Monday, March 12, 2012

Kanro Green Tea Candy

I once read a book called "Turning Japanese" by a nisei, a young man born of Japanese parents in the United States. He had been raised entirely in America and culturally, aside from the influence of his family, he was American. I read the book quite some time ago, but I recall that I didn't like it. I recall that he visited Japan at one point and reached a lot of odd conclusions about how he was actually Japanese based on a lot of superficial and tenuous links. Among the few things I remember was that he didn't like to drink a lot at once and that he learned/concluded/speculated/guessed that Japanese people had small bladders and didn't like to drink a lot either. My feeling about that is that he clearly has never been to a "nomikai" or "drinking party" in which businessmen can imbibe copious amounts of fluids regardless of their supposedly teeny tiny bladders and long-suffering livers.

This fellow was hardly the only person who felt he was "turning Japanese" from just spending some time hobnobbing with the locals, and at least he had a family cultural heritage and bloodline to back up his claims (though, as an American, I don't believe blood determines ethnicity, but rather culture... this is my particular bias). I've known more than enough lily white foreigner who felt he or she was "turning Japanese". One of my former coworkers, a British woman, came here with a head full of voluminously curly brown hair and an eclectic wardrobe. She left here with black, straight hair and the same sort of muted, boring wardrobe that you see in autumn in Tokyo. Another claims that all things Japanese are superior to all things back in her home country, or at least she did up until Fukushima when all of her faith in Japanese society crumbled with the nuclear reactors' external housing.

One of the reasons I spent a lot of my early years in Japan actively rejecting anything that was "too Japanese" was that I felt people who were clearly not of this culture pretending they could somehow be of it was foolish and, frankly, embarrassing. Let's face it, this is not an inclusive culture and the only person you fool is yourself if you believe assimilation is possible. It was a huge turn-off for me when people "went native" and lost all perspective about the yin and yang of life in all cultures. Unfortunately, my distaste for such people manifested in distaste for the things they attached themselves to and it wasn't until I started blogging about life in Japan and doing this food blog in particular that I started to more fully open up and embrace what was on offer. Beans in my sweets? Stretchy rice cake? Green tea sweets? No thank you.

Well, I've grown up a bit and I adore beans in my sweets now and have turned into a real mochi aficionado. However, I still have not strongly taken to green tea treats. If I'm served a cup of green tea with a meal set, I'll drink it. I'll even drink the cup my husband is served, too, but I won't order one or pay extra for it. If I'm given a green tea-flavored cake by a student, I'll eat it and probably enjoy it to some extent, but I won't buy it myself. With this in mind, no one was more surprised than me to find that I had a craving for something green tea flavored and found myself purchasing these Kanro green tea hard candies. I don't know what came over me. Perhaps I grew up just a little bit more in my final month in Japan or I just am so bored with the usual options that I was ready for something "new".

I found these for about 150 yen at Okashi no Machioka discount snack shop. Each sugarless candy is a nice shiny green pellet and only about 11 calories. There are two varieties. One has milk in it and the other is pretty much the "straight" green tea (matcha) version. The milk one is less bitter and mellow. The darker one carries much more of the usual straightforward bitterness of tea as you drink it from a cup, albeit with sweetness. Both of these have a rounder flavor and texture than conventional hard candies and are super smooth on the tongue. Though they are sugarless, they include margarine (yes, margarine) as an ingredient as well as cream, and I believe the added fat adds to the smooth, slightly rich feeling in your mouth.

When I consumed one of these on the way home from work, my husband got a funny look on his face and asked what I had in my mouth. I told him it was a green tea candy to which he tactfully replied that something smelled "funky". That was his nice way of saying that he really didn't care much for the stink of the candy. That means that I'm far less likely to buy these again. However, if I really loved them, I would keep buying them and eat them when he's not around. There are other things I love that he finds the scent of unpleasant that I buy and eat anyway (like sembei), but the bar is raised if he finds it nasty to be around, especially if it inhibits talking or kissing. Personally, I think these are pretty nice for green tea candies and if I developed another inexplicable desire for a green tea sweet, I might even buy them again. I imagine a true green tea fan would find them quite enjoyable, but I think this will be my last bag. I guess that I'm really not "turning Japanese" as they aren't quite suited to my tastes.

1 comment:

Will said...

Turning Japanese was written by David Mura, a sansei. I remember reading his book and feeling that such a good opportunity had been wasted... and after buying his poems, I really have a hard time feeling sorry for the guy.

Your observations are far more informative/insightful than most of what I've read that has been written about Japan by foreigners.

I would definitely buy a few of your books should you ever choose to publish.