When we talked about buying presents in Japan for our family, one gift I knew ahead of time: green tea for my dad. He’s a confirmed green tea drinker, and while he has his supply of Chinese green tea from a friend, he hadn’t had Japanese green tea.
Beyond the vague shopping list of “tea, green” and a desire to avoid the Japanese equivalent of Lipton green tea, I had no plan. I was excited when we passed a specialty tea shop while we were spiraling in to our ryokan, but since we were — not lost, exactly, but not entirely found, we decided to return later.
We weren’t able to stop until the last afternoon in Kyoto, on our way to check out of the ryokan. The store looked closed, but one of the two women chatting outside was the owner, and ushered us back in.
Our Japanese-speaking friend once again had the pleasure of translating for me as we tried to figure out what kind of tea she sold, and what the difference between the foil bags of tea and the more traditional-looking packages of tea were. It turned out she sold tea powder that you mixed straight into water and drank, and tea leaves mixed with rice that you steeped using an infuser. She could tell we were confused by the difference, so, unprompted by us, she grabbed a package of both kinds from the shelves, ripped them open, and made us tea.
While she made tea and fetched cups, I boggled that she was so willing to do that for us. The second surprise came when, as she was serving the tea-and-rice combination, she said, “I’m learning English, but I don’t know it very well yet.” She had a nearly American-neutral accent.
We ended up buying both kinds of tea for my dad and some for us as well. The owner wrapped everything up in many layers of paper. As I turned to leave, she dropped several packages of green tea cookies in the bag.
So I got my present for my dad. Even better, I got a story to go with the present.