Material Matcha – Rare Craft Matcha Green Tea from Japan

I love what my two friends Etienne and Morgan have done after quitting their corporate jobs.

They created Material Matcha Uji, one of the most disruptive tea companies of recent years. Now they have their unique craft Matcha green teas after a year of patient development and hard work.

Material Matcha Uji is the brainchild of two foodies at heart, who after years in finance & IT gave up their big corporate jobs to go on a quest for purity: to find and create the greatest matcha green teas ever.

Etienne Denoual, co-founder at MMU, explains: “It all started from a deep wish to reconnect with nature and authenticity. When I went back to Kyoto, a city I had lived in for years before, it was a revelation. We just had to do it.”

Making high grade Matcha is no walk in the park. Indeed, they faced serious issues: while so-called matcha is booming worldwide (it is often low quality green tea dust), its production has seen a steep decline in Japan. Farmers are facing increasing expenses, weak demand for superior quality matcha, and lower sales value. Even more worrying, the aging tea-making community faces successor problems, endangering its very existence.

The two founders, who willingly admit that two years ago they knew next to nothing about tea-making, and were both rather coffee persons, took a fresh look to the issues and devised an innovative development model: if superior matcha doesn’t work in the domestic market anymore, they would take it abroad for the first time, where foodies are thrilled by Japanese delicacies.

Their matcha blends, the result of more than a year of hard work in the fields and in their workshop, are uncompromising, bold, sophisticated, and probably unlike anything you have ever tasted before. Straying from the very classical image of Japanese tea ceremony, their craft matcha belongs to the realm of guilty pleasures, not unlike artisanal chocolate or micro-distillery whiskey.

Because Matcha is a precious and pure material, they package their blends in different raw materials honoring the minimalism of Japanese craft & culture.
“We consider our packages and vessels as something one lives with, a celebration and everyday ceremony of the purity of Matcha.” explains Morgan Josset, co-founder.

Support their Kickstarter’s Crowdfunding campaign
Backed by a devoted community and now ready for production, they are asking backers to help them buy a whole year of harvest of several plots of land that are especially promising. Providing tea farmers financial stability and peace of mind, they push them to always favor quality over quantity, and hope that younger generations will one day take up the torch!

Back them on Kickstarter

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Cheap drinks in Japan

My friend Matthew Baxter, who writes at his blog Supercheapjapan has just published his first book. Congratulations! I’ve read the book and I love it, he does what I can’t do when it comes to travel writing: he explains all the details and tricks to move around not only cheaply but also to enjoy every place like the locals would do.

To celebrate the launch I invited him to write an invited blogpost here about drinking on a budget in Japan.

Enter Matthew Baxter:


Many people would think that drinking out in Tokyo is expensive, just like in other major Asian cities such as Hong Kong or Singapore. In fact it’s actually surprisingly cheap to get your beer in the Land of the Rising Sun. In my new book, Super Cheap Japan: Budget Travel in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Hiroshima and Surrounding Areas, I have made a guide to show exactly how you can travel on a budget in Japan. Through my experiences writing the book, I occasionally enjoyed a few drinks, but as I didn’t have much money, I found the best ways to do it cheaply.

 

Drinking in an all-you-can-drink bar

The best place to start your night out shouldn’t be the bar, but the nearest convenience store. Unlike many countries, convenience stores in Japan sell a wide selection of beers, spirits and ciders, as well as Japanese drinks such as shochu and high-balls. Prices are low, with a large selection and cans in sale for only a few dollars. Supermarkets have an even bigger range, especially ones specialising in foreign goods such as Yamaya. So enjoy walking down the streets of downtown Tokyo, and get a few drinks in before you enter the bars and clubs.

The area you go drinking can have a big effect on how much you’ll pay. In busy, crowded or cramped areas, the dreaded cover charge can apply. It’s understandable, as some bars can only take half a dozen or so customers, but having to pay 500 to 1000 yen just to enter a bar is too much for most budget travelers. Therefore, avoid areas such as Golden Gai in Shinjuku, and head to cheaper spots. Good areas to head to are Takadanobaba and Waseda, with their large student populations and therefore student prices.

Once you are in a good area, there are a variety of ways to drink cheaply. Cheap Izakayas are numerous. Catering to the budget market, they have menus where everything goes for, say, 270 yen. That’s another pint for a few dollars! Look out for the large restaurant signs, which will proudly display how much they are selling drinks for, as well as any daily deals. Plus, even though the prices are low, these spots have a great atmosphere and are fun places to hang out with friends. You can even try out new Japanese foods for a few dollars as well.


Friendly bar in Shinjuku

Another option, one that is best for heavy drinkers, is the all-you-can-drink restaurants. Called ‘nomihoudai’ in Japanese, there are a large number of these across the city. Even in expensive areas such as Roppongi, you are never too far away from a nomihoudai restaurant. It’s usually around an extra 1000 yen with a meal. Even KFC are now experimenting with nomihoudai at some of their new family style restaurants.


All-you-can-drink at Kentucky Fried Chicken

All in all, Tokyo is an excellent city to spend a night. Just follows these tips, keep an eye out for signs advertising cheap prices, and you’ll have a great night out. And remember to sleep in the net cafes if you miss the last train home!

This post was written by Matthew Baxter, author of the new book Super Cheap Japan: Budget Travel in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Hiroshima and Surrounding Areas. It’s the ultimate budget travel guide to Japan, full of the most useful, up-to-date information for a cheap holiday in Japan. With extensive tax-free shopping, crazily discounted train passes and an unbelievable exchange rate, there has never been a better time to visit. The book shows you exactly how, where and when you can save money. Go shopping for $4 clothes in Tokyo, enjoy inexpensive hikes in Nikko, or visit Kyoto’s beautiful shrines and gardens on the cheap; all with this super helpful guide.

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The bridge that crosses over the Moon – Togetsu bridge

The bridge of Togetsu (In Japanese written with the characters 渡 月 橋: crossing, moon, bridge) is one of the most emblematic of Kyoto. With its 155 meters long it was first built in the 9th century to cross the Katsura River towards the mountain of Arashiyama . Although it has been rebuilt and restored several times, the current version remains in the same place as the original.

Crossing the bridge and strolling along the river bank is a pleasure enjoyed even by the emperors of ancient Japan. It was Emperor Kameyama in the 12th century who named the bridge. He was sailing with his boat at night and enraptured by the beauty of the moment he declared: “It seems that the bridge is crossing the moon.”

A local legend says: boys and girls have to cross the bridge without looking back at any time. If they ignore this rule it will bring them bad luck of not looking back. I wonder if Ghibli was inspired by this bridge to for Spirited Away but instead of not looking back you have to hold your breath.

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The Tōfukuji zen temple

The Tōfukuji (東 福寺, Tōfukuji) is a zen temple in southeastern Kyoto. Its pavilions are surrounded by a huge green area, it is beautiful all over the year but the best time to see this temple is a the time of the kouyou (End of november) . Tōfukuji is one of the most important Zen temples in Kyoto.

The Sanmon style door of the Tōfukuji is 22 meters high and is the oldest Japanese zen gate (since 1425 without having been rebuilt). The sanmon style doors (三門) are not in all Zen temples, only in the larger ones. The San 三 (Three) before the 門 (Gate) indicates that it is composed of three entrances. Each of the entries also has a name, the one on the left is the kūmon (空門 vacuum door), the middle one is the musōmon (無相門 the door without form) and the one on the right is the muganmon (無願門 DO NOT ask for wishes).


This is the sanmon gate at Tōfukuji which is declared as a National Treasure

The set of these three doors: the one of the void, the formless one and the one of not requesting desires; symbolize the three places by which purification must be achieved before enlightenment. Passing through them helps to free you from: greed, hatred and ignorance. That’s why they are also called sangedatsumon (三解脱門 the door of the three releases).

Apart from the sanmon gate, the most beautiful of the Tōfukuji are the gardens. There are several, each with a style, some with large rocks and moss that adorns them, others full of vegetation and several dry with gravel and stones. All of them were designed by Mirei Shigemori . One of the most beautiful gardens inside Tōfukuji is the Kaizandō, which is hidden across the bridge Tsutenkyo. A bridge with a wooden roof that is 100 meters long and crosses a stream that will lead to the kamogawa.


This is the Tsutenkyo bridge, the name of this bridge translated is: “The Bridge to cross the sky”


Views from the bridge

Kaizandō is a dry garden similar to the Ryoanji but it is not symmetrical, an area of the gravel rectangle is occupied by hedges and rocks. What I like the most compared to the Ryoanji is that behind the gravel you don’t see a simple wall, there is a big Japanese style garden with pines covering the landscape. Another of the differences is the way they drag it, in the Kaizandō they do it in a way that squares of several different shades are drawn on its surface.

Tofukuji location on google maps.

From Kyoto Station, with the JR Nara line, it takes two minutes to reach Tofukuji Station.

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Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life

I’m very happy to announce you that my new book has just been published in English. It is very different from A Geek in Japan, instead of trying to explain all about Japan in this new book I focus on just one aspect more deeply.

It all started when I explained my friend Francesc Miralles about the Japanese word Ikigai and we decided to write a book together. Ikigai in Japanese means “a reason for being”, you can also think of it as that thing in your life that gets you up in the morning. In the book we go deep in what it means to have a life of meaning and how it can help us to live happier and longer.

Thank you 🤗 all for reading and supporting A Geek in Japan all these years, without you this new book would have never been posible.

Available on Amazon.com since two days ago, order it now : Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life.

If you want to keep updated and know more about my new book IKIGAI this are the channels that I will use from now on:

Available on Amazon.com since two days ago, order it now : Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life (Amazon.com).

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Ryoanji – 龍安寺

Over the last 14 years I’ve visited the zen garden Ryoanji (龍安寺) several times. I love that every time I visit this beautiful dry garden (karesan-sui) it feels different. It is like watching the same movie while noticing that you are growing old, and each time you notice and feel different details.

The first time visiting Ryoanji I was twenty three years old and I had just finished graduating from computer science. At that time, my rationalistic approach to engineering made me try to explain the beauty of this place in a scientific way. I even wrote a long post about it in my Spanish blog explaining how you could mathematically divide the geometry of the garden by analyzing the empty space between the rocks.

I learned that the important thing are not the rocks but the space between them, but I was a fool thinking that we can explain beauty following a scientific approach. I think I fabricated all the mathematical explanation just to feel comfortable with the fact that an art piece so simple as rocks placed on gravel is of such beauty and importance for the Japanese people.

This time I visited the place with different eyes and heart. I just sat down and enjoyed the scenery without wondering why it is so beautiful and trying to explain it. Now, I’m 36 years old and I grasp the fact that art is never complete without taking into account the subject observing it.

It is my consciousness, through the act of observing the dry garden, who makes the place beautiful and unique.

Is not enough to explain the garden in order to understand its beauty, you have to know yourself.

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Fukui

After visiting Shirakawa-go we went north all up the way until Fukui. It was my first time in Fukui prefecture. We decided to only visit Fukui City, it was a big mistake… the city is disappointing and boring. The castle was so unimpressive (there is not even a castle, it is a dull government building) that I didn’t even take a single picture of it! If you are curious, this is a picture of the “castle” I just found on Fukui’s government website:

Don’t bother too much visiting the castle. The only beautiful and worth place to visit around Fukui’s city center was the Yokokan garden. The Matsudaira lord, who ruled Fukui at the beginning of the Edo Era lived in these gardens considered by the Japanese Government as a National Designated Place of Scenic Beauty.

One morning is enough to visit the Yokokan gardens. I would not recommend spending the night in Fukui City, leave to the northern coast. Next time I go to Fukui I will focus on visiting the villages on the seaside which they say are beautiful.

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Old Shinjuku pictures

Shinjuku 新宿 is my favorite area in Tokyo. I’ve been taking pictures of Shinjuku since 2004. During these 13 years I’ve seen this neibourhood transforming and I feel some kind of nostalgia when looking at my old Shinjuku pictures.

Shinjuku developed as a neuralgic point of activity in Japan since the beginning of the Edo area when a “juku” 宿, a place to stop and rest, was stablished on the side of Koshu Kaido, one of the five main routes of commerce in Edo Japan. Nowadays, Koshu Kaido is the avenue on the south exit of Shinjuku station that is used by more than 3 million people everyday.

Shinjuku was totally destroyed in the war and rebuilt from scratch after it. These are pictures from old Shinjuku, ranging from the 50s until the 70s. I love the general structure of the station and the surrounding streets hasn’t changed too much.


This is Shinjuku in the 70s. On the left side you can see a building with the sign Sakuraya さくらや, it is an electronics and home appliances shop.


This picture I took it in 2004 and also shows the same Sakuraya さくらや building. Sakuraya is no longer there, now it is a Bic Camera.


Shinjuku west exit area in the 70s.


Shinjuku west exit area in now.


Naito Shinjuku 内藤新宿 (Second dot from the right to the left on the map) was the first stop after Nihonbashi on the Koshu Kaido route during the Edo period. Naito was the name of an important daimyo who lived where now Shinjuku Gyoen park is located.

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Chair designed to play video-games

One of the first things that surprised me when I arrived to Japan was how much of the daily life inside houses happens laying down on the floor. Once you get used to it is nice because you can sit down wherever you want. The fact of not depending on chairs gives you a certain feeling of freedom.

But it can also be uncomfortable if you want to be a long time sitting down in the same position. In this case the best option is to use a zabuton 座布団, or much better: a zaisu 座椅子.

These are pictures of one of the most popular zaisu right now in Japan. It is used by gamers because it has an arm rest designed to hold the weight of your arms when you have your hands facing the screen with the game controller.

You can buy this chair here.

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Mikasa park

After visiting the Dobuita street we walked to the seaside. The water was clear and sarushima could be seen in the horizon 猿島 (猿:monkey, 島:island)… Monkey Island!

We ended up entering a park dedicated to Mikasa, a battleship that was used in the Ruso-Japanese war at the beginning of the 20th century. It sank near Nagasaki in 1905 but it was recovered and fixed in 1906. Now the ship is attached to the park in Yokosuka and its interior is a museum that can be visited. The cannons are filled with cement as a symbol that the Mikasa will never again participate in a battle.

This is the Mikasa Park exact location on google maps.

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