Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Green Tea-A-Thon

The longer I live here, the more that I find that the Japanese take pleasure in the small, simple things. It's so contrary to life in America (double cheese, please, and slam that burger into a sack with fries), but in a way, it's an easy lifestyle to get used to. The pace is slower and the focus is on simple things.

I'm afraid there aren't enough words to really describe this experience, but a few weeks ago a friend and I went pottery shopping for two days on Kyushu. (Neither of us had a particular interest in pottery in the States, but they have amazing pottery in Japan, and kilns on Kyushu make a very delicate type of hand-painted porcelain pottery that I love.) We found (God knows how) this area in the city of Arita that had 24 pottery shops in a row and spent HOURS AND HOURS running in and out of stores, making trips back to the car with hands full of bags, and then running back into the shops to start over. The problem was as soon as you start hanging around for a while, the shop owners would bring out the green tea surprise and show that unmatched Japanese kindness. I don't know if it happens because we're foreigners or what. Sometimes we would make big purchases and it happened, but other times, we would just be hanging around and pretty soon -- the tea comes out.

So here's the deal: I HATE tea. I hate coffee and tea, especially green tea, but any kind of tea. I hate it, hate it, hate it. I always have. I don't understand how anyone can even take one sip without barfing. Hate. I also can't drink anything remotely hot. It's a big deal. But you could NEVER refuse the green tea, so I never did. And in the six or so hours we spent in that area, I had FIVE tea ceremonies. (This one, pictured above, included tiny treats as well. They also tasted like barf.) I met maybe 50 people that day and only one spoke English, so after determining that they couldn't understand, I would say, dripping with sarcasm, "Oh my God, it's more green tea" and then "Arigato Gozaimasu" (thank you very much) or "Aren't I lucky, it's my favorite drink!"

About half way through they day, I asked my friend about his strategy, because he had managed to escape tea time at almost every store. He said that as soon as he heard the dishes clanking together (as they prepared the tea in the back room), he would get the heck out of the store before the owner materialized with that green poison. He's a very sharp guy. I tried this several times afterward, but remember -- I was in pottery shops. So as soon as I started really listening for it, I heard dishes being rustled around every five seconds. I ended up feeling so sick from all that green tea on an empty stomach that I'd hear the "clink - clink" of cup and plate and lunge for the door, only to discover it was a customer just perusing the display in the aisle next to me. This sent us into fits of laughter. What a great time. Ten times a day in Japan fun or crazy things happen that are hard to translate. The green tea-a-thon was just one.

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