I get it now.
We rode the shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Kyoto during our stay in Japan. Along the way I kept seeing these blurry trees laden with some manner of orangish yellow fruit whiz by.
My hostess, Mariko. Told me they were Japanese Yuzu. “Not for eating. Too sour. Skins are for smelling and spicing.”
At the time I found this kind of mysterious and strange (not unlike a lot of what I’d learned already about Japan.) Fields and fields of fruit grown only for their skins? Just because they smell good?
This was before I smelled it. Now, I have Yuzu flavored jelly, dried and candied yuzu peel, yuzu lip balm and yuzu bath powder. It’s that good.
It is such a treat for me to mix a couple of teaspoons of the jelly with warm water and taste Japan all over again.
Yuzu is just one of the many wonderful things to drink in Japan though.
You’ve got your sake (here, great barrels of it are stacked at a temple in Kyoto – for the gods, or the worshipers, I do not know.)
Sake is rice wine, and strong stuff. We drank ours (cold and apple-y) from little kanji covered wooden boxes which overflow onto a pretty little tray. I don’t know if it was just the atmosphere or what, but I liked it WAY more than I ever have before.
If sake doesn’t bring you the luck you’re after though, get yourself to the nearest shrine or temple. Kyoto is home to more than 3,000 of them, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find one.
At many of them, you will find lots of little fountains, flanked by these curious long handled dippers. You are to use them to drink the waters you need (there are fountains for luck on exams, health, love and more.)
If you’re still parched, stop at one the bazillion and one vending machines on your way down from the temple mount. There are vending machines EVERYWHERE in Japan. These are not your standard variety either. This goes WAY beyond water, soda and sports drinks. You can find all kinds of juices, blends of roots and spices, teas, cold coffees, even beer, on every street corner.
I asked our sweet 22 year old hostess, Mikiko, how they kept teenagers from buying beer from the vending machines and she made the funniest face, like she’d never thought of it before. “I don’t know. I guess they are too busy with school!”
Huh. Call me crazy, but I’m pretty certain that American teenagers might have a different approach.
What? Not yet quenched? On the train home, you will be offered yet MORE drinks. Again, an astonishing array, sake, wine, beer, teas, juices. They definitely do NOT want you to waste one minute being thirsty!
Careful now, you’ve drank an awful lot, and we’ve not yet had a discussion about Japanese bathrooms. I’m thinking that something a little stiffer than green tea is in order before we go there!
THIS is where we are fortunate, friends! Japanese beer is GOOD and not hard to find in the states. Here, we were at the Ginza Lion Brew House. At home though, I’ve run across Kirin and also Asahi. If you’re feeling adventurous, pick some up next time you’re at the grocery. You won’t be sorry.
And never fear… if the wonderful Japanese wine, sake or beer takes it’s toll, there’s always coffee for the morning, or heck, any old time.
This, the oldest coffee house in Kyoto, serves up a deep, rich, frothy blend that made this non coffee drinker buy her own bag. Coffee is all over the place in Japan. We drank it iced and steaming hot, topped with whipped cream, swimming in chocolate and straight. I left perfectly able to do without the stuff, I came home craving my daily cuppa.
No discussion of Japanese drink would be complete without mention of the tea ceremony.
That though… that is a story all it’s own.
For now, suffice it to say that with my hands wrapped ’round a warm tea cup, eyes closed and breathing in Japan.. I get it now, this affair they have with their drink. I truly do.