What does Ochanoko sai sai mean? – Japanese saying –
“Mou ochanoko saisai desuyo (もうお茶の子さいさいですよ)” my Japanese neighbour said and we started talking about the origin of this saying. The meaning is “very easy” but I´d never thought about the deep meaning of it.
Ocha is tea and ko means child. A child of the tea? Hmm, it doesn´t much sense. Saisai? I was puzzled.
Ochanoko is a small sweet comes with a tea. It´s so small that it doesn´t fill you so much. Ko came from the size, something small.
Saisai doesn´t have meaning but a shout such as “oi!” or “hey hey!” in English. The sweet is and you can literary throw it into your mouth, also you can eat quickly.
The word chanoko has been used for a long time. For example, a court noble who lived in the Sengoku period (戦国時代, end of 15th century to the end of 16th century) left a diary and he often wrote that he would have had drink with chanoko-mochi (茶の子餅) with his good monk friend.
In the Edo period (江戸時代, 1603-1867), there were vendors who sold chanoko for morning snack. Until the mid Edo period, farmers only had two meals a day (lunch and dinner). And the light snack with tea they had in the morning was chanoko, a small company of tea. Later, the workload increased and people started having breakfast. That means, chanoko was a snack before breakfast (back then it was lunch) and this is why the synonym of ochanoko saisai is Asameshi mae (朝飯前), before breakfast.
Kongoshoji (金剛證寺) is a buddhist temple in Mie prefecture. There, there is a tea house,Fujimitei Takeya (富士見亭竹屋) where welcomes the visitors.
Only three days (some say five days) a year, the tea house sells Chanoko-mochi during the memorial of the founder of the temple. It´s a small mochi ball with lots of anko in it.
I´ve been talking about tea but actually the word cha doesn´t only mean tea but also means tea-based food. Tea-based food is not a main meal but a snack food. In English, some people call dinner or supper, tea and they would have a light meal as well as some tea.
This is Chagayu (茶粥), riche porridge cooked with tea was a common chanoko (breakfast).
This is Magocha (マゴチャ) that fishermen in Izu (伊豆) region eat. Sashimi of bonito on the rice and pour hot tea over it is the local fishermen´s favourite snack food. I have no doubt and I love to eat it too. According to the theory of a folklorist, Kunio Yanagida (柳田邦男, 1875-1962), the word magocha could come from mago, a grandchild and cha, tea. Even smaller and simpler than chanoko, a child of tea.
I´m not sure if this is so simple because I would lay a mount of sashimi on the rice!
Ochanoko saisai, I´d been using this saying for a long time without thinking the origin but I´ve found a tasty word journey at the end. But all of the foods I mentioned are small, light, easy to digest and they don´t fill you. In this way they keep the sense of ochanoko saisai, easy and quick to do without so much effort.