Japan

In Shizuoka, a festival is dedicated to green tea

26 October 2010
In Shizuoka, a festival is dedicated to green tea

As you read this, I will be arriving in the Land of the Rising Sun. I am here because every three years, a celebration of green tea is held in the Shizuoka region: the O’Cha Festival. It is an opportunity to meet many farmers who grow tea in the surrounding mountains and who leave their tea plants to come and meet other growers, customers and journalists. At the festival, you can try many teas, or watch a matcha tea being made, or a temomi cha, the tea that is entirely processed by hand.

Drinking green tea, whether a superior quality or an everyday brew, is part of Japanese culture. The Japanese serve green tea throughout the day and even drink it while walking in the street, getting it from the numerous vending machines you see everywhere in the country. The Japanese ceremony of Cha no Yu is deeply rooted in tradition, going back more than 500 years, like the Ikebana art of flower arranging, for example.

At the O’Cha Festival, you can taste some very special teas. Several competitions are held during the fair to select the best green teas of the year.

The farmers are immensely proud of the recognition this brings their tea. Here is one family in the middle of harvesting a sencha. Their plot is not big, but their tea is worth its weight in gold.

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In Japan, people eat green tea

24 August 2010
In Japan, people eat green tea

In Japan, people sometimes eat green tea leaves. In that case, it’s usually exceptional teas whose leaves have been previously used to prepare tea.

You can see how it is prepaped on the picture: after dropping the wet tea leaves into a container, you add skipjack chips and sprinkle a little bit of soy sauce over the top. It gives you a small tea leaves salad that’s absolutely delicious.

Here, in Asahina (Shizuoka prefecture, Japan), the tea used is a great “Kabuse Cha” or “shade tea” manufactured by Mister Maeshima Tohei, one of the most well-known farmers of the area.

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Tea plants under canvas shaded from the sun

25 May 2010
Tea plants under canvas shaded from the sun

With the wonderful weather we’ve had in France over the past few days, we have to remember to protect ourselves from the sun.
Did you know that tea plants also need protection sometimes? Actually, this only happens in Japan, where there are two categories of tea: “light teas” and “shade teas”. “Light teas” (Sencha, Bancha, Tamaryokucha) are harvested and processed from bushes explosed to sunlight, whereas “shade teas” (Gyokuro, Kabuse, Tencha) are made from tea plants growing in he shade, or even in darkness. As a consequence, the plants are under stress and react to it by by taking more nutrients from the soil. This unusual treatment gives a well developed, smooth and full flavour (which the Japanese call umami) without any bitterness. In other words, a delight.
 
I took this photo near Nara. I was attracted by these neat rows of tea plants covered with a silvery-black canvas, glimmering in the sun. I stopped to watch them, fascinated by their dark brightness, as you might stop in the moonlight to gaze up at the stars.

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Fans in the tea fields

21 May 2010
Fans in the tea fields

There are some curious sights in the tea fields of Japan. Multitudes of fans perched on top of posts ruffle the rows of green foliage, their metallic appearance contrasting with the soft shapes of spring. What are they for? To create a breeze when the sun gets too hot? Not at all! In fact, the fans are used in the depths of winter, when they are switched on to stir up the air and prevent layers of cold air stagnating above the tea plants. This cold layer could damage the shrubs, or slow down their growth.

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Tea harvesting is mechanized in Japan

18 May 2010
Tea harvesting is mechanized in Japan

In Japan, tea harvesting is highly mechanized. In the Shizuoka region, which is on the Makinohara plateau and where Sencha teas are produced, you come across some machines that have a very strange way of talking to the tea leaves. And yet these sharp, deft steel fingers don’t harm them. With extreme precision, this strange harvester takes just the most tender parts of the shoots.

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How to forge good business relations in Japan ?

11 May 2010
How to forge good business relations in Japan ?

There is a Japanese tradition that is completely unrelated to tea, but I like it so much I want to tell you about it. It is about the famous onsen, the hot springs.
In a volcanic country like Japan, with all that matter fermenting together underground, it is no surprise that boiling water erupts from the ground everywhere. There are many hot springs in the land of the rising sun.

The water temperature is so high that even in the middle of winter, it can make you hot even when your shoulders are exposed to the cold air.

The onsen are an extremely popular destination among the Japanese: they bathe in them to relax, rest and even cure themselves. They spend weekends, even entire vacations, in them. You go to the onsen with your family and your friends. When you go with a client, or a business contact, it is known as “hadaka no tsukiai”, or “naked communion”. The Japanese believe that bathing together, naked, is a way of showing yourself as you really are, with nothing to hide. This is important, they say, if you want to forge transparent business relations.

Here, near lake Tazawa, the deepest in the country, I am taking part in “hadaka no tsukiai” with Koichi Fujiki, a producer of tea canisters. We want to work together, for a long time, to be able to trust each other in business, without hiding anything. And this is how you do it!

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How to forge good business relations in Japan ?


How to forge good business relations in Japan ?

There is a Japanese tradition that is completely unrelated to tea, but I like it so much I want to tell you about it. It is about the famous onsen, the hot springs.
In a volcanic country like Japan, with all that matter fermenting together underground, it is no surprise that boiling water erupts from the ground everywhere. There are many hot springs in the land of the rising sun.

The water temperature is so high that even in the middle of winter, it can make you hot even when your shoulders are exposed to the cold air.

The onsen are an extremely popular destination among the Japanese: they bathe in them to relax, rest and even cure themselves. They spend weekends, even entire vacations, in them. You go to the onsen with your family and your friends. When you go with a client, or a business contact, it is known as “hadaka no tsukiai”, or “naked communion”. The Japanese believe that bathing together, naked, is a way of showing yourself as you really are, with nothing to hide. This is important, they say, if you want to forge transparent business relations.

Here, near lake Tazawa, the deepest in the country, I am taking part in “hadaka no tsukiai” with Koichi Fujiki, a producer of tea canisters. We want to work together, for a long time, to be able to trust each other in business, without hiding anything. And this is how you do it!

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The delicate art of making tea canisters from cherry bark

7 May 2010
The delicate art of making tea canisters from cherry bark

During my recent journey to Japan which led me to the north of Honshu at the extreme south of Kyushu, I visited for the first time a lovely city deeply nestled among mountains covered with woods. This city is Kakunodate, located nearby Akita (I’m giving details for the people, like me, who enjoy poking their nose on a map and dream while pointing their finger on imaginary roads).

In Kakunodate the tradition of wood work is still carried on. But not any wood ! Here they are only interested in cherry tree. Objects are carved in its bark, or, in other words, this beautiful bark is turned into a smooth and delicate leaf just like a precious parchment and is then pinned against the desired object:  a tea canister for example.
It is a very slow and meticulous work: once the wet season is over, a sample of bark is taken (approximately ten meters above the ground) and is then left to dry for no less than a year ! This leaves enough time to carefully think about its destiny…

With the help of a small flat-iron, this worker smoothly presses against the bark, after having coasted its back so that it perfectly sticks to the tea canister’s body. Of course, before that, she slowly polished the bark with great care,  using the blade of a knife in a repetitive movement  so as to make it surprisingly soft.

I’m admiringly watching her, in the silence surrounding her workshop. Once the tea canister is finished, she strokes it and holds it out to me with a discreet pride and I’m thinking about the beautiful Japanese green tea which will be a perfect case for it.

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In Japan, the harvests of tea are also delayed

4 May 2010
In Japan, the harvests of tea are also delayed

These days I was nearby Shizuoka, the main tea producing region of Japan. I took this picture in Tawaramine, a highly considered place for growing tea. Beyond the harmonious curve made by the row of tea trees, one can see the city of Shizuoka spreading out on the border of the Pacific.

The farmers of Tawaramine, just like the ones of the other surrounding mountains (Asahina, Hirayama…), don’t have much to complain this year. The harvesting of tea is of course very much delayed this year due to the cold weather of April and the shoots are only beginning to show up. However they do not have to experience the disaster of their colleagues located on the Makinohara plateau: because of a lower altitude and an early spring followed by a rough cold snap, the tea trees have simply frozen, and as a result the production of tea is partly compromised for them.

So from Darjeeling to Shizuoka, from Yunnan to Anhui and from Zhejiang to Fujian, the harvests are really delayed this year.

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Hisanori Masuda, designer de théières

23 February 2010
Hisanori Masuda, designer de théières

J’ai le plaisir de vous présenter mon ami Hisanori Masuda. Hisanori est un fameux designer Japonais qui a créé de très beaux modèles de théières en fonte. Il a exposé dans différents pays du monde (au MoMa, à New York, par exemple), et il enseigne à l’université au Japon. Nous nous connaissons depuis une quinzaine d’années grâce à Kayoko Nishikawa avec laquelle j’ai voyagé à plusieurs reprises dans le nord de l’archipel, notamment dans la province d’Iwate. C’est en effet dans cette région que l’on fabrique les théières en fonte. Encore aujourd’hui elles sont fondues une à une.
Hisanori a également dessiné de très beaux modèles de bouilloires, au design simple, rigoureux et traditionnel à la fois. Les théières Hikime, Chokaku et Natsume sont de parfaites illustrations de son travail.
J’ai retrouvé Hisanori la semaine dernière à Francfort lors du salon Ambiente. Il est venu sur le stand du Palais des Thés et j’ai pu le présenter à notre équipe qui avait hâte de faire sa connaissance. Cette photo a été prise à cette occasion.

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