Yokan made by Shintsuru in Suwa ( Nagano ).This shop was founded more than 130 years ago and since then they have been making Yokan by hand without compromising on anything. They still burn Japanese oak wood to cook the azuki beans. I heard Japanese oak keeps a perfect temperature for cooking beans. They make many kinds of confectionery but this shio-yokan is the most famous. Yokan basically contains beans, sugar and agar. And salt is added for this shio-yokan. These days we have a lot of variation with sesame, green tea or chestnuts etc.

 

The idea of yokan is originally from China. If I break down the two Chinese character “ yo” and “ kan”. “ Yo” means sheep and “ kan” means soup. In China, people had sheep soup and Japanese priests brought back the idea

However priests were vegetarians so they changed the ingredients and made something completely different. Instead of meat, they used cooked beans.

 

I also think the combination of green tea and yokan is the best. They help each other to enhance their taste. Some people add some sugar to green tea but I can’t imagine the taste. I heard taking liquid with sugar is very bad for teeth. But after eating something sweet and taking green tea is a very good combination.

 

Or the people who want to lose weight can simply drink green tea. I don’t know if the substance of the green tea helps you lose weight but drinking tea when you are hungry makes your stomach full and it makes you lose weight.

All in all, thinking about green tea and confectionery is very interesting.

Kaiseki for June

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

We have rainy season in June and July. It is usually humid and steamy. I sometimes feel depressed in this season, although the seasonal appearance of my favorite flower, the hydrangea, makes me happy. And this year it’s cooler than usual year so far in my area. I heard northern part of Japan is much hotter than usual though. I went a Kaiseki lesson at the end of June to learn how to make “ Minazuki no Tenshin”. “Minazuki” means June in the solar calendar but in the lunar calendar it is July. It’s so confusing to me. The Chinese character “ minazuki “ means “ a month without water “ Some people say that’s because in lunar calendar it is July and in that month rainy season is over and they have already applied plenty of water in paddy field. 

“ Tenshin “ is a small refreshment served before taking thick green tea. Thick green tea contains a lot of things to benefit your health but taking green tea on an empty stomach can be too strong. On the other hand, if you have a big meal before having green tea, you can’t appreciate the green tea. I guess this volume is suitable one for the occasion.

 1.    The bowl (front left) contains sushi. Minced myoga, beefsteak plant, shallot bulbs and sesame seeds are mixed and dried laver seaweed are the toppings.

2.    The bowl (front right) contains eggplant salad seasoned by stock, soy souce and lemon juice and topped with dried bonito.

3.    The green pudding like one in the middle is tofu made from green soy beans and kudzu vine. Sauce made from stock, soy sauce, sweet rice wine for cooking, salt and fresh ground wasabi is applied before eating.

4.    On the rectangular plate (left) is fried chicken topped with sour plum (umeboshi) sauce. Sour plum is strained and mixed with vinegar, sugar, rice wine and stock. The green item is pickled cucumber. And conger eel rolled with Japanese omelet.

5.    It’s not included in this photo but we also made a bowl of soup.

6.    Dessert called “ minazuki “. 

 With one teacher and five students, this took about two hours to make. I think we worked very quickly, thanks to the efficient teacher and hard-working class mates.

 

 

 

 

 

Viewing Mt. Fuji from Kurodake

Monday, May 21st, 2012

I climbed Kurodake with some friends. Kurodake is located in Susono City in Shizuoka Pref. and if the weather permits, it commands a great view of Mt. Fuji from its summit.

Usually this time of the year, mid of May , is too late to have a nice view of Mt. Fuji. However it has been rather cool and we could have great view of Mt. Fuji from the top. Our guide Atsuko has a lot of experience of climbing mountains and she also knows nice spots in this area. Two other ladies have some experience of climbing. Two young American friends are very strong and love outdoor activities. And it was a little difficult for me to keep up with them. We were really lucky to have perfect weather for hiking. Since the trails are surrounded by many trees with young beautiful leaves or evergreen trees, the air is fresh and I didn’t get much suntan. As we admire some seasonal vegetations, flowers and new leaves,

It took about two hours to reach its summit.

One of our purposes to climb this mountain is to worship Mt. Fuji.

Recently some scientists discovered an active fault below Mt. Fuji. I gave thanks and asked Mt. Fuji to keep protecting and supporting our lives, with staying as the most beautiful symbol of Japan.

It’s hard to believe but this highest mountain in Japan used to be in deep ocean long time ago. The earth is ever changing planet and each of our life span is too short to realize it.

   

On top of the mountain we boiled water to make green tea, coffee and cup noodles. I was too lazy to make box lunch for myself but I could enjoy eating others’ delicious lunch! Thank you! it was very nice.

 

I introduce this green tea drip ( not a teabag ) to American friends.

They enjoyed it. Whenever I take his photo, he always makes funny face.

I really like it. And let me introduce this fairy I came across in the mountain. This is Eric’s trip mate.

Black Benifuuki Fruits Tea

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

My family asked me to make the fruit tea with Benifuuki.

I tried to make something similar to what I had before at my friend’s house.

I put in some apple, orange, strawberries and kiwi and some very tiny mint leaves from my garden. My family members like it very much but the tea I made was a little too strong. To enjoy the flavor of the fruit, weaker tea can be better. However, we could distinguish the flavor of each fruit in the tea. After drinking the tea. We ate the fruit inside of the pot. It also had an interesting taste. We usually eat fresh fruit rather than warmed or cooked ones like this. Next time I am going to add a little brandy to it.

I have tried both benifuuki green tea and benifuuki black tea. I thought both of them are good for hay fever but I heard only the green one is effective. Also for some people just one cup of tea makes a difference but for others nothing happens. And some people finally get an effect after continuing to have benifuuki for a long time.

In the last few weeks, it is said that a lot of pollen is spreading in the air.Fortunately, I don’t have the allergy. May be that’s because I always have a lot of tea . 

Green Tea Shizuoka Part 2

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

I also had a chance to see two businessmen from Seattle who took part in the tour organized by JETRO. They are from Choice Organic Teas. This tea company deals with only organic teas. They sell many different kinds of tea all over the world. Choice Organic Teas also seems to be a quite active concern. It was the second day in Shizuoka for them and they had already experienced a tea factory tour, tea ceremony and lectures about green tea in Shizuoka. They must have been really tired after going through their schedule but they were very energetic and eager to learn about Japan and Japanese tea. I was happy to hear how amazed they were to see beautiful Mt. Fuji. The person from Argo told me that he got a splendid view of the mountain from the plane while flying in from Kagoshima, too. Many tourists visit Shizuoka in Summer or late Spring can’t see Mt. Fuji because of the cloudy conditions so they are often disappointed and so am I. I strongly recommend that tourists visit Shizuoka in the cold and dry season so that they are more likely to see the peak. Shizuoka’s winter is not as cold as other areas in Japan and we have a lot of hot spring spas to get warm.

 

We went to an Izakaya or Japanese style pub for dinner. We were all eating, drinking and talking. The TV was on but I didn’t pay much attention. Suddenly, our guests who were facing the TV got excited to see the TV program. “ Holy cow ! “ I thought. The people sitting in front of us are on TV !

NHK news program covered the tour they had on that day. The camera moved quickly to show many people in the group so it was very difficult to take photos off the TV screen. However, the camera fixed on one of our guests for a relatively long time. He was having matcha green tea. He looked very serious, but in fact he is a very friendly and funny person. I couldn’t capture the photo of another guest, a friendly and gentle person. All of us laughed a lot and felt excited to see the TV program. It was a great timing. I heard they were on TV in Kagoshima,too.

 

 

 

 

 

While talking about tea, I was surprised to know that they know about Benifuuki tea. Benifuuki is said to be good for people who are suffering from hay fever. Many people in the US might want to try it. Benifuuki tastes like black tea and its taste is nostalgic to me because it tastes like the black tea grown in Japan long time ago.

 

When I was a child I had the same taste black tea. It’s a black tea but it tastes very different from English or Indian black tea. I think benifuuki tastes more straight, milder and simpler than other black tea. It’s hard to put, though. One of my friends served me fruit tea made with with benifuuki. She prepared a glass pot so we can see what’s inside. She put some slices of orange, apple, kiwi, and strawberries in the pot and poured hot benifuuki tea over it. A pair of fresh mint leaves were placed in our tea cups. The tea has a good taste and also a wonderful flavor. I also enjoyed eating the fruits in the pot, too. It was very luxurious tea.

 

I was very lucky to get to know the people from Choice Organic Teas and Argo tea.

Thank you for coming. I hope more people visit Japan to share wonderful tea and experiences. I also felt like traveling abroad, too.

 

Green Tea Shizuoka Part 1

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

I had a chance to see a businessman who works for an American tea enterprise called argo tea.

He took part in a tour organized by JETRO to know more about Japanese tea. Before arriving in Shizuoka, he visited Kagoshima which is also famous for its green tea. He managed to visit some tea factory in Shizuoka. He tried tea tasting in the factory’s blending room. I saw that when the blenders taste tea, they pour boiling water over it so that tea reveals its faults. However when we make tea, we have to adhere to the ideal temperature to make delicious tea. In this factory only contracted farmers bring their “ Aracha” or unfinished tea and the blender chooses the Aracha carefully and depending on their customers’ preference and ideal prices, they blend Aracha. Then in the factory, they refine the tea and blend it. After that, they pack the tea and send it to their customers. They also have a huge fridge to store the tea in perfect condition.

 

Argo tea operates many cafes all over the USA selling many kinds of tea such as Indian tea, Chinese tea and, of course, Japanese green tea. I was happy to know that Japanese green tea is getting popular. I was also surprised to know that some people put a little sugar in green tea. I haven’t tried that and can’t imagine what the taste is like. I usually don’t add any sugar when I drink black tea or coffee either. But when I stayed in Istanbul, I felt like adding some sugar. I wonder if it was because of the Turkish climate or the food I ate there.

 

Although I don’t add any sugar, I often eat something sweet along with tea just like we do at a tea ceremony. I also heard that green tea has substances called catechins that prevent our teeth from being decayed. I believe that the sugar I took before or during my tea time can be washed down by tea as it refreshes my mouth and prevents bad teeth.

 

Japanese people eat a lot of rice and that means our diet has a lot of carbohydrate: does that naturally make us stop taking sugar in our tea ?

Anyway even the same tea can be enjoyed in different ways to make people happy. We were all happy to see the business man from Agro tea and share wonderful time. Thank you for coming and hope see you soon !

Kaiseki in March

Friday, February 24th, 2012

 

We made some small dishes for Hinamatsuri, or the Doll Festival celebrated on March 3. For this festival, peach blossoms are featured so we used pink items for cooking such as pink radish, pink flower-shaped fu, or wheat gluten, and red rice for sushi rolls. Peaches are said to drive evil spirits away.

 

People display hina dolls along with peach blossoms. The dolls represent members of the ancient imperial court. Originally people prepared doll-shaped white paper and touch the surface of their bodies with the paper to remove bad things. Then the white paper was to thrown into the river. March is the month when people start the year’s agricultural work and people wished for a good harvest for the year.

 

On the lower left there are two kinds of sushi rolls. They are called hosomaki, or thin rolls. To make thin ones we used half-sized laver. We use full-size laver to make futomaki, or thick rolls.

 

On the right down, this is a dressed food called aemono. Boiled Brussels sprouts and boiled squid are mixed with miso, sugar, vinegar, soy source and mustard. I like the plate with Hina dolls on.

 

In the middle, you can see marinated red radish with kelp and yuzu.

 

On the upper left you see grilled salmon. Before grilling it, the salmon was marinated in sake lees for a day. Using sake lees for cooking is getting very popular recently. Sake lees make meat and fish tender and tasty.

 

On the upper right are wild vegetables called fuki, rolled with fried bean curd ones and simmered Shitake mushrooms.

Here is a cup-steamed egg custard decorated with flower-shaped fu. Just before serving, thick starchy sauce seasoned with ginger juice was added.

 

Kaiseki dishes always makes me aware of the change of seasons.

 

Itadakimasu !

The winter solstice

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

December 22nd is the winter solstice. Traditionally, we eat a dish called

“ toji kabocha “, simmered pumpkin and azuki beans. Both of the ingredients are very healthy and its combination is said to be perfect.

Pumpkin is a summer vegetable but we can preserve it for some time it as long it is uncut. Its rich carotene prevents us from paralysis caused by strokes. Azuki beans are also good for many things. We have many drinking parties in this time of the year but azuki beans work as an antidote.

 We take a bath with yuzu so that our body stays warm. It is said if you do that you don’t catch a cold.

 I found these Japanese sweets at a store in Fuji City. They said this set is for the winter solstice. One dumpling with a small green cup is yuzu. Another yellow one topped with azuki bean means “ toji kabocha “.  They are beautiful and taste good.

 Since it was very cold we enjoyed hojicha. In winter, we drink hojicha more often because we would like to drink it hot. In the case of sencha, we don’t use water that is less than piping hot. After eating a rather fatty meal, hojicha refreshes your mouth. I heard it’s very good for the people who had surgical operation because it can heal a damaged vascular system.

 I have a feeling that this winter in Japan is going to be very cold. I have to take good food and drink not to catch a cold. I am almost in winter sleep mode.