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A Japanese Folktale - "Uji Tea of the West" (Nishiuji-no-Cha) by Kyota Ko

A Japanese Folktale - "Uji Tea of the West" (Nishiuji-no-Cha) by Kyota Ko

Ian Chun |

Written by Kyota Ko, author of Folk Tales of Japan: 28 Japanese folk tales with cultural commentary. 

Some of the finest tea in Japan has come from Uji ever since farmers there started growing tea on slopes in the twelfth century. Here’s a Japanese folktale often told to Japanese children that implies how these best practices came to be shared across the country. 

Once upon a time, a young man called Tarosaku came to work at a tea farm in Uji, south of Kyoto. Tarosaku was a diligent, likeable man and the daughter of the farm owner named Hana came to like him extra much. 

Eventually falling in love, they asked the farm owner for permission to get married but he refused. Thinking Hana deserved a man of a better caliber, Tarosaku left the farm without telling Hana, and headed west for his birthplace, Iwakuni (the southern region of present day Yamaguchi Prefecture). 

Realizing the man of her dreams had gone, Hana too left the farm to accompany Tarosaku. Although Hana's father didn’t permit the couple to wed once, he had realized how deeply in love they were and had anticipated Hana’s next action, sneaking three tea seeds in her kimono. 

In Iwakuni, Hana and Tarosaku worked hard on their farm to make a living. A child was born by autumn but they were challenged financially and had to sell off Hana’s kimono one after another (as kimonos were all handmade and therefore expensive before Japan industrialized, they were traded for quite some money). And on the day the couple had to sell off their last kimono, three tea seeds dropped out of a sleeve. 

Hana and Tarosaku planted the seeds on the hill behind their house, and soon their plantation grew twice as big, and then thrice as big. Their tea gained fame for its color and taste, and one day the couple invited Hana’s father to see their farm. 

The tea they made was called “Uji Tea of the West” or Nishiuji-no-Cha 西宇治の茶. 

IMAGE (Public Domain, taken from Wikipedia): 北斎「駿州片倉茶園ノ不二」(「富嶽三十六景」) Famed ukiyo-e artist Hokusai's 36 Views of Mount Fuji features this scene of women picking tea at the Katakura tea plantation in the Suruga area of Shizuoka. However, there is no record of this plantation, so the actual location is a mystery.

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