“We’re already born with the power to heal ourselves. Plants have the potential to enhance that power, that’s all.”
“In the end, whether or not you feel healed is entirely up to you.”
“There’s no magical chant that can make everyone better just like that.”
Miho Sasaki bubbles with laughter as she tells me this. She makes Japanese mugwort tea, or yomogi-cha, under the brand – suu – at her seaside studio in Itoshima, Fukuoka Prefecture.
Neither is nature a cure-all, nor can any influence from the outside fulfill us within. Miho’s words are sincere and kind without being over-pampering. They resonate with us because she believes in our innate, fundamental strength.
Miho was born and raised in the posh Setagaya ward in the heart of Tokyo. Despite the location, her family’s home at the time had plenty of nature nearby. Her outdoor-loving grandfather took her to play by the Tama River, where she picked nuts from the wild chinquapin and walnut trees, and gathered Japanese mugwort (yomogi) and horsetail growing on the riverbanks. She spent her childhood days familiarizing herself with plants.
Later, Miho traveled back and forth between the United States and Japan, working as a vet and in the world of high-tech, only to find herself swamped with work and exhausted. She pondered over how to listen to her heart and live her own life, and her answer was to surround herself with nature and work with plants. When she finally returned to Japan for good, she could no longer picture herself living in Tokyo, and so she did some searching and chose to live by the lovely waters of Itoshima.
“Living in Itoshima opened my eyes to things that were already in the world around me but I just wasn’t seeing. I would walk along the ridges of the paddy fields, for instance, and notice that the view has changed between morning and evening. In a matter of days, I would find new flowers blooming that weren’t there before.”
Before, Miho used to select vegetables from the assortment lining the supermarket shelves as a matter of course. That wasn’t the norm here in Itoshima. Take the New Year’s rice porridge nanakusa-gayu for example. Some residents go to the mountains and the fields themselves to gather the seven herbs that go into the dish. Human activities connect with nature in an organic way in Itoshima. Living here inspired Miho to harvest wild herbs and make her own tea. This was the beginning of her brand – suu – .
“From the beginning up to now, all of my [yomogi-cha] recipes are original. Yomogi is suitable for eating, drinking, and steaming, and even for use in moxibustion. It’s an herb with a long history and a wide range of uses. But I had never heard of any other person or company attempting to draw out its full potential as a food or tea ingredient. So I thought I would give it a try.”
Miho has always liked to experiment and take an academic approach to her endeavors. Also, the – suu – brand of yomogi-cha is essentially made with weeds. Every detail makes a difference—where the plants grew, the season and time of day they were picked, how they were dried—and there are variations in the finished product. The challenge makes tea production all the more rewarding. “The more effort I put in, the better the tea tastes. The other side of the coin is that there isn’t a moment to relax; I’m always on my toes.”
Miho sees her tea as a gift of nature, and often describes what she does as “sharing.”
“When you open your heart, you welcome into your body all kinds of scents and scenes, and you can communicate with nature. You discover and learn so much, and none of that knowledge is available online. I absorb it all in person, and it makes me feel happy and grateful that I’m alive. I want to share that feeling with others.”
Miho makes a business out of producing tea from wild yomogi growing in the fields and foothills of the mountains. But she draws a line between “sharing” and exploitation of nature. If money were her only objective, perhaps she could do things differently. But she chooses not to, because she doesn’t want to lose contact with nature.
“This means I can’t make products in high quantities for low prices. But I don’t want to feel as if I’m intruding into nature and taking the plants for money. I don’t’ want to go there.”
Miho says the sensation of entering into nature and taking from it had always given her a sense of security, because she felt that her life was part of a large cycle. Recently, her idea has reached a new level of maturity. She decided to go beyond just taking from nature by setting up a field for growing yomogi. She has just started preparing the soil.
“Up to now, I was only looking at living and the life cycle—that is, life. But working with the soil helped me think beyond that to death. All life returns to the earth in the end. The earth isn’t just one substance; it’s all kinds of substances, a receptacle for the end of life, and it feeds and nourishes the next life. What a magnificent concept—returning to earth! Working with the soil has taught me that eventually, I’ll be returning here too.”
And so the maker of yomogi-cha has gone on to prepare the soil and cultivate the land—this much sounds natural and admirable enough. The reality, however, was not all smooth sailing.
Behind the scenes was a plethora of adversities. Climate change and the use of weedkillers in the satoyama area, or community forests between the foothills and the fields, caused changes in the flavor and scent of yomogi. On top of that, a decline in herb pickers and other workers made it virtually impossible to source quality yomogi for making tea. These external factors stood in the way of the product inquiries that kept coming from in and outside Japan.
Preparing the soil and cultivating the land was simply the result of these adversities. Last year, Miho was pressed to consider folding her brand, but instead, she decided to grow her own yomogi. It took about six months to get to the point where the actual field work could begin. Meanwhile, she overcame numerous administrative hurdles. She kept her sights on her goal the whole time, and at last managed to make this year’s batch of yomogi-cha.
“It’s like the tidal cycle. The waxing and waning of the moon causes the ebb and flow of bodies of water as large as the sea. If each of us is a small body of water, then no wonder we also have our own waves and ebb and flow cycles. As far as business goes, continuous growth may be the goal. But I think that goes against the law of nature.”
Miho says she has learned to live with such oscillations, perhaps thanks to life in Itoshima.
“Some people are born with resilience, but I was the complete opposite. Until only a few years ago, I lived the fast life of buying my groceries at the supermarket next to the entertainment district of Roppongi. But thanks to this experience, now I make a conscious effort every day to oscillate and find my center.”
She reflects on her lifestyle and continues, “I live to recalibrate and regain my center, and if I ever have trouble finding it, I figure that’s what makes life interesting, and I just keep on oscillating.”
Miho also had this to say during our interview:
“I am Miho Sasaki in this life, but I have a feeling that all boundaries are destined to melt away over time.”
Miho views life and death through neutral eyes. She forges a sound path through the process by going with the cycle and accepting the smallest ripples and the biggest waves, and sharing her sensation with people around the world.
Miho’s yomogi-cha is the lucid, tangible expression of a moment in that cycle.
Taste a cup of her tea, and listen as it quietly, gently infuses into your body. Do you recognize your ebb and flow? Do you feel your innate, fundamental strength?
Miho Sasaki is the owner of the yomogi and herb brand – suu –. She grows yomogi using methods that are gentle to the land and the people involved in production, and makes tea that is quietly, gently infused into the body. The name – suu – is an onomatopoeia of the quiet, gentle infusion.