The Chai Shop

Hidden away in the basement of an apartment complex in the middle of a quiet neighborhood near Umeda sits a tea and coffee shop called Cante Grande. IMG_8940

It’s exterior resembles the front of a private residence, rather than a cafe, so it’s easy to pass it by if you aren’t looking. True to its slogan, “if you want to relax, this is the only tea shop around here.”

The shop offers authentic Indian cuisine, freshly brewed coffee, and a wide assortment of herbal tea – specifically chai. A few of their Indian-inspired original chai spice blends include mint, cardamom, ginger, and anise. Bags of their loose tea leaves are also available for purchase, so you can sample a blend and brew it at home.

Though Cante Grande prides itself on its assortment of specialty chai’s, hence the “chai shop,” my favorite thing about the place wasn’t the tea at all, but the extensive collection of imported Indian and Hindu-inspired items – from incense sticks scented almond, grass, musk, and even cannabis, to animal statuettes and figurines, to patterned fabrics, to bowls of individually handcrafted beads. It’s a peculiar, haphazard assortment, but it’s a display worth seeing. I’d recommend the shop to anyone just for the display – and for the perfectly-steeped chai tea beverages too, I suppose.


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Here are the directions.



In Japanese, 梅:うめ or ume, meaning plum. It’s actually an apricot, but always referred to as a plum. They’re light green when unripe and redden as they ripen. They’re inedible, ripe or unripe. Apparently they’re sour and bitter and a little poisonous. 

Ume are in season right now. They’ll be in season until mid-July. The grocery stores are stocked with bags and bags of these little plums. And stores are also well-stocked with bags of special rock sugar and cartons of white liquor, which you need to make your own umeshu, or plum wine.

Today I watched an old woman fill her cart with lots of liquor and sugar and plums and I imagined her making plum wine. She’s been making her own plum wine for years and years. She probably learned from her mother. When she was younger I bet she thought the preparation process was tedious. But now she finds it soothing: she likes removing all the stem ends from the plums with a bamboo skewer, finds satisfaction in discarding the plums with any brown or blemished spots, enjoys layering the glass jars with plums, rock sugar, plums, rock sugar, liquor. She probably stores these two jars in a compartment under the floorboards, where she keeps all of her other jars of umeshu. Maybe some jars are 3 or 4 years old now, maybe as old as 10. When she opens the compartment to place the fresh jars inside, she takes out one of the older jars, removes the cap, ladles the alcohol into a glass, takes a sip. She calls her husband, who’s out in the garden. He comes in and take a sip from the glass and utters a grunt of approval. She smiles, then screws the cap back on and places the jar back in the compartment, where it’ll continue to wait patiently for a little while longer. 


Here’s an article about how to make your own umeshu for anyone who’s curious.

Rice field green

I arrived in Minoh at the beginning of August, which is near the end of rice planting season.

There’s a small rice field behind my apartment building and I pass by it on my way to the train station. I remember thinking how beautiful the color was – a bright emerald green. From then on when someone asked me my favorite color I said, “rice field green.”


But after the rice was harvested in the fall, the field was nothing more than a plot of dirt. It turned brown and weeds grew and sometimes I found trash and empty bottles thrown in. I’ve been walking past it without a second glance for over half a year now.

But this morning on my walk to the station I noticed that the field had been flooded and little rice grains had been planted.


And in a few weeks, my favorite little rice field will be grown and green again.

My students

When I walk through the halls my students greet me, in English, hello! Sometimes they’ll ask, how are you? I’ll say I’m good, or great, or happy. When I ask my students how they are they tell me that they’re either very very hungry or very very sleepy. Me too, I say, very very sleepy too.

Sometimes my students will ask me questions about myself. Like: Where are you from? Are you Japanese? Where did you learn English? Why is your English so good?

Once, a student reached up and touched the ends of my hair and said: Why is your hair curly like that? and How does it do that? I told her that it’s natural, that I wake up and my hair is curly. She didn’t understand. I tried my best to explain, but she still didn’t understand how it all worked, so I gave up and said, “magic.”

To get to the English room, the other English teacher and I walk down the hall where the 1st grade classes are. If the 1st graders are on break, they’ll run out of their classrooms and call out “Julia-sensei and *****-sensei are here!!” And an ambush of first graders will rush out and cling onto our arms and shout hello!!! and spit out as many English words as they can before we reach the end of the hall.

During the 30 minute break before third period starts, sometimes a few 1st, 2nd, and/or 3rd graders will stop by the English room to visit me and my partner. They’ll write our names on the chalkboard in katakana. They’ll tap on the electric board while I pull up my PowerPoint for the next lesson and they’ll ask what the other grades are studying today. They’ll talk to us, joke with us, tell us how their day is going. They’ll complain about being very very very sleepy.

When classes start, my students file in, green English folders and patterned pencil cases in hand. They’ll wave at me and my partner and say good morning or good afternoon. A few scream it. One of my 3rd grade students always enters the classroom pretending to be a zombie. He’ll come in with wide eyes and dangling arms, walk up to me and my partner and scratch at our arms like a zombie until we say “zombie, zombie!”

Some come up to me and stare at my name tag and then touch the heart sticker I stuck in the corner.

My students are obsessed with stickers. (I suppose stickers are a big deal no matter where you are in the world.) In Japanese they’re called シール, or seals. I’ve bought a bunch of sheets from Daiso, the 100 yen store. I buy extra because sometimes at the end of the day I like to take leftover stickers and stick them on my lessons plans or the back of my name tag.

Recently I’ve been trying to include more activities where I can hand them out as a reward.

Because I only have about a month left with my students and I know that I’m going to miss giving them stickers.