Monday, December 26, 2011

Win Some, Lose Some

Now the hours and the minutes
Just fly away.
You win some and you lose some,
You gotta get it right
Or I'll be saying
Bye bye bye bye ...
-Bryan Adams

Image: Tokyo lights up for year end festivities anticipating a better 2012.

2011 has been a tumultuous year with all manner of things happening around the world and to me too. Like all things in life, some of it has been good and some not so good.

As for me, I am just happy to be happy! Some really nice things happened to me but some very sad and regrettable things came to pass too. Win some, lose some.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Empty Nest

End of the tea season and the end of the bee hive like atmosphere in the factory. As he walks back home for a well earned rest, the manager cuts a lonely figure in the vast cavernous factory floor of Ilam Chiyabari. Till next spring when the excitement renews itself.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

San San Kudo 三々九度

An astounding number of "Delicious Tea Shops" certified by Japan Tea Association are located in Owariasahi, Aichi. Second only to Osaka in numbers, but the highest per capita in Japan. It is a rare and precious gift to the tea drinking public in that country.

Liyn-an is one of those certified tea shops selling delicious teas. It is owned and operated by the Hotta family. A valuable heirloom of the Hotta family sits on the table top of his tea house. Was it used for San San Kudo 三々九度 ceremony during his grand father's time? Or was it for Iwaizen 祝膳? I do not know and Hotta san is not sure. Possibly both.

San San Kudo is one of the oldest continuous traditional Japanese wedding customs where sake is shared. The couple takes three sips from each cup at the conclusion of the wedding ceremony. Both families drink a cup of sake to signify the union of the bride and the groom and the two families. Perhaps at a deeper level it is a union of ideas and thoughts. This beautiful Japanese wedding custom is called San San Ku-Do, which means "three (sets of) three (sips) equals nine".

Now this beautifully lacquered set with the Hotta family crest sits in Nepal at my tea corner but I probably will not be doing any San San Kudo anytime soon. It is indeed a rare and precious gift from a generous and gracious couple.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Tea on the Rocks

Beautiful Peyto Lake in Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies. Somewhere near here, on the hiking trail ending at Lake Agnes (2135 m) you can find Jun Chiyabari tea at Lake Agnes Teahouse. Lake Agnes Teahouse has been serving fine loose teas since 1905!

"Heavenly delight." That is the description of Jun Chiyabari's tea in their menu. And I can say the same of the scenery in and around Banff.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Tamar is the eastern most river of the seven river that make up Sapta Koshi or Koshi as it is commonly called. Tamar really defines the tea growing areas of Nepal as it flows through the most important tea growing districts viz. Dhankuta, Panchthar, Ilam and Taplejung.

Tamar's watershed in the Kanchenjunga region is separated from Teesta river by the Singalila ridge which also forms the border between Nepal and Sikkim. This photograph shows the river just before it joins the others of the Koshi river system and exits the hills by forming one of the biggest alluvial fans in the world: the 150,000 square kilometre Koshi megafan.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Long and Winding Road

......Many times I've been alone
And many times I've cried,

Anyway you'll never know

The many ways I've tried.

And still they lead me back

To the long, winding road

You left me standing here

-The Long and Winding Road
The Beatles (Lennon–McCartney) 1969-1970

Image: A small and beautiful green valley in the tea growing region of east Nepal some kilometers from the Tamar River.

Ashiya 芦屋市 Autumn

Autumn comes to Ashiya (芦屋市).

Ashiya City in Hyogo which has the highest per capita income in Japan is the only municipality that prohibits gambling facilities, pachinko and small factories. Its identity is maintained through such rules. As a result of its character a number of celebrities including Haruki Murakami live here.

Images of autumn colours some 10 minute drive from Ashiya City centre.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tea Tasting v2.0

Is it brandy or wine or is it tea? Which wine glass brings out the best of Jun Chiyabari tea? At a tea tasting event in Tokyo. The tea(s) was brewed the night before and left at room temperature and decanted into different types of wine glasses.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mastering Tea

It is no easy task mastering anything. Tea is no different.

Here in Nagoya's L'o-vu tea house a special weekend lesson on tea from China is conducted by tea master Sensei Iwasaki. He not only teaches how to brew the different types of tea but also the history behind that particular tea and so on. Attention to detail is typical of Japan. As is the culture of learning and utmost respect for the teacher.

Each student practises each step many times; keeps notes of the colour, aroma, flavour and so on of the brew; learns how to place the tea bowl and pour the water and decant the brew and so on and so forth. There are no shortcuts to achieve perfection even in the most mundane thing as making a bowl of tea. Ah! Correction. Nothing is mundane. Ichi-go ichi-e (一期一会) after all. Each step is one chance in a lifetime.

The entire experience leaves me shaking my head in wonder. Can we duplicate this sort of dedication? Ever?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Nabe at Hakusan 白山

There are many small lanes and interesting places in Tokyo off the main tourist areas. Close to the Hakusan Metro station 白山駅 a small lane suddenly opens up into a modest courtyard: a courtyard with all the old world charm of the Edo period.

In the center of a small room a warm charcoal brazier welcomes you. Soon the chilly day outside is forgotten and tasty nabe fills one's stomach.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tea Time In Nagoya

It was the most pleasant experience sipping one's own tea in a tea shop in a far away land. Of course I had also tried other teas here but......

In this very pleasing and relaxed cafe, Ji. Coo in Kakuozan, Nagoya, one did notice that female tea drinkers outnumbered the men.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Iccho Butterflies

Autumn chill has turned the leaves of this ancient Iccho tree at Eiho-ji (永保寺) yellow, transforming them into a kaleidoscope of million colourful butterflies.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Deep Beautiful Loneliness

That deep beautiful colour
No one can describe:
Over the dark mountains
the gathering autumn dusk.
-Jakuren 寂蓮 (1139–1202)
(also known as Fujiwara no Sadanaga 藤原定長 before becoming a monk)

Image: somewhere near Tajimi City 多治見市 in Gifu ken (岐阜県) Japan. Loneliness is a really deep beautiful colour. Perhaps so is life. Sometimes it is set ablaze by a shaft of sunshine for a short while.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Autumn Memories

Even your pledges,
leaves of words, have lost their green
now that falling tears
dim my youth as drizzling rains
transform autumnal foliage.
-Ono no Komachi (小野 小町 c. 825 – c. 900)

Image of colourful foliage brought down to earth by autumn rains. Somewhere near Ueda (上田市), Japan. Long time ago.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Karuizawa 軽井沢町 Nagano

By lonely roads
this lonely poet marches
into autumn dusk.
Matsuo Bashō (松尾 芭蕉, 1644 – November 28, 1694)

Autumn colours in Karuizawa (軽井沢町) Nagano ken, Japan.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tea Tasting

Recently we had a group of tea enthusiasts from Japan at a tea tasting function. The group was to have gone to the tea garden but due to political instability could not go there. We tried to compensate for this disappointment by organising a tea tasting function in Kathmandu where we showcased various teas from Jun Chiyabari. It was our first attempt to organise tea tasting at home.

I included the picture at the bottom (showing the spoons and small ceramic tasting bowls) for a special reason. After each guest had finished her / his tea tasting she / he placed the bowl and the spoon perfectly on the tray. It came so naturally to them. Had it been us Nepalis, some bowls and spoons would have been on the floor, some on the table and perhaps a few on the tray but none perfectly aligned and so neatly done.

It is a perfect metaphor for all that is wrong in Nepal (and perhaps in South Asia) and why we have a long, long way to go before we can even dream of catching up with East Asia in general and Japan in particular.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Little Japan, Nepal v 2.0

The Tea Corner in the newly renovated and retrofitted (against earthquakes) living room is now often used to introduce fine teas to visitors and members of the extended family. Or just to relax on a Saturday morning.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Tea Youngling

In Star Wars series a Youngling is a young child who is Jedi in training, learning to control the force. Here is a remote nursery in the jungle naturally protected by trees and man made shades, Tea Younglings are brought up.

After a year or two they will be planted in the garden. Like a Jedi Youngling who becomes a Padawan and then a Jedi Knight before becoming a Jedi Master, these Younglings will go through various stages of pruning, cutting, skiffing, center outs and so on and so forth to finally give us good teas. In perhaps 8 to 10 years.

Then those who drink this tea will truly overcome the Dark Side!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Predator Prey

Organic tea gardens attract many different types of insects and animals. Like this lizard sunning itself on the tea bushes and waiting for its prey. It is said that ladybirds are a good sign of a healthy garden. They efficiently take care of certain types of harmful spiders, while teas leaves attacked by green flies impart a highly sought after character in the teas.

It is important for predator prey bio-system to take root so that a healthy natural balance is maintained. Fortunately in Jun Chiyabari this is exactly what has happened because no pesticide has been used.

Images of some of the denizens of the Jun Chiyabari ecosystem.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

They asked me how I knew
My true love was true
Oh, I of course replied
Something here inside cannot be denied

They said someday you'll find
All who love are blind
Oh, when your heart's on fire
You must realize
Smoke gets in your eyes

So I chaffed them and I gaily laughed
To think they could doubt my love
Yet today my love has flown away
I am without my love

Now laughing friends deride
Tears I can not hide
Oh, so I smile and say
When a lovely flame dies
Smoke gets in your eyes
Smoke gets in your eyes

- Platters 1958
Originally written in 1933 for the musical Roberta, starring Bob Hope. The lyrics were written by Otto Harbach and the music by Jerome Kern.

Moisture from the tea leaves on the withering troughs in Ilam Chiyabari "smokes" my lens.

This photograph was taken from the tea withering room looking down at the tea receiving, weighing and transporting area. You can just about make out the tea leaves waiting to be carried by the conveyor to the withering room.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Nepal Cardamom

Nepal Cardamom or Black Cardamom is quite common in the tea gardens. It seems that Nepal is one of the biggest if not the biggest producer of this type of cardamom. October - November is harvest time. After the pods are collected they are roasted. I guess most of it ends up in India. Images of cardamom being roasted by a tea farmer in Dhankuta.