Chapter 39: With regards to Miyo

Everyday when Naru comes home, it’s always with new origami figures in her hands. Usually, they’re animals that Naru takes with her to the dinner table or outside in the lawn, accompanied by squawks and mewls. One typically is folded with uneven wings or lopsided feet but the others have sharp edges and precise lines.

Other times, they’re items in miniature, always with signs of use: dented corners on a paper ball still filled with air, crumpled edges on the charms of a paper bracelet, stains along the inside of a pair of paper teacups with butterflies drawn on the sides in a careful hand like a message from one dreamer to another.

 

*

 

On busy days when deliveries are back to back to back, Shinya finds it when she least expects it. She’ll be reaching into her bag for a receipt, only for a wrapped candy to fall out, a surprise that breaks the day’s rapid fire pace.

On bad days when memories threaten to drown her eyes, Shinya carries them in her fist, the sharp edges of the wrapper keeping the darkness at bay, every prick a reminder: “Stay here, stay here.”

On light days when Shinya finishes early, she stops by a fruit stand, picks out a piece of fruit for every empty wrapper in her pocket, and heads back towards a certain tea shop on the eastern coast.

 

*

 

Thank you for trying Menya Yamashiro’s fall experimental menu! Your feedback helps us improve and make things more delicious for you.

 

Please select which experimental item you had today:
White tea soba
Pork simmered in persimmon tea
Hibiscus tsukemen

(All circled)

 

How would you rate the taste of your order?
5 – Amazing!
4 – Good
3 – So-so
2 – Could be improved
1 – Did not like

(4 with comment: The soba and pork were both a strong 4, however, my favorite was the tsukemen – I wish I could give it a 10!)

 

How would you rate the presentation of your order?
5 – Amazing!
4 – Good
3 – So-so
2 – Could be improved
1 – Did not like

(5 with comment: I was impressed by the creativity with these dishes! I never would have thought of using KZ teaware like this. I may have to try this out for myself as well!)

 

Would you order the experimental item you had today if it were on the regular menu?
Yes
No

(Yes with comment: I would order all of them!)

 

How would you rate the service and atmosphere today?
5 – Amazing!
4 – Good
3 – So-so
2 – Could be improved
1 – Did not like

(5 with comment: Thank you for accommodating my group!)

 

Any other thoughts you’d like to share?

(To Masaru and Isamu – I really enjoyed this month’s menu! The nostalgia and excitement really captured the feeling of Fall. Like always, I leave amazed at how you both are challenging not only each other, but what we think about tea and food. I’m so happy I was able to bring my friends this time and looking forward to your new experiments next month! – M)

 

*

 

Time: 10:00 ~
No. dropped items: ||||||||

 

Yuki winced at the clatter from the inner kitchen, adding one more tally mark to her chart. She was glad that there were no customers in the store that she had to apologize to. ‘It’s like they know Alicia is in a mood,’ Yuki mused as another crash followed.

Once Yuki marked a tenth tally, she moved away from the inner door. Soon enough, quick footsteps approached and the inner door swung open, just barely missing Yuki, as Alicia stomped her way to the front door. Flour from her ponytail flung behind her as she stormed out.

Yuki glanced over at the shelf by the inner door. She reached over to pick up the small notebook that had been left there and waited patiently at the counter.

As expected, the front door opened and Yuki held out the notebook wordlessly. It was snatched up in a puff of flour.

Yuki sighed but gave a small smile. ‘It’s up to you now,’ she thought, sending hope to the tea master by the coast.

Alicia returned just after sunset, leaving a whiff of tea in her wake as she sped back towards the inner kitchen. Yuki smiled and started a new log.

 

Time: 17:00~
No. dropped items: ||

 

*

 

Text message history with Yui

— Hey what do you use for your notebook?

Do you mean the notebook itself?

— Yeah

Well, I just copied Master Miyo’s notebook, to be honest. She works on hers every evening, usually when I pick up Naru before practice.

— What?? What does she use it for? I didn’t know tea masters have notebooks like that.

I don’t know if all tea masters do, I think it’s just something Miyo does. She showed me some older ones she has and it seems like she’s been keeping notes since before she was even a specialist.

— Huh. Never would have known. Miyo makes everything look easy. Like some people I know who smash me all the time.

Hey now, you smashed me a ton today.

— Yeah but that’s only because you were trying out new moves. I’m just doing the same old things and staying horrible.

You’re not horrible, Yui.

— But I’m not improving, which I’d say is even worse.

Tell you what, come meet me at Miyo’s shop tomorrow. I’m sure Miyo won’t mind if you ask to see her notebooks too – it was really helpful to hear what she went through.

Besides, her shop’s a nice place to focus before practice. Sometimes it’s the space that makes a difference.

— That and the people in it. Thanks, Makoto. I’ll see you tomorrow at the tea shop.

 

*

 

It’s seen rain and desolation, sun and happiness, all from the view from Ishikawa’s shoulder. Though it was just a simple strap that held mug and man together, it was enough to last through many years.

For most of those years, the travel mug had been filled every morning with a black tea made by the tea master with rough hands and sudden laugh that always made Ishikawa chuckle.

Now, however, the hands that Ishikawa handed the travel mug to in the mornings were softer, their laugh quieter. The tea that filled the mug was still dark, with a flavor that reached deep to recall old memories. But where it was different was its lightness, a spark that kept the present afloat, for both Ishikawa and the mug.

Because it knows that there will be a morning where Ishikawa will not reach for the mug for their daily journey into the sunrise, and all that will be left is the faint scent of tea.

 

*

 

Dear Grandmaster of the Tea Master’s Association,

Normally I would not agree to attend a superfluous event such as yesterday’s ceremony. It is not that I rank commemorations of peace low in my list of priorities; it is that so few are able to strike the right balance of tradition and respect. At best, they have been a sentimental reliving of the past; at worst, an excuse to make a profit through questionable entertainment under the guise of an homage.

Yesterday’s event was none of these.

From the invitation to the first step onto the premises, from the first bell of the ceremony to the last sip of tea, I was filled with emotions that I frankly had begun to believe were no longer accessible.

It is because of this that I must humbly request for you to pass on my gratitude to the tea master who I understand not only performed the tea rites but also planned the entirety of the ceremony. I regretfully was unable to catch her name, caught up as I was in the moment, which, I must add, is a feat that no one else has ever been able to achieve until her.

Thank you for asking me to attend. The memory of this experience will be one that I will call upon frequently as an honest example of peace.

Respectfully,

General Matsu, Southern Region

 

*

 

Student record no. 762019
Class: History of herb tea
Final grade: 88 / 90
Student description: Tea master with a serene smile
Notes: I wasn’t sure what to expect having a tea master in the midst of aspiring specialists, considering last semester’s complications. While this student is fairly well-known for the events at Mirror Island a decade ago, she holds herself unlike other tea masters who have gained a certain level of popularity. Compared to those tea masters who had attended courses to recruit specialists into their schools, this student had no such premeditations. She is a student of tea, through and through, one who shares her love and vision of tea through humility and generosity. She will be a great addition to any classroom.

 

*

 

Sender: Mariko
Item: 1 package
Contents: 1 tin of enigma blend tea (named by sender), 1 stack of notecards
Contains 1 note. Message begins below:

First – I hear you on the petal ceremony. I had to use it last month and if Master Tsukiyama had seen my posture, there would be a teapot shaped imprint on the back of my head by now.

Second – I’m trying something new with the relativity technique: if you have the water at first roll, try adding a pinch of D1 oil to the water. I’ve been finding that softens the taste during the first cycle.

Third – Last month’s challenge was insane. I never want to look at oranges again. Recipes enclosed.

Fourth and last – This month’s challenge is a tasting course using the enclosed *blend and **coconut. ITMA rules.

— Mariko

*It’s lavender, end of argument.
**Fresh coconut. Don’t you roll your eyes at me.

Message ends

 

*

 

(Water boiling.)

(Timer chirps.)

(Footsteps. A breath.)

(Water pouring into teapot.)

“Lower your elbows a bit. It’ll help make that circular motion easier as you power.”

“There, that’s it.”

(Pot set back on the stove.)

— “Wow, you can already smell the nightflower.”

“Mm. In fact, the strength of the nightflower can tell you how well you controlled the temperature of the water. Too hot and the smell becomes too strong, almost sour. Too cold and the smell is too weak. This is just right.”

(Scratch of a pencil against paper.)

“Now, what is something that we have forgotten?”

(Tick of the clock.)

— “Oh no.”

(Fumbling. Beeping of timer settings.)

“It’s okay. Breathe.”

“Good. Think back about how much time has past and enter the remaining time.”

— “But what if -”

“It’s okay. Working with the unexpected is part of making tea. Sometimes, you just have to see what happens. It might surprise you.”

(A deep breath in.)

— “Okay.”

(Final beep of the timer.)

“Great. Now, my favorite part.”

(Breeze through the shop.)

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