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Organic Tea: Honyama Tea by Bunji Itoh at Marufuku Tea Co. Ltd.

Mr. Bunji Itoh/伊藤文治 in his fields in Hirano/平野, Shizuoka City

“Organic Tea will become a new norm within the next 10 years.”
Organic tea is still rare in Shizuoka Prefecture which produces no less than 45% of the total tea crop in Japan.
The Prefecture counts many famous brands, one of which is Honyama/本山 grown along the Abe/安部 and Warashina/藁科 Rivers across Shizuoka city up to the Japan Southern Alps.

Entrance sign in front of Bunji Itoh’s registered organic tea fields in Hirano

Bunji Itoh is the 3rd generation of a tea growing family and the 2nd generation at their company, Marufuku Tea Co. Ltd./丸福製茶株式会社.
10 years ago he pioneered organic tea in one of his tea fields in Hirano, up the Abe River near Utougi/有東木, the birthplace of wasabi.
Last year the Shizuoka Prefecture decided to promote its tea in Europe and Bunji Itoh was awarded an Official Organic Tea Recognition Licence in Germany for two kinds of organic tea!

So the other saw a real expedition of ours ride all the way to his fields located at almost 1,000 meters height!
The members of our expedition were (on the picture not featuring me):
Aya Itoh/伊藤彩, his younger daughter, Asami Itoh/伊藤麻実 his older daughter who, besides helping her father, runs her own business at Saiko Chyaen/彩香茶園, Mr. Bunji Itoh/伊藤文治 himself, Mr. Chaminda Jayawardana, a Sri Lankan Tea Merchant and Grower at Lumbini Tea Factory (PVT) Ltd. who had come at the International Tea Event held in Granship, Shizuoka City and who had been invited to join us all by my friend Nahoko Imai/今井奈保子, owner of Teebom Co..
Interestingly enough, except for Mr. Itoh, everyone was fluent in English!

It was actually a great drive along the Abe River and along the wasabi fields!

You quickly understood that the culture was organic as the lane sanking between the tea trees was covered with very healthy moss!

Mr. Itoh grows two kinds of organic tea, Yabukita/やぶきた which is cultivated from grafts and Zairai/在来種 which is grown form the seeds.
The whole area covers 60 ha at high altitude at foot of the Japan Southern Alps.

Stupendous vista from the same fields.
These are not clouds but mist, a major reason for the quality of the tea.

Flowers could be seen (they are of the same family as the camelias) blossoming from the base of the trees.
Chaminda remarked that they would never let them grow back in Sri Lanka where leaves are basically picked all year round, whereas here in Shizuoka they are picked only four times a year.

The area is replete with streams and falls providing clear and pure water not only to keep the fields wet but also to keep the insects away (the trees are watered three times a week to make all insects drop to the ground where they will become organic fertilizer!).
As for fertilizer, Mr. Itoh utilizes only organic matter, mainly composed of grass mowed on abandoned golf courses and let to ferment for three years before being spread between the trees.

There are plenty of damage on the leaves proving that the culture is organic!
The above picture shows downy mildew/炭素病.

Blister Blight/ブリスタ・ブライト.

For a closer view.

Fungi/カビ.

All these problems have to be taken care of in a natural manner.
No wonder a lot of farmers opt for the easy way.
But although Mr. Itoh grows other tea with a minimum of pesticides and artificial fertilizer, he believes he is on the right path with organic tea!

On our way back to Marufuku Tea Co. Ltd. in Wakamatu/若松 in Shizuoka City (see above sign),

we spent a long time observing the manufacture of tea,

and sampling it.
But as I need another visit to properly report on the manufacture it will have to wait until the next article!

Marufuku Seishya Co. Ltd. (Mr. Bunji Itoh)
Shizuoka Shi, Aoi Ku, Wakamatsu Cho, 25
Tel.: 054-271-2011
Fax: 054-271-2010

RECOMMENDED RELATED WEBSITES

Pierre.Cuisine, Francescannotwrite, My White Kitchen, 47 Japanese Farms Through The Eyes of Its Rural Communities, Foodhoe, Chucks Eats, Things that Fizz & Stuff, Five Euro Food by Charles,Red Shallot Kitchen by Priscilla,With a Glass, Nami | Just One Cookbook, Peach Farm Studio, Clumsyfingers by Xethia, PepperBento,Adventures in Bento Making, American Bent, Beanbento, Bento No, Bento Wo Tsukurimashou, Cooking Cute, Eula, Hapabento , Happy Bento, Jacki’s Bento Blog, Kitchen Cow, Leggo My Obento, Le Petit Journal Bento & CO (French), Lunch In A Box,
Susan at Arkonlite, Vegan Lunch Box; Tokyo Tom Baker, Daily Food Porn/Osaka, Only Nature Food Porn, Happy Little Bento, The Herbed Kitchen, J-Mama’s Kitchen, Cook, Eat, Play, Repeat, Bento Lunch Blog (German), Adventures In Bento, Anna The Red’s Bento Factory, Cooking Cute, Timeless Gourmet, Bento Bug, Ideal Meal, Bentosaurus, Mr. Foodie (London/UK), Ohayo Bento,

Must-see tasting websites:

-Sake: Tokyo Through The Drinking Glass, Tokyo Foodcast, Urban Sake, Sake World
-Wine: Palate To Pen, Warren Bobrow, Cellar Tours, Ancient Fire Wines Blog
-Beer: Good Beer & Country Boys, Another Pint, Please!
-Japanese Pottery to enjoy your favourite drinks: Yellin Yakimono Gallery

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Japanese Traditional Local Festivals: 5th Annual Miwa Cherry Blossoms Festival in Shizuoka City!

Recent times have seen a revival of local festivals in Japan, especially in the rural areas, probably because people wanted to forget the sluggish economy and come back to more basic social gatherings after long years spent away in dehumanizing cities.
My good friend Neil had mentioned that his neighborhood in Miwa was organizing their 5th Annual Sakura Festival yesterday so I rode my bicycle for a good 45 minutes from home till the other side of the Abe River in Shizuoka City!

I left my bicycle at Neil’s place and walked till the Miwa Primary School where I found this banner announcing the Cherry Blossoms Festival!

For once that the weather was fine I walked on the causeway along the Abe River.

It is still winter and the water was pretty dry in all senses of the word!

I finally espied the site!

The Festival has been scheduled on the 3rd Sunday of February whatever the conditions or weather.
Unfortunately the last three weeks have witnessed unseasonal cold and the early-blooming Kawazu Cherry Trees had not blossomed yet!

For a closer view!

On the other hand the Japanese plum trees were still very much in flowers!

And the kumquats were everywhere for a picking!

We are full in leek season! Great to fight colds!

Plenty of beautiful colors to be found in private gardens!

But someone had made sure we had some cherry blossoms on site!

Neil had been designated as the sound engineer of the event!

You can’t have a festival in Japan without drums!

I wonder what those fox masks are for!

Robust ladies!

Oranges and tea on sale!
Notice the “dustbins”!

The site was small but certainly crowded!

Local bonsai on sale!

Local farmers selling their produce!

What are they preparing here?

Tonjiru soup for free!
Very thoughtful of the organizers!

Ashikubo Green Tea!

Sweet dango/balls!

Boxed lunches and wagashi cakes!

Chirashizushi bento!
All bentos are really home-made before put on sale!

Okonomiyaki!

Grilled sausages!

Deep-fried sweetmeat buns!

Yakisoba!

Candy Floss!

Grilled mochi cakes!

Local Benihoppe strawberries!

Home-made umeboshi!

They even had a small flea market!

Oden!

Dorayaki!

Very traditional dance!

Another very traditional dance!

And very traditional drinking!
RECOMMENDED RELATED WEBSITES

Francescannotwrite, My White Kitchen, 47 Japanese Farms Through The Eyes of Its Rural Communities, Foodhoe, Chucks Eats, Things that Fizz & Stuff, Five Euro Food by Charles,Red Shallot Kitchen by Priscilla,With a Glass, Nami | Just One Cookbook, Peach Farm Studio, Clumsyfingers by Xethia, PepperBento,Adventures in Bento Making, American Bent, Beanbento, Bento No, Bento Wo Tsukurimashou, Cooking Cute, Eula, Hapabento , Happy Bento, Jacki’s Bento Blog, Kitchen Cow, Leggo My Obento, Le Petit Journal Bento & CO (French), Lunch In A Box,
Susan at Arkonlite, Vegan Lunch Box; Tokyo Tom Baker, Daily Food Porn/Osaka, Only Nature Food Porn, Happy Little Bento, The Herbed Kitchen, J-Mama’s Kitchen, Cook, Eat, Play, Repeat, Bento Lunch Blog (German), Adventures In Bento, Anna The Red’s Bento Factory, Cooking Cute, Timeless Gourmet, Bento Bug, Ideal Meal, Bentosaurus, Mr. Foodie (London/UK), Ohayo Bento,

Must-see tasting websites:

-Sake: Tokyo Through The Drinking Glass, Tokyo Foodcast, Urban Sake, Sake World
-Wine: Palate To Pen, Warren Bobrow, Cellar Tours, Ancient Fire Wines Blog
-Beer: Good Beer & Country Boys, Another Pint, Please!
-Japanese Pottery to enjoy your favourite drinks: Yellin Yakimono Gallery

The Homey Art Of Bento-Shizuoka Style!

All the bentoes are from the Missus’ archives!

Preparing a bento is an act of love.
Or an apprenticeship to love for single people!

As expats, although its notion has been ingrained in our gastronomic brains for more than half a century (not accounting for the Army ration packs of older generations), a lunch box simply cannot be compared to a Japanese bento!
After all, Western lunch boxes were a bit of a misnomer when you consider their very basic contents piled into an artless tin box.
On the other hand, why has bento grown so popular abroad (i.e. out of Japan)?
You just have to browse the Internet or Home Cooking Magazines to realize it has progressed far beyond a mere fad. The concept is here to stay and spread all over the World eventually.

Bento officionados usually agree on the following as the reasons for its popularity:
-Health: a real bento combining all the ingredients of a normal meal (and even more!) is bound to make up for a better-balanced repast than any lunch you would hurriedly buy at a baker’s, fast food joint or supermarket before wolfing it down at your office or workplace.
-Practicality: bento is conceived to be carried in vessels taking a minimum amount of space in your luggage. As it is usually wrapped with chopsticks (or fork and spoon) inside a tablecloth or large handkerchief one only needs to untie it, leave it atop its wrapping, open it and enjoy it at leisure on your office desk, at the company cafeteria or in a nearby park.
-Aesthetics: you just have to open a well-conceived bento box to have your friends or colleagues peer into it with envy and wonder. How many times have people witnessed others taking photographs of each other’s creation for further reference? Good friends will actually venture as far as exchanging some of their better morsels!

The idea that a bento is a woman’s or wife’s (or girlfriend’s) work has slowly but steadily become obsolete.
In Japan they even show (single) men preparing their lunch box alone in the kitchen on prime time TV shows.

Choosing your box or vessel:
Although traditional cedar wood boxes make for an exquisite gastronomic experience, one does not have to lavish money on extravagant bento boxes.
Such boxes may be of all shapes and material.
Many young Japanese men go as far as designing their own boxes into metal and plastic encased sets that look more than space shuttle contraptions than anything else.
A hard round plastic Tupperware can make for an appropriate bento box if you use plenty of dry curry over rice (don’t forget to decorate with crumbled boiled egg and a few sprigs of green!).

A rectangular bamboo fiber case very commonly found to pack souvenir treats will do well for sushi rolls where they can stand their cross section up.
Do not discard any reusable box that can be easily transformed into a practical vessel for your lunch.
Now, if you want to invest some money into a true Japanese bento box you basically have the choice between a compartmented box (round, square or rectangular) and a single-tiered or double-tiered bean-shaped box. The former usually comes lacquered while the latter can be made of cedar tree sheets bound with cherry tree bark.
I must confess that I have a special fondness for the latter because one can separate his/her lunch into two distinct “dishes” one can pick from in turns.
Do not forget your chopsticks, or fork or spoon. Choose the former to last long enough for the sake of ecology!

-But I have no time to prepare a bento before going to work in the morning!

True to say, a good bento requires some planning and organization.
But the more you put into it, the more contented (or proud) you, your partner or family member will feel.
Actually bento is no less than the epitome of slow food disguised into fast food if I may afford the apparent contradiction:
A bento bought at a convenience store is fast food. A lunch concocted with love and passion is slow food. But you eat it like fast food!

Organization should not be that complicated.
First of all decide on your staple the night before: rice, bread (yes!), potato (why not?). Keep in mind this will form at least a good third of your lunch.
Next check your fridge for meat or fish for the main “partner” of your staple. That is, if you are not vegetarian. Talking of vegetarianism (or veganism), this is not an obstacle at all!
Alright, you have decided on your staple and its partner. You still have to think of how you are going to accommodate your meat or fish. Fried? Sauteed? Steamed? Broiled? And their seasoning!

Next, think of dietary balance and decorative value.
This is where you have to think of the vegetables and fruit (no biscuits, or junk food, please! Keep it healthy!). Are you going to serve them raw (don’t forget you need dressing including oil for good digestion of raw vegetables!), grilled, fried, or steamed? Keep it in mind to strike a good balance between all ingredients. The key is not to prepare them all in the same fashion!
You will find out quickly that colors are a good guide when considering the nutritious value of your bento!
Right, you have struck the right balance and proportions!
Now it is up to your artistic sense!
I’m sure you will be able to emulate the picture(s) in this article and even better after some practice!
Why?
Because bento is an act of love!

RECOMMENDED RELATED WEBSITES

My White Kitchen, 47 Japanese Farms Through The Eyes of Its Rural Communities, Foodhoe, Chucks Eats, Things that Fizz & Stuff, Five Euro Food by Charles,Red Shallot Kitchen by Priscilla,With a Glass, Nami | Just One Cookbook, Peach Farm Studio, Clumsyfingers by Xethia, PepperBento,Adventures in Bento Making, American Bent, Beanbento, Bento No, Bento Wo Tsukurimashou, Cooking Cute, Eula, Hapabento , Happy Bento, Jacki’s Bento Blog, Kitchen Cow, Leggo My Obento, Le Petit Journal Bento & CO (French), Lunch In A Box,
Susan at Arkonlite, Vegan Lunch Box; Tokyo Tom Baker, Daily Food Porn/Osaka, Only Nature Food Porn, Happy Little Bento, The Herbed Kitchen, J-Mama’s Kitchen, Cook, Eat, Play, Repeat, Bento Lunch Blog (German), Adventures In Bento, Anna The Red’s Bento Factory, Cooking Cute, Timeless Gourmet, Bento Bug, Ideal Meal, Bentosaurus, Mr. Foodie (London/UK), Ohayo Bento,

Must-see tasting websites:

-Sake: Tokyo Through The Drinking Glass, Tokyo Foodcast, Urban Sake, Sake World
-Wine: Palate To Pen, Warren Bobrow, Cellar Tours, Ancient Fire Wines Blog
-Beer: Good Beer & Country Boys, Another Pint, Please!
-Japanese Pottery to enjoy your favourite drinks: Yellin Yakimono Gallery