I hosted the Japanese American Society of Kentucky in my retail store on a Sunday morning in October where I gave a short lecture on Okakura Kakuzo and The Book of Tea. I ended my talk by telling my Japanese guests that I hoped very much to visit their country someday.
Pay attention to what you wish for!
Within 24 hours, I received an unsolicited invitation from the staff of the Shizuoka Prefecture Agricultural Office inviting me to be their guest. They wanted to show me their tea gardens and tea production facilities that lie in the shadow of Mount Fuji, the largest tea growing area of Japan.
How could I say no to such a gracious – and well-timed – offer?
I flew out of Lexington on January 22 – two hours ahead of a blizzard that blanketed Kentucky and canceled countless flights – and arrived in Tokyo where I spent a leisurely Sunday exploring the city as my body worked out the 14 hour time difference.
Later that evening, I took the bullet train south and met my hosts in the city of Shizuoka. They had planned a week’s itinerary that was to be as fast-paced as the train I had come in on.
|Sushi in the back seat at 70 mph – Japanese fast food.|
Monday morning began with a presentation by an official of the Office of Tea and Agricultural Production who brought me up-to-date on tea production in Shizuoka Prefecture where sencha green tea makes up 80% of the total tea production. I then took part in a focused tasting of four award-winning teas from the 2015 World Green Tea Competition that was hosted in this city.
Filled to the brim with some of the best green teas I’ve had the privilege to enjoy, I was ushered into the back seat of a waiting car and whisked away with a bento box of sushi resting in my lap. No time to stop for lunch, there was more to see further south. By the way, you haven’t lived until you’ve eaten raw fish with chopsticks at 70 miles per hour!
|Horai Bridge is the longest wooden bridge in the world.|
Within minutes, I was walking across the Horai Bridge, the longest wooden bridge in the world. I had to lean into a cold crosswind as I listened to my localhost Morihiko Yamamoto describe the incredible setting that included Mt Fuji in the distance behind me and the endless tea fields that rose before us.
Morihiko was the descendant of the shogun who planted the first tea bushes here in the 1800s. His ancestor’s magnificent statue rose from the emerald green tea gardens ahead. The bushes were dormant now as they waited for the spring sunshine to awaken them for their first April harvest.
|Tea farmer Morihiko Yamamoto|
My guide was carrying on his family’s long tradition of growing tea and I was privileged to sample both his deep steamed sencha and his black tea later that afternoon in his home.
Morihiko also guided me through his high tech production facility where, during harvests, fresh tea leaves race through a labyrinth of machines, conveyor belts, and augers before they exit as a finished product within 24 hours from start to finish.
But the day wasn’t done. I spent an hour exploring the fascinating Shizuoka Tea Museum and its endless exhibits of tea history paraphernalia representing three centuries of tea production.
As darkness fell, I arrived at the Shizuoka Tea Research Center to meet director Hayakawa Takahiro. We shared a pot of third-generation sencha before he gave me a whirlwind tour through his facility which is filled with tea making machinery from around the world. His 19-member staff, as well as local growers, use this equipment as they experiment with making tea in various forms. This is the Legoland of tea making.
As a full moon rose over snow-covered Mt. Fuji, I returned to my hotel for a quick meal of sushi before donning my hotel-provided Japanese pajamas and collapsing in a heap of excited exhaustion. My only desire was to garner enough sleep to prepare for yet another day of tea adventures. Not even a dozen accumulated cups of tea caffeine was going to keep me awake this night.
Read more Tea Maestro Adventures in Japan on Day 2…