Matcha looks like cocaine trafficked into Boston on Saint Patrick’s Day. It’s not instant tea, it’s actual tea leaves pulverized into a fine, bright green powder. It’s bitter and expensive, but cheap compared to cocaine… and more legal. Mixed with lukewarm water, it becomes the frothy tea of those ancient Japanese tea parties where nobody talks, and everyone kneels on the floor and gets foot cramps: The Tea Ceremony.
Fortunately, matcha isn’t just for tea ceremonies anymore. You can also find it on the Matcha Choco Parfait, pictured on the right. The Matcha Choco Parfait doesn’t cause foot cramps, but addiction is possible. It’s one of the signature sweets of Nana’s Green Tea, a tea house found here and there in Nagoya. Nana’s is a cool hangout… the kind of place I’d love to bring back to LA someday. But the parfait? Groovy. Even with the corn flakes. (look closely. Yes they are corn flakes. Cornflakes are a parfait tradition in Japan.)
400 years ago there was a guy who became famous throughout Japan for making tea. It wasn’t like his tea was particularly rare or delicious or anything, he just looked cool making it. So cool, in fact, that after watching him make tea, everybody wanted to make tea like him. They signed up for classes. They even followed him around and made a school.
The guy was named Sen-no-Rikyu. He didn’t invent the now world famous Sado Tea Ceremony, but many say he perfected it. His tea of choice was matcha. He would whisk up that bitter powder into a froth, and pass it out to all his guests. The guests were usually high level Samurai or members of the Imperial Court. They paid him a lot for his tea.
I wonder what Sen-no-Rikyu would think of the Matcha Choco Parfait. At Nana’s one parfait costs about ten bucks. But Sen-no-Rikyu could afford it. He had connections.
The double standard is painfully apparent. The cat flaunts her felinity, sitting casually in the shadow of the uniform, seducing authority with her seemly helpless, yet indifferent, gaze. The bewitched guard makes no reference to his guilty companion, hoping that we too won’t notice. But the camera, honest and brutal, makes no judgment, only recording that which comes to pass.
The sign above the guard’s precariously balanced cap states, without ambiguity, the unwelcome status of the cat’s natural enemy, the dog. Judging from the image, Scotty dogs are of particular disdain. Perhaps it’s the licorice Scottie that sits poorly with governance. To be sure, licorice is an acquired taste. Nonetheless, dogs are indisputably undesirable in this place, while the cat basks in the shade of the leg of influence.
As a foreigner in Japan, at times I feel like the Scottie dog, and at times the cat… but never the white-gloved guard. It’s no problem. Double-breasted jackets make me look fat.
This year’s Olympics have given me an opportunity to view my home country from afar. I’ve been asked to define the American concept of sportsmanship, and I’ve learned about sportsmanship abroad. I’ve watched the behavior of athletes from across the world, and I’ve felt pride when U.S. athletes have supported their opponents and acknowledged them in both victory and defeat. I’ve also wondered at several unsportsmanlike exhibitions from athletes from the US and the world. I came to this definition: American sportsmanship is fairplay, respect, passion to win and honor to lose. I don’t see it in every match, but it’s what I expect to see from an American.
Japan’s women’s soccer team, known in Japan as “Nadeshiko,” came to the games as world champions after a hard fought final with the U.S. team in last year’s World Cup. The two teams met again yesterday in the final match of the Olympic Games. Both teams had something to win and something to lose. They played from the bottom of their hearts. They played cleanly, with respect, with passion and at last with honor.
Nadeshiko’s tears of disappointment upon their defeat were a great contrast to America’s pure joy on the pitch and in the stands. Both were summoned from the heart of hard fighting athletes, and both were pure expressions of humanity.
A silver medal may not be enough to satisfy world champion athletes. For many in these Olympic Games the shock and frustration of being number 2 has been all too apparent. But a few minutes after the match Nadeshiko emerged from the tunnel. The team that had entered the stadium as world champions, now approached the silver medal stand. But there was no sadness, no regret, no anger or disappointment in the their faces. They danced and skipped as they approached, smiling and flashing the ubiquitous peace sign. They looked like they’d just won the gold. they cheered as silver medals were hung over their hearts, and they smiled as gold medals were hung over the hearts of their opponents.
Sure I was rooting for the US team. (My wife covered supporting the Japanese team.) I’m proud of the American team for their sportsmanship and for their win. But I’m as proud of the Japanese team for their sportsmanship and their loss. In those moments it felt good to be human.