TEA REGIONS OF JAPAN

Japan's tea gardens are concentrated in three main regions: Kyushu island, Uji and Shizuoka prefecture on Honshu island.



Kyushu. On Japan's southernmost island, Kyushu, tea gardens flourish in its northern and southern regions. Kyushu was once the gateway from China and Korea into Japan, and, the cultural influences of pottery making and tea production came early to this part of the country. In the south, Kagoshima prefecture, Japan's second largest tea-producing region, is protected by the Bay of Kagoshima. The bay separates the city and its surrounding region from the brooding and still active volcano Sakurajima, which lies to the west of Kagoshima City. North of the city lies Also-San, one of the world's largest volcanoes, boasting a five-peak caldera. Kirishima National Park, also in the north, offers splendid hikes and stunning vistas.


Although tea has been grown in Kyushu for centuries, the tea industry today is modern and efficient. Kagoshima's climate is ideal for encouraging lush growth; warm air with cool bay breezes. There are fifteen tea-growing regions in Kagoshima, and more than 8000 hectares planted at low elevations in systematic rows that allow for high-volume mechanical harvesting. A broad variety of tea is produced here, including sencha and kamairi-cha from the four harvests that are plucked from April to mid-October.



Rich and earthy matcha is also produced from the Sakura-jima variety of tea bushes, which are shaded and covered with traditional kabuse nets. The best matcha from Kagoshima, like that of Uji district, comes from the earliest tea of the spring, in the pre-season, before the main harvest begins. The green tea known as kamairi-cha forgoes the traditional Japanese leaf steaming process and instead is processed by pan-firing and hand-rolling in large iron pans over a heat source in the manner of some Chinese teas. Kagoshima Shincha is the first to arrive in Japanese markets each spring.


Heading north, the prefectures of of Kumamoto and Miyazaki also contribute sencha tea, and in in the far north of Fukuoka and Saga prefectures produce sencha and gyokuro that are rich and sweet. In Saga Ureshino region specialises in kaimairi-cha. The Same region, located in Fukuoka, enjoys a temperate climate that makes it Japan's largest producer of gyokuro.



Saga and nearby Nagasaki prefectures are historical pottery centres that have contributed to the country's rich history of ceramic teawares. Korean artists who were brought to live in Japan at the end of the sixteenth century were responsible for influencing much of Japan's ceramic sensibilities. Sen Rikyu, the Zen tea master, admired rough naive qualities of Korean ceramics more than the smooth style of the Chinese-made porcelain cups. On Kyushu the towns of Arita, Karatsu and Okawachi still support a thriving ceramics industry comprised of both large and small pottery workshops.


Uji (Kyoto). South of the historical city of Kyoto, on the main island of Honshu, are Uji's world-famous tea gardens that produce Japan's most exclusive and expensive teas. Kyoto is Japan's seventh largest city and also the country's culturally rich serene heart and soul. Despite its modern facade and crowded nature, Kyoto still shelters sublime vestiges of old Japan. From 794 to 1868, Kyoto was Japan's imperial city. During this time the arts flourished and concepts of Japanese understated sensibilities of spare luxury were perfected. The tea arts were perfected in Kyoto, where major schools of tea study are located today. Under the rule of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (r. 1449 - 1474) encouraged the expansion of tea gardens that had been plated several hundred years earlier in Uji, many of which are the oldest tea gardens still in production in Japan. Uji is famous for premium-quality gyokuro, sencha and matcha. Nara and Tie prefectures, also known for tea, lie south and east of Uji.



Shizuoka Prefecture. Shizuoka prefecture is the largest tea-growing area of all Japan. It is situated along the Pacific coast, southwest of Tokyo and due south of Mount Fuji. The Akaishi Mountains, the southernmost range of the Japanese Alps, end in western Shizuoka prefecture and provide cool, high elevations locations, rolling foothills and abundant rivers conducive for vigorous tea growth. The central part of Shizuoka City and its environs are protected by Suruga Bay, which brings a micro-climate in all four seasons and frequent, nurturing dense coastal fogs. Sencha is the primary tea produced here, and close to 40% of all sencha produced in Japan comes from this region. Shizuoka began to cultivate tea during Japan's Kamakura period (1185 - 1333). Approximately 39,500 private tea farmers sell their tea directly to tea producers and packers in Shizuoka and at the weekly Shizuoka Wholesale Tea Auction.


Central Honsu. Clusterd in the centre of Honshu, Shiga, Gifu and Saitma prefectures are known for fresh, earthy, richly textured sencha. Aichi is a production area for premium matcha, supplying many of the finest teashops is Japan.



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