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Japanese Tea Culture
Green Tea
- vol 1 -
Riding on the big wave of Japanese food culture’s global expansion, Japanese green tea seems to be rapidly catching on all over the world in the past couple of years. Matcha Lattes, Green Tea Frappuccino, Zentini, Zensaketini – the way the green is appreciated differs from one destination to another where the drink has reached, and the repertoire knows no end to evolution including the country where it originated.

In this series “Japanese Green Tea” I would like to invite you to the world of Japanese green tea, from the basics – history, variety, how it is appreciated in Japanese food culture, its health benefits – to the late green tea boom in Japanese society and abroad. For the first volume let us go through the basic facts of Nihoncha.

The beginning of Japanese green tea culture is said to have started during the Nara period (710-794 AC) with the Buddhist monks who went to China to study the religion bringing back the seeds. Back then was very precious that only the imperial family, aristocrats and high-rank monks could appreciate the drink.

For its sensitivity against temperature and climate green tea is usually hard to grow, but it spread across the country from western Japan, seeds and methods passed on from one person to another. Like this the habit of drinking green tea spread not only among the nobles but also warrior class as a socialization tool.

As popularity and the habit spread from around 15C through 16C, the custom of tea ceremonies was established as well as domestic tea trades. With the expansion of production green tea had become lay people’s drink by Edo period.

The first export of green tea is recorded to have made in 1610 by East India Company to Europe. After the conclusion of the amity treaty between Japan and USA followed by several European countries, green tea became one of the primary export products alongside of silk.

Until the end of Edo, the tea farms were managed mostly by the warrior class but the management gradually began to be passed on to farmers. The establishment of collective tea farms by theses farmers largely contributed to the development of tea distribution, the growth of tea merchants and wholesalers as well as the invention of various machines and the foundation of tea industry. Today, though the fields are still managed by human labor most of the tea processing is managed by sensors and computer control. Hand kneading is now only practiced as culture preservation and tourist attraction.

Canned tea made its appearance in Japan first in 1981 (Chinese Oolong tea) followed by green tea and English tea in 1985. With the fast evolution of containers for portable drinks like cartons and PET bottles green tea shook up the beverage industry creating one huge market of just green tea. Additionally, the various health effects are re-starting to gather social attention enabling numerous uses of green tea apart from just drinking and expanding all the more the market of green tea.
Production Areas

Green tea is grown in a wide range of the country from Akita prefecture at the northernmost down to Okinawa prefecture at the southernmost. Nevertheless, most of the tea grown in the northern regions is for domestic or local consumption. Considering cost and benefit, the northern borderline for commercial tea growth is generally said to be Ibaraki on the Pacific side and Niigata on the side of Japan Sea.

The growth and quality of tealeaves are heavily affected by the slightest differences in climate and soil conditions. For tea is originally a subtropical plant it is usually weak against cold weather. Therefore the winter weather conditions become the key factor for determining the right production area as well as soil conditions like most other plants. Below are some well-known green tea production areas of Japan.
1. Shizuoka Prefecture
The beginning of green tea production in Shizuoka is said to be in 1244 when a monk brought back the seeds and planted them in an area called Ashikubo located in the outskirts of Shizuoka City. As can be seen in a number of literature and historical documents, Shizuoka has been a major tea producer for centuries in Japanese history. Furthermore, with the clearing of the Makinohara highland during late 19C the prefecture soon became the top green tea producer in Japan. The production volume that was only 14% of the whole of Japan back in 1883 rose to more than 40% today. The mountain regions Kawane, Tenryu, Honyama are known for its top-quality tea.
Mt.Fuji and Tea Field
2. Kagoshima Prefecture
Tea production has been encouraged in this area for a long time, but it was only after WWII that full-scale production started. The production share of the prefecture that was only 4% in 1883 is now more than 20% bringing itself second place today. Because of the rich sunlight and volcanic ash and soil, growth in this area requires some breed improvement, though at the same time the flatness of the land allows mechanization and thus low-cost production as compared to other areas.
3. Mie Prefecture
Present-day Mie Prefecture was one of the major tea production areas during the earlier ages of green tea history. Back in 14-15C the names Iga and Ise were known as producers of high quality green tea. Today the prefecture boasts production volume that comes into third place following Shizuoka and Kagoshima.
Kyoto Prefecture – tradition and quality
Although Kyoto is not a major producer only in terms of volume, its “brand” influence as the origin of Japanese green tea and top quality tealeaves are perhaps more famous than the second and third place producing prefectures. The origin of the famous Ujicha (Uji Tea) dates back to late 12C, and being the imperial capital during those days green tea spread among common people earlier than the other regions. The famous Ujicha (leaves grown and processed in Uji area) obtained its status as the top-quality tealeaf during 14C, and also the originator of tea processing method which later on spread across the country. Since Uji stresses authenticity and quality, the area produces high quality tealeaves making full use of its long experience and rich natural conditions.
Coming up next: How to brew Japanese green tea and the Heath Effects


Made in Japan Contents
  • Green Tea 1 / 2 / 3 / 4
    Spirited Away (2001)
  • Haruki Murakami
  • Yasunari Kawabata
  • Banana Yoshimoto
  • Yukio Mishima
  • Inazo Nitobe
  • Japanese Tea
  • Bonsai
  • VAIO
  • Canon

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