I became acquainted with matcha as a child.
My youth echoes faintly through the thumps on the floor.
Humanity has been grinding ingredients by quern-stones since its own infancy.
The master of “Kitajima-ya Tea House” was in elementary school by the time World War 2 ended.
He was taught to grind rice and soy for flour by his parents.
The grains would be used to make dango dumplings.
Indeed, his relationship to the quern-stones has been long.
Round and round he turns them, counterclockwise.
It takes a full hour to make enough matcha for ten people.
And it takes strength to grind with quern-stones.
He sprinkles the matcha over “mame-ame,” a Nanao delicacy made with roasted soy flour and glucose syrup, then pops it into his mouth.
The scrumptious taste speaks of a long history born in Kyoto.
He turns the quern-stones eagerly, then pours the water in a swirl. The matcha is now ready to drink, complete with a beautiful foamy head.
The proprietor then places the cup with the pattern facing the customer.
They take a moment to appreciate the cup’s craftsmanship before partaking in the tea.
The customer says “osaki ni chodai itashimasu.” A phrase that means, “Allow me to begin.”
The master politely informs me that if I’m to remember anything, it should be this piece of etiquette above all.
Nanao has been steeped in the culture of Kyoto since the Warring States Period.
When it came time for him to inherit the family teahouse, he brought his quern-stones from his hometown in Okuizumo all the way to Nanao.
Quern-stones remain to this day an important tool of the trade for making matcha.
As a child living in Shimane, Kitajima-ya’s current master drank lots of tea.
He’ll never forget how it tasted back then. The memory inspires him to make tea as tasty as he had in his youth.
A long time ago, a family of lawyers came to Noto because they saw the port city’s mercantile potential. They moved to Ipponsugi Street in 1912, the first year of the Taisho era, and their old house is still standing today. In 1933, after their children finished their training in Mikawa, they opened the Kitajima-ya Tea House.
The current master married into the business - which belonged to his wife’s family - and began working at the tea house in 1967.
Though he was already knowledgeable about tea, he did not know about Noto's noren traditions. He’d never hung one, not even for the festivals of the day.
He became aware of the custom after seeing a hanayome noren exhibition.
As he listened to the locals’ stories, he became more convinced that the noren were “women’s treasures”.
He knew his wife did not pass through a noren, but he didn’t know about his mother-in-law. He searched the house and eventually, he came upon her noren.
At first he didn’t understand the meaning of the pattern.
He’d only grasped that his mother-in-law’s household holds deep memories connected to the noren while researching for the exhibitions.
He heard from his sister-in-law that the chicken pattern symbolizes her husband’s birth in the year of the Rooster.
However, her noren also included a rare rose pattern. Rarer still, this rose had thorns - a feature that’s usually omitted.
Customers who saw the noren wondered about the thorns.
And that was when it struck him: They must have come from his mother-in-law’s father. He didn’t want his daughter to leave home, and he personified those feelings as thorns upon the rose.
Tiger paws also decorate this noren, as a symbol of her father’s birth in a year of the Tiger. Perhaps it was his way of saying “I’ll accompany you.”
This tale is all based on the master’s imagination, but nevertheless it’s fun to think about how each and every noren houses and expresses people’s emotions.
If you get the chance to go to Ipponsugi Street, we recommend you pass by Kitajima-ya and ask the master to show you the noren.
Once you see it, you’ll surely understand.