The Makinohara Plateau in Shizuoka Prefecture was a desolate place, abandoned even by local farmers during the great transformation at the end of the Edo period (1603-1868).
In this article, I’m going to introduce CHUJO Kageaki, who led the “amateur farmers’ group” made up of over the 200 samurai and transformed the area into one of Japan’s leading tea producing regions.
About CHUJO Kageaki
CHUJO Kageaki was born in 1827 as an illegitimate child of the samurai in Edo (Tokyo). He served Iesada, the 13th Shogun, and was an expert swordsman who taught martial arts to samurai in his family. In 1867, when Yoshinobu, the 15th Shogun, moved to Shizuoka after the return of his political power to the Emperor, Kageaki guarded the enemy as a member of elite troops. After that, the elite troops were disbanded after completing their mission.
In the Meiji period (1868-1912), the samurai including Kageaki, who lost the Shogunate, were forced to make a new choice in life.
Kageaki decided to challenge the cultivation of Makinohara Plateau, leading the “Kanayahara (present Makinohara Plateau) Cultivation Group”. At that time, the Makinohara Plateau was a desolate place that even local farmers gave up on. It is said that he swore to KATSU Kaishu that “If you give me this land, I would pledge myself to cultivate the land”.
Later, at the age of 42, Kageaki led the “Kanayahara Cultivation Group” and began cultivation, but it was not until four years later that he was able to harvest the first few tea buds.
As time went by and land that had been owned by the government became available for individual purchase and sale, the members of the Cultivation Group were gradually divided from those who remained as farmers to those who left the land.
In such a situation, there was a request to the Governor of Kanagawa Prefecture, but he refused it in order to continue the cultivation.
After that, he tried to establish the “Makinohara Tea Manufacturing Company” in order to collect the produced tea, manufacture it jointly for export. However, the petition for the business fund was rejected and it was never realized.
Despite this hardship, he devoted his life to the cultivation of Makinohara plateau and died in 1896 at the age of 69.
Achievements of NAKAJO Kageaki
Kageaki was an outstanding leader, having been acquainted with the leader of the era, KATSU Kaishu and YAMAOKA Tesshu,
The “Kanayahara Cultivation Group” led by 42 year-old Kageaki had about 200 people, and including their family, it was quite a household.
Moreover, the members of the Cultivation Group were “an amateur group in agriculture” with various backgrounds, from high-ranking samurai to Noh actors.
The leadership of Kageaki, who achieved the cultivation of Makinohara Plateau by compiling such a wide variety of “an amateur group in agriculture”, was admirable.
With the pride of a samurai, he dedicated his second life to the Makinohara Plateau.
Today we can easily imagine how difficult it must have been for him to make the transition from an “elite bureaucrat” guarding the shogun’s personal affairs to the unknown field of cultivation and tea planting.
Kageaki, who was also an excellent leader, made a request to the governor of Kanagawa Prefecture. However, he refused, saying, “Once I have climbed a mountain, no matter what I would never come down. It would be the fertilizer of the tea tree.” It suggests Kageaki’s sincerity.
At the funeral of Kageaki, who did not cut the topknot in his life and dedicated himself into Makinohara Plateau cultivation with the samurai’s pride, KATSU Kaishu served as the funeral committee chairman in respect of his great achievement.
Furthermore, members of the Cultivation Group who mourned the death of Kageaki visited his grave for 21 days, which reminds us of his personality.
The present Makinohara plateau
The Makinohara Plateau turns bright green in the season of the first tea, but when the land was first cultivated, it was a wilderness with an area of 200 hectares (about the 42 times the size of Tokyo Dome) and with an insufficient water supply.
The “Kanayahara Cultivation Group” cultivated the land to 5,000 hectares (about the 1,063 times the size of Tokyo Dome) and turned it into a large tea garden.
After the death of Kageaki, the land and tea leaves were improved repeatedly, and the prototype of the “Fukamushi-cha(Deep steamed tea)” method was devised.
Thanks to the continued efforts of the people, “Makinohara tea” with deep green light blue color and rich taste is now one of the representative brands of Shizuoka.
We today have much to learn from the way of life of CHUJO Kageaki, who risked his second life to venture into unknown field during the tumultuous period from the Edo to Meiji.