It is relatively unknown that Kagoshima Prefecture’s tea production is the second most in Japan. Its volume is increasing year after year and getting close to the production of Shizuoka Prefecture. In 2017, it produced 26,600 tons, about 32% of the domestic production.
On top “Yabukita,” the prefecture’s main cultivar, others such as “Yutakamidori,” “Saemidori,” “Asatsuyu,” and “Okumidori” are also common there. In particular, Kagoshima Prefecture is the largest producer of “Yutakamidori,” the second most popular cultivar in Japan after “Yabukita.”
This article helps you discover Kagoshima Prefecture’s history of tea production and tea-growing areas
Features of Tea in Kagoshima Prefecture
In Kagoshima Prefecture, various types of tea are produced throughout the prefecture.
Although there are differences from region to region, as we meet with dozens of tea producers throughout Japan each year, we would like to introduce some of the characteristics of Kagoshima’s tea.
Kabuse(Covered) and Fukamushi(deep steamed teas) with deep umami
If we were to describe the characteristics of Kagoshima Prefecture’s tea in one word, it would be “Kabuse and Fukamushi”.
Especially in Minami-Kyushu, the largest tea producer in Japan, tea production takes advantage of the vast plains and the long hours of sunlight, resulting in tea leaves that are thick and bitter.
Therefore, before harvesting, the tea leaves are grown under cover to reduce bitterness, and deep steamed sencha, which has a mellow flavor due to the long steaming process, has become the mainstream tea production method.
Does Kagoshima Prefecture’s Sincha (first flush green tea) come the first in Japan?
Kagoshima Prefecture, as the southernmost tea-growing region of the Japan’s mainland, has a mild climate and long sunshine duration, which permits the earliest shipment of Shincha in Japan.
While Shizuoka or Kyōto’s usual picking season is from mid-April to early May, Kagoshima and Tanegashima start picking tea in early April and late March respectively. Their Shincha is called “Hashiri-shincha” or “Ōhashiri-shincha,” and shipped the earliest to the market.
A long shipping period also features Kagoshima Prefecture. It produces Sencha (steeped green tea) and many other teas from Ichi-Bancha (first tea) in April to Shuto-Bancha (autumn-winter tea) in October.
A major production area for “Yutakamidori”
“Yutakamidori” is the second most produced cultivar of green tea in Japan after “Yabukita”, and most of it is produced in Kagoshima Prefecture.
This cultivar has a rich umami flavor and a strong astringent taste, and by cultivating under cover to store the umami and by deep steaming to reduce the astringent taste, a well-balanced tea is produced.
It is also an early rice variety that prefers a warm climate, making it an ideal culltivar for Kagoshima, a region that requires speed in the production of new teas.
The day is near when Shizuoka will become Japan’s No. 1 tea producer!
Shizuoka Prefecture has long reigned as the largest producer of tea in Japan, but in recent years its production has been stagnant due to the lack of successors and the inability to improve farming efficiency in mountainous areas.
In contrast, Kagoshima Prefecture, which takes full advantage of its position as a latecomer to the tea industry to produce tea on a large scale and with high efficiency, is rapidly increasing its tea production.
It is said that by 2021, this ranking will be reversed, and Kagoshima Prefecture may soon become the number one tea producing prefecture in Japan.
History of tea production in Kagoshima Prefecture
There are several views on the origin of tea cultivation in Kagoshima Prefecture.
One of them explains that some fleeing Heike warriors brought tea to Kimpō-chō-Ata-Shirakawa at the beginning of the Kamakura Period. Other says that they ordered tea seeds from Uji and planted them in Yoshimatsu-chō (currently merged into Yūsui-chō) during the Muromachi Period.
In the aftermath, the Shimazu Domain encouraged tea plantation. However, tea cultivation and production began in full scale only after the Second World War.
The late-comer advantage of Kagoshima Prefecture enabled early installment of equipment for a low-cost and mass production through mechanization, which pumped up output. The flat cultivation land also helped mechanization at a large extent.
The advanced incorporation of agriculture and the high number of large-scale farmers are also characteristics of tea plantation in Kagoshima Prefecture. Farms are well-managed municipally so that there are less abandoned farm lands. Its average farm acreage is very large thanks to mechanization.
Tea-growing areas in Kagoshima Prefecture
Located in the southernmost tip of Kyūshū, Kagoshima’s warm climate and long sunshine duration make tea cultivation easier in many areas of the prefecture. Minamikyūshū City, in particular, is the nation’s top municipality in tea production, even beyond any municipality in Shizuoka Prefecture, and the largest tea producer.
Teas grown in Kagoshima Prefecture are called Kagoshima tea collectively. Among them, Chiran tea is a well-known tea brand.
Chiran tea originally refers to a tea produced in Chiran-chō of Minamikyūshū City. However, three different brands of Chiran, Ei, and Kawanabe teas fell together in the category of Chiran tea due to the municipality merger in 2017
Kagoshima Prefecture’s long sunshine duration makes thick tea leaves with bitterness and astringency. To ease these flavors, preharvest cover culture was introduced and Fukamushi-Sencha (deep-steamed steep green tea) with prolonged steaming yielding a mild flavor became common. As a result, the liquid comes in its most characteristic dark green color.
Kirishima City, which spreads out at the foot of Takachiho Peak, right next to Kagoshima Airport, produces delicious tea due to the severe temperature difference and the blessed soil, which is deeply shrouded in “fog” as its name suggests.
Kirishima City, with its high elevation and low temperature, picks tea two to three weeks later than Minami-Kyushu City, resulting in a slight delay in the production of new tea, but this is the reason why many high quality teas are produced here.
Shibushi City is the second largest production area in Kagoshima Prefecture after Minami-Kyushu City.
Behind this is a very large tea plantation with extreme operational efficiency, which was realized through collaboration with a machinery manufacturer. Modern tea production is being carried out by taking advantage of the vast plains, including the use of drones to determine the picking time and fully automated plucking.
Although Shibushi tea is still not well-known as a brand name, this experimental farm, which is the future of the tea industry, has been attracting attention in recent years.