Saturday, July 30, 2005

Laughs at Japantown in San Francisco

This is a photo of toys in the front window of a hobby shop at the San Francisco Japantown Center.



Whoever posed these dolls (sorry, "action figures") obviously watched "The Three Stooges": the American soldier is holding his hand up to block the German's two-finger eye poke. The caption reads: "Dateline WWII: The allies foil another axis offensive."


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Japan's version of Rip van Winkle

The tale of Urashima Taro (or Taro Urashima, in English name order) is a old Japanese fairy tale that's been around in one form or another for hundreds of years. In the story, a man who saves a turtle from a group of tormenting kids is rewarded by being spirited away to an undersea kingdom where he enjoys lavish feasts and various entertainment. Eventually he decides he's had enough, but when he returns home, he doesn't recognize his old village or any of the people there. Things there have changed completely. Upon asking around, he realizes that he'd been away for decades, and all his family and friends have died. He spends the rest of his days in the village as a lonely outsider--a stranger in his own village.


Today, the name "Urashima Taro" is used for anyone who feels behind the times or reminisces about a time or a place that is no longer the way one remembers it. For instance, I was called an Urashima Taro on two separate occasions when I recently visited Oita City, where I had first lived in Japan (as an exchange student), and commented on how much the city had changed since I first lived there in the mid-'80s.


It's no fun being an Urashima Taro. But what's really scary is the thought that my life today will be just as different once an equal amount of time has passed.


—Mellow Monk


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Sunday, July 24, 2005

Japanese "sushi shop" term for tea: agari.

Just like the American restaurant business has its own jargon ("cow" for milk), the world of sushi has its own terms for things. Green tea is called agari, which is actually a shortened form of agaribana, which means freshly brewed tea. (The -bana part is a variant of hana, or flower.) So, agaribana literally means "fresh flowers."


So, if you really want to impress your local sushi chef, say, Agaribana wo kudasai (I'll have some tea, please.). If he gives you a quizzical look (which happens a lot when a Japanese is addressed in Japanese by a foreigner), just say, "Agari" while making a drinking gesture with your hand. Once he gets your meaning, if you want to kid him even more, say, "Tadashii Nihongo deshou?" (That's correct Japanese, right?).


—Mellow Monk


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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Locally grown veggies for a school

Recently in Japan, members of the PTA of a certain school found out that the school cafeteria was using fruits and vegetables shipped in from far away, sometimes even from overseas. These parents called on school officials to use locally grown produce. There are plenty of small farms in the area, they pointed out. Why can't we buy from them?


And that's exactly what they did.


Buying locally was more expensive, but apparently the extra cost was not an insurmountable problem.


Students say they like the idea of eating food grown locally, and the family farms that supply the produce say the arrangement makes them feel like they're growing food for their own community.


(I saw this story recently on a Japanese-language news broadcast on San Francisco's KTSF [Channel 26]. I don't remember the name of the town, but the story itself left an impression on me.)


—Mellow Monk


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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The importance of water temperature (again)

Water temperature is crucial in enjoying the flavor and aroma of a fine tea. Too cool is usually better than too hot: never use just-boiled water. Water that's too hot will "cook" the tea and ruin its aroma and flavor. But since it's not practical to use a thermometer to measure water temperature every time, a better way is to simply transfer the boiled water to another cup, wait a few seconds so it can absorb some of the heat, then transfer the cooled water to the pot or cup with the tea leaves in it. Or, you can simply "walk the kettle to the pot," as the British say. (In other words, after the water's boiled and you've turned off the heat, wait 5 to 10 minutes before pouring.)

At tea-judging competitions in Japan, the tea is actually brewed at very low water temperatures -- as low as 158 deg. F (70 deg. C), which is more than 50 deg. below boiling. Water this cool is said to be needed to judge the true flavor of a tea. But as these low water temperatures, a high ratio of tea leaves to water is used.


—Mellow Monk


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Monday, July 18, 2005

We're back!

The Mellow Monk online tea shop is back online. We're so sorry for any inconvenience. Not only are we back selling our previous offerings (Monk's Choice and Top Leaf), but we'll soon be adding at least four new types of green teas to our lineup. These include genmai-cha (green tea with roasted whole-grain rice) and houji-cha (roasted green tea with an aroma and flavor that are completely different from ordinary greens).


Stay tuned!


—Mellow Monk


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