Matcha Maiden recently had a wonderful opportunity to head back to her motherland, Japan. As she has been keeping busy growing a beautiful matcha family, she hasn't had much time to go back to basics since starting the matcha mission late last year. But at the end of the harvest a few weeks ago, she decided to take a few days to visit the tea farm and spend time with her beautiful tea farmers. It has been many years since her last trip to Japan when she first discovered the magic of matcha, but her love for the Japanese people, the food, the language and their fascinating culture was just as strong when she returned this time. Here are some highlights from the trip.
Most interesting fact learnt/reminded of about matcha?
Many different kinds of green tea all come from the very same tea leaves! They are just grown and harvested in different ways. And that doesn't just mean different grades of the same kind of green tea, it actually means different kinds of green tea altogether. For example, sencha and matcha green tea both come from the same leaves but are grown completely differently. You can imagine how funny the tea farmers thought it was when we started taking photos of the wrong bushes in the wrong areas... How could we know when they all look the same!?
Best matcha food item/recipe/flavoured product?
Matcha green tea kit kats! Definitely not exactly gluten free, vegan, paleo or even close to clean eating but SO delicious. We brought home boxes full of them after discovering them in bulk at the airport. Duty free gets us every time!
Best overall food experience?
The Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. What a fascinating place and home to the MOST indescribably fresh and delicious sushi going around. It handles over 2,000 tonnes of marine products everyday. There is an inner market where all the seafood wholesaling occurs, including the world famous tuna auctions (you had to queue from 4am to get one of 120 tickets per day, so we skipped this part and just talked our way into the market place around 8am before the tourists were allowed in - Japanese language skills can be useful!) Then there is an outer market full of sushi restaurants where everyone enjoys their fresh sushi breakfasts. I know, sushi for breakfast? It's surprisingly delicious.
Funniest cultural experience?
Doing business in other countries and understanding other business cultures can be confusing and difficult to navigate! One of the beautiful things about the Japanese is how polite they are and how many customs they have around hierarchy and honour. The most important in a group is generally the one to sit down first and everyone else should generally wait to be directed to a seat. For us, our tea farmers were the ones welcoming us and so of course they should sit first as they were so kindly offering their hospitality. For them, we had come a long way to meet them and are a regular customer of theirs so they felt we should sit first. We ended up spending about 45 minutes shuffling around avoiding being the first to sit down. And that was before we even got STARTED on exchanging of business cards... It ended up being a stand-up meeting - it just seemed easier!
Weirdest/quirkiest part of the trip?
There are some beautiful things in Japan, but there are also some seriously strange things in Japan. Harajuku being an obvious one, we loved wandering around the area seeing the flamboyant costumes that people were wearing casually around the place as if it were completely normal to be dressed like a Pokemon in the middle of the day. There was also a ninja restaurant, a maid restaurant, love hotels, and then those automated toilets! Anyone who has been to Japan will know about the toilets that all have a remote control with more buttons than a button shop! And the polite recorded sound of running water that comes on automatically when you sit down so no-one can hear you get on with it. So pleasant.
Challenges of the trip?
This was Matcha Maiden's very first time being away from the business and it is definitely something you need to plan for, especially during the growth phase. Everyone in small business will know how hard it is to step out and make sure things can still run smoothly without you. The trip was a good test of how systemised the business is and areas where we could improve for next time. And also a good example of how a change of scenery can be very useful to get the creative juices flowing! New experiences always help provide new perspectives and ideas.
Keeping up with orders, enquiries, social media, and everything in between even in a timezone that was only slightly different and even during a work trip was quite challenging and requires a lot of organisation. In particular, social media was hard to keep up with when we were on the go without wifi quite often. Hot tip: Pre-schedule your posts as much as you can. Your followers like regular content, and it's hard to know when you will have enough wifi/time/energy on the road to post, so try a pre-scheduling app to help manage this.
Take-aways from the trip?
A huge take-away for Matcha Maiden was the importance of building relationships face to face. It can be easy enough these days to slip into the habit of doing everything online - e-mail, social media, text, Skype.... It's crazy how long things can go without you ever meeting someone in person. But it makes a WORLD of difference to build a relationship in the flesh. Meeting our whole team at the Japanese end who we communicate with every day and even just spending a short few days with them has deepened our relationship and assisted greatly in our business dealings. We have since applied that as much as possible back home, trying to physically attend as many meetings as possible and meet as many members of the matcha family as we can. It has been a wonderful journey so far, and we can't wait for the next phase of the matcha mission...