March 11, 2011. A most memorable birthday as a murderous tsunami took thousands of lives, left hundreds of thousands homeless, and demolished villages in Japan. Halfway around the world, as I mourned the loss, I contacted relatives in Tokyo, volunteered for a nationwide bakesale event and donated my annual bike race winnings to earthquake relief. I tried to take comfort in the faith that many had, that resilience, which has come to define Japanese character, would allow the country to emerge from the disaster an even stronger nation. [Artwork by Kim Diggs for the FCD Japan Relief T-shirt.]
The wrenching headlines about the disaster eventually--and finally--calmed down. Yet half a year later, the news continues to produce stories about undisclosed radiation levels in the air and in food. Warranted or not, they perpetuate concern and fear.
I had decided to skip visiting Japan this year. But then an irresistible opportunity arose. An international coffee competition was taking place in September: The World Siphonist Championships! Siphon is a brewing method popular in Japan that produces--arguably--the finest cup of coffee there is. A coffee geek, I was thrilled by the idea of competing with baristas from around the world. Though I have never served coffee to a customer, I have invested dozens of hours attending coffee brewing classes all over the country. I persuaded the Specialty Coffee Association of America to allow me to represent the US. They gave me their blessing. And I was off.