I arrived at the office a little later than usual Friday afternoon and the box of Japan sencha was waiting in front of the door. I had just purchased 55 pounds of the steamed leaf for my fervent customers.
The whole lot was vacuum packed in a solid brick – the size of a small engine block and almost the weight as well, which I discovered as I struggled to muscle the box up into my arms. I damn near blew a gasket while getting it up to chest level.
Down in my office, with the box positioned between my knees, I grabbed the exacto knife off the desk, while glancing at the time crossing the screen on my Mac – 2:35 PM Friday, March 11. I carefully sliced open the flaps of the box to reveal the ultra heavy-duty vacuum sac, which I hoped would contain fragrant, buttery, spinachy Japanese Sencha. I poked the knife into the top of the bag and it inhaled the moist Vancouver air in one deep suck. As the sac inflated, I looked up and out the window at a single ray of sunlight beaming down through the perpetual dense cloud layer that defines a Vancouver winter.
With the top now slit all the way open, I plunged my head into the tea and inhaled the fresh aroma through my nose and into my lungs. The notes of quality sencha were abundant. I was elated to say the least. Thank you, I thought, to that small distant tea nation for producing such fine green tea.
It was a few hours later when I heard the first newscast of the day. An enormous earthquake and tsunami had left a wrath of mayhem and destruction on this small ocean-engulfed country. The time of the quake? It seemed to have started around 2:30 PM on Friday.
I kid you not when I say that the moment the vacuum pack of sencha was decompressing and sucking in the surrounding air, I had a clear and momentary vision of the pastoral gardens in Japan and the beautiful surrounding countryside. In my brief segue as I looked up at the beam of sunlight, I did not see a 22-foot wall of water and debris rushing across open farmland, nor did I not see quant little homes being scrunched like houses of cards and ships getting smashed to bits under bridges.
In my short journey, all was well, and I had their prized tea sitting between my outstretched legs. But now, how could I feel content knowing that the citizens and farmers who might have had a hand in the creation of this exquisite box of premium sencha might not have escaped the wall of churning, sludgy water that seemed to consume all in its path?
The uncanny timing between the sac of tea taking its first Canadian breath and the thousands of unfortunate people (farmers) loosing theirs struck a cruel irony. The flippantly vocalized phrase we hear all too often – “one man’s loss is another man’s gain” – echoed within the depths of my cortex. How on earth could I feel like I was “the lucky one”?
Our Hearts Are With You
In the end, as I try to put into words just how I feel about the devastation in Japan and my fresh box of sencha, I draw some solace from rationalizing that this harvest was probably nowhere near the heavily hit areas of the Northeast. The skilled hands that prudently steamed my sencha and rolled it to perfection are probably still with us today – albeit shaken up and more than likely looking for friends and possibly loved ones. Nevertheless, with strength and quiet perseverance, these skilled artisans rise another day to work their magic on fragrant, delicate tea leaves – coaxing from within subtle flavors and delicate nuances that define the culture and resilience of the Japanese people.
I will drink my tea and with each sip, gracefully lower my head in a sincere bow to a nation and a culture that deserve our utmost compassion and empathy.
From across the big pond to my home in North Vancouver, let me say that our hearts and souls are with you in your time of need.