Kanpai!

by Stefani on 13-December-2007

Yuzu Tea

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

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.)

Holy Waters

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.

Japanese Vending Machines

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!

Shinkansen Fare

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!

Kanpai!

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.

Inoda Coffee

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.

Sarah Jackson December 13, 2007 at 8:59 pm

Ha ha! You’re a coffee girl now! I’m so loving hearing about your journey. It makes me ready to go on one too – to take the time to savor something different.

Lisa Pijuan-Nomura December 13, 2007 at 10:07 pm

How i love these stories of Japan! Thank you so much for that. My husband is half Japanese, half Scottish-Irish and we hope to get there soon. You are making me dream of going, and it’s funny because i never have had any dreams of travelling there..but now..I can’t wait!

Diane December 14, 2007 at 5:19 am

Beautiful photos! I’m so loving my vicarious vacation to Japan — thank you!

Eren December 14, 2007 at 6:48 am

I am loving your recollections of your time last week. So great!!! I have never really wanted to travel to Japan, but your accounts really make it sound like so much fun!!!

Jade December 14, 2007 at 6:55 am

Once again, lovely stories. I love hearing about the food and drink. I’m a huge Anthony Bourdain fan and you learn a lot about a culture from it’s food and the rituals associated with that.

Quick question, I’m headed to the asian market on Saturday to pick up some foodie gifts for family. What would you recommend?

Donna December 14, 2007 at 9:44 am

Japanese teenagers wear a uniform that can easily identify what school they go to, making it a little harder to get away with things. Also, the teachers at the school have much greater responsibility than American teachers and are expected to be aware of students behavior outside of school–some teachers will even roam around after school to make sure kids aren’t up to no good. Misbehavior out of school can still be dealt with by the school. While there probably are some kids sneaking beer–you can’t legally drink or smoke until age 20 in Japan–the repercussions can be far greater than for American kids. Getting caught could mean suspension, which could ruin your chances of getting into a univerisity and ruin your chances for a good job.

Loribird December 14, 2007 at 12:35 pm

Thank you! I’m enjoying your Japan posts so much!

Tracy December 14, 2007 at 2:16 pm

I always hear about yuzu on Iron Chef America on the Food Network, and always wonder what it smells and tastes like.

Anne December 14, 2007 at 11:03 pm

I missed you! I have to spend some time looking at your pictures and reading about your trip. Welcome back.

kristin December 15, 2007 at 6:45 am

i. love. drinks.

maybe more than food.

maybe i should go to japan.

klothandbolt December 16, 2007 at 2:14 pm

i love all of your japan stories, looks like such a wonderful trip! -kb

molly December 16, 2007 at 5:27 pm

i love that picture of the girl pushing the drink cart on the train (?). It looks so clean and bright and modern. fun.

I’m loving your japan stories. I’m learning so much! (I hate to admit it, but when I was an elementary school teacher we taught a study on japan and I didn’t like it. If i only knew (and appreciated) back then, what I know now…..

Tara December 16, 2007 at 7:16 pm

Oh wow, my husband and I have been wanting to go to Japan but everytime I read your posts about your trip you make me want to go even worse! It looks all so amazing!

Claire May 14, 2008 at 5:47 pm

I am longing for Japan as I look through your amazing pictures. Just seeing the vending machines makes me want to go back. I lived there for two years and I’d go back in a heartbeat!

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