Sobacha or Buckwheat Tea

For a long time, I have known about buckwheat tea but have never given it a shot.  After enjoying some nice bibim naengmyeon at the best Korean restaurant near me, I went to the Korean market nearby and chanced upon a container of buckwheat made for brewing.  At seven dollars for a decent sized container, I figured, “Why not?”

048japanesetea

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Drosselmeyer Tea

A little detail caught my attention in Princess Tutu: Drosselmeyer favors a blend of tea he apparently made himself.  It consists of three parts Darjeeling and one part Assam.  Those of you who’ve followed this blog a long time know me for a tea connoisseur–at least, I am when I can afford to be.  One of the earliest posts on this blog was on Kakuzo Okakura’s The Book of Tea.  I’m a big fan of tea varietals but will drink blends also, especially English, Scotch, or Irish Breakfast tea.  English Breakfast tea is formed by Assam, Ceylon, and Kenyan teas, Irish is stronger because it uses teas from Assam almost exclusively, and Scottish the strongest with the strongest varieties from Asia–even sometimes adding the pine-fired Lapsang Souchong.

sinister-drosselmeyer

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How to Become an Uncle Iroh Level Tea Connoisseur

I had thought about covering how I wound up becoming a tea connoisseur, but I already possessed a great level of devotion to the drink from the age of seven.  So, I shall spare you from what would be a long history and only mention the pivotal moments on my journey to my present level of expertise.  In college, my father introduced me to Peet’s Coffee and Tea, and I feel in love with their Assam Golden Tip.  From that point on, I practically tried every variety they had available, and learned which teas I favor and which I hate.  Concerning the latter, three syllable oolong varieties, Pu-erh, and Japanese black tea are all anathema to me.

iroh

As I plunged into learning about the different varieties, I learned what temperature water and time were proper for each kind and even the complex terminology surrounding tea.  For example, Balasun Estate SFTGFOP1 SUPREME First Flush translates to this tea being from the first pick of the year on the Balasun Estate and earning the designation Special Finest Tippy (or really, really, really awesome) Golden (the tips of the tea buds were golden) Flowery (the bud has not yet opened) Orange Pekoe #1 (only the bud and the two adjacent leaves plucked, which were “slightly delicate, long, wiry leaf with the light liquor”–courtesy of Wikipedia, as I knew not what the “1” meant) SUPREME (just in case you can’t figure out that this tea is awesome).  I thank The Tea Drinker’s Handbook by François-Xavier Delmas et al. for teaching me the terminology and many other intricacies pertaining to the beverage.

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Plans for November and New Article Ideas

This morning, I was reminded of the fact that inventing topics often exceeds the difficulty of writing them.  And so, I forced myself to come up with thirty-one topics—ten for each of my other two blogs and an eleventh sneaked into this one.  The eleven pertaining to this blog I shall post below.  Please feel free to comment on them, especially which strike you as the most interesting.  (If any strike you as dull as a game of croquet, hold your tongue and see what I do with them! 🙂 )

Steak!
November approaches.  That month where I each year strive and fail to post once per diem in order to participate in National Blog Posting Month.  Expect many reblogs unless my skill in time management and vigor far surpass the last two years!  As of yet, I have never succeeded in reaching my goal of posting every day.  We’ll see if that changes.

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In addition, I shall be participating in NaNoWriMo, though not exactly in the way that most people will.  You see, I wrote out the story which I shall be typing up on paper, but ended up losing the first two-thirds of it—Vae! O nigra dies!  Alright, enough mourning its loss: I knew I had to write a better manuscript anyway.  And, Mr. Sean Bishop also wants a screenplay from me by October 30th.  The slave driver! (I jest. I practically begged him to set a deadline so that I would feel motivated to type out that which I have written.)  And so, I doubt that I shall get to my novel until All Saints’ Day, which means that I might as well join the NaNoWriMo festivities and finish the book by the end of November.

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The thought that one reason behind my inability to devise articles ideas for this blog—besides fear of boring my dear readers and laziness—derives from my inability to keep up with my fellow bloggers’ articles, who would no doubt provide a wealth of ideas.  (For example, I had wished to write a commentary on this well-written and controversial blog of Aquagaze’s; but, so much time has passed that it would seem too late.)  I once wrote that my articles are usually written to specific persons or groups.  Without this salient feature, my articles tend to be insipid.  And so, if any of my fellow bloggers feel that I have not visited their blogs for a long time or think that I should check out their blog, shoot me a comment.

I imagine she's saying "I'm curious!" in that shot.

I imagine she’s saying “I’m curious!” in that shot.

Here is the list of topics which came to my mind. May some be of interest to you!

1) Which shows I’ll be keeping from this season
2) My history with the Japanese language and my opinion of it
3) My history with foreign languages and what motivates me to learn foreign tongues
4) An article on tea covering how to become a connoisseur like yours truly

Tea Expert Megumi
5) Nozaki-kun’s slavish reliance on the lives of real people for his characters
6) New manga reviews; specifically, Cerberus, Koe no Kitachi, Koko ga Uwasa no El Palacio (perhaps my oddest choice in a while), Witch Craft Works (yes, I cannot get enough of those characters), and perhaps others
7) Getting back into Go
8) Politics of Envy and Aldnoah.Zero
9) A brief memoir of an anime fan
10) Guilt over the Kara no Kyoukai trilogy
11) How to connect anime and religion

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Happy All Saints Day & National Blog Posting Month

Happy All Saint’s Day!  I hope that all you Catholics went to church today.  The Feast of All Souls is celebrated tomorrow, so I encourage everyone to remember their departed friends and relatives or the holy souls in purgatory generally on that day.  Even if you believe your loved ones are in heaven by now, prayers for the dead are never wasted: if one prays for a soul already in heaven, the Church on earth benefits.  This is also a simple way to perform a work of mercy.

Anyway, I’ve been very neglectful in posting for the past while, but I recently got a message about it being National Blog Posting Month; so I’m going to turn over a new leaf.  Each and every day will have some sort of post for the entire month–no matter how short of an article.  There have been a few ideas for posts churning in my brain, though I have not found the time.  Here are some examples:

1.  The relationship of Kiba and Cheza as symbolic of the bond between Jesus and Mary

2.  A review of No. 6

3.  A post about St. Leo the Great before his feast day on November 10th

4.  A review of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which I’m reading for the first time

5.  A review or more thoughts on Weighted and Wanting by George MacDonald

6.  A review of Humanity Has Declined (two episodes to go)

7.  Impressions of Fairy Tail, Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, and Samurai Deeper Kyo manga

8.  Some information about Baltimore

9.  A Report of the Eucharist Congress held by the Diocese of Trenton at the Garden State Arts Center (where you may learn interesting facts about the blogger in addition to the Congress)

10.  Reviews of certain teas and beers

So, this ought to be an interesting month on this blog, provided that I can write the five substantial papers also due this month.

A Medieval Interrogation

Having read several articles based on this series of chain posts, the thought that someone would select me as part of it never crossed my mind.  But, Marlin-sama of the blog Ashita no Anime has tagged me, so I will do my best to answer his questions and find people to tag.  Here are the rules:

Introduction

  • Each person is supposed to follow the rule of fives. You are allowed to ask 5 questions, after which you can tag up to 5 bloggers by hyper-linking to their blog; 5 questions because it’s not too many to flood another blogger and occupy too much of his/her time, but yet a large enough number to ask your most important questions, and 5 bloggers to avoid spamming. Hence, prioritize your questions, and who you wish to ask!
  • Those tagged are obliged to answer the questions in a blog post, and after which, they are entitled to create their own 5 questions and tag 5 other bloggers, so on and so fourth. You should answer your own 5 questions as well. You are allowed to tag the person that tagged you in the first place. Also, copy and paste this section on your blog so others can understand how the game goes.
  • In the case where a blogger strongly refuses to answer a question, he/she must instead post a nice anime image, wallpaper or cosplay picture, et cetera in response to that question.
  • To make things interesting, a blogger can include wildcards in his/her 5 questions by placing an asterisk, (*), after which those tagged are obliged to reveal something interesting about themselves that others did not previously know. There is no limit to the number of asterisks one can place (which means there can be up to 5 wildcard questions).
  • Anyone can feel free to start the game; you don’t necessarily need someone to tag you. Just create your 5 questions and tag your 5 people of choice. However, the catch is that you must answer your own 5 questions as well.
  • To potentially prevent an endless game, this round of games will end on the 8th September 2012, 12pm JST (GMT +9). After which, no more bloggers can tag others to answer their questions.

Here follows the questions and my answers to them:

Q1. What is your favorite anime of all time?  Then, objectively speaking, what do you think is the best anime of all time?  Explain why you chose these anime (especially if you chose the same anime for both questions).

For me, Rurouni Kenshin stands as my favorite anime.  This is the show which propelled me into anime, so I might be a little biased; but I’ve yet to find an anime which has better characterization or discusses its themes better.  This series does have drawbacks: overlong speeches, too many flashbacks, the first and last seasons are rather episodic, and the final season was badly done and not based on the manga.  (I consider that season as unworthy of being accounted with the first two seasons.)  But the first two of these drawbacks help the viewer to benefit from the technique of parallelism, which Nobuhiro Watsuki employs to great effect in delineating his characters and highlighting the themes.  I especially enjoy how similar the villains are to the heroes; but the villains deviate slightly from the right path, often having high ideals which are slightly twisted.  This makes the difference between the heroes less black and white and the characters more interesting to examine.

The fights of Rurouni Kenshin and the animation are also very beautifully done.  Kenshin vs. Saito is considered by many otaku to have been one of the greatest fights ever animated.  The tension between the two combatants is palpable, and the whole fight comes across as very realistic.  Qualities which bring the audience to the ends of their seats and makes them feel every blow.  The overall animation for the show is top notch, and the audience is treated to the bonus of seeing characters which look more Japanese than one finds in the usual anime.  May I add that this show weaves in historical detail better than any other anime?  So much so that many people (your humble blogger included) have passed Japanese history tests from what they learned on this show.

You’re going to think me very provincial; but, for my objective best, I’m choosing Samurai X: Trust and BetrayalSamurai X has more focus than the TV show, thus eliminating many of the drawbacks found in the TV show.  Also, the atmosphere is much darker and more tragic: Rurouni Kenshin makes one wish they were born a samurai and could participate in duels; Samurai X makes one frightened even to pick up a katana.  When people get cut down, the viewer feels their agony.  The swords even seem to emanate cruelty.  This atmosphere is very fitting for the dark days of the Meiji Revolution.  By the way, let me also say that AnimeNfo agrees with me in ranking this OVA as the best anime.

Q2. Same as question 1, but for your least favorite anime and what in your objective opinion is the worst anime of all time (for this question try to choose an anime for which you’ve actually watched a respectable number of episodes and try to avoid small titles that nobody has ever heard of).

My least favorite anime is Cat Soup.  My dear readers might have even been able to guess my response.  I remember reading a review that claimed anyone’s who’s not a religious nut would love it.  Though that puts it a little harshly, the term aptly fits me.  It contains a rather reprehensible depiction of God, I didn’t care for the animation, and it consists of a series of scenes rather than a story.  Fortunately, most of the details have long since been forgotten.

My first choice for objective worst would have been Ghost Hound had it not been for the stipulation that the show be well known.  That show entices the viewer by its weirdness, gives him enough interesting details to inspire hope that the show will become good, and makes one suffer through one dull episode after another before one is forced to throw in the towel.

If four episodes may be considered respectable, I choose Dragonaut: the Resonance for objective worst, which tries to lure the viewer into continuing to watch through having well-endowed women all over the place and a modicum of action.  Nothing else to it.

Q3. What initially led you to anime and what keeps you interested in anime?  Do you think it will continue to be a lifetime passion?  Why or why not?*

As an avid lover of pre-modern pagan cultures, such as Rome, Athens, the Vikings, and Japan, it was only a matter of time until I discovered anime.  My father used to be an avid practitioner of Karate, has a great interest in Eastern philosophies and religions, and was dubbed an honorary Asian in college.  Naturally, some of his tastes, especially for martial arts and its philosophy, were impressed on me.  In addition to martial arts, I loved watching samurai movies.  These cultures all seemed to have a strong moral bent, which especially attracted me to them.

Then, I discovered that certain shows belonged to a genre called anime.  I saw Rurouni Kenshin on Toonami, discovered the manga Inuyasha, and found myself hooked.  As for whether it will remain a lifelong hobby, I must confess to having an aversion to clinging to anything–no matter how pleasant.  Despite the fact that I do very much enjoy anime, several of my other hobbies have been pushed aside for anime, and I want to make more time for those.  So, while I can see myself remaining an otaku for several more years, I hesitate to say that it will be a lifetime passion.

Q4. Do you think it’s possible to integrate or use ecchi content or themes to enhance a story rather than simply as fanservice that detracts from the overall work?

Easily, but it’s not advisable.  For me, the best example of nudity put to good effect was in Elfen Lied, where it highlighted Lucy’s deep-set desire for innocence.  In the Garden of Eden, the nudity of Adam and Eve symbolized innocence.  Here, the fact that so many terrible things happen around nude people stresses that innocence is nowhere to be found in this world.  But, many people cannot see through the characters’ bare bodies to perceive this theme.  For them, nudity turns them away from the show.

Such a pleasant face.

Freezing is a perfect example of ecchi elements ruining a show.  Frankly, this is a spectacular show.  The only drawbacks to it lie in that the plot was rushed and not enough details about the setting were given to the audience.  It has strong, likeable characters, stunning fights, outstanding animation, a touching relationship between the hero and the heroine, and several gut-wrenching situations.  Despite all of this, several people absolutely despise this show.  They become totally oblivious to this show’s good points in the face of all that fanservice.  Amusingly, I remember one reviewer who claimed to have been enticed by the fanservice before becoming so wrapped up in the show’s action that he ceased to notice it.  How much more popular would this show have been if only they had toned down or even eliminated the fanservice?

Q5. I think many would agree that some otherwise respectable anime have been let down by lackluster endings.  What anime do you most want to change the ending—not because you disagreed with it, but for quality purposes.  Then how would you change it and why?  (I understand spoilers may be unavoidable when answering this question)

Well, the ending of Scrapped Princess seemed a little unnatural and ludicrous to me–the triangle of land and sea on which the remnant of humanity lived fitting back into the world and everything.  I would have had it end with a final showdown between the aliens who had imprisoned humanity and our heroes.  It seemed a little inconclusive in that we never meet the original foes of humanity.  Also, Leopold would get the girl and ditch the Mr. Soopy suit: the ending had me feeling too sorry for him.

Amusingly, I discovered that AngryJellyfish has also tagged me into the game with a set of five questions.  So, let me answer those five before going on to mine.

1. Which anime protagonists (if any) do you feel you’d be able to do a better job than if you were in their situation?

Well, there are plenty of wimpy heroes or harem protagonists I could do a better job than.  (I tend to be decisive and stubborn about things, which would come in handy in many situations.)  But among a slightly higher class of protagonists, I’ll select Kai Kudou of E’s Otherwise.  Basically, he lacks any kind of good sense.  Give me his power and place me in the same situations, I’d probably do better–except that I’d be a lot more boring to watch.

2. Which popular anime series do you not like, or find overrated?

Any of the Big Three.  Even if they are entertaining, how can one justify creating a series of several hundred episodes without any closure in sight?  Why would one give so much of their precious time to just one series?  It appears absurd to me.

3. What manga or anime series would you like to see fansubbed/scanlated in your language, or licensed in your country?

Americans have it too good.  It seems that everything is sooner or later available to us.  So, I’ll have to go with the classic Ashita no Joe as a series which I’d like to see licensed in this country.  It’s very highly regarded among the Japanese, seems to have really strong characters, and Hajime no Ippo, which I highly enjoy, was likely based on this–the main difference being that Ashita no Joe has an anti-hero, while Ippo’s your perfect hero.  So, if Funimation or another company were to license boxed sets of this, I’d be one of the first to buy it.

4. What series would you recommend to someone who has never watched any anime?

That series would be Fullmetal Panic Fumoffu.  I’ve successfully hooked several people on anime through this show.  You see, most people expect cartoons to be centered around comedy, which is why Fumoffu, a show which nearly makes the viewer die laughing, offers a great introduction.  From there, you can expand their perception of the stories a cartoon may convey.

5. Do you have any weird anime watching habits?

Well, I always have to be drinking something when watching anime.  This beverage is usually tea.  Sometimes, I see it as a good time to break out some hard liquor or port–even if the anime does not require it.  If I have friends around, I’ll offer some kind of alcoholic drink.  Though, this turned out to be a big mistake one night, when a friend of mine and I were watching the sequel to Geobreeders.  I’m not sure whether it was the two bottles of wine or the fact that we were talking too much, but we did not remember a single thing about the OVA the next day!  Which may mark the only time alcohol has caused me to forget things.

If I’m not drinking something, then I’m oiling go stones, which certainly counts as weird.  However, it’s not as much fun to play go if the stones aren’t shiny!

Now for my questions and answers:

1.  How else are you involved in Japanese culture?

In my case, I love martial arts philosophy and used to practice Judo and Aikido, the latter of which I’d like to return to someday.  I study the Japanese language, read light novels both in Japanese and English, and would love to graduate to more sophisticated Japanese literature.  I also enjoy Japanese teas and wish to study their tea culture more.

Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido

2.  What anime turned you into a fan?

In case, you forgot.

3.  Who are your two favorite Japanese VA’s (one male and one female) and two favorite English VA’s (also one male and one female)?  For the English VA’s, you can substitute actors in another non-Japanese language.

I used to be more into this facet of fandom than now.  But, here are my favorites:

Ken Narita, especially for his roles as Sesshoumaru of Inuyasha, Jeremiah Gottwald of Code Geass, and Durand of Le Chevalier D’Eon.  I particularly love deep and powerful voices.

Megumi Toyoguchi, especially for Revy of Black Lagoon, Yao Sakurakouji of Miami Guns, Layla Ashley of Avengers, Honoka of The Third: The Girl with the Blue Eye, and Reni Vikuro of Innocent Venus.

Kirk Thornton for his roles as Hajime Saito of Rurouni Kenshin, Jin of Samurai Champloo, and Brandon Heat of Gungrave.

Laura Bailey for her roles as Michel Volban of Glass Fleet and Sylvia Ban of Solty Rei.

4.  Out of the shows you’re currently watching, which is your favorite?

For me, the answer’s Hunter X Hunter.  I love how much intellectual prowess the fights and the obstacles placed before our heroes require.  This makes is different from the run-of-the-mill shonen.

5.  What is your favorite era for anime and why?

My answer combines two time periods usually separated, but I feel that the earlier one still strongly influenced the latter: the late 90’s through the early 2000’s.  Some of my favorite shows were produced during this period.  Also, computers played less of a role in the animation of these days than now, and I particularly like the human touch one sees in these shows.
Of course, the anime of prior eras relied even less or not at all on computers, but the character designs were not as elegant.

Well, that’s enough writing for one post.  I’m trying to think of people who haven’t been tagged yet.  Here it is:

ChibiOtaku010

Naru of What is this “Culture” you speak of?

John Samuel of Pirates of the Burley Griffin

SnippetTee of Lemmas and Submodalities

Exiled2Oblivion

I hope that you enjoy this little game!

Tea Reviews

For a change of pace, I’ve decided to review those teas which I’ve recently enjoyed.  With the exception of the Yunnan Noir and Ooooh Darjeeling, these were all purchased from Upton Tea Imports, which–as I mentioned in this article–requires the buyer to be somewhat fluent in tea knowledge.  Otherwise, it stands as a great supplier of fine teas.  In any event, my next order will be from Adagio Teas, the company which supplied the two named above.  Not that it is a superior tea company, but they offer an interesting selection of high quality teas and a change of venue.  Variety is the spice of life!

Along with each review, I shall give some information regarding the type of tea and who would enjoy it.  Though, I must confess myself to be somewhat deficient as a tea taster, my descriptions should give you a general idea of what you’re going to experience from each tea.

1.  Special Grade Temple of Heaven Gunpowder Green Tea

I’ve always enjoyed Gunpowder for its earthiness, and this particular variety combines a nice earthiness with deep, slightly sweet vegetal flavors and a metallic hint.  (By the way, it’s named gunpowder because this tea is rolled to resemble pellets of black powder.)  People new to green tea often try this variety first because certain of its flavors are reminiscent of black tea.  Just be careful that you do not oversteep it or use too many leaves, because these errors will lead to it becoming too bitter.

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Favorite Teas

Well, dear readers. the the idea to write a post on some of my favorite teas came to mind.  As for which categories of tea I prefer, oolong takes first place, then black tea, followed by white tea, and green tea the last place.  I just prefer the flowery and yellow fruit flavors which one tends to find in oolong.  It’s particularly relaxing after a hard or stressful day.  Oolong’s caffeine level stands midway between black and green teas, so it won’t keep one awake all night.  Black tea is practically a sine qua non for me in the morning: the morning doesn’t start until that first sip of Assam or whatever strong tea fills my cup passes my lips.  Occasionally, I do have coffee, but I often find myself making a pot of tea afterwards anyway.  Then, green tea goes well during the afternoon or dinner.  Even though I prefer white tea to green tea, sometimes there is difficulty in finding the right occasion for it: having a cup or two of white tea used to be my favorite way of sobering up from a drinking party; so, it’s often the last tea of the day.  Now, I shall name which specific strains of tea within each of these four categories are my favorite.

My favorite Oolong has always been Phoenix Mountain Oolong.  It’s flavors of honeysuckle and apricot are particularly endearing.  At the moment, I’m trying an oolong from the same region sourced by Adagio Teas, named Dancong Aria.  It’s also quite wonderful, but the flavors seem a little less intense than what I remember in the Peet’s oolong.

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Review of Okakura’s The Book of Tea

For those of my dear readers who did not know me in college, I am a tea connoisseur.  My preference for tea has existed at least since I turned ten.  Some time after that, I began to indulge in coffee but always considering it a lesser drink to be enjoyed with much milk and five teaspoons of sugar until after my college years.  Indeed, in my dorm room, you could find eight to ten high quality teas and a box of Folger’s bagged coffee just in case I needed a change of pace.  Even now that I enjoy coffee more, I usually keep only one premium coffee.  You see, I felt that all coffees were the same, but tea held real variety!  In the early days, Bigelow’s Raspberry Royal was the most prized of teas, now it’s Phoenix Mountain Oolong (a Peet’s item.  In addition to their coffees, they also offer some very high quality tea).

In order to enrich my tea hobby, I got a couple of works on tea.  One is an incredibly dense and informative work called The Tea Drinker’s Handbook by Francois-Xavier Delmas et al. and the other is Kakuzo Okakura’s The Book of Tea, which will be the book under review.  Okakura is famed for his resistance to the Westernization trend during the end of the Meiji Era (1868-1912).  He wrote two other works (also in English): The Ideals of the East and The Awakening of Japan in order to explain Japanese Culture to a Western audience.  He strove to demonstrate that there is much good to Asian culture and that it is worthwhile for Westerners to understand it–samurai are not the only worthwhile part of Japanese culture!  For someone working in a second language, his skill with English is incredible.  Also, the boldness of his style seems equal to the best passages in Nietzsche, and the variety of information and humor in this particular work make its 49 pages fly by!  I’d highly recommend picking this work up, especially as it deals with a part of Japanese culture which has almost disappeared.

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