Happy late summer solstice, everyone! We hope you’re enjoying shincha (i.e., new harvest tea or first flush tea of the season) as much as we are.
At Yunomi, we’ve embarked on an exciting and ambitious project to list all the tea production regions and subregions in Japan, and examine 50 major areas. While the top two tea producing prefectures Shizuoka and Kagoshima make up over 70% of the tea produced in Japan, the rich geographical diversity of Japan provide ample opportunities to produce high quality, region-specific teas. In fact, with the exception of Osaka and the northernmost prefectures of Hokkaido, and Yamagata, all the other prefectures commercially produce tea.
Tea Production Region Index
Tea, Camellia sinensis, is a subtropical plant that is not resistant to freezing temperatures. This is why the majority of the tea producing areas in Japan are found in the southernmost island, Kyushu. Although debatable, there seems to be a Northern limit line that is drawn for “commercial” tea production between Murakami City in Niigata Prefecture (新潟県村上市) and Daigo-Town in Ibaraki Prefecture (茨城県大子町). Interestingly, tea bushes can be found even in Southern Hokkaido (the northernmost island) although they are not used for making tea.
Going back to our task, what qualifies a place as a major tea producing area? Is it the volume of tea produced, the area devoted to tea cultivation, the value of the tea produced, or the amount of premium quality tea produced? Could we categorize the many unique tea producing regions and types of tea based upon geographical location and environmental characteristics such as; climate, soil type, amount of rainfall, temperature differences between day and night? One could also consider the unique history and tradition(s) in certain regions, or the rareness of the tea produced there, or a combination of these factors. This is an evolving question that we ourselves do not have the complete answer to.
We do believe this process will be meaningful, and exploring this question will shed light on the diversity of high quality and specialty teas all across Japan. While most tea aficionados are familiar with the main types such as sencha, gyokuro and kabusecha, not everyone may appreciate the regional terroir that makes a gyokuro from Uji different from the one from Yame. So, we will start a series of blog posts first highlighting some of the most well-known tea producing prefectures in Japan (e.g., Kagoshima, Shizuoka, Kyoto, Saitama), discussing which types of tea they produce and highlighting where particularly well respected types of tea are produced. Along the way we will feature some regional specialties and consider how environment and history have danced to create some really amazing teas and unique tea traditions.
Upcoming in these blog series, we’ll touch on a few of the major tea producing prefectures and specific regions, traveling from South to North:
- Kagoshima - Osumi (includes Shibushi area) and Satsuma peninsulas, Yakushima and Tanegashima Islands.
- Kyoto - Along the Kizu River (Yamashiro area): Uji, Ujitawara, Wazuka
- Mie - Iian, Watari, Yokkaichi, Suzuka, Kameyama
- Shizuoka - Ian Chun asked about this on the Japanese Tea Connoisseurs Facebook page a month or so ago. Although not extensive, some of the tea regions here include Numazu, Fuji, Honyama, Shimizu, Kawane, Makinohara, Fujieda, Kikugawa, Kakegawa, Higashiyama and Tenryu. Do you have a favorite from Shizuoka?
- Saitama - Iruma, Tokorozawa, Sayama
And then we'll focus on some geographical regions (i.e., omitting the prefectures that we’ve already touched on), highlighting famous teas, history, and unique facts in each region.
Note: Prefecture names are in parenthesis after the tea regions.
- Kyushu - Takachiho, Gokase (Miyazaki), Kuma-hitoyoshi (Kumamoto), Yame (Fukuoka), Higashi-Sonogi (Nagasaki), Ureshino (Saga)
- Kansai - Moushi (Hyogo), Yamato-plateau areas (Nara)
- Kanto - Nishio (Aichi), Minoshirakawa (Gifu), Sashima (Ibaraki)
- Shikoku - Mitoyo (Kagawa), Miyoshi, Kamikatsu (Tokushima), Niyodagawa, Otoyo (Kochi)
- Other areas
Because nothing is set in stone, we would greatly appreciate your comments, questions, and insights as we embark together on this adventurous tea expedition. Until next time, bon thé!
*Bon thé!, like bon appetite is my personal way of wishing you a good cup of tea.