Healing often comes in a natural way. A little help from the surrounding people, a little effort to follow the rules of your new life - and slowly, gently everything settles down. This is what happened with Ishinomaki. When I came to this beautiful town in 2012, it was wounded severely by the tsunami. It was almost unbearable to look at the pictures of “before”, seeing what happened “after”. Five years later, Ishinomaki looks healthy. I guess, it is not like it used to be, it is deeply scarred, still a little bit unsettled, but it is healing. Step by step.
And now, when I think about Ishinomaki and the progress the town made in its healing, I imagine a small cafe, hidden behind Ishinomaki station, between simple houses, meant only for those who know what they are looking for.
“Sabo Momo” 茶房もも, says the signboard, with the first character 茶, meaning “tea”, just like in tea ceremony, sado. The owner of this place. Monma-san, is here, behind the counter. She smiles gently and tells us to wait a little - she needs to serve tea to her guests. A company of ladies engage in a lively talk, while drinking tea and eating sweets. One more customer, a woman dressed with some hint of ethnic charm, is leaving. “How was the curry?” asks Monma-san. “Great!”, smiles the customer, “Different from the Indian curry, but with a very intense taste. And the spice was just what I needed!” She laughs and Monma-san laughs with her, apparently understanding the deep meaning of these words.
She was born in Ishinomaki, Monoucho. Monoucho 桃生町 means “A place where peaches are born”, and Monma-san, proud of being native to Ishinomaki, chose the name Momo (peach in Japanese) for her cafe. From the very beginning it was a peculiar place. In 2001, Monma-san visited China and was fascinated by Chinese tea. “I thought, it is so nice, why not bringing Chinese tea to Ishinomaki?”, says she. Her dream came true in 2002, when “Momo” was opened for the first time, but 9 years later, on March 9th, tsunami came. The house wasn’t washed away, but it was severely damaged, so it was impossible to go on.
In 2012, a new version, Utsurohi cafe, was opened. It didn’t last for long, as in 2013 Monma-san needed healing for herself, as she was diagnosed with Thyroid cancer. She moved to Tochigi prefecture for a therapy.
While living in Tochigi, Monma-san started searching for something that could help her to rehabilitate. This is how she found Yakuzen, or Chinese food therapy. The idea behind this method is that nutrition helps us to heal. By understanding the energy qualities of different products, you can make your body feel better and fight the diseases more effectively.
Monma-san started learning in Yakuzen school in Tokyo, obtained a Yakuzenshi (the master of Yakuzen) degree and returned to Ishinomaki with a new dream - of introducing Yakuzen to her home town.
Everyday she serves lunch, based on Yakuzen doctrine. Seasonal ingredients, carefully combined to produce the best effect. You can have a 穀雨定食, Kokuu set, the lunch set, prepared by the rules of traditional Chinese calendar, or you can have Yakuzen curry. And I strongly recommend you to have some Chinese tea.
In Momo, it is not just drinking tea, it is a real ritual, tea ceremony, enjoying the sight of tea in a tiny teapot, the indescribable aroma, the taste that works like magic, creating a special mood - quiet, thoughtful, relaxed.
And if you order sweets - delicious homemade Annin-dofu, or some seasonal pastry, you won’t need anything else.
Monma-san is always happy to see new faces. Just come to Momo, order some tea and lunch, spend a day in a quiet, healing atmosphere.
And don’t worry about the language barrier - the worker at Momo speaks English and French (a little). You are welcome here.
Address: 3 Chome-3-23 Ekimae Kitadori, Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture
Working hours: 11:00-18:30
Closed on Thursdays and Fridays