Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The exquisite sweet for matcha, kurirakugan

Sweet confection for the elderly?!

It is a sweet that I’ve had at my grandma’s place. It has a dry coarse texture in your mouth and it’s extremely sweet. It’s like eating a sweetened chalk or something. I recognize it as a confection for the elderly that is not appealing for kids at all. It is kurirakugan. I don’t dislike it but it won’t be my first choice either‏. The other day, kurirakugan was served in the tea class. I put it into my mouth not expecting much. Yap, this is it. It’s powdery and takes away all moisture in my mouth …, but the sweetness is comfortable, hum…. It has a chestnut-like cozy flavor which is not just sweet. It is actually quite good since I’m expecting to have matcha right after. Well, I’ve disrespected it but I’m quite captivated by it now. Is it because I have matured or it goes really well with matcha?

What is kurirakugan

Rakugan is a confectionery that is made with cereal grain, sugar and mizuame (starch syrup). It is molded and dried. Kuri means chestnuts. Kuri-rakugan is made with chestnuts grain so it has a nutty flavor. The rakugan that I had in my tea class also has the chestnut flavor but actually chestnuts are not used as its ingredient. Instead, red peas are used. Technically, you can’t call it kurirakugan, so its maker call the product just rakugan. The chestnut-flavored rakugan seem to be generally called kurirakugan even though it’s not made of chestnuts. There are similar products from different makers. For convenience, I’ll call them all kurirakugan here in this post.

Kurirakugan from Nagano

Nagano is famous for kurirakugan. The other day, I had a chance to go to Nagano so I bought three different brands. On this occasion, I got my usual one from the nearby supermarket which is reasonably priced than the other three. The one from the supermarket is also made by a maker in Nagano, though. I don’t usually find the first three in supermarkets. 
Hosun from Chikufudo, 594yen/16pcs
 The one from my Nagano trip and also this is the one I had in the tea class (Japanese)
Zenkojirakugan from Sakuraikanseido, 540yen/18pcs
 The one from my Nagano trip (Japanese)
Rakugan from Obusedo, 648yen/15pcs
 The one from my Nagano trip (English)
Kurirakugan from Obusekurikaseizo, 360yen/16pcs
 The one from the supermarket

Compering four brands

I did a blind tasting to compare the four kinds. I found roughness both in taste and texture on Kurirakugan from Obusekuirkaseizo when comparing with the other three. However, it’s not bad at all considering its price. I actually have it often for my tea time. The other three are all excellent. There are certain differences among the three. I personally like the Hosun best because of its sophisticated grains. The preference totally depends on your taste.

 It’s fine and smooth with its cozy potato-like flavor. It melts in your mouth.
 It has a natural sweet taste. It’s voluminous with its thickness.
Rakugan from Obsedo
 It’s not too sweet and has a well-balanced taste with the pea flavor.
Kurirakugan from Obusekurikaseizo
 It has a hard and coarse texture. It has a distinguish flavor which is reminiscent of root vegetables.

Try kurirakugan with matcha

If you try kurirakugan itself for the first time, you might have the same impression that I had when I was a kid. It would be just dry and sweet grains and not tasty at all. I used to think so, but now I have a totally different view of kurirakugan. It exquisitely goes well with matcha. Before the matcha is served, savoring the sweets with the natural nutty flavor is quite lovely. The comfortable sweet flavor remains faintly in your mouth and then you partake a refreshing bitter brew. It’s heaven. If you are the person who can enjoy matcha or chanoyu, I’m sure that you will simply appreciate the rakugan. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Zen Sayings or Zengo


What a shame!

You usually see a hanging scroll displayed in a tea room. From the scroll, you are supposed to read the host’s mind or the theme of the ceremony that you are attending. In a tea ceremony, bokuseki or calligraphy, especially of a Zen monk is often preferred rather than drawings. The calligraphies are zengo, Zen Sayings. I often have hard time to understand what it means. Moreover, I’m ashamed to admit that I can’t even read it sometimes. I need to learn about zengo or at least just the basics.

This might not be zengo, but bokuseki looks something like this.

Incomprehensible Zen

It is said that Zen cannot be explained by words. Someone also says that while you are seeking what Zen is, it is not Zen. Um…. When I read books about Zen, I often have difficulty to understand them. Zen might not be a thing to comprehend intellectually and it may be a thing to realize from your experience. However, books are still the easiest way for me to know about it. This time, I got five casual books that have easy descriptions on various zengo (Zen sayings). By reading the five books, I realized two things. First, the descriptions among the five books are sometimes different even for the same saying. How it is construed might vary with the individual. The other thing is that there are some lessons that show up repeatedly in these books. These lessons can be a clue to understand Zen.

"Now", "Let it go" and "Don’t distinguish"

The three most memorable keywords and phrases I found in the books are “Now”, “Let it go” and “Don’t distinguish”. They are something like the following;
Do the best for now. You don’t need to be bothered with the past nor worry about the feature. Live for now. 
“Let it go”
Just follow as things go. “Be as you are.” “You already have everything.” “Discard things.” These are also the lessons that I found frequently in the books which are similar to this lesson in nature.
“Don’t distinguish”
It is not good to view things in two aspects; beautiful or ugly, in or out, or bright or dark. People tend to be obsessed too much about distinguishing things. Embrace things as they are. This lesson might lead to the lesson of unity or oneness.
There might be one truth in Zen. Words can only describe a certain aspect of it. These keywords are saying different things, but actually they might be describing the same truth from different angles. That’s what I feel.

行雲流水or kounryusui

Here, let me introduce one of my favorite zengo related to the lesson of “Let it go”.
行雲流水or kounryusui
It literally means “Clouds move and water flows”. This lesson means “Live without fixating and go with the times.” Clouds and water don’t stay at on place. They travel even if there are obstacles. They change into any shape and flow with the grain of nature.

Influence of Zen

Even though I can’t still understand what Zen is, I can sense that Zen has a lot of influence on chanoyu and today’s Japanese culture. It kind of make sense. For example, a host tries to have a bud that just started blooming for the tea flower. Usually, the blooming is quite short and with the host preparing the young bloom just for the very moment makes it even more special‏. This preference might come from the lesson of “Now”.
For an example of the lesson of “don’t distinguish things”, Japanese are not good at giving definite yes or no for an answer. We might feel comfortable by making things a bit ambiguous.
A lot of people don’t know much about Zen even in Japan. However, there are many traditions and attitude of ours that comes from Zen idea, and we benefit from it spontaneously. Knowing zengo might help us to realize the underlying principle behind chanoyu and Japanese culture.