Reading articles about China and Thailand in the Autumn issue of Tea Experience Digest brought back vivid memories of my first impression of Asia. Stationed at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, it was a bizarre feeling to be well-educated, an experienced traveler of a dozen European and Mediterranean countries, and yet in Japan I was unable to read anything! If I couldn’t find someone who spoke English, my high-school Spanish didn’t help me in the land of the Rising Sun.

Traveling the subways was challenging. I used notecards printed in Kanji with my destination and then compared them to the characters on route maps to see where to change trains. More than once I boarded the right train line, but going in the wrong direction!

Three years later, I was a pro at train travel and survival Japanese phrases like, “Where is the toilet?” and “Another beer, please!” I lived in a tiny apartment with a Japanese girl-friend, and we shopped at the local markets. My favorite place was the 7-11. The selection of packaged green teas covered an entire wall of the store. It was a tea lovers’ paradise of high-quality, loose-leaf green tea.

Tea was everywhere in Japan. I drank it as a beverage or broth, ate it in noodles and ice cream, chewed it as gum or candy, wore it as hand and face cream. Back in America, a decade later, green tea products are making their way into our lives here.

Quality Japan green teas are appearing as well; however, since Japan imports tea to meet domestic demand, it will be a long time before we achieve the selection and quality of the local Japanese 7-11.

While it is not possible for everyone to travel the world in pursuit of tea experiences, I encourage you to visit a local farmer’s market or Asian food store. They have great teas at reasonable prices. Specialty grocery stores like Whole Foods and Wegmans carry excellent loose-leaf teas. The internet is a wonderful resource for Japan teas. Try denstea.com, shizuokatea.com, and specialteas.com. May you have a wonderful tea experience!