Japanese Green and Herbal Teas

Japanese traditional green and herbal teas

Below are links to various posts on our site on

  • How to brew popular Japanese green teas such as sencha, matcha, hojicha and genmaicha
  • Tips on how to choose green teas, aromas, flavor and caffeine content
  • Guides on benefits of Japanese herbal teas such as loquat leaves tea (biwa cha) and artemisia princeps (yomogi cha)
  • Other tips such as why you should use good water and a non-reactive kettle
  • and more

Japanese Green Tea Selection Guide

Comprehensive post on flavors, caffeine content and how-to-brew tips for popular teas such as Sencha, Hojicha, Genmaicha and more.Comprehensive post on flavor, aroma, caffeine content and how-to-brew tips for popular Japanese teas such as Sencha, Hojicha and Genmaicha… Go to post →


Health Benefits of Green Tea

the way green teas are produced makes them have superior health benefits compared to other types of teasThe unfermented way green teas are produced compared to other teas helps preserve tea’s remarkable health benefits… Go to post →


How to Brew Japanese Herbal Teas: Traditional Senjiru Method

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Senjiru is a time-tested, easy Japanese technique for brewing herbal teasTime-tested, easy Japanese technique which yields maximum goodness locked deep in leaves and delivers the optimum aroma, flavor and color… Go to post →


How to Brew a Perfect Cup of Sencha

Sencha-50pxSencha is undoubtedly the most popular tea in Japan, and is considered to be one of the most aromatic and delicious of all green teas… Go to post →


Kamairicha: A Subtle, Sophisticated Green Tea

kamairi-cha-50Rare even in Japan, and more so in the west. If you are looking to intrigue your palate and expand your tea experience, this tea is for you… Go to post →


How to Brew Hojicha, Genmaicha, Bancha and Konacha

Hojicha, Genmaicha, Bancha and Konacha are among the easiest to prepare and delicious Japanese green teas.Among the easiest to prepare Japanese green teas. They yield their best flavor when brewed for a couple of minutes with near boiling temperature water… Go to post →


How to Make Loquat Leaves Tea (Biwa Cha)

Biwa Cha is a Japanese herbal tea from leaves of Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) native to south JapanMild and pleasant traditional tea, with numerous health benefits. It is quick and easy to prepare at home and you can serve it hot or cold… Go to post →


Traditional Japanese Cold Remedy

Japanese make a syrupy, sweet beverage called "kuzuyu" for prevention and treatment of common colds.Japanese make a sweet beverage from roots of Kuzu (Kudzu), the Arrowroot plant, to help relieve sore throats and for prevention of common colds… Go to post →

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Irises, Yomogi and Traditions of May

The deeply-hued, passionate ayame irises are an unmistakable sign of spring and early summer. Their vivid color and bold beauty have inspired poets, artists and kimono makers for generations.

It’s early May. The Japanese countryside is blanketed with some of the most beloved symbols of Japanese spring: passionate irises and yomogi, the Japanese “wonder herb”.

The love affair with irises and yomogi runs deep in Japan’s national psyche, weaving a fascinating tale going back to the 7th century, when Japan was ruled by empress Suiko, its first female monarch.

Traditions of May

gathering-yomogi-kusurigariAccording to the official Chronicles of Japan (Nihon Shoki, 720 AD), Empress Suiko, an avid fan of nature and its gifts decreed the 5th day of the 5th month of every year to be the public day for collecting wild irises and yomogi leaves.

On this day, a royal expedition was held and the public was encouraged to make time to visit the countryside. The day is known as Medicine Hunt (kusuri-gari).

On 5th of May Japanese prepare a bath with iris leaves (called Shoubu-yu) for children to promote good health and to ward-off evil.The tradition is still in practice today, and in early May Japanese display decorations made from iris and yomogi leaves (kusudama, medicine potpourri).

To this day, on 5th of May Japanese prepare a bath with shōbu iris leaves (shōbu-yu) for children to promote good health and to ward-off evil.

Iris and yomogi leaves are bunched together hung at entrances and under the eaves of homes to drive away evil spirits. The practice is called noki-shōbu.

Shōbu, also known as sweet flag, belongs to a family of plants called Acoraceae and is loved for its fragrant roots and leaves

Also in May, iris and yomogi leaves are bunched together hung at entrances and under the eaves of homes to drive away evil spirits. The practice is called noki-shōbu.

About Yomogi

Yomogi, the Japanese mugwort, is a member of the chrysanthemum family of plants. It’ scientifically classified as Artemisia princeps.

Yomogi (Artemisia princeps, the Japanese mugwort) is a member of the chrysanthemum family of plants.

A sumptuous Japanese tradition on May 5th (officially celebrated at present as the Children’s Day) is to prepare a special treat called kashiwa-mochi, made from yomogi flavored rice cakes with sweet azuki beans wrapped in oak leaves.

Yomogi, with its immense health benefits, is known as the “Japanese wonder herb”. Besides culinary uses, it is also used to make a soothing herbal tea (yomogi cha), in herbal bath preparations (yomogi yu) and for making soap (yomogi sekken). Yomogi leaves extract is widely used in skincare cosmetics and age-spot treatments.

About Japanese Irises

Japanese irises come in three distinct species: Ayame, Kakitsubata and Hanashōbu

Ayame – Long, erect, narrow leaves and bearing purple, blue, red and occasionally white flowers. The deeply-hued, passionate ayame irises are an unmistakable sign of spring and early summer.

Ayame iris - Long, erect, narrow leaves and bearing purple, blue, red and occasionally white flowers.Kakitsubata – Erect, sword-shaped leaves and rich purple flowers. Their vivid color and bold beauty have inspired poets, artists and kimono makers for generations.

kakitsubata Japanese iris, erect, sword-shaped leaves and rich purple flowers. Hanashōbu – Widely cultivated as an ornamental plant. Native to Japanese wetlands. Also known as Japanese water iris.

hanashobu iris: Long, aromatic, sword-shaped leaves and fragrant roots.

Tale of Power and Grace

The love affair with irises and yomogi runs deep in the Japanese psyche, weaving a fascinating tale going back to the 6th century, when Japan was ruled by Empress Suiko, the powerful first female monarch of Japan.Empress Suiko (Suiko-tennō), was a gentle woman who prized humility and shunned greed.

She began her reign in year 593 A.D. in a critical time when Japan faced the prospect of civil war.

A devout Buddhist, she enacted Japan’s first constitution. This remarkable 17-article document codified statements such as “The path of a Minister is to turn away from that which is private, and to set face toward that which is public” and “Decisions on important matters should not be made by one person alone.”

Almost 1,500 years on, Empress Suiko is remembered fondly and celebrated in parades to this day as a beautiful and graceful monarch. Empress Suiko ruled for 35 years. She is credited for transforming Japan into a land of harmony and culture as it’s classically known today.

Almost 1,400 years on, she is still remembered fondly and celebrated in annual parades as a beautiful and graceful monarch.

 

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The Legend of Satsue Mito In Memoriam

Satsue Mito in Kojma, MiyazakiApril 7th will mark the 102nd birthday of Satsue Mito.

Mito-sensei, as everybody lovingly called her, was a gentle woman. And like Dian Fossey, she is one of the greatest primatologists the world has ever known.

Early Life

Mito-sensei was born in Hiroshima in 1914. She married in 1934 and moved to Korea where they had three daughters.

Her husband died of a sudden illness in 1940. World War II was raging at time, and life was not easy. At 26 years of age, she took her daughters and went to Dalian, China where she found work as a school teacher.

The war ended in 1945 and Dalian was occupied by the Russians. Barely surviving and longing for home, Mito-sensei took her daughters and moved back to Hiroshima in 1947.

And then things went from bad to worse.

Story of Survival

I had the good fortune on meeting Mito-sensei in 2007, when I took a group visiting Miyazaki to her house, walking distance away from Kōjima island in southern Miyazaki.

Mito sensei in her house

She gave us a tour of the island and her amazing workshop, chock-full of books and a station where she administered urgent care to monkeys in need of medical attention.

It was there that she told us about her amazing life story.

1947 Hirsohima was nothing like she had ever known. The city had been obliterated by nuclear bombing and there was wide-spread misery.

People told her to move as far south as she could. Mito-sensei packed her meager belongings, took hare daughters and left for the relative safety of south Kyushu where she got a little place next to the tiny Kōjima island.

Kōjima Primates

Mito sensei in 1948 feeding kojima Nihonzaru monkeyKōjima, since the time anybody could remember, had been populated by a species of monkeys called Nihon-zaru (Japanese macaque).

The island was declared protected by the government in 1934. However, during the war most of the monkey population was wiped out by people hunting for food.

The few remaining ones looked miserable. They were all in poor health and in imminent danger of extinction.

The sight of the desperate monkeys was too much for Mito-sensei to bear. She began to care for them, shared what little food she had and nursed the sick ones back to health in her humble adobe.

Little by little, things got better, and the monkey population bounced back.

By 2007, she told me there were about 400 monkeys on the island, the maximum the island’s ecology would naturally sustain.

And she know every single one of them by name!

Academic Life

Mito-sensei dedicated her life to her (as she called them) monkeys. Her research and publications have made enormous contributions to the science of primatology.

She has published several books and closely cooperated with the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University. Her work is heavily cited by the researchers in the field (see a few references below).

We miss Mito-sensei; so do the grateful primates of Kōjima, I’m sure.

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Kumquat Preserve with Kudzu Syrup

Kinkan kumquat preserve with kudzu syrup

Here is a recipe for making a delightful preserve using whole Kumquats and a delicious Kudzu syrup.

As an added benefit, they both are used in traditional medicine to soothe coughs, sore throats and common colds.

About Kumquats

Kumquats are a member of the citrus family. Their scientific name is Citrus japonica. In Japan they are called kinkan (金柑, literally “golden citrus”).

They are a favorite in winter and early spring when they are considered to be in shun (you can read more about shun and importance of seasonality in the Japanese diet here).

Kumquats are small (the size of a big olive), fleshy, delicious, sweet and yet tangy.

What makes them unique is that you eat them along with their thin rind (skin), which is packed with essential oils and anti-oxidants.

Ingredients :

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Kumquats: 2kg (4 1/2 LB)
Cane sugar: 800g (1 3/4 LB)
Water: 1 cup
Lemon juice: 1 tablespoon
Kudzu powder: 2 tablespoon

How to Prepare:

  1. poke holes in kinkanWash Kumquats. Remove stem-ends and poke a few holes with a toothpick.
  2. Soak Kumquats in a large pan. Heat to just before boiling over medium heat. Drain.
  3. Mix water and cane sugar in a pan.
  4. Add Kumquats and lemon juice into the pan and cook over medium-low heat for about 20-30 minutes. Add Kudzu (dissolved with 2tbs water) and mix VERY gently just before you turn off the heat. DO NOT boil!
  5. Let the pan cool down.
  6. Sterilize your favorite jars and lids
  7. Gently scoop out Kumquats and syrup into sterilized jars. Keep one jar for just the syrup.

Tips:

Do not use high heat. If you heat Kumquats rapidly, their inside will expand and break (more like explode!) the skin.

After you transfer Kumquats and syrup into jars, close the lids and boil the jars in a big pan so that air will escape from the jars and you can keep the jars for a longer period.

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A Moment of Serenity in Midst of Busy Affairs

Incense and a moment of serenityAppreciating aroma of incense is a classical Japanese art form called Kōdō (the Way of Aroma), codified in 15th century in a set of ten principles (see below). “Brings a moment of serenity in midst of busy affairs” is the sixth principle of Kōdō.

Having a moment of serenity is more than a respite. Serenity soothes the mind. It also clarifies and helps one see things as they are. Serenity provides mental clarity, and allows insights to emerge.

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Traditional Japanese incenses are distinctly subtle and mild. They do not have a perfumy character and are made from natural materials without using chemicals or harmful fillers or binders.

Ten Virtues of Aroma

Ten Virtues of AromaKōdō, the Way of Aroma
Muromachi period (15th century)

  • Opens a window onto beyond material existence
  • Refines body and soul
  • Purifies surroundings
  • Keeps one alert
  • Is a companion in solitude
  • Brings a moment of serenity in midst of busy affairs
  • When plentiful, one never grows tired of it
  • Satisfies even when there is little
  • Soothes young and old alike
  • Does no harm when used every day

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Roasted Petite Black Soybean Tea Cake

Here is a recipe for a quick and easy cake using wholesome petite black soybeans and pancake mix.

Roasted Petite Black Soybean Tea CakeI recommend using unrefined sugar. I use good quality vegetable oil instead of butter.

For the batter, I use whole-wheat pancake mix. You can also try using a gluten-free mix available off-the-shelf in most markets.

About Petite Black Soybeans

Petite black soybeans are a flavorful and nutritious variety of the soy family.

Roasted Petite Black SoybeanTheir dark skin color is due to Anthocyanin, the same antioxidant which gives the deep, dark color to red wine and pomegranates.

They contain 2 times the polyphenol content of regular black soybeans and 5 times more compared to the yellow variety.


Ingredients

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Brown sugar: 3 Tablespoons
Vegetable oil: 2 Tablespoons
Egg: 1
Roasted petite black soybeans: 2 Tablespoons
Whole-wheat pancake mix: 200g (about 2 cups)
Cinnamon powder: 1/4 teaspoon

How to Prepare

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C (355°F).
  2. Add 2 tablespoons of roasted petite black soybeans to a teapot. Pour 2 cups boiling hot water. Let the tea brew for 10 minutes.
  3. Set 4 tablespoons of the tea aside and let it cool down (enjoy drinking the rest of the tea while preparing this recipe!)
  4. Take out all the beans from your tea and chop (coarse).
  5. Line your favorite baking pan or mold with parchment paper.
  6. Using a whisk, mix egg, brown sugar and vegetable oil in a bowl until the mixture is smooth.
  7. Add the 4 tablespoons of tea, the chopped beans and cinnamon to the mixture and stir. Add the pancake mix. Mix lightly.
  8. Pour the mixture into the pan. Bake for 30 minutes at 180°C (355°F) in the preheated oven. To check, insert a skewer into the cake; if it comes out clean, then it’s done!
  9. Remove from oven and unmold. Let cool on a rack and serve.

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Traditions and New Year Wishes

Japanese ladies and Ema wishing plaques

New year in Japan is filled with a variety of traditional activities. The picture above shows shrine visitors during the very first visit of their favorite shrine in the new year (called hatsumōde), in front of a display of colorful wooden wishing plaques, called Ema.

Ema wishing plaquesThe Eclectic ‘Ema’

These colorful plaques are made from flat pieces of wood in a variety of shapes and sizes.

They are decorated on one side with an eclectic range of images of things such as animals, flowers or symbols of the particular shrine they come from.

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Japanes children and Ema wishing plaqueThe back of an Ema is left blank. This is where people of all ages write their wishes and make drawings before hanging it on a special wall in the shrine.

Origin

The Ema tradition goes back a long time, though its origin is somewhat unclear.

The ones that look like what we have today have been around since the 14th century Muromachi period, but the custom itself has been around in various forms since the 8th century Nara period.

Final Journey

Ema wishing plaques and sacred pyreOnce an Ema is complete with its owner’s wishes, it is left where it is placed until collected by the shrine priests on a special day (usually once or twice a year) and burned in a sacred pyre for its final journey to the heavens.

 

 

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Winter is Half Over! Heralding Spring's Arrival in January

 

Winter-is-half-gone

A typical Japanese New Year greeting goes like this: I humbly congratulate you in this early spring (Hatsu-haru no o-yorokobi o mōshiagemasu).

Japanese New-Year Card

Typical Japanese New Year card referring to January 1st as “early spring” (hatsuharu).

Seeing the Glass Half Full

Thinking of January as early spring seems a bit counterintuitive, but the logic is simple: Continue reading

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Crustless Japanese Pumpkin Pie With Kudzu Root Powder

Japanese Kabocha pieHere is a low-calorie, gluten-free recipe for an alternative to western pumpkin pie using Kabocha (“Japanese pumpkin”, available in most supermarkets) and Kudzu root powder (instead of flour).

Serve as is, or sprinkle with your favorite toppings such as roasted almonds, pecans, chestnuts or sesame seeds (as commonly done in Japan). Goes particularly well served with Japanese green teas.

Mold for crustless Japanese pumpkin pieYou can prepare the recipe in about 20 minutes. There is no baking involved. Continue reading

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When Myth Becomes Reality

Japanese girls with kimono at the procession

Japanese mythological storytelling often weaves tales of great gods and goddesses with real-life historical events which people can relate to.

Perhaps because of this reason, celebrations of Japanese myths and legends have always been a part of everyday life, and young and old alike eagerly anticipate their arrival every year. Continue reading

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