Tag Archives: Japan

Book: Geisha of Gion

Okay, I’m not just reading education books. Geisha of Gion has been sitting on my desk for a week or more, begging to be read. Yesterday, I finally read it.

Geisha of Gion
Written by the real-life geisha that supposedly inspired the protagonist of the same name in Memoirs of a Geisha. This book is also called, “Geisha, a Life”.

More of a ‘parallel alternative’ than a ‘fierce rebuttal’ to Memoirs.
352 pages, ★★★★

I found this book on Wikipedia while reading about Memoirs of a Geisha. Apparently, according to Wikipedia:

After the Japanese edition of the novel was published, Arthur Golden was sued for breach of contract and defamation of character by Mineko Iwasaki, a retired geisha he had interviewed for background information while writing the novel. The plaintiff asserted that Golden had agreed to protect her anonymity if she told him about her life as a geisha, due to the traditional code of silence about their clients. However, Golden listed Iwasaki as a source in his acknowledgments for the novel, causing her to face a serious backlash, to the point of death threats.[1] In his behalf, Arthur Golden countered that he had tapes of his conversations with Iwasaki.[2] Eventually, in 2003, Golden’s publisher settled with Iwasaki out of court for an undisclosed sum of money.

Iwasaki later went on to write her own autobiography, which shows a very different picture of twentieth-century geisha life than the one shown in Golden’s novel. The book was published as Geisha, a Life[3] in the U.S. and Geisha of Gion in the U.K.

Especially considering the real-life death threats involved, I expected Geisha of Gion to be a feisty, chapter-by-chapter rebuttal to Memoirs of a Geisha (rather like Three Cups of Tea and its rebuttal, Three Cups of Deceit). But it’s not like that at all—there are absolutely zero references to the original book. Instead, it’s a flattering, alternative narrative written with geisha grace. The tone, however, an a few important details have been radically altered.

The main difference between Geisha of Gion and Memoirs of a Geisha is that the former portrays a much more positive light on geisha industry. The author claims that she never had sex as a geisha and that mizuage is not a “ritual deflowering” but merely a “change of hair-style”. She emphasises that the okiya (geisha-house) was almost constantly on the verge of bankruptcy (which destroys any claims that the okiya was making a mint through exploitation).

Mineko describes geishas as high-status entertainers:

We are de facto diplomats who have to be able to communicate with anyone. But this doesn’t mean we are doormats. We are expected to be sharp-witted and insightful. Over time, I learned to express my thoughts and opinions without causing offence to others.

That last sentence is particularly important. In stark contrast to the slightly weak, victimised protagonist in Memoirs of a Geisha, Mineko demonstrates her strength in this book by including stories of how she offended both Prince Charles and the Queen—on separate occasions!

This book’s abnormally high death rate worries me. It’s set mostly in 1970s Japan, renowned for its longevity, but people die at very young ages throughout. Disease is also more common than it should be—is there something dangerous about geisha-hood that this book isn’t telling us?

The truth, not that it matters at all, probably lies somewhere between these two books. I have no idea where; I also don’t care. Just enjoy reading them! ★★★★

 

Book: South of the Border, West of the Sun

South of the Border, West of the Sun
South of the Border, West of the Sun

Boy grows up, explores love and sex but never really ‘gets it’. Poor guy.
213 pages, ★★★★

Protagonist Hajime starts as a 12-year-old boy who’s never kissed or dated anyone. He explores dating, kissing, sex and marriage throughout this book. By the end, he’s in his mid-30s, and married with two daughters.

After finishing school, Hajime spends 12 years wandering around aimlessly in life. He eats alone, relaxes alone, and doesn’t think about marriage. He dates girls, but none of the relationships are long-lasting or meaningful. David Brooks defined this relatively new period of life, the “decade of wandering that frequently occurs between adolescence and adulthood”, as “odyssey” in his book, The Social Animal. Luckily, this period of my life was very short—just a few months—and I can testify that life’s much better once you’re out of it.

But poor Hajime never really gets out of it. Even when married with two daughters, he’s still driving out of town to see his lover, his ex-lover and her cousin… at 30 years of age, his romantic life is a shambles! Everyone’s romantic life is a shambles is at some point, but we’re all supposed to grow out of it. And again, life’s much better when you do.

The ending is a classic Murakami one. Two (then three) characters meet in a miracle of coincidences, seeing each other in separate vehicles at the traffic lights. This also happened at the end of After Dark.

We can learn two things from this novel. First, everyone starts life understanding almost nothing about sex, dating and romantic love. Second, unlike Hajime, we should learn these things and get better with time. Don’t do what Hajime did and waste over a decade, not learning. Poor guy. ★★★★

Book: Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche

Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche
Lungs, subway lines and sarin.

Cult mentality at its worst. An appendix to Cults.
366 pages, ★★★

In March of 1995, agents of a Japanese religious cult attacked the Tokyo subway system with sarin, a gas twenty-six times as deadly as cyanide. Attempting to discover why, Murakami conducted hundreds of interviews with the people involved, from the survivors to the perpetrators to the relatives of those who died, and Underground is their story in their own voices. Concerned with the fundamental issues that led to the attack as well as these personal accounts, Underground is a document of what happened in Tokyo as well as a warning of what could happen anywhere. This is an enthralling and unique work of nonfiction that is timely and vital and as wonderfully executed as Murakami’s brilliant novels.

Underground is divided into two parts. The first, larger part focusses on the victims of the attack and their families. Author Murakami does this because he feels the media focussed too much on the perpetrators, and neglected coverage of the victims.

The second part consists of interviews with cult leaders. His conversations make the fictional cult/gang in 1Q84 very believable.

Translator’s footnotes describe the fate of the attackers throughout Underground. Some of the attackers were sentenced to hard labour, some received the death penalty, and a small number were still awaiting trial.

The line between ‘cults’ and ‘charismatic groups’ is a fine one. Arguably, ‘cults’ are just the products of ‘charismatic groups’ gone awry. They exist in every country and need to be kept in check. This book made me wonder: what if Scientology, with all its resources and influence, were to turn violent?

I recommend Underground for anyone interested in cults, and for all die-hard fans of Haruki Murakami. ★★★

Book: Memoirs of a Geisha

Memoirs of a Geisha
Thanks to bookyish for scanning the front cover.

An uncomfortable, unforgettable, necessary read.
434 pages, ★★★★★

A Japanese-born woman in New York recalls her youth as a geisha in 1930s Japan.

Reading this, though, I learned more about the sex trade than about Japan.

Protagonist Chiyo was taken into an okiya (geisha compound) as a 14-year-old virgin. There, she learned the arts of etiquette and seduction, and was trained to sing, dance, play music, tell stories, pour tea and sake, and entertain rich businessmen and aristocrats. The most valuable skill she learned there was how to endure commodified sex. Her sister, Satsu, was also taken, but promptly sold into prostitution under the new name of Yukiyo. Geishas are, in a way, upper-class equivalents of prostitutes. Both are paid by the hour for entertainment—including sex.

After being given training and kimonos, geishas are bonded to their okiya by unrealistically large ‘debts’, which they must spend many years repaying to their bosses through geisha service. For some, geisha training is a once-in-a-lifetime investment that will make them rich and powerful (by meeting a danna, or sugar-daddy), while for many geishas, it marks the beginning of a downward spiral. In this respect, too, the geisha industry is remarkably similar to the sex trade.

In fact, geisha is written “芸妓” in Japanese, which translates as “artistic prostitute”. Uneducated, uncultured geishas (i.e. prostitutes) can only entertain their clients with sex—because they don’t know how to sing, dance, pour sake or play music.

Protagonist Chiyo leads a successful geisha career. She tries to find a suitable danna in a company that makes electrical appliances. Her successful run begins when a high price is placed on her virginity (as verified by incessant hymen-touching), and she is able to repay her debts to the okiya with ease.

Pleasing male clients is paramount for the geishas. At one point, the okiya boss arranges a meeting between Chiyo and the doctor—a potential suitor—by carefully cutting her with a knife and then sending her to hospital. It paid off: the doctor ultimately purchased her mizuage (virginity).

I see glamour in politicians racing to please millions of voters, or in celebrities frolicking around to attract millions of fans. But for some reason, I feel sadness in seeing geishas cater to the irrational whims of one person. I find the idea of a “VIP celebrity” industry quite disturbing. Admittedly, this conclusion is based on gut instinct and not on logic.

There are 50 characters in this book, many of whose beautiful names are lost in translation. Women’s names which mean “Bean Leaves” and “Little Lily” in Japanese are stripped of all meaning when transliterated as “Sayuri” and “Mahema” in this book. The original Japanese version is probably more beautiful than the English one. I can’t read Japanese, but I’d like to see the original Japanese names to complement the English.

The geisha industry is shaken upside-down when Japan loses the war in August 1945. Okiya are dismantled and many geishas are sent to work on production lines, where the struggles of geishahood pale in comparison:

“Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper” — final sentence

I recommend Memoirs of a Geisha for anyone who loves Japan, and for anyone who doesn’t know much about the sex trade. Not all geishas are glamorous, and not all prostitution is tragic; there are debatable ethical boundaries between the two, which I’m not even going to attempt to discuss here. The ethical debate becomes even more complex when you substitute sake (in this book) for the modern substance-of-choice, cocaine. Memoirs of a Geisha certainly makes you think. ★★★

Book: After Dark

After Dark
A hooker.

Dark, deeply descriptive account of one eventful night in Tokyo.
256 pages,
★★★★★

At its center are two sisters—Eri, a fashion model slumbering her way into oblivion, and Mari, a young student soon led from solitary reading at an anonymous Denny’s toward people whose lives are radically alien to her own: a jazz trombonist who claims they’ve met before, a burly female “love hotel” manager and her maid staff, and a Chinese prostitute savagely brutalized by a businessman. These “night people” are haunted by secrets and needs that draw them together more powerfully than the differing circumstances that might keep them apart, and it soon becomes clear that Eri’s slumber—mysteriously tied to the businessman plagued by the mark of his crime—will either restore or annihilate her.

Murakami’s thriller After Dark is similar to his epic 1Q84 trilogy. Both books have a small number of characters, are slightly surreal, and both are set in Tokyo. Both After Dark and 1Q84 are highly addictive reads.

After Dark goes further than 1Q84 in one respect. In 1Q84, Murakami writes that good authors “omit description of the familiar”. The gun in 1Q84 was only described in great detail because, according to Murakami, “it is going to be fired”. After Dark, However, is different—every minute details is given excessive description—the wrinkles on someone’s face, the texture of a paper coffee cup, the lyrics playing in 7-Eleven. I like this slowed-down version of time that After Dark‘s excessive description creates. Amidst chaos, the reader (and Eri, who is sleeping somewhere in suburbia) are the only two people who have time to appreciate fine details in this hectic, dystopian novel.

We see detail from every angle. When a prostitute has been hurt by a client, we learn all about that client and his job, his actions and his alibi for that night, even his relationship with his wife. Murakami writes explicitly that the reader’s perspective is “a camera, observing momentarily from each of many different angles”. After Dark‘s tangled plot would take any of its characters years to unravel, but our ‘magic camera’ perspective is granted access to all angles, to every missed encounter, and sees all the coincidences in the story. All the book’s characters, meanwhile, are blissfully oblivious.

After Dark Character Map
After Dark Character Map. Click to enlarge.

I love this book. It’s one of few short novels to rival 1Q84 in quality. I recommend After Dark for anyone who loves being gripped by fiction. ★★★★★

Book: Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood
The most beautiful of many available covers

Being 17 with serene clarity.
389 pages, ★★★★★

Norwegian Wood summarises adolescence with a clarity that no 17-year-old possesses. We follow Protagonist Tora Wantanbe and his closest friends as they feel love, unrequited love, sex, death, promiscuity, mental illness and heartbreak, with naïvety and bewilderment, for the first time. Like these characters, I saw all of the above, and can testify that at 17, that’s a lot to take in.

I had no idea what was going on when I was 17. At least these characters at least seem to understand it all a bit better than I did. Having their hot-headed stories told by a highly articulate adult (Murakami) makes all their teenage shenanigans seem smooth, painless and futile. Of course, it certainly didn’t seem that way at the time.

As always with Haruki Murakami, the novel has beautiful sex scenes. Unlike The Time Traveler’s Wife or Fifty Shades of Grey, whose ugly sex scenes tarnish the whole book, I find the sex in Murakami’s books very agreeable.

Here’s the character map I made for this simple novel:

Norwegian Wood Character Map
Click to enlarge.

It’s a gripping book and I read it all in one sitting. Starting with 1Q84, I think I’ve discovered my first favourite author. I absolutely love Murakami’s writing! ★★★★★

Book: Red Sorghum

Red Sorghum
Red with Communism, Nationalism, rage, energy, Japanese soldiers and blood.

Flashbacks of a township’s brutal Japanese occupation.
359 pages, ★★★★

China descended into a civil war in the 1920s. While China was divided and weak, Japan invaded during the 1930s, and brutally occupied some of the eastern regions. Pillage, burning, rape, torture and murder were commonplace during this dark chapter of Chinese history. In Nanjing, some 300,000 people were massacred within just a few days (an act which the Japanese, to this day, still do not acknowledge). Japanese forces retreated from China after the two nuclear bombs that ended the Second World War, which allowed China to focus all its energy on national re-unification (which was easier now the Nationalist Party had been weakened). China’s response to the Japanese invasion thus helped to end the civil war, to unify China under the Communist Party, and gave China a revived impetus to rejuvenate itself as a People’s Republic in 1949, which still exists today.

Red Sorghum is told as a series of flashbacks from this dark period of Chinese history. Like real flashbacks, they’re not recalled in chronological order, but as disconnected fragments that sometimes overlap in time. Characters thus seem to die then re-appear, then die again from another perspective, as time jumps back and forth.

More than half of the characters die by the end, most of whom are murdered by Japanese soldiers. Many of them are tortured before they’re killed, and the book contains vivid descriptions of rape, of body parts being cut off, of people being skinned alive, and of people being mutilated by bayonets and bullets.

At one point, Japanese soldiers destroy the entire village. Only six survivors remain (in the story, at least), and they pick up Japanese weapons and continue to fight to the death.
The Chinese patriotism and historic realism in Red Sorghum helped this book to become a best-selling modern classic in China.

The Japan/China struggle is echoed in the courtroom. On page 117, Magistrate Cao decides who has custody of a chicken—Wu the 3rd, or a “woman” (we never learn her name). Magistrate Cao demands the chicken’s stomach be slit open to see who’d been feeding it which type of grain. Wu the 3rd obeys Magistrate Cao and slices open the innocent chicken to prove he owns it—a harrowing echo of the Japanese treatment of the Chinese. In my opinion, the Magistrate’s verdict—to award the chicken to the “woman”—was based on the temperaments of the two defendants (one brutal, like the Japanese; and one kind, like the Chinese), and ignored the evidence, spilled out on the courtroom floor, entirely.

Red Sorghum is Mo Yan’s darkest book. It’s realistic, though, and should be compulsory reading for anyone who wants to understand modern Chinese history. However realistic it might be, a book this bloodthirsty could only earn four stars from me. ★★★★

Book: After the Quake

After the Quake
Available in a multitude of covers

Disappointingly disconnected, slightly bizarre short stories.
147 pages, ★★

In 1995, an earthquake in a prosperous Japanese city left only spiritual rubble. This story documents people’s reactions immediately following the quake. One woman leaves her husband, and one man accepts a mysterious delivery job. Most of the characters have either lost something, or are looking for something, in the vaguest sense.

Aside from that, unless I go into some philosophical over-think, the characters in these short stories have nothing in common. They also never meet each other. The final story then becomes surreal when it introduces a giant frog character, which unlike the fantasy elements of 1Q84, is neither spiritual nor meaningful.

After the Quake feels like a work-in-progress, a rough sketch, an EP. I am still confident that Murakami’s best works are yet to be found, and I’ll keep looking. ★★

Book: 1Q84 (Volumes I, II & III)

1Q84
The cover consists of three partially-transparent pages, which elude to the bizarre, multi-layered, quasi-real world of 1Q84.

The most gripping book I’ve ever read.
926 pages, ★★★★★

The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo. A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.

As Aomame’s and Tengo’s narratives converge over the course of this single year, we learn of the profound and tangled connections that bind them ever closer: a beautiful, dyslexic teenage girl with a unique vision; a mysterious religious cult that instigated a shoot-out with the metropolitan police; a reclusive, wealthy dowager who runs a shelter for abused women; a hideously ugly private investigator; a mild-mannered yet ruthlessly efficient bodyguard; and a peculiarly insistent television-fee collector.

A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s—1Q84 is Haruki Murakami’s most ambitious undertaking yet: an instant best seller in his native Japan, and a tremendous feat of imagination from one of our most revered contemporary writers.

1Q84 is unmistakably Japanese. It’s laced with assassins, quasi-religious cult leaders, underage sex and kidnapping. This bizarre (yet real) world is made even stranger when some of the characters are shifted into an alternate world—subtly different from the real world—called 1Q84.

Aomame (青豆) leaves 1984 and enters 1Q84 when she walks down the emergency stairway of a Metropolitan Expressway. She notices nothing at the time, but throughout the first few hundred pages, the reader (and Aomame) slowly realise that something isn’t right. Police uniforms have changed; a logo on a billboards is the wrong way around; and the stairway by which she entered this alternate world no longer exists. She doesn’t recall major news events, such as an unforgettable murder, or that the US and the USSR are co-operating to build a base on the moon.

In addition, on page 610, Aomame describes 1Q84 is an “…unreasonable world where there are two moons in the sky, one large, one small, where something called the Little People control the destiny of others—what meaning could it have anyway?”

The Little People, introduced slowly, will become increasingly important.

Pages 440 to 610 were the most exciting. Aomame acquires a loaded gun, and intends to use it, and Tengo (in a separate storyline) has sex. This entire 170-page section is constantly tense and revelatory. The plot twists, and we realise the world is entirely different, and more connected, than we were led to believe. Everything clicks into place.

Imagine the thrilling feeling of the 2-minute Changeover scene in Fight Club, maintained for 170 pages. I’ve never been so gripped by a book before. Haruki Murakami is a genius.

Despite the alternate-world, telekinesis, double-moon fantasy world in which most of the story takes place, there are some repeated reminders that everyday life is still happening in 1Q84: a rubber plant (on Aomame’s old balcony), her breasts (being small and of different sizes) and the NHK fee-collectors (knocking furiously at people’s doors) are mentioned briefly, throughout the story dozens of times.

From the furthest perspective, 1Q84 is a book about two childhood lovers (Aomame and Tengo) being pulled closer together via alternate worlds and some highly unforgettable characters. Maybe the Little People pulled them together? ★★★★★

Green tea: Chinese Sencha

Chinese Sencha

Tastes like burned raspberries. Nothing like Sencha at all.
Green tea » Japanese » Sun-grown, ★★
Also known as: 中国煎茶 or, misleadingly, ‘Sencha’

This tea is a (cheaper) Chinese version of the Japanese classic, Sencha.

Japanese Sencha is wonderful. I gave it five stars and described it as, “Light, refreshing and minty-cool.” Unfortunately, this Chinese imitation is incomparable with the real deal.

First, the leaf is too yellow. It looks more like it’s been roasted than steamed. This is backed up by the lack of a light, vegetal flavour when you drink it—instead, I get a thick, smooth, berry flavour in my mouth. It’s drinkable, but it’s not Sencha.

Secondly, this tea has unpleasant burned undertones. This may have arisen during the steaming process, when the tiniest leaves (which are actually just powder) fall through and touch something hot. Dust from inside the steamer might then have been swept into the tea.

I brewed this tea at 66 °C and it still tasted too much of tannin. I didn’t enjoy this tea, but I did learn the importance of terroir by drinking it. I love Sencha, and you probably will too, as long as you get the real deal from Japan. Never buy Chinese Sencha. ★★

 

Green tea: Japanese Sencha

Japanese Sencha

Light, refreshing and minty-cool.
Green tea » Japanese » Sun-grown, ★★★
Also known as: 煎茶, Super Sencha

Sencha, or 煎茶 (literally “steamed tea”) constitutes 80% of the tea drunk in Japan. That’s understandable—it’s a very good, yet moderately-priced tea that’s uncomplicated enough for everyday consumption.

The warm, kelpy flavour we’d expect of a steamed, Japanese tea is masked in this by a unique minty flavour. The result is cool and refreshing, not warm and vegetal.

Compare this tea with Chinese-grown Sencha (to be reviewed tomorrow) to see the difference terroir makes to a tea.

Like millions of Japanese, you could make this your everyday green tea. ★★★★★

 

Green tea: Organic Genmaicha with Matcha

Organic Sencha Sprinkles

Toy!
Green tea » Japanese » Shade-Grown, ★★★★
Also known as: 抹茶入り玄米茶, Organic Sencha Sprinkles

Genmaicha with Matcha is actually three products mixed together:

  1. Sencha (煎茶) — a steamed Japanese tea with a fresh seaweed flavour
  2. Dry rice (干米) — gives a roasted, nutty, popcorn flavour which dominates the brew (these first two ingredients together constitute Genmaicha).
  3. Matcha (抹茶) — powdered Gyokuro, which gives a cloudy, sweet, invigorating dew-like infusion that’s extremely nutritious. I love Matcha!

The first brew is fluorescent green and tastes of Matcha (sweet dew). The powder then washes off the bright green rice pieces almost immediately, revealing their natural brown colour—you’ll also see them puff up as they absorb water.

The second brew is less sweet and more kelpy. The brew looks a little less cloudy, but still has a fluorescent green tinge from the Matcha that hid somewhere in the Sencha leaves.

Subsequent brews taste of Genmaicha, then eventually just of dry rice pieces, which survive seemingly infinite brewing—or until you eat them. This tea just keeps changing in your cup.

This is a fun tea, a plaything, and is more interesting than Genmaicha on its own. But even though Genmaicha with Matcha has a long history in Japan, I think this tea is too complicated for everyday consumption. For everyday consumption, choose Longjing, Meng Ding Huang Ya or Biluochun instead. ★★★★

Green tea: Matcha

Matcha

Feels like green creatine.
Green tea » Japanese » Shade-Grown, ★★★★★
Also known as: 抹茶

Brewed simply in a glass with a spoon, Matcha reminded me of taking creatine powder that doesn’t quite dissolve in water. I usually care deeply about how tea is brewed, but Matcha needed too much specialist equipment, so I went without. The right-sized bowl and the hand-made Matcha whisk sell for over $80 per set here in Melbourne so I didn’t buy them. I used a spoon and my usual tea-glass, and had what felt like an energy drink that was unpleasant to swallow.

Brewed as part of a beautiful, calming Matcha ceremony, though, this tea is totally different. The gentle, meticulous process of preparing Matcha feels like meditation. Using the appropriate equipment (the right-sized bowl and the hand-made bamboo whisk) give the Matcha a pleasantly smooth mouthfeel with a froth that amplifies the flavour of the drink (rather like that of espresso coffee). Whisking the Matcha properly also removes all the unpleasant, tiny clumps of tea-powder that a teaspoon would fail to remove. The ceremony makes this tea worth two more of my stars.

Watch the a demonstration of the ceremony here:

Watch the ceremony itself here:

The fact that it’s shade-grown and then powdered means that it’s richer in everything (antioxidants, caffeine, catechins, vitamins and protein—yes, protein) than all other teas. It’s a natural energy drink that stimulates you much more than brewed teas because you’re effectively swallowing all of the leaf.

Matcha can be brewed two ways: thick (濃茶, koicha) and thin (薄茶, usucha). Methods of each preparation method are detailed here.

The Matcha ceremony is worthwhile. Even if you don’t kneel on the floor and brew it in traditional dress, at least fork out a good Matcha set to do this drink justice. Matcha sets are $80 in stores, or just $25 on eBay. ★★★★★

Green tea: Gyokuro

Gyokuro (玉露)

The refreshing, spinachy precursor to Matcha (a five-star tea).
Green tea » Japanese » Shade-Grown, ★★★
Also known as: 玉露, Jewel Dew, Jade Dew.

Gyokuro and its powdered form, Matcha, are acquired tastes.

The first thing you’ll notice about Gyokuro is its unusually dark green colour. Gyokuro is produced from shade-grown tea plants, which increase their chlorophyll content to compensate for low levels of sunlight. The result is a very dark, spinachy, vegetal tea that’s much richer in nutrients than many sun-grown teas (that’s most teas).

Gyokuro and Matcha both taste vegetal and kelpy, and the brews are identically fluorescent green. Because the Matcha is powdered, and the Gyokuro leaves are so brittle, pieces of both of these teas inevitably escape your filter and enter the brew. Brewed directly in a cup (as I did), both Gyokuro and Matcha teas can feel like medicine; but brewed properly, with the appropriate whisk and ritual ceremony, both of of them can be delicious. See the ceremony demonstrated, then performed, in my next post.

Gyokuro is slightly spinachy with a dew-like, sweet aftertaste. It has a fascinating leaf shape, leaf colour and infusion colour, but still lacks the uniqueness and ritual importance of Matcha. It’s an interesting tea, but take Matcha instead if you can. ★★★

Green tea: “Green Rose” by T2

Green Rose by T2

Innovation isn’t always good. Add fruit to MUESLI, not to TEA.
Green tea » Japanese » Sun-grown, ★★

I get lots of teas from T2. They stock a good range of teas, and they’ve built a strong, trendy brand around tea, for which I thank them for their hard work greatly. They also give out free samples.

However, some of their products are a little too trendy. It feels as though someone in the T2 lab has been experimenting with mixing bowls without paying full consideration to the people who’ll actually buy and drink these oddities. I like Sencha. I also like fruit. But mixing them together is disrespectful to all parties involved (especially the ancient Chinese, whose wisdom tells us to consume tea and fruit separately). Remember Gorgeous Geisha, anyone?

The Japanese wouldn’t drink T2’s “Green Rose”, either. Most likely, they’d brew all the foreign objects (currants, mango, papaya and roses) with apples and crystal sugar at 100°C, in what I’ll call a Fruit Infusion.

If I bought this, I would pain-stakingly remove all the oddities and put them in my muesli, then drink the resulting Sencha separately. “Green Rose” by T2 is two decent beverages blended and thus ruined. Like wine and milk. Or coffee and Coke. Don’t buy it. ★★

Green tea: Gorgeous Geisha

Quality Japanese Sencha masquerading disappointingly as a fruit infusion.
Green tea » Japanese » Sun-grown, ★★

For me, ‘sweetness’ is an inseparable part of ‘fruitiness’. We can’t bear to eat fruit unless it tastes sweet. But after pleasing the nose with its punchy strawberries-and-cream (I’ll call it a “Wimbledon”) aroma, Gorgeous Geisha disappoints the palate by failing to deliver on its promise of fruit. This tea doesn’t taste of fruit—it’s not even sweet— and it doesn’t contain any real fruit despite listing “strawberries” in the ingredients list. Lying Geisha.

Disappointing taste aside, Gorgeous Geisha at least makes you feel good. the fruity overtones are carried on a good-quality Japanese Sencha which brews with light body and no bitterness.

If nothing else, Gorgeous Geisha is a lesson that we should always try tea before we buy it. Real fruit infusions should be very sweet and slightly sour, served in tiny cups and, as the name suggests, made with real fruit! Gorgeous Geisha is a quality Japanese green tea masquerading disappointingly as a fruit infusion. And I disapprove. Drink a fruit infusion instead. ★★