History of Japanese Tea | Meiji and Taisho Periods

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In the Meiji period (1868-1912), tea was exported in large quantities as an important means of earning foreign currency.

In this article I’m going to introduce the history of tea in the Meiji and Taisho (1912-1926) periods and the mechanization of tea production.

Tea has become a major industry in Japan

During the Meiji to Taisho period, tea was regarded as an important export item for Japan.

That was triggered by the signing of the Treaties of Amity with Europe and the United States in the Edo period.

At that time, as much as 181 tons of tea was exported overseas from Dejima (island) of Nagasaki as a trading window.

Even after the Meiji Restoration, tea continued to dominate the export market, with an export volume of 20,000 tons.

Achievements of OTANI Kahee

OTANI Kahee made the greatest contribution to the development of the tea industry in the Meiji period.

He was originally the largest tea seller in Yokohama, but in 1894 he established Japan Tea Products Corporation.

He thoroughly managed the quality of exported tea, and when the United States imposed tariffs on tea, he went to the United States to carry out a campaign to eliminate the tariffs on tea production.

He devoted his life to the promotion of Japan’s tea industry.

The mechanization of tea production

I have already mentioned that tea was an important means of earning foreign currency in Japan.

However, Japan at that time had no manufacturing means to meet the rapidly increasing demand yet.

Therefore, in the Meiji period, mechanization was promoted to produce tea efficiently.

In particular, TAKABAYASHI Kenzo played an important role in the mechanization of tea.

He was originally a doctor, but later became an inventor in the tea industry.

In 1884, he manufactured a tea roasting machine and other products, and in 1896 he completed a roughing machine that greatly improved the efficiency of the work previously done by hand kneading.

In addition, hand scissors were also invented to improve the efficiency of the harvest, which gradually made the mass production of tea for export possible.

Development of Makinohara Plateau in Shizuoka

Even today, Shizuoka Prefecture is one of the leading tea producing areas in Japan, but the cultivation of Makinohara Plateau in the Meiji Period triggered this.

Originally, the Makinohara Plateau had been empty land until the end of the Edo period, but it was reclaimed because the demand for tea increased rapidly as the export of tea started.

The people who worked to cultivate the land were the warrior clans who had lost their jobs due to the Meiji Restoration.

However, the warrior clans were fed up with unaccustomed hoes and hard work, and gradually broke away.

From then on, the work was handed over to the river ferryman, but they were unable to endure the hard work and poverty, and many people dropped out.

It is thanks to the hard work and efforts of such people that we are able to enjoy good quality tea in Shizuoka even today.

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