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Nijo Castle, Osaka


“The Castle where it all happens ”

Our first stop was a perfect introduction to Japan’s rich history. It’s everything you would imagine of a 400 year old castle; a moat, stonewalls, watchtowers, beautiful gardens, and sprawling palace. Yet each castle has its own unique design and historical relevance. Nijo Castle was built by and was the Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa Shogunate and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

With the last name “Tokugawa” it is no surprise that my sisters and I would joke about our family having castles all over Japan. Now within the outer wall of Nijojo I am walking the peaceful garden imagining what it would have been like in the 1600s to attend court here with “my ancestors”. And would they have imagined that 400 years later tons of tourists would come from all over the world to learn about their reign and fall.

We scurry along with the herd into Ninomaru-goten Palace. With shoes off you can feel the draft of the old structure. The smell of tatami mats and aging wood adds to the ambience as the floors chirps below our feet, in what is called the Nightingale Corridor. No pictures are allowed nor could any really capture the beauty of the carvings and paintings that covered every inch of the palace, from the ornate coffered ceilings to door knobs, not one detail overlooked.

Kris was drawn to the huge openwork carvings in the third room, each from a single piece of 35cm thick cypress with a different scene viewed from each side. My eyes sought out all the gold embellishments and tassels, each of the 33 rooms were slightly different and meaningful to the room’s intention. The Ohiroma room depicted an official audience with figurines representing different clans sitting on their heels. The different levels of the floor show their hierarchy and give respect to those above. While even at the top the figure was kneeled in respect and compassion to his audience.

As an Asian-American, learning Japanese traditions from your parents and grandparents doesn’t always open your eyes to the larger picture of why we do some of the things we do. It is at this castle that I start to see history and tradition leak into the core beliefs of modern Japanese people.

San Francisco to Dali via Beijing/Kunming



We begin our journey in business class on Air China. This is an Star Alliance partner with United, the carrier we most often use, but this time the schedule with Air China and the connections we needed to make was going to save us considerable time and so we opted to book both international and all of our domestic flights on Air China. Unfortunately the particular plane making the SFO to PEK route was part passage and part cargo plane. The seats which appeared to recline actually require your feet to be tucked under the seat in front and never elevated above your shin making for a long and uncomfortable flight. The domestic flights were fine, none over 2 hours and those were all first class, however the return was even worse than going. It started with Air China cancelling the flight from Hangzhou to Beijing which meant we could not make our international connection on the scheduled day. They said “due to weather” however other airlines were making the route, they in fact attempted to put us on one only to realize we would not have enough time to collect baggage and recheck on their international flight, so we spent 2 days and nights in the airports of first Hangzhou and then Beijing. They did move us from business to first class, however this time the plane was also a cargo/passenger and this one so OLD first class did not recline more than an easy chair and it was over 100 degrees in the cabin for the first 2 or 3 hours and never did cool down to the point of wanting to use the blankets. We were in the upstairs section however downstairs was nearly as hot. To add to the unpleasant circumstances, I swear there was smoking occurring in the cockpit, when I asked the flight attendant she immediately said “oh NO smoking is not allowed, let me check” she never again returned to our seats to update us.  Until such time as the planes are updated and I can be SURE we are not flying a cargo plane on this 11-12 hour flight, we will stick with a less appealing schedule and stay with United. OK so much for the airline review –                                                                on to the Tea Journey!

We land in Beijing with 3 hours to make a connection to Kunming which ended up to be 2 hours late and so we arrived in Kuming at 2:00 AM. Nice NEW airport, however HUGE and not totally finished so once there we needed to walk from gate 69 (I THINK the very last gate) to the exit which took 45 minutes. There we had a car and guide waiting patiently to whisk us to the hotel where we would check in, spend 8 hours before checking out to take yet another flight to Dali where the real journey was to begin.

It was raining on and off and the sky gave you a feeling of being so small as we explored this gorgeous Buddhist Temple. Notice the magical blue sky just above the middle of the Temple.

In the photo you are seeing three pagodas which are survivors of 1200 years of earthquakes and wars, now a sublime symbol of the City of Dali!

Visit to Coedo Brewery


We were invited by Mr. Kohei Harada, head of foreign distribution for Coedo Brewery in Saitama (30 min. north of Tokyo by train). It was a Sunday morning and the brewery was closed so he picked us up at the train station. We drove for about 15 minutes through the countryside. The brewery was newly remodel and equipped with all stainless steel modern brewery machinery. there were walkways that you could see into the production areas see each part of the brewing process. I would recommend the tour.
But first we were taken to the board room with the walls filled with awards from international competitions. Very impressive.
At the end of the tour, he presented us with all kinds of promotional item as gift, head bands, t-shirts, bottle openers,etc.. No samples.
But to sample the beer, he drove us about a half hour to the town of Kawagoe, (known as Koedo in the samurai preriod) where every bar, restaurant, store sell Coedo beer. The town is a tourist spot for its original old Japan merchant streets.
we got our taste of the beer and walked along the street packed with Japanese tourist, this is in February.
All in all, about 3 hours, cake and beer for lunch and a train back to Tokyo.

An Article from the Journal of Immunology

For who is really interested in the nuts and bolts of how benifuki tea works to reduce inflammation in the body, this article should make it perfectly clear.

First published in April of 2004 has resurfaced again due to importance of the subject matter.

Title is “O-Methylated Catechins from Tas Leaves Inhibit Multiple Protein Kinases in Mast Cells”

Doesn’t that just perk your interest.

Lijiang, China


Here you can see some of the actual hotel roof tops with the amazing Snow Mountain in the background. The other side of this mountain is where the dramatic Tiger Leaping Gorge and Yangzi rapids cut through the Hengduan Mountains.

The images painted on this bicycle cart are just what the historic Crowne Plaza looks like in Lijiang. The hotel property actually connects to the UNESCO world heritage site and the exterior remains to look as it might have long long ago. This is a “service cart” ready to bring you a Tea stuffed Pillow, a extra towel or more tea for your in room tea service. Of course it is driven by a lovely, helpful and happy person dressed in traditional costume.

 As beautiful as this small town is one doesn’t need to travel far to see and be reminded of the struggles that once were part of daily life along  Tea Horse Caravan Trail.

To to understand just how difficult life was during that time of extreme trade travel.

Today Lijiang is suffering from extreme drought conditions as is much of China and Yunnan Provence in particular. Next you can see the sad condition of what has previously been the Black Dragon Pool Park where Jade Dragon Peak once reflected in the tranquil waters.

However this is a land where people know how to exist. Lijiang is home to many ethnic groups but it is the center of the Naxi or Mosuo people. This is a matriarchal society where marriage doesn’t occur, babies are raised by the mother’s brother and men come to “visit” women in the night and be back in the home of their mother before sunrise.  An isolated society for the most part living in harmony with each other. One elder described this unique family concept as:

Love is without fault

love is nectar in the blossom, salt in the soup

and love brings joy to the world

Today despite some adverse conditions elder Naxi women happily sing together a song that translates to say

“come dance with me, come sing with me, come be happy with me”

Naxi Cultural Matriarchal Ladies

Tourist are introduced to the concepts and shown the costume for the younger matriarchal lady – Men are happy the women have it all under control. . .

kettle cropped

and. . . Together they drink Tea!

Some in the simplest of environments, others in 5 star tea lounges like this one, either way LOTS of Tea!

Tea Room
tea lounge
Pu'er Stacked

Buddha In The Sky

Jan 5, 2020 – We were still a good distance away when I could see just a glimpse of a massive “Buddha” head among the clouds. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it as the car drove the windy road up the mountain in Eastern Kyoto. When we arrived it had just started to sprinkle, our guide offered umbrellas, yet we were all already off exploring, among the amazing view of the city, beautiful garden, and ornate structures.

I was drawn straight to a giant bronze bell suspended in a wooden tower. There was a beam hung perfectly in place, ready to be drawn back and swung to strike the bell. I find bells so interesting with their intricate carvings and the charm of their simplistic function. I wonder if monks would still come upon hearing its chime.

ryozen kannon

Then we turn to see Ryozen Kannon in the distance. After passing through the walls we are given a lit incense stick for an offering. Though the rain had stopped, the looming clouds, incense smoke, and the still pond sitting in front of us felt very overwhelming and spiritual. This is our first time giving an offering as a group. It felt somewhat awkward getting all of the incense into the burner at the foot of the statue, no doubt we look like tourists. 

Now it was time to really behold the 82 foot tall Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, made of steel and concrete. She was unveiled shortly after World War II to commemorate and honor BOTH Japanese and Foreign fallen soldiers, this site has a shrine underneath the statue, a mausoleum and memorial hall.

I know now that a Bodhisattva is not a Buddha, yet someone who is on the path to Buddhahood. Avalokitesvara was given the title “Goddess of Mercy” or Guan Yin for her infinite compassion. I’ve been to shrines and temples before, including the largest Kannon in Taiwan, but none had made me feel such compassion, respect, and safety as with this Kannon watching over us and all enshrined here. It was more than I expected to feel and yet little did I know it was only a slight perspective of what I would take home from my first trip to Japan.

2020 Japan Adventure

group at kodaiji temple

As many of you know, we spend a lot of time in Japan exploring various area in search things that make Japan uniquely Japanese. (what does that mean?) You know what I mean. We would focus on regional specialities, old traditional methods and practices past on for generations, old temples and shrines. But on this trip, the focus was totally different.

Our plans included having our daughter Tai, her husband Kris, our chef Vince and his girl friend Lauren join us in Kyoto for 11 days. Our goal was to immerse them into the taste of Japan. Give them some idea of why we do things a certain way in our restaurant. Get them to recognize what is Japanese and what is not. Very hard for anyone who has never been to Japan. 

Since many of our guests have asked me about the details of this trip, and we can’t all met at the restaurant have a party, I’ve decided to do it in a form of a blog. In the articles to follow, I will have each of the my group to describe a particular event of the trip and what they learned from it. So look for notification of new entries. 

Green Tea effect on Down Syndrome

Green tea seen boosting cognitive ability of people with Down syndrome.

Japan Times NewsA chemical in green tea has been shown to improve cognitive ability in people with Down syndrome, scientists and doctors said Tuesday. In a year-long clinical trial, the treatment led to improved scores on memory and behavior tests, they reported in a study, published in the The Lancet Neurology. The positive impact remained six months after the trial ended.

Brain scans revealed that the compound, called epigallocatechin gallate, altered the way neurons in the brain connect with one another. “This is the first time that a treatment has shown efficacy in the cognitive improvement of persons with this syndrome,” said Mara Dierssen, senior author of the study and a researcher at the Centre for Genomic Regulation in Barcelona, Spain. While significant, she added in a statement, the results should not be interpreted as a “cure.” “But it may be a tool to improve these individuals’ quality of life.” Experts not involved in the study described it as “exciting” and “an important piece of work.”

Japanese Green Tea

Japanese Tea Exporter Association Video

Japanese Green Tea processing is unique in the industry. The Japanese Tea Exporter Association created a video to promote Japanese green tea for the European market. They asked us to narrated it in English.  We translated the script and taped the English narration. This is the resulting video. The video is quite informative.  It shows the unique processing of Japanese green tea.  If you are interested in purchasing Japanese green tea, We at The Taste of Tea have a great selection.

Plight of Assam Tea Workers


The horrible conditions which exist the tea estates of Assam is revealed in a recent documentary from BBC.

BBC logoThe bitter story behind the UK’s national drink

By Justin Rowlatt and Jane Deith

Toilet in Assam Tea EstateSeveral of Britain’s biggest tea brands, including PG Tips, Tetleys and Twinings, have said they will work to improve the tea estates they buy from in India after a BBC investigation found dangerous and degrading living and working conditions.

Harrods has stopped selling some tea products in response, and Rainforest Alliance, the ethical certification organisation, has conceded the investigation has revealed flaws in its audit process.

The joint investigation by Radio 4’s File on Four and BBC News in Assam, north-east India, found workers living in broken houses with terrible sanitation. Many families have no toilets and say they have no choice but to defecate amongst the tea bushes.

Read the entire report, click here.