Wide-eyed animal pottery (whether cute or sorta creepy is up to you) and ancient kilns and lush tea gardens? You are now in Japan’s Shigaraki region!
Having looked at the Tsuchiyama tea garden and their tea-processing facility, we now take a look at Asamiya, located on the Shigaraki Plateau in Shiga Prefecture’s southern region.
Shigaraki is known for statues that loosely depict tanuki, the Japanese raccoon dog—featured in folklore and purported to bring good fortune.
The area is also one of Japan’s oldest pottery production centers. Surrounded by wooded mountains, the environment is ideal for building and operating anagama (cave) kilns. These ancient single-chamber kilns were built into the mountainside and fueled with wood.
Suitable clay was also close at hand. Having once been a lake bed, the area’s clay lent itself to pottery. In fact:
Along with Bizen ware, Shigaraki ware was the earliest native pottery to be used in the Tea Ceremony. (Shigaraki Ware exhibit)
And that alkaline-rich clay also imparts flavor to crops—including tea. Asamiya tea is renown for its rich and full-bodied flavor.
The Asamiya tea garden, a fourth-generation farm, comprises gently rolling hills planted with neatly tended, very uniform, rows.
(Although these rolling slopes may conform to how we might envision tea gardens, this is less traditional in Japan. The flat fields of the Tsuchiyama garden are the norm.)
Because the Asamiya garden has some areas that are naturally shaded, a small amount of matcha is produced. By virtue of its being limited and naturally shaded—on top of the extensive labor required to produce matcha—it is very expensive.
If the weather in early spring gets too cold, the fans shown here will keep warmer air down. This allows the harvest to be held off for a couple more weeks, which means a better harvest. Although electric lines are currently in use, they are slowly moving to solar power.
The leaves are harvested mostly by machine, although people walk the small tractor up the higher slopes (see earlier post for photo of the type of tractor used). Again, the pleasing uniformity that results from this mechanization is highly valued.
Taka, owner of the Asamiya garden, hosted a tasting in his lovely home:
The various teas show the diversity possible—all from one tea garden! It seems the Shigarakiyaki have indeed brought good fortune to this region.
See previous posts on this tour of Japan’s tea industry:
A Look at Japan’s Tea Industry in Shiga Prefecture
Touring a Tea Processing Facility in Japan
Why Are Matcha and Gyokuro So Expensive?
One Japanese Tea Garden, Many Teas
Photos by Lisa.
Sources: (1) “Shigaraki Ware,” Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women’s University, Google Arts and Culture, https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/信楽焼/7gIy6r1pabGzLQ; and (2) “Asamiya Sencha, the rare Japanese green tea that gives full body,” by A. Hojo, Dec. 23, 2014, Hojo Tea.