A Curious Call from Japan
I recently got a phone call from an old friend in Tokyo. After chatting a bit, he asked me when I would be visiting Japan again. I lamented that it wouldn’t be soon enough, adding that my wife was in Tokyo at that very moment, staying with her mother in Ayase, and posting endless photos of the spring blossoms. “Eh?” he said. He asked me when she would return to the U.S., and for the Ayase address. Somewhat mysteriously, he also requested a photo of my wife and I together. I obliged.
Bringing Home the Treats
A week later my wife arrived home with the usual suitcase packed with pickled plums, candied seaweed, more pickled this and that, and rice crackers, as well as something unexpected - a parcel addressed to the both of us. I looked at the shipping label. My memory and deductive powers being in perpetual decline, I struggled to comprehend why I should be receiving something from a place named Bebe Nature in Kofu, Yamanashi.
It wasn’t until I untied the box and looked inside – and saw amongst the individually wrapped delicacies our faces, framed in a cookie wreath - that recollection illuminated my befogged mind.
The abovementioned friend, a native of Yamanashi himself, had sent us a box of patisserie treats – madeleines, financiers , butter snaps and tarts - with our grinning faces, cheek to cheek, encircled in a cookie garland.
“Ah. It’s from -----san!”
When Words Won’t Suffice
When asked by Americans unfamiliar with Japan what I like most about the country, I always make mention of the food – just not all of what I like. Case in point, I never bring up Japan’s excellent French and European desserts and pastries. In my stateside neighborhood, where ice cream, cheesecake, chocolate pie and, of course, chocolate chip cookies the size of ten pound free weights reign supreme for dessert, people aren’t always fine-tuned to the joys of tea cakes and flower cookies. No one gushes over the perfect texture of a madeleine, or the caramelized snap of an almond financier. And butter cookies, alas, are often found languishing upon a doily, awaiting an ignominious end in the rubbish bin.
Not so in Japan, where the perfectly acculturated European confectionery tradition is as much revered as native wagashi and chagashi. I suppose this has something to do with the exalted place of tea in Japanese culture, and the Japanese preference for a nuanced degree of sweetness; but the Japanese aesthetic leans to the understated, the simple, and the fresh.
Later, as I bit into one of the two madeleines in the box, and sipped a cup of green tea, I thought: “Wow. And this gift, from a friend returning a small favor I’d done, is an example of a unique culture of gratitude.” After all, bringing and sending edible gifts to friends and associates is the essence of proper etiquette in Japan.
The Terroir of Yamanashi
Taking a gander at the patisserie’s website, I was struck by the rich selection of European desserts and pastries – not just French. The shop sells apple streusel tarts, Engadin-inspired confections of all shapes and sizes, choux desserts, Parisian flan, clafoutis and biscotti, again in many forms.
I was reminded that Yamanashi prefecture is one of Japan’s leading agricultural centers. Braced by mountain ranges, with towering Mt. Fuji to the south and the rugged Southern Alps to the west, this landlocked region nonetheless enjoys a mild climate, ideal for producing exquisite red grapes, plums, peaches and other fruits. Water is plentiful and pure, and with abundant highland pasturage, Yamanashi is one of Japan’s great dairy producers, as well.
Bebe Nature’s creations are homegrown; even the coloring used in the edible flowers is taken from natural vegetable sources.
No wonder I couldn’t stop eating those things!
A Season for Sweets and Gratitude
As images of springtime flowers and snow-capped mountains mingled in my mind’s eye, and my wife continued her tales of her elderly mother’s solitary life, I nibbled on a caramel tart, and said: “Well, she won’t be lonely for long. You-know-who is visiting her next week.” It was true. Our daughter was headed to Tokyo on a business trip, and would be spending her free days with her beloved chacha.
Later I was thinking about that, and the years my nonagenarian mother-in-law had spent caring for our daughter decades ago. Maybe I was feeling a tinge of regret (for gaffes de etiquette? lol), or perhaps just nostalgia, as I made my selection from the Biscuits aux Fleur page, and input payment and shipping info for my purchase. I uploaded a favorite digitized snapshot of the lady from younger days, smiling beautifully, with a two-year old girl perched on her lap, sitting under the bough of an Ayase cherry tree.
No message needed; I hit ‘send.’
For something delicious to gift a loved one – or anyone – along with a nice photo, visit: