Japanese tea producing areas

Where is produced tea in Japan?

Tea bushes are present throughout the Japanese territory. Tea is made in almost all Japanese prefectures except Hokkaido and Yamagata and Osaka prefectures.

Question the northern boundary of tea production in Japan brings us several answers, depending on your point of view one takes.
– If we talk about northern limit of the presence of tea bushes, this leads to Hokkaido, the large northern island of Japan, south of which there are some tea trees. However, they are not used in order to produce tea.
– Another point of view, that of the northern boundary of tea production: That brings us to the Aomori prefecture in the far north of Honshu, the main island of Japan. If we find some producers to make tea, this remains anecdotal, limited to personal or very local use.
– Finally, from the perspective of a commercial production, northern limit is indeed (on the Sea of Japan side) in the Niigata 新潟 prefecture around the city of Murakami, with the Murakami-cha 村上茶, even if production is very limited and the number of producers can count on the fingers of the hand.
On the Pacific ocean side, the Ibaraki 茨城 prefecture which could be considered the northern limit of commercial production of tea (Sashima tea 猿島 in the south, and Okukuji tea 奥久慈 in the north)

The major producing regions
Cultivated area acreage

In 2013, the total cultivated area represented 45,400 ha. [from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing 農林水産省]. Unfortunately these figures are steadily declining.
For reference, in 2006, the area cultivated in China was 1.431.00 ha and 523,000 ha in India [ITC, International Tea Committee]

1. 静岡 Shizuoka: 40.3% of the cultivated area.
2. Kagoshima 鹿 児 島: 19% (proportion continues to increase while Shizuoka is declining).
3. Mie 三重 6.9%. This is something surprising, except those interested very closely to the Japanese tea, no one imagine that the Mie prefecture, with his Ise-tea 伊勢茶 may be the third tea producing region of Japan.
4. Kyoto 京都: 3.48% Uji tea (Uji-cha 宇治茶) is probably with the Shizuoka the most renown, though the cultivated area is not very important, especially compare to the three first area.
5. 福岡 Fukuoka: 3.46% (Yame tea 八女)
6. Kumamoto 熊本: 3.46%
7. Miyazaki 宮崎: 3.39%
The Miyazaki and Kumamoto prefectures have a cultivated area comparable to Fukuoka and Kyoto, yet as a tea-producing areas, they are completely unknown.
8. Saga 佐賀: 2.1% (Ureshino tea 嬉野)
9. Gifu 岐阜: 2.08% (Mino-Shirakawa tea 美濃白川)
10. Saitama 埼玉 2.3%. Just north of Tokyo, Sayama tea (Sayama-cha 狭山茶) is well known in Kanto area.
[Figures from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing 農林水産省]
Let’s stop here for this ranking, from 11th place (Nagasaki), it falls below 2%.

Note that just Shizuoka and Kagoshima alone account for 60% of the cultivated area of tea in Japan. We count barely more than 3% for much known area such as Kyoto and Fukuoka.
Taking the first 11 prefecture, we have 6 area of the southern island of Kyushu (about 7 departments of this island, and the last one, Oita, appears in 16th position).

Amount of aracha

If it seems to me (perhaps wrongly) that the cultivated area is more revealing, the tea industry often prefers to talk about of produced quantities of Aracha (荒茶 not finalized tea, this is raw materials produced by growers). Here are the top 7 for the year 2012:
1. Shizuoka 33.400t (39%)
2. Kagoshima 26.000t (30%)
3. Mie 7.740t (9%)
4. Miyazaki 4.060t (5%)
5. Kyoto 3.170t (4%)
6. Fukuoka 2.430t (3%)
7. Kumamoto 1.490t (2%)

It is found that the tea produced by prefectures proportions do not stick to acreage proportions. Why ??
The most striking example is that of Miyazaki and Kumamoto. While both prefectures have an equivalent acreage, Miyazaki produced almost three times more aracha!
Such difference is mainly due to the number of harvest. So what Kumamoto many producers are taking only one harvest, Miyazaki generally carried out several crops.

Finally, when looking at the finalized products tea figures, again the quantities obtained seem to not stick to those for aracha product. Why ??
Take this time the example of Mie. This is a very important producing region, yet it is very rare to see in store tea from Mie (Ise-cha). Is that the aracha produced by farmers is sold on the markets (Kyoto and Shizuoka) will be finalized and integrated into blends elsewhere (usually in Shizuoka for fukamushi, and Kyoto, as ‘’Uji- cha’’ for the kabuse-cha). Thus, the amount of produced finalized tea are included in tea finished and packed in other departments.

Some interesting particularities

There are in some parts of Japan particularities about tea production and consumption habits.

– In the Kansai (regions of Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, etc.), it is still consuming very little fukamushi sencha, and futsumushi sencha (here about sencha, and here for more on what is called fukamushi-cha) still seems to remain the norm, while elsewhere the fukamushi, became widely majority. Only the major producer Mie prefecture produces a significant amount of fukamushi-cha, but this is ultimately not consumed in the area, and will be sold on the market of Shizuoka, and ends as a component in blends.
It is interesting to note that the futsumushi sencha, still popular in Kansai, with his whole leaves and yellow-green transparency liquor, no deposit, recalls the sauce used to eat the soba (buckwheat noodles) which in the Kansai is also translucent, while elsewhere it is deep brown, opaque.

– The tea produced in the Kyoto prefecture is called Uji tea, although it does not necessarily come from the city of Uji (Wazuka, Minami Yamashiro, Kyo-Tanabe, etc are larger producers).
Furthermore, if a blend contains more than 50% tea from Kyoto, may also use the name ‘Uji’ ‘if the rest of the blend consists of teas from Mie, Nara, or Shiga prefectures.

Another feature of the Kyoto prefecture in particular, is the relatively small proportion of the cultivar Yabukita, which represents ‘a little less’ than 70% of the cultivated area against 80% nationally. This is due to the fact that it produces a lot of shaded teas, matcha, gyokuro, kabuse-cha, for which uses more adapted cultivars (Goko, Samidori, Asahi, Uji-hikari or Saemidori, etc).

Regarding these shaded teas, it is interesting to found that if on the point of view of the reputation and quality Uji matcha is much higher, the first producing prefecture of matcha is Aichi (Nagoya prefecture) with its Nishio tea 西尾.
Also, the production of gyokuro is sharing almost 50/50 between Kyoto and Fukuoka (Yame). The latter tends past ten years to monopolize the first places in contests.

– The hôji-cha 焙じ茶, roasted green tea, widely consumed throughout Japan, is still little known in Kyushu.
It must be said that there are still in this region, a large production of kama-iri cha 釜炒り (oxidation stopped by direct heating in a kind of pan) whose taste is very different from sencha, and focuses primarily on the perfume, like hôji-cha.
Kama-iri cha is mainly produced in the Miyazaki and Kumamoto prefectures, while the Saga prefecture 佐賀 (Ureshino 嬉野), especially product steamed tamaryokucha 玉緑茶 (guri-cha).
– Still in Kyushu, Kagoshima prefecture, due to its warmer climate, operates many early cultivars, Yutaka Midori first, always putting it in the lead at the time of the new tea (shincha). Thus, it is also the prefecture with the lowest proportion of Yabukita cultivar, only 37% of the cultivated area.
Its relatively recent development as a green tea producing region also allowed to do this, Kagoshima indeed having first developed as black tea producer.

– In the north of Tokyo, Saitama prefecture produces mainly fukamushi sencha. It is called Sayama tea (狭山茶). We often talk about ‘sayama-bi-ire’ (hi-ire = final drying phase apply on aracha to obtain finished product) which equates to a very strong final roasting (which gives a lot of sweet flavor to the tea) as a feature of Sayama tea. It is true that there are a lot of tea with strong hi-ire in Saitama, but this drying is done with the same machines everywhere, and there are everywhere strong hi-ire sencha. In reality, this ‘sayama-bi-ire’ is originally quite another thing, it is indeed a very effective drying technique handmade on manual kneading work plan (temomi-cha), which was at the origin of Sayama tea success in late 19th and early 20th when sencha was exported, and spent much time on ships. A very good drying was important for conservation. And this technique is not resulting at all in a strong roasting tea perfum like modern strong ‘hi-ire’.

– Finally, Shizuoka, with over 90% of Yabukita cultivar could figure as a poor student, though, in the first tea producer in Japan, there is a wide variety of cultivars, but it is mostly the result of small farms while in the major producing areas in the plains (Makinohara, Kakegawa, etc.) have essentially the Yabukita.
Schematically you can see majority of fukamushi in plain “large plantations” (even if their size is in no way comparable to giant farms in Kagoshima) and, in mountain areas (Hon.yama, Kawane, Tenryu, etc.), small producers who continue to make beautiful sencha with whole leaves, typical Japanese green tea typical needle shape.
Moreover, even if Shizuoka remains essentially a producer of sencha, there is the gyokuro, the guri-cha, kama-iri, black tea, various innovative techniques.
Shizuoka is also the largest commercial center of tea, its market as welcoming teas from across the country and also one of the most important centers for research and development.

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Categories: miscellaneous, Tea producing area

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6 replies

  1. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I really appreciate your effort and the good range at thes du japon. All the best Philipp

  2. merci Florent for a comprehensive study of tea areas in Japan..Can i assume that macha using asahi or goko produces a superior taste? ken

    • Dear Ken, thank you for your comment.
      Yes, Asahi is especially used for very high level matcha. Then for superior matcha, you have Goko or more often Samidori (Goko is mostly used for gyokuro).
      The most basics matcha (cooking or training rank) are made from usual Yabukita.

  3. Merci beaucoup and Arigato for the extensive information on Japanese tea and tea growing areas. It is specially useful to compare it with my own country Nepal where we have tea growing in ca. 19,000 ha of land and ca. 20 million kg output. It is mostly CTC with high grown being only 3 million kgs.

    I was surprised to know that tea could actually be grown as far north as Aomori and Hokkaido even if it not for commercial purpose. Is it the usual Yabukita cultivar that can cope with that sort of cold climate? Or is it some other cold loving cultivars that are grown in those two northern provinces?

    Looking forward to your next post!

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