My second day of exploring tea in Shizuoka Prefecture took me along a circuitous route away from the coast and into mountains thickly forested with evergreens. All along the way, I spotted small plots of tea bushes growing alongside family homes, as if they were an extension of the vegetable gardens. When spring arrives, these bushes will be harvested and the leaves will be taken to nearby cooperative factories for immediate processing.

My hosts eventually delivered me to a high elevation tea garden that seemed as far from the modern world as it could be – with the exception of electric wind fans that dotted the hillside. These will be switched on in the spring to help keep the frost away from tender young shoots that will appear in April.

I removed my shoes and knelt for tea inside Tetsuro Tsuchiya’s 400-year-old mountain home. One wall is filled with grand prize trophies this third generation tea grower has been awarded from the World Green Tea Competition. His grandfather cleared the land in this remote forest and planted the first tea bushes a century ago. While farmers in the lowlands are mostly growing tea bushes in long flat fields, this grower continues the long tradition of plucking shade grown leaves from bushes whose long spidery roots cling to the steep terrain.

Each spring, local villagers gladly slip on white gloves and assist Tetsuro in plucking the finest first flush leaves that he will process and enter in the annual world competition. His neighbors count it an honor to be a part of the contest that brings great honor to their hilltop village.

Tetsuro Tsuchiya dons the FRESH CUP magazine hat I gave him. You can read my profile of this award-winning mountain top tea grower in the upcoming May 2016 Fresh Cup Tea Almanac edition.

My afternoon was spent in the Higashiyama District of Kakegawa City staring up at one of the most interesting man-made landscapes I’ve seen in my world tea travels. This southern district of Shizuoka Prefecture holds the number two ranking as a tea-producing area and, in 1932, the local tea industry proudly proclaimed their tea heritage by planting Japanese cypress trees in the shape of the cha character (tea) on their highest hill. This impressive vista is second only to the ever-present Mt Fuji which rises 50 miles in the opposite direction.

The character for cha (tea) is formed by Japanese cypress trees planted on the far hillside.

A majority of the fields here form the Traditional Tea-grass Integrated System known as Chagusaba. Chagusaba means “semi-natural grasslands” where bamboo grass, pampas grass, and other grasses are grown and harvested for use as organic matter in the tea fields. The dried grasses are scattered among the bushes to keep down weeds, retain moisture, and contribute compost to the soil. This centuries-old organic farming method has been listed as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System.

My busy day was capped with a visit to Kakegawa Castle. The original Kakegawa Castle was partially destroyed in an earthquake in 1854 and was completely demolished in 1869 with the end of the Tokugawa regime. The restored Castle (1994) has splendid views over the town and a display of weapons, photographs of other Japanese castles, documents, tiles, and armor.

Of more historical interest is the superb, original goten or palace, which was restored by the feudal lord Ota Sukekatsu after the 1854 earthquake. The one-storied, wooden palace building has a tiled roof and is covered throughout with tatami flooring.  The architecture, both here and in the neighboring Ninomaru Tea Room, reminds me of the work of Frank Lloyd Wright who was greatly influenced by Japanese art aesthetics. The American architect often said he learned his sense of space from The Book of Tea.

I lost count of the cups of tea I drank that day. But, you can’t drink too much tea while in Japan, so I took part in another celebration of Japan’s long love affair with the tea leaf as I enjoyed a frothy bowl of fresh matcha offered in the Ninomaru Tea Room. Okakura Kakuzo, the author of The Book of Tea, describes such harmonious tea events as sharing “a cup of humanity.” I am in total agreement.

Tea servers at the Ninomaru Tea Room on the grounds of Kakegawa Castle.

I finished another day in Japan feeling as if my cup was about to run over. In the tradition of my host country, I went back to my hotel with the intent to empty my cup so that I might fill it again tomorrow.

Read day one’s adventures…

Bruce Richardson’s articles on Japanese tea will appear in upcoming editions of both TeaTime and Fresh Cup magazines. Learn more about tea in Japan and other tea-producing countries in the 2015 edition of The New Tea Companion (Pettigrew/Richardson).

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