Regions of Tea: Kagoshima
This time we travel down to the south of Japan to the island of Kyushu.
On the southern tip of Japan is the island of Kyushu where Kagoshima prefecture, the Southern gateway of Japan, is located.
Dotted around the prefecture are 11 active volcanoes, but among them all Sakurajima, the most active volcano in the country, watches over Kagoshima at 1117 m high. The years of volcanic activity that continues until the present has covered the prefecture in fertile volcanic ash that enriches the soil with minerals.
With the abundant rainfall and a suitable climate for agriculture, Kagoshima is the premier supplier of agricultural products for the rest of Japan, and one of these is green tea.
Just like the major centers of tea production in Japan, the cultivation of tea in Kagoshima was started by a monk, but it was through the efforts of the local Satsuma clan during the Edo Era (1603-1867) that the production of tea took off.
The first tea producer’s association was established in 1887 in a bid to improve the poor quality of tea which ended up to be unsuccessful.
Kagoshima strives for perfection
The 1950s was pivotal to Kagoshima’s tea industry. Apprentice farmers relocated to the famed tea center of Makinohara in the top tea producing prefecture of Shizuoka (Read about the tea industry in Shizuoka here insert link sa Matcha-43).
There they learned the advanced techniques which they brought back to Kagoshima which significantly improved the quality of tea. It took decades worth of effort which put emphasis on improving their facilities and honing their skills and the institution of the Tea Experiment Station by the prefectural government that the Kagoshima-cha (Kagoshima tea) was finally recognized.
Kagoshima is now the second largest contributor to Japan’s tea industry, in 2015 it supplied 30% of the year’s harvest, behind the tea capital that is Shizuoka prefecture. It helps that Kagoshima has large swathes of broad, flat land where rows upon rows of tea could be planted and then harvested mechanically using highly efficient harvesters
The Yabukita cultivar is the most popular variety of tea in Japan where it 76% of tea is yabukita, in Kagoshima they like to experiment with newer varieties. While 41% is still Yabukita, 28% of Kagoshima green tea is yutaka midori, and in lesser amounts sae midori, asatsuyu, okumushashi, kanaya midori, zairia, asanoka and sakura jima. Kagoshima tea is famous for its blended teas, where the leaves of different varieties are mixed to achieve a certain taste and aroma.
A key to the growth of the tea industry in Kagoshima is it sells reasonably priced, high quality teas. This, combined with favorable growing conditions, high volume harvests, skilled workers and advanced facilities has made Kagoshima green tea an attractive product for import by foreign companies.
Everyday, millions of people are comforted by a cup of tea that was harvested from the fields of Kagoshima. It’s a cup that was the work of years’ worth of effort to perfect, and for the tenacity that they have shown, future generations will surely enjoy an excellent cup of Kagoshima tea.