(A time sensitive tldr: Join me for a new pop-up newsletter that will run daily from May 7th to 31st: www.davidquiring.com/afterwordsjapan)
Fellow imbibers of delights,
It is a special time of year! Can you smell it? I can’t quite yet - an epic battle between spring and winter has been playing out in Winnipeg (listen to a thunderstorm collide with a snowstorm here) and I’m still not sure how it’s all going to play out. But do not worry, this year I’m importing spring in the mail.
After much anticipation, the first tea of the 2022 season has just been harvested in Japan. These fresh tea leaves are known as shincha, and offer a level of aromatics that can only be enjoyed for a short time. They are ephemeral; to be appreciated while they can be, not hoarded or held on to in any way except memory. And they imprint; showing characteristics you have to experience to know of their existence, which then go on to haunt you in elusiveness until the next year.
The first time you try such a tea, there are no words except wow. It raises the bar. Despite probably not understanding it at first sip, the subtle complexity in the verdant cup is easily recognized. I have not yet had even an ardent coffee drinker deny enjoyment of tea that I’ve served them - their raised eyebrows oft explicating as much surprise as their words.
The archipelago of Japan stretches across latitudes, which makes for vastly varied growing seasons that span both varietal and terroir. And as the warmer weather arcs across the islands from south to north, the harvest celebration moves slowly across the land with it.
But I live in Canada, and the ground is still frozen. Lucky for me, access to these teas has been provided by Zach and Minami Mangan, of Kettl Tea in New York City. They have established direct relationships with producers across Japan and, at all times of year, have become the de-facto dealers of fresh Japanese green tea to the western world.
Over the years, my palate has slowly been developing and honing in on distinct regions, towards specific altitudes and even individual farmers. The effects of time and place are stored in the leaves - precipitation, temperature, air quality…these shifts are encapsulated in and between each harvest.
With such care given to this annual cycle of farming, I want to pay it the respect and attention it deserves as I make myself a pot of tea each morning. There is something special in taking the time to acknowledge the fleeting nature of things; a melancholic adieu intertwined with an appreciation to not squander miracles of existence.
Farming has a natural cycle; a seasonal revolution of beginnings and endings on a wider timeline. In the modern world we’ve come to lack these touch points. Sure, nature demands our attention occasionally with a holler that can’t be denied, but largely we are disconnected from the subtler day-to-day shifts that once lent its prescience to the patterns of our lives.
Instead, the lifestyle that allows time for acknowledging seasonality has largely disappeared from modern cities. Food is imported from around the world to our local supermarkets, not the soil from our backyards. Stored energy allows us to work through the dark periods of winter that otherwise would encourage rest. And communication…well, let’s just say that gone are the days where goodbye actually meant goodbye.
There are certainly benefits to all of these things, but they also tend towards unsustainability. We continuously add to our lives: duties, relationships, possessions…newsletter subscriptions (I know I can’t be the only one with a perpetually overflowing inbox!). Even if all these things were good in themselves (which they aren’t), it’s just too much. We get saturated. What’s missing are healthy endings to create space for what comes next - periods before the next sentence, rather than a perpetual ellipsis.
In this spirit, I am spinning up a separate pop-up newsletter titled “Afterwords Japan: Through the Torii Gate” which will be a timeboxed publication with a hard end date. It will be an evolving experiment, but my plan is to publish something small daily from May 7th through May 31st.
What in the world is a pop-up newsletter, you ask? Well, it’s a newsletter that will disappear once it’s done. That’s right, a newsletter with an end. Sign up and connect, but know that the email list will self-destruct into nothingness at the end of the month.
Exactly three years ago (May 7-31, 2019) I travelled to Japan. Besides postcards, I have not shared much about this trip. As a personal rule, I tend to step away from digital connection when I’m travelling, so as to pay more attention to my immediate present. Heck, in Instagram’s early days I was called out for not being “Insta…nt” enough - always sharing days later rather than stream of consciousness. That was fine by me then, and it’s fine by me now. There was already enough digital noise and, frankly, it’s only gotten worse. The old adage rings true for both analog and digital life: treat others as one wishes to be treated, and that includes indiscriminate oversharing.
After lots of reflection though, it’s time to share. There will be a couple of pilgrimages of sorts; to an unassuming coffee shop that is a leader in the evolving international bean scene, and also an immaculate old temple that is a root of the simple meditation practice I do every morning. We’ll travel in the blink of an eye by bullet train and spend a week walking from one countryside town to another. I’ll probably even tell a story about the first time I used a bidet, which I’m certain will have you laughing at my expense.
Japan is a complex place, where old and new prevail alongside one another. Isolated amidst stormy seas, it existed on its own longer than most countries and has never been colonized. The culture runs deep, and the thread from the past weaves its way into the present.
I don’t pretend to have done anything more than scratch the surface in the brief weeks I spent there, but even in this I found plenty of threads worth sharing. Pulling from memory, I’ll share notes and thoughts (and images and sounds) from the path I walked exactly three years ago. My hope is that you will be able to tramp alongside me, albeit in a digital way.
While much has happened / changed / curveballed in the past three years, I want to honour these experiences and integrate them rather than just moving on. This transience is all the more reason to reflect on the seasons of existence and fleeting nature of everything.
And in embarking on this time travel adventure together, I hope that it will also serve to spark my dreaming muscle again. Maybe it can for you too?
So yeah! Sign up if you’re interested in receiving little daily notes from “Past David” for the next few weeks. Let’s see what we can find in this.
I have so much more to say, but I’ll save it for Afterwords.