The best remembered tea-growing region in Japan is Shizuoka Prefecture.
As one of the nation’s leading tea-producing regions, Shizuoka has many parts suited for tea cultivation in landscape, water quality, climate, etc. It is the top tea-producing prefecture in Japan. In 2017, it produced 30,800 tons, about 40% of the national production, making it the largest tea-growing area in Japan.
Sencha (steeped green tea), especially Fukamushi-Sencha (deep-steamed steeped green tea), is the most common there. Their main cultivar is “Yabukita,” but they also grow a variety of cultivars such as“Okuhikari,” “Yamanoibuki,” “Kōshun,” “Tsuyuhikari,” and “Yamakai.”
This article helps you discover Shizuoka Prefecture’s history of tea production and tea-growing areas.
Features of Shizuoka Tea
Shizuoka Prefecture is the largest tea producing area in Japan(in 2021, Shizuoka became the second largest tea producing area), and many different types of tea are produced throughout the prefecture.
Although there are differences from region to region, as we meet with dozens of tea growers throughout Japan each year, we would like to introduce some of the characteristics of Shizuoka tea.
Fragrant mountain teas and deep steamed teas produced on the plains
Tea producing areas that have been around for a long time, such as Honyama, Kawane, and Tenryu, are spread out in mountainous areas, and many aromatic teas are produced by taking advantage of the mountain climate.
Tea grown in the mountains, which grows softly while storing plenty of nutrients due to the large difference in temperature between the mountains and the fog near the rivers, is often steamed lightly, and the beautifully stretched tea leaves have the appearance of high-class tea.
On the other hand, the Makinohara Plateau, which boasts a vast plain, is the birthplace of Fukamushi-cha(deep steamed tea).
The longer steaming time of Fukamushi-cha makes the tea leaves finer and reduces astringency, making it easier to brew and giving it a full-bodied, appealing flavor.
It is now the mainstream tea because of its growing popularity among general consumers due to its easy color and consistent taste when brewed.
Shizuoka Prefecture has many tea production areas within the prefecture, but I have the impression that most people make these two main types of tea.
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
Is Shizuoka’s main tea “Yabukita?”
“Yabukita” accounts for more than 70% of the tea produced in Japan. Shizuoka in particular produces a lot of it.
This cultivar was picked out by Hikosaburō Sugiyama, a tea cultivar improvement pioneer, in Suruga Province (today’s Suruga Ward, Shizuoka City) in 1908. It was comparatively easy to grow and of very high quality as Sencha. For these reasons, it became Shizuoka Prefecture’s recommended cultivar in 1945 and spread through the country. It still keeps a large share of the domestic production.
Shizuoka Prefecture, as the first producer of “Yabukita” in Japan, maintains a very strong share of it, over 90% of the prefecture’s tea cultivation area.
In recent years, the “Yabukita” cultivar planted at that time has been replanted, and a variety of cultivars have begun to be produced, including “Okumidori,” a well-balanced late cultivar, “Koshun,” which is characterized by its gorgeous aroma, and “Tsuyuhikari,” which is popular for its flavor and cherry leaf aroma.
History of tea production in Shizuoka Prefecture
Tea cultivation in Shizuoka can be traced back to the Kamakura Period.
Shōichi Kokushi, a Japanese Buddhist monk, is said to have brought back tea seeds from the Song dynasty (today’s China), where he had his overseas study. They say, noting his birthplace was Suruga Province, he planted the seeds in Ashikubo, Suruga (today’s Ashikubo, Shizuoka City) near his hometown. This episode gave Shōichi Kokushi the moniker “Originator of Shizuoka Tea.” Shizuoka City celebrates his birthday November 1st as Tea Day.
Entering the Edo Period, Shizuoka tea started being purveyed to the Tokugawa Shogunate. As a result, it gained an increasing recognition as refined tea.
It was in the Meiji Period when tea plantation expanded from intermountain areas to plateau. The reclamation of the Makinohara Plateau greatly increased production volume. Around the middle of the Meiji Period, Shizuoka Prefecture became the leading tea-growing region, in name and reality, with the country’s largest output.
Mechanized mass production soon became common and increased tea production throughout the country. However, Shizuoka Prefecture still boasts the largest production volume in Japan.
Shizuoka Tea Vying for Supremacy with Kagoshima Prefecture
Shizuoka Prefecture has long held the number one position in Japan, but in recent years, Kagoshima Prefecture’s production has been growing rapidly, threatening its position.
Shizuoka and Kagoshima prefectures are already close behind with 25,200 and 23,900 tons, respectively, in terms of production in 2020, and it is believed that the rankings may be reversed in the near future.
There are two main reasons for this.
One is that Kagoshima is rapidly increasing its production volume through mechanization and efficiency, taking advantage of its vast plains and late-starting region.
The other is the location of Shizuoka Prefecture’s tea plantations and the lack of successors.
In Shizuoka Prefecture, which has many mountainous areas, the challenge is that a great number of farms are unable to introduce farming machinery and to improve the efficiency of farming operations.
Dangerous and burdensome farm work is also the cause of a chronic lack of successors, which, combined with the overall slump in the tea industry, is the reason for the sluggish growth of tea production in Shizuoka Prefecture as a whole.
Tea-growing areas in Shizuoka Prefecture
It’s no exaggeration that Shizuoka, as one of the nation’s major tea producers, grows tea everywhere in the prefecture. If you drive there, you will see tea plantations all around the region.
Main tea-growing areas are Makinohara City, with the Makinohara Plateau having reclaimed during the Meiji Period, and classical tea producers such as Shimada City and Kakegawa City. Intermountain areas including the upper Ōi River and Tenryū River, well-conditioned in climate and water quality, are also important.
The fact that every tea-growing area has its own branded tea makes Shizuoka tea more attractive. The following brands are well-known nationwide.
Kawane tea is from the upper Ōi River, running through the central part of Shizuoka Prefecture. Clear water and air of the high-altitude intermountain area make the tea of high quality. The first Emperor-Cup award-winning product in the Japanese tea industry is so distinguished.
The liquid has a light and greenish-yellow color. Enjoy its fresh aroma and mild flavor.
Honyama Tea is produced in the upper reaches of the Abe River, which runs through the central part of Shizuoka Prefecture. It is said that Seiichi Kokushi planted tea seeds in this area, making it the oldest tea in Shizuoka.
In the Edo period (1603-1867), it was selected as the official tea offered to the Tokugawa family because of its high quality, and it is a tea production area with a long history and tradition.
In the farms spread out among steep mountains, the morning and evening river mist acts as a natural curtain, and tender leaves with plenty of flavor are grown.
As in Kawane, the aromatic shallow steamed tea boasts a “golden clear” water color, a fragrance unique to mountainous areas, and a refreshing taste that is pleasant to the palate.
Kakegawa City, located in the western part of Shizuoka Prefecture, is known as one of the birthplaces of fukamushi-cha(deep steamed sencha tea).
Kakegawa’s tea leaves grow thickly due to its mild climate. In order to reduce its bitterness, the deep steaming method was invented, in which the tea is steamed for a longer time than usual. Even today, the majority of tea produced in Kakegawa is deep steamed sencha.
The color of the tea is dark and the taste is rich with sweetness and umami.
Makinohara Plateau(Shimada, Makinohara, Kikugawa City)
The Makinohara Plateau was cultivated during the Meiji Restoration by Tokugawa clan warriors led by Kageaki Chujo, and like Kakegawa City, the production of deep steamed tea is flourishing.
The Makinohara Plateau straddles Shimada City, Makinohara City, and Kikugawa City, and since the cultivation of the Makinohara Plateau, many tea growers have continued to produce tea.
It is a major producer of deep steamed tea with a dark water color and rich flavor.
“Fujiedakaori”, a cultivar with a characteristic aroma of jasmine and cinnamon, was literally born in Fujieda City.
In Fujieda City, where most of the region is occupied by rugged mountainous areas, tea production takes full advantage of the aroma.
Fuji City and Fujinomiya City
Tea production is also thriving in Fuji City and Fujinomiya City, located to the west of Japan’s highest mountain, Mt.
Although not a famous tea growing area, the tea research center was located nearby, which led to the very early introduction of “Yabukita” tea, and some tea growers still grow “Yabukita” tea in all of their tea gardens.
In recent years, there has been a movement to brand the tea as “Fuji tea,” and we can expect to see more distinctive tea production in the future.