Regions of Tea: Shizuoka
Shizuoka is a proud prefecture that takes pride in the bounty nature has gifted them. On their website they unabashedly proclaim: Shizuoka as No. 1, with their masthead boasting the two things they hold highest above all: Mount Fuji, and green tea.
The prefecture of Shizuoka is famous for two things: one, boasts Japan’s highest mountain, the snow-capped Mount Fuji, is found here; and two, it is undisputedly #1 in a number of green tea-related categories including largest tea harvest, the largest amount of land devoted to tea farming, and largest spending per capita on tea, making it the largest major tea-producing region in Japan.
Japan’s #1 Producer of Green Tea
Sprawling tea fields that lie at the foot of the majestic mount Mt. Fuji and carved in the surrounding mountains produce tea that accounts for over 40% of Japan’s overall tea production. This meant that in the 2015 harvest that hauled 76.354 tons of tea, 31.8 tons of it came from Shizuoka alone thus the prefecture has rightfully been known as the “Kingdom of Green Tea”.
The prefectures’ dominance in tea production is due in part to the efforts of the government because it wasn’t until the Makinohara Upland in Makinohara-shi (shi: city), Western Shizuoka was opened up by the Meiji government for tea export and economic reintegration of former Samurai (1880s).
Tea had been in the prefecture since 1244 when the monk Shouichi Kokushi brought back tea seeds from China during the Song dynasty, but in 1883 it was only responsible for 14% of the country’s tea production.
Temperature and rainfall requirements for growing tea are met in Shizuoka as evidenced by the 20+ tea production areas: Makinohara-shi (shi: city), Kawane-cho (cho: town), Kakegawa-shi, Haruno-cho, Tenryu-shi, and Shimizu-ku (ku:ward) and more.
Tea farms can be as vast and wide as the eye can see while others are tucked deep in the pockets of the mountains that these peculiarities from their place of origin give a resulting tea a distinct flavor profile. For the tea connoisseur, this can only be a delight. Not only is Shizuoka-cha (Shizuoka tea) popular and abundant, it’s also never boring.
Shizuoka’s renown is also due to the strides it has taken in order to unlock another level of tea. Kakegawa-shi, known for its cha’s natural sweetness, a soft texture and a light aroma, pioneered the Fukamushi method. The Kakegawa farmers wanted to improve the quality of tea made from larger, tougher, lower quality tea leaves, and the answer was steaming the leaves 30 seconds longer than the traditional steaming method, but is enough to extract the nutrients and flavor.
A cup of fukamushi is thick yet the sweet mellow taste and smooth texture provides a surprising contrast to what could have been a bitter drink.
Another unique thing about tea farming in Shizuoka is the Chagusaba, a traditional farming method in which farmers strew cut grass between the tea bushes. This makes a micro ecosystem that nurtures a rich diversity of living organisms including endangered plants to flourish together with the tea that also benefits – grass is a natural fertilizer, gives the soil moisture, improves soil quality and so much more.
For this, Kakegawa, which has practiced Chagusaba for at least 150 years, is listed as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS).