Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Taste of Japan

(Pictures: Centro Bonsai greenhouse, including a plant grown for the last eighteen years by the greenhouse owner. )

Chi lascia la strada vecchia per la nuova sa quel che lascia, ma non sa quel che trova.
(Who leaves the old street for the new one, knows what he left but not what he'll find. OR
Better the devil you know than the devil you don't know.)

Nook of Naples: When I ask a Neapolitan: "Where are you from?" I usually get the same answer: Naples. In general, people are born and live in the Campania region all their lives surrounded by family. What's more, the Neapolitans tend to be fiercely proud of their local heritage, from their two thousand year history and their art to their internationally renown cuisine. Living here, therefore, means being immersed in everything Neapolitan.

But as a metropolitan port city, I also search for its international flair. What I have found is a niche of Japanese aficionados.

The Naples Bonsai Club offers classes in the Japanese art of cultivating Bonsai. The club itself is a sprawling greenhouse consisting exclusively of Bonsai. Well, okay, not all the plants are Bonsai because students begin their training with indigineous Mediterraean plants that are easier to pluck and prune.

The Bonsai Club is a bit difficult to find, hiding down a steep incline behind a gated parking lot. But with a GPS and a little adventurous spirit, plus the telephone number from the website on hand, you'll enter a take-me-away world of plants and sunshine. The owner proudly gives visitors a tour, including the Bonsai he himself has cultivated for over eighteen years. They're all Italians and if you stay a while, they'll offer you espresso from a thermos. They adhere to strict Japanese forms of Bonsai cultivation and over the years, as the pictures on the walls attest, they have invited Japanese teachers to Naples many times.

La Cucina Giapponese: Three exquisite Japanese restaurants in Naples mirror the seriousness of the Italian cooking experience here. The swell of Italians on the weekends also shows how highly the Neapolitans prize sushi, sashimi, and tempura:

A little slice of the Orient feels apropos considering that Naples was once home to traders who came to this port town from everywhere bringing spices, exotic animals, and more. Today, the Japanese flavors of Naples are small, but a real treat once found.

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