Beyond Uji & Shizuoka: tea cultivation in Japan

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I was having a chat with a Japanese tea instructor recently who kindly pointed out (when I told him some Japanese people seemed not to know there are nice Japanese teas grown in Yakushima Island) that many Japanese think in Uji or Shizuoka when talking about tea, nothing else.
 
The interesting part of this is that there are lots of teas grown beyond Uji or Shizuoka. In fact, there are multiple tea growing regions in Japan, which produce teas of outstanding quality such as Kagoshima or Yakushima. Kagoshima is the second tea producing region after Shizuoka, Kyoto is not even within the top three. And there are many more tea producing areas outhere.

SO HOW MANY JAPANESE TEA PRODUCTION REGIONS ARE THERE?

If we talk about prefectures when referring to regions these are the ones with the largest tea production:
 
Shizuoka
Kagoshima
Mie
Kyoto
Fukuoka

Miyazaki

 

Each of the regions included in the list above is comprised by different areas where tea is grown. And the ways of sowing, growing, harvesting & processing the tea leaves vary from one region to the next. In fact sometimes we can find different methods used within the same region since each farmer likes to do things slightly different than his neighbours.

WHICH ARE THE MAIN TEA GROWING AREAS PER REGION?

While there are lots of tea growing areas all around Japan, it isn’t possible to list them all over here. This is an quite extensive list of the most prominent Japanese tea regions dedicated to tea cultivation.

SHIZUOKA

1. Fuji & Numazu teas are produced widely Southwest of Mt.Fuji. Susono &Ashitaka are large teas estates where automated tea cultivation is used. 2. Shimizu & Haibara Both Shimizu & Haibara have long history of producing tea. A well known tea is produced in Nihondaira along the Okitsu River. 3. Shizuoka the highest quality teas are produced near Abe river. 4. Shita tea farms are scattered along Fujieda, Shimada, & Okabe. The area close to Asahina river is famous for producing fine Gyokuro. 5. Kawane largely producing fine quality tea close to Ooi river.

6. Makinohara the land used to be maintained for large tea cultivation. Nowadays Makinohara tea estate is known as the largest in Japan with 5000 hectares dedicated to tea cultivation. 7. Chubu tea estate spread to Iwatahara. Most of the tea farms are located on the hillside. Deep & extra deep steamed teas are famous here. 8. Hokubu & Enshu good quality teas are cultivated near the Ota River & Tenryu River. 9. Seibu Seibu area has a long history of tea cultivation. Tea is produced mainly in Mikatahara. The most widespread cultivar around Shizuoka is yabukita.

KAGOSHIMA

1. Kirishima Kirishima is located between Kagoshima bay & the mountains. Makizono is its most highly regarded terroir & it is said that one of the most highly regarded sencha teas is grown in this area.

2. Chiran located in South West Kagoshima, next to Kirishima, is one of the most prestigious tea growing regions in Kagoshima. Sencha & fukamushicha are their specialties.

3. Shibushi is a top region for tamaryokucha, shincha & organic gyokuro. A leading tea producing area in Kagoshima. 4. Yakushima many people including Japanese do not know that around 25 tea plantations exist in Yakushima island. Perhaps the total production is not that large, yet I really think they should be in the list since the teas I have tried (and source for the shop) are of a remarkable quality.

About 60% of the total tea production in Japan is carried on between Shizuoka & Kagoshima. While tea production in Shizuoka has been declining during the recent years, it is growing little by little in Kagoshima. It might not take long until Kagoshima becomes the first tea production region in Japan. Perhaps there are other tea cultivation regions around Kagoshima I haven’t accounted for. If I find any other later on I will update this article. Miyazaki
 
I think Miyazaki is an interesting case since if we check in the map for Miyazaki prefecture, Kirishima lays outside its borders. However, Kirishima is sometimes considered part of Miyazaki instead Kagoshima when talking about tea production as I have seen in a couple of articles. The teas from Kirishima in our shop read Kagoshima in the packet, so will keep Kirishima within the Kagoshima region. It might be something similar to Uji teas, if the tea blends contain some tea from within the Uji tea growing region they can be called Uji teas The types of teas produced in Miyazaki are tamaryokucha (guricha), oolong, white & kamairicha. Gokase in this region kamairicha of outstanding quality is produced. There are also other types of teas produced in Gokase. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find much more info about this region’s tea cultivation areas, so I might have to dig a bit deeper in the future & add more information.

MIE

Mie Mie is the third tea producing region in Japan. They are well known for kabuse sencha production & they have a famous tea Ise cha. A third of the total amount of kabusecha produced in Japan is produced in Mie.
 
Suizawa is the place where kabusecha originates from.

KYOTO

1. Uji is by far one of the most famous tea villages in Japan. This is not due to its cultivation area surface since it is small but due to its long standing tea cultivation tradition. Uji matcha is highly regarded & appreciated especially in tea ceremonies. This little charming tea haven is my favourite place to visit each time I travel to Japan. My credit card suffers but my palate rejoices!


2. Wazuka is a tea cultivation area in Kyoto I have visited a couple of times. A lovely place packed with tea fields all around where half of Kyoto’s tea production takes place. There are several places where you can enjoy tea treats & tea plantations you can visit. Wazuka feels like a second home to me & I cannot wait to go back. I think the articles about Wazuka & Uji are well overdue.
3. Ujitawara it is said that the green tea manufacturing method still in use nowadays was born here. There are more than 100 tea farmers within the region & there are a number of tea related events happening during the fresh-tea season.
4. Minamiyamashiro a tea cultivation area next to Wazuka. This area is to be thanked for the improvements developed within the tea production technological field. I listed this area separately since different maps covered more or less areas.
5. Kyotanabe is located close the tea auction market. The area of Inooka is part of the history walk of the 800 years of Japanese tea & also good quality gyokuro is produced.
 
6. Kizugawa a small are close to Kamo & Wazuka which is also part of the history walk of the 800 years of Japanese tea. Fukuoka Yame is one of the most renown regions for tea cultivation in Fukuoka. Their teas are of a high quality especially the ones grown close to the Hoshino river.

 

ARE THERE ANY OTHER REGIONS IN JAPAN WHERE TEA IS ALSO CULTIVATED?

Apart from all the regions already listed above, there are some other places where tea is grown in more modest quantities that might surprise you.
 
Okinawa sanpin is the most well known tea & it is produced in its Northern Region. Sanpin meaning jasmin, as you will have guessed is a flavoured tea. If you have visited Japan before & have tried some jasmin bottled tea from a vending machine, you have tried sanpin tea unknowingly. They also produce a number of healthy infusions made using herbs & vegetables grown in the island. Ibaraki & Saitama Sashima in Ibaraki & Sayama in Saitama are also tea production areas. Wakoucha & sencha are the main types of teas produced in Sashima whereas sencha is the main type of tea produced in Sayama.
 
Nishio & Gifu a matcha of outstanding quality is produced in Nishio, Aichi, whereas in Gifu we can find Shirakawa tea made in a traditional way, they don’t use chemicals or pesticides. Due to its high costs Nishio farmers requested the Japanese government to cancel their brand protection so they could be more flexible with their cultivation methods.
Shiga prefecture is located between Nagoya & Kyoto. Tea grown in Shiga is generally known as Ômicha, however is worth noting that this tea can be also used to make Uji tea blends & therefore called just that. Shigaraki by Kôka city is where we can see how fast the tea production has spread in this area. Non-shaded super short steamed teas dominate the tea production in the Asamiya area.
 
Nara tea is also cultivated in Nara prefecture. Yamatocha how it is known can be found everywhere & is cultivated in the Yamato Highlands, hence its name. It’s wakoucha or Japanese black tea.
 
Okayama also produces interesting types of teas such as bancha & houji bancha.
 
Shimane & Yamaguchi oolong, bancha, genmaicha, green & black teas of good quality are produced in Shimane. To experience the tea traditions of this region a visit to Matsue, its capital is recommended. 90% of the total amount of tea produced in Yamaguchi is produced by a single tea plant in Ube city, mainly green tea.
Tokushima & Kochi awabancha, a rare type of post-fermented & pickled Japanese tea is produced in Tokushima & goishicha is made in Otoyo, a town from Kochi prefecture. These two are the rarest teas you can find in Japan. I have tried both, they have a funky smell but they don’t taste as bad, I prefer goishicha due to its milky taste. I cannot wait to get it for the shop.
 
Kumamoto is located close to Miyazaki & Kagoshima & is also a tea production area. Green & black teas can be found in Kumamoto where we can find some 90 year old tea trees. Nagasaki produces outstanding green teas in parts such as Omura bay or Sonogi area. An interesting story about Nagasaki tea history. During late Edo period there was a female tea merchant named Oura Kei from Dejima in Nagasaki. She is believed to be the first person to actively pursue the export of tea. Pioneering woman right there! Saga as the story goes: in 1191 ad the monk Eisai came back from his studies in China bringing with him tea seeds, which he planted on Sefuri mountain in Saga. It is believed that this is how the tea cultivation in Japan began. The highly appreciated Ureshino guricha tamaryokucha tea is produced in Saga. This is an overall view into Japanese tea producing regions beyond Uji & Shizuoka.
 

It is not possible for me to have an extremely comprehensive list since it requires several hours of research to get just what you see in this article. However, I believe this list a good start to get to know where the Japanese teas we consume come from.

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