Tag Archives: red bean paste

Drop it gently onto the tongue.

It’s always nice to have a piece of toast, or some tasty thing to go with tea. At least, that’s how many of us think. In Kusamakura, the narrator takes tea with the host of the inn where he is staying, and there is a tea-sweets plate on the table, but it is bare. It’s there to be itself, a blue stone artifact that the owner wants to show off, and the narrator muses without speaking:

“It is nothing short of astonishing to consider the fine dexterity of the master craftsman who has carved such a large piece of stone to such thinness, and with such delicate precision! Spring sunlight shines through the translucent stone, seemingly captured and held there within its depths. It is right that such a plate remains empty.”

At a tea time earlier in the story, the guest does mention a tea-sweet, “…the firm bean jelly known as yōkan…. Yōkan happens to be my very favorite tea sweet. Not that I particularly want to eat it, but that velvety, dense texture, with its semitranslucent glow, makes it a work of art by any standards. I especially enjoy the sight of yōkan that has a slightly blue-green sheen, like a mixture of gemstones and alabaster — and this bluish yōkan piled on the plate glistens….” Sorry, I can’t go on. In a later post I hope to have more to say about this character who, while his mind overflows with voluptuous details pertaining to what he likes, dismisses more and more other things and behaviors as “vulgar.”

Because of him, I am feeling more welcoming of Lent. But before that shift toward better feasts, I want to show you my own edible works of art from blogger friend Orientikate in Japan; she wanted to contribute to my research on the land where she dwells. 🙂 In my case, I was so vulgar that I did want to eat them all! The dorayaki below is made with the same red beans that our artist praises above. Made into a sweetened paste and wrapped in a soft pancake, they make a lovely treat to eat with tea.

A packet of crispy snacks was in the package, and several types of green tea, and all of those gifts have been much enjoyed; sometimes I drank the tea from one of the ornate teacup twins that were given to our family more than 20 years ago, by a shy Japanese exchange student who was with us for only a week.

I try to drink tea only in the morning, because I seem to be more sensitive to caffeine the older I get. I know that green tea contains substances that have a calming effect as well, and there was a time when I could drink it all day, as I know many people do. But I laughed out loud at the end of this passage from the same book, when after admiring the plates and the kettle and the calligraphy on the wall, the guests take some nourishment:

“A connoisseur with time on his hands will elegantly taste this rich, delicately sweet liquid, ripened in the precise temperature of the hot water, by letting it run one drop at a time on to the tip of the tongue. Most people believe that tea is to be drunk, but that is a mistake. If you drop it gently onto the tongue and let the pure liquid dissipate in your mouth, almost none of it remains for you to swallow.

“Rather, the exquisite fragrance travels down to permeate the regions of the stomach. Using the teeth on solid food is vulgar, while mere water is insipid. The best green tea, on the other hand, surpasses fresh water in its delicate, rich warmth, yet lacks the firmness of more solid substances that tire the jaw. Tea is, in fact, a marvelous drink. To those who spurn it on the grounds of insomnia, I say that it’s better to be deprived of sleep than of tea.”

Green tea, and stories from Japan.

I have begun reading a few Japanese novels, in translation of course, and maybe I will add a nonfiction book, because Bellezza has drawn me into her Japanese Literature Challenge 12 — Yes, it’s the twelfth time she has hosted this project! I’ve never had any thought of joining in before, until this month I read a review of one novel linked from her site. It sounded intriguing, so I checked to see how many pages were in the book  — I am lately tired of slogging through 500 or 800 pages in order to complete a story — and it was barely over 200 pages, whee!

Nosing around the body of relatively modern Japanese literature with an eye to length, I soon came up with a plan. The first three books are short, and then things get more difficult, so I might not do all five before the end of March. But I did already complete The Great Passage, and am definitely having fun. It was the coziest thing on a rainy day, to sit by the fire with a book, and green tea from a Japanese-inspired pot. My list:

The Great Passage by Shion Miura

Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Kokoro by Natsume Sōseki

The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo

 

If the tea in the photo doesn’t look green to you, it’s because, unfortunately, the day with green tea prevented me from sleeping that night, so I switched to a more thoroughly soothing blend for the next rainy reading session. I read while waiting at the dentist, and at the doctor, and after I crawled under the blankets at night.

Now I’m in the middle of Sweet Bean Paste, which refers to a confection that I’ve never been drawn to. The idea of mixing beans and sugar puts me off, but I should probably at least try to sample it before I write a review. If I could learn to appreciate it, it sounds like a proper accompaniment for my Japanese reading — and cup of tea.

What I need to know is, if a Japanese reader can’t drink tea with caffeine, what does she drink?