Thursday, May 26, 2011

Reflections on my Tea Journey

Upon returning home from my tea trip to Taiwan and Japan and blogging about it all, I am still amazed at the beauty and diversity of each region. However , what impressed me the most about the trip was the people! Everywhere we went, the people were so gracious to our group. We were greeted so warmly and all seemed to want to share their knowledge of tea with us. Many of them bestowed gifts of tea to us just for stopping by and listening! As I steep the teas that were given to us or the teas I purchased from places we visited, my appreciation of what is in my cup grows so much more.

I thought it to be such an honor to be in the presence of such educated tea individuals and yet they always seemed honored by our presence as well. The patience given to our group of Tea Master Steve as he taught us how to make oolong tea was impressive. The process of making my own tea was also very high on my list!

Getting to meet the farmers who put their effort into giving me a wonderful cup of tea, makes each infusion so much sweeter. Now as I drink the tea, I remember from where it came and who made it taste so special. Tea Master Steve and one of the farmers pictured here traveled several hours through the mountains to come to our graduation ceremony in Taiwan before we left for Japan.

I have to admit after hearing stories, I was somewhat apprehensive about traveling to Asia before I left . I had heard about the dangers of drinking the water and getting sick from the food. To be quite honest, the eastern-style bathrooms even made me a bit nervous! The culture in Taiwan and Japan are definitely different than here in the USA, but I would go back again without any hesitation and hope to very soon.

Thank you to all who put in their time to make our trip so educational, especially the hosts for our trip Thomas Shu and Josephine Pan.  If you are interested in going this year, registration will begin soon.  I will cherish my time that I was there and will remember (or try to) what I learned.

If you ever have the chance to go Taiwan and Japan and learn more about the culture, tea, and beauty of each country, I highly encourage to do it.  In the June blogs, I am going to get personal and we will also talk about National Iced Tea Month!  If your curious, you want want to miss it!!

Happy Sipping and Fondly Remembering the People of Taiwan and Japan, Lisa

Friday, May 13, 2011

Day 3 Part 2 O-Cha (Tea) Festival & Closing Traditional Japanese Dinner

After my lovely visit to the garden and temple, our group was off to the World O-Cha (Tea) Festival 2010.  This festival is only held once every three years.  It was a conglomerate of tea buyers and sellers from all over the world.  It was fun to be a part of such a global tea experience.  Here is the entrance to the festival with people rushing about anxious to see this year's teas and new products. 

I found this wall of art interesting.  Our host, Thomas Shu, graciously explained what it was.  All the symbols are done in calligraphy in Hanji (Chinese symbols) except for the one just to the left of my head which is in Japanese.  They all say TEA.  Although they all say the same thing, each one held its own beauty and looked so harmonious together.  According to Thomas, harmony is a fundamental practice in the Asian culture.  Harmony is also the spirit of tea.  
Along with tea vendors there were other vendors selling many different kinds of teaware, books, pottery, etc.  I found these cast iron kettles really beautiful. When I looked at the price and did my quick Yen to Dollar comparison, I understood why I found them beautiful!  They were out of my price range so instead of buying one, I took a picture so we all could enjoy their beauty!

Along with vendors, there were demonstrations being held.  Here is a man showing the old fashion way to make matcha.  He had volunteers come up and demonstrate and most of them left out of breath.  It is now done by automation, but the same practice of grinding the tea leaves on large stones is still done.   

Different tea ceremonies were held in front of the large tea calligraphy wall.  I was honored to be asked to be a part of a Chinese oolong ceremony with this young woman.  I was thrilled to be a part of it. 

I did feel sorry for the outside vendors because of the rain, not many were visiting them.  I ventured out for some lunch and shopped all the while trying to avoid the large puddles.  I found a lovely little pottery piece in the shape of tea leaf with blue and white flowers on it.  It is the perfect container for my vitamins I take throughout the day. 
At the close of the day, our group met with the directors of the festival.  I hope to return again to this festival in three years!

Hello Lisa:
JP and I have a very busy weekend in Chicago over the weekend.
One tea workshop at Northwestern U and one at Chicago's TAAGCC...both are full house events.  Tiresome but very excited.
Please see the photo and let me know whether this is what you are looking for?

Our group loaded back on the bus, one last time to our final meal together.  We drove to a small seaside town that was know for its fresh off the boat sushi and sashimi.  We all were asked to take off our shoes and to sit on cushions on the floor.  A few day prior, we were asked to choose from a variety of menus that all sounded delicious.  The "A A" place card next the tray of food was what I choose and I couldn't have been happier.  Can you guess what might be in the wooden jewelry box looking item?

In the upper left corner, I had the freshest sashimi, in the upper right side was some tempura, in the center bottom was a soup called chawan mushi that had seafood, short necked clams, and ginger, and the surprise in the wooden box was why I chose this meal.  It was broiled eel over a bed of rice.  I hadn't ever had eel  before and I wasn't disappointed.  It was delicious as was the whole meal. 

The dinner was a wonderful way to close the trip.  I feel so blessed to have gone to Japan and hope you have enjoying following my journey in tea!  In the next blog, I will share some of my reflections about the trip along with some cultural differences I found interesting. 

Happy Sipping, Lisa

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Day 3 Japanese Tea House and Temple

Today was a rainy day, but I decided to venture out in the morning before going to the O-Cha (Tea) Festival.  Since I have been traveling with a group, it was nice to take a walk by myself.  It was really the first opportunity I had the whole trip to be alone.  One of the members in our group told us about a temple behind our hotel that she could see from her window in her room.  On my journey, I stumbled upon this small teahouse just behind the hotel.  Although it wasn't open, I could just imagine the tea ceremonies that have taken place there through the years, can't you?

My journey then took me to a very interesting site and my emotions took me off guard.  Although I didn't enter through these big heavy wooden gates, I just thought the entrance was so inviting.  The roof over the doors was so ornate.  My husband is a builder, so I am always interested in how things how built and the work that is involved. 
What was so fascinating about this temple is that is it was preserved down through history.  As you can see, it is surrounded by a city that was built around it and yet the temple and the beautiful zen garden remained intact or so I thought.  Although I was in a city full of tall buildings and not far from a major train station, the gardens remained peaceful.

Below you can see the carpet of stone that has been manicured so nicely with even rows and sculptural rocks and plants to accent the rock carpet. 

Everything was kept so nicely as to show respect for each part of the garden as an individual place.  However, I kept wondering why I had this sense of sadness walking though the garden.  


Even the raindrops landing in the pond added to the serenity of the garden in a unique way.  The place held such beauty, that I desired to know more.  I wondered if I may be allowed to enter the temple. The picture below shows the temple beyond the pond.  I went through the doors and there was a kind gentleman with a jacket on that had a "Georgia" emblem on it.  I thought great, we have something in common, he has a jacket from my home state!  He spoke some English and  told me that his son was in Georgia and worked for Coke.  It is a small world, isn't it? 

He allowed me to walk around inside the building. It was lovely inside although it didn't appear that old. He told me that the temple was rebuilt, but that the original one and the gardens were over 600 years old. Here is a view from inside the temple out to a lovely courtyard.  I longed to know more about this place that had not been taken over by city buildings. 
On the side of the garden and temple is a cemetery.  It is evident that loved ones still come visit the ones they have lost. 

Upon my return, I wanted to find out more about its history. Our host's daughter and interpreter for the trip, Kazuko found out more information for me through her father. He actually went over to the temple especially for me to find out more! The building is Buddhist temple named Hodaiji. The original temple used be be very large and was built in 1381. During the edo period (1600-1850) the Joseon mission came from Korea and stayed there on their way to Tokyo. They were duly impressed by its beauty and architecture. 

The building was completely destroyed by an aerial bombing during World War II in 1944.  It has since been rebuilt on the site, but much smaller in scale.  There are 40 small stone figures throughout the garden.  They are placed in the memory of the spirits of the dead children that were lost. 

I was moved by this story and I think that explained some of my sadness through all the tranquility I felt while walking through the garden.  If you are ever in the land of tea in Shizuoka, be sure to take time to walk through this beautiful garden. 

Happy Sipping and Serenity, Lisa