Japanese, really?

By greenteapanda

July 27, 2007

Category: Food and drink

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I went to San Francisco today. I’ve been there before, but until this trip, haven’t had a chance to see many of the touristy things or things away from where friends live. Being in a mood to see more Japanese stuff, I went to "Japantown" and a "Japanese Tea Garden" in one of the large parks.

"Japantown" was really a shopping centre that has been around for the past 40 or so years. On the inside, it does look authentically Japanese. Since Osaka, Japan is one of San Francisco’s sister cities, the food was all very tasty. On the outside, quite a few of the shops were actually Korean (with Korean rather than Japanese lettering). In any case, "Japantown" has been bought, and there is the threat of redevelopment. That would be a shame, since it gave me the opportunity to have some tasty, inexpensive food for lunch along with the opportunity to buy Gyokuro green tea, natto, and a few other things I particularly like from the supermarket. There are a few Japanese shops outside of the Japantown shopping centre, but not many, and not enough that the area would deserve a "Japantown" designation if the shopping centre disappeared.

The "Japanese Tea Garden" is quite a beautiful Japanese garden (I’d say nicer than the Hakone Gardens I went to yesterday), but the tea part did not seem authentically Japanese. In fact, all the waitresses speaking with each other were not using Japanese, but Cantonese. Their faces did not look Japanese (though I can’t complain about the kimonos being inauthentic, since those originally came from China during the Tang dynasty). They wore rubber flip-flops rather than wooden shoes that would go along with their kimonos in the same outdoor situation.

The tea also appeared more like Chinese green tea. The tea was more brown in colour than green. Japanese green tea tends to be much greener because they go to great lengths to shade the tea bushes from the sun, causing them to have a higher proportion of chlorophyll. A gift shop within the grounds sold several varieties of loose-leaf Chinese tea, but the Japanese tea only consisted of packs of teabags, with the lowest grade of Japanese green tea one could find in a Japanese supermarket. The teahouse put loose-leaf tea in the pot. It is possible they use a different tea altogether in the teahouse, but that would seem strange. They served a little snack plate with the tea – though some of it consisted of the Japanese cracker-style snack foods, there were "fortune" cookies in the mix. I know it is not Chinese either, but it is one of the things found in American-style Chinese food. The information on my cookie was technically not a fortune at all, but advice.

I took advantage of the Chinese aspect in the gift shop. Sister panda kindly bought a tea mug with panda paintings on the outside. The style is similar to the mugs I had when I lived in Kunming, Yunnan, China. There is an outer cup, an inner cup made of ceramic with holes to soak the tea (and pull away from the outer cup when the tea has brewed sufficiently long). There is also a lid. This one is white, so it lends itself better to checking if the tea colour is the one I wanted or not.

I took pictures during the day with several disposable cameras, but as they are not the digital type, I will have to get those developed and then scanned before upload.

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