Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Bridging the Stones


You would be forgiven if you thought that Kurume 久留米市 ,a small city in Kyushu, had nothing going for it. Till about a year ago, I had not even heard about it though, unwittingly, over the years I had been using its most famous product.

Recently I got an opportunity to visit Kurume. For such a small place its list of achievements is impressive indeed. Indigo dyed cloth called Kurume Kasuri, invented by a young girl named Inoue Den, is famous throughout Japan. As is ramen noodles and pork soup of Kurume.

Bridgestone tyre company was founded in Kurume. Over the years I had been using tyres from this company without any knowledge of where and how the company had been established.  The first Japanese American millionaire, George Shima, was born in Kurume. At one time he accounted for 85% of California's potato crop and was called the Potato King. Singer and actress Seiko Matsuda and TV personality Rena Tanaka are also from Kurume. And these are just a few....there are others.

Not bad for a small city of 300,000 people!

My visit was really short and in this short time I was taken by my friend to see ruins of Kurume castle of the Arima clan. There one can still see the walls built with massive stones and can get an idea of how extensive it must have been. Inside, only Sasayama Shrine remains. 

In between we managed to squeeze time for tea and ramen and a visit to the most friendly antique shop. At the end of the day, products made of Kurume Kasuri was in my bag too.

What makes Kurume tick? The university set in its midst? Or the working culture? Can do attitude? Its friendly people? I am not sure but I am pretty sure that it will continue to produce some fine people and products.

Top: Stained glass window at Kurume station
Second from top: Tea and sweets at a tea room in Kurume
Third from top: A traditional Japanese Torii 鳥居 at the Kurume castle leading to the shrine. 
(The gate is symbolic of the transition from the profane to the sacred in a Shinto shrine)
Bottom: Looking down from the castle rampart.
May 2013

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Tea Space-time


 間 is an interesting character in Japanese. Till writing this blogpost I thought it only meant a door or an entrance. Apparently it can also be used in conjunction with space, time, interval, pause, leisure, room, apartment amongst other words!

So when I was invited for a rendezvous over tea at Chacha-No-Ma 茶茶の間  I thought the meaning of the name of the tea room was a "Gateway to Tea", though I was confused why there were two characters for tea in the name, 茶茶.  

Chacha-No-Ma was a really pleasant experience and the company made it more pleasurable. The tea brewing master of the house, Kitagawa san 北川さん, was very much on top of the game and gave a skillful performance with the brew. One can produce the best tea in the world but if the brewing is incorrect then all the effort of the people in making that tea is really wasted: from the time the tea plant was in the nursery, to planting and taking care of the bush through the years and the efforts of the girls plucking the teas and the tea master and the helpers making that tea. Not to speak of the logistics.

For me, most serendipitous thing was when I asked him which teas he liked, he replied, without much hesitation, that he really liked teas from Jun Chiyabari.That was music to my ears!

After he found out that I was from Jun Chiyabari, he brewed various other interesting and delicious Japanese teas including Goishi-cha 碁石茶 or the so called Japanese style Pu-erh tea from Shikoku. And also a most delicious infusion of green tea with lavender, mint and other ingredients which I shall keep secret. But, as can be seen from the images, there is no secret that I also enjoyed the matcha ice cream. 

Perhaps the true meaning of Chacha-No-Ma 茶茶の間 is "The Wormhole to Tea Space-time continuum". And the double chacha 茶茶 in the name? Perhaps, like many things in astrophysics, we are destined never understand that either!

At the tea room, Chacha-No-Ma 茶茶の間 in Omotesando, Tokyo with Kitagawa san (May 2013)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ebony & Ivory


Ebony and ivory,
Live together in perfect harmony,
Side by side on my piano keyboard,
Oh, Lord, why don't we?
Lyrics: Paul McCartney 
Sung by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder.
Released March 1982

In Shizuoka 静岡県 I came across some really fascinating tea bushes. In a large field there were hundreds of different tea cultivars. Within that, one small section had some tea bushes with really dark leaves and another section had white / creamish / yellow leaves. In a sea of green it was easy to make out the cream coloured leaves from a distance. Just a few metres away was this patch with really dark leaves which was equally if not more impressive.

Surely they were different cultivars and both were really interesting for me. Unfortunately due to language difficulty I could not ask which variety these two were. Due to confidentiality issues I cannot reveal the exact location where these two grow in perfect harmony.
Just a small thank you to all those who made it possible for me to see Ebony and Ivory.

Images: Two different tea cultivars in Shizuoka, Japan. (May 2013)