A Look at Japan’s Tea Industry in Shiga Prefecture

Did you know that tea is still produced from plants in Japan that are 300—and maybe even 400—years old?!

Or that very few of us may ever have the opportunity to taste some of the exquisite Japanese teas because they are consumed primarily by those who live in and near the area where they are produced?

Or that in Japan, the uniformity of the tea gardens and of the tea produced is highly valued?

Tsuchiyama-gardens-web

This tidy tea garden, for example, would delight the fussiest of gardeners with its perfectly manicured rows that stretch to the horizon!

Located in Tsuchiyama, a town in the Koka area of Japan’s Shiga Prefecture, this garden was recently visited by Lisa, owner of TeaHaus and Eat More Tea in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Lisa had been invited by the Japanese External Trade Organization to tour some of Japan’s tea gardens in Shiga this past spring. Arriving just after the first picking, which takes place in May, she was able to experience amazing teas—and she shared some of them at a tea tasting event at TeaHaus last night.

tasting-event-web

If you weren’t there, you missed out on terrific food and amazing tea, but I can share Lisa’s photos and fill you in on Japanese teas!

As I wrote in an earlier blog (Tea in Early Japan: A Poetic Beginning), site-of-first-tea-garden-webtea first came to Japan when students and monks returned from China, bringing tea with them. Although we don’t know exactly when this occurred, the first recorded reference to tea in Japan is A.D. 814!

That first tea was grown in Shiga, at the site shown here. Although obviously not the original plants, these are cultivars of those plants.

Shiga boasts the country’s largest freshwater lake and is hemmed in by mountain ranges, with a climate that is conducive to tea production.

Grown on flat areas, Tsuchiyama’s tea gardens are uniform and neatly machine trimmed.

machine-harvesting-webIn fact, around 75% of all Japanese tea is mechanically harvested and produced. This assures that both the gardens and the tea leaves themselves are very uniform in appearance.

Tsuchiyama is Shiga Prefecture’s largest tea-producing region, both in cultivated area and in production volume.

However, Shiga currently exports very little tea, with 90% of it staying in the domestic market—but with a current trend toward coffee and convenience tea drinks hitting Japan right now, there has been a drastic drop in how much tea is being consumed in the area.

While that is bad news for the Shiga tea gardens at the moment, that may translate into good news for us, with Japanese tea growers and producers looking to expand their market to other countries, including the United States.

plucking-web
Plucking tea leaves

Coming Posts: The multiple teas that Tsuchiyama produces and how they are made, plus a look at other tea gardens and how they differ.

To have your own tea tasting, visit TeaHaus.com; TeaHaus carries the most Japanese teas in the Midwest.

6 thoughts on “A Look at Japan’s Tea Industry in Shiga Prefecture

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