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BLOG - April/ May 2016 - Japan Tea Travel

25 April 2016 - First harvest day of the shincha harvest and first flush of the year 2016 in the organic tea garden of Shutaro Hayashi in Kirishima

Yesterday we already talked on the phone with Shutaro Hayashi, on order to find out what kind of work they have planned for the next day (today, April 25th). After we heard from Shutaro, that family Hayashi is planning that today will be the first day of this year's shincha and first flush harvest, we change our schedule for today and directly go to the organic tea garden of Hayashi family in Kirishima in the early morning. This year (2016) the first flush harvest begins comparably late, which may have good effects in the quality of the tea. Already since some weeks the most days are characterized by a lots of rain and it is still quite cold. The rain clouds in the sky seem to have a kind of effect, which may be called "naturaly shading" [ tennen kabuse ], how Shutaro Hayashi explains us. And yes, we see the effect: Even the not shaded tea bushes have very green leaves (meaning more a blue green on the colour scale than a yellow green or green with little red nuances).

While Shutaro Hayashi is working in the little tea production hall of the family, we take the opportunity to interview his father Osamu. We ask him, in how far his image of a perfect sencha is different from the image of his son Shutaro, how a perfect sencha should be. Osamu, the father of Hayashi family, tells us, that if he would still be the one managing the tea garden, he would have waiting one or two days more, and would not have started with the harvest already today. The reason for this is, that his ideal sencha should be characterized by a bit bigger leaves than his son Shutaro thinks, who more prefers smaller leaves. While Osamu know that his son Shutaro prefers a deeper steaming [ fukamushi ] of the fresh harvested tea leaves, his own thoughts of a perfect sencha would be to steamed not so deep, which is called "asamushi steaming".

Therefore, the opinions of father and son are quite different, and as Osamu Hayashi tells us, this is strongly related to their era of tea production philosophy and tea culture, which is influenced by a strong change caused by changin taste preferences of the Japanese, and also be new possibilties thank to new machine types used for tea production. Many years ago the deep steaming, which is quite trendy nowadays, was not yet possible nor would it have been prefered, probably. When Osamu was yound, the ideal sencha was not so freshly green. The ideal was a green with a light nuance of yellow, which is a more moderat colors, like the colors in a traditional tea room for tea ceremony, were strong colors are to be avoided. Though, nowadays, in the era of Osamu's son Shutaro Hayashi, a very bright and shiny, a bit lime-green nuance, is what is seen to be the perfect color of a sencha or kabusecha infusion. To produce such a lime-green sencha, it is not only important to harvest quite young and small tea leaves, but also the steaming has to be deeper [ fukamushi ]. Naturally, also a quite long shading time of the tea bushes has a positive effect to reach the goal of this "modern age perfect sencha".

22 April 2016 - Travel to the wonderful island Yakushima and visiting the beautiful tea garden of Mankichi Watanabe

After going with the train from Nagoya to Kagoshima, which took really the whole day because of the earthquakes in Kyushu, we arrived quite late in Kagoshima, and had a really short night. Though, after waking up this morning with a beautiful view to the vulcane Sakurajima, we went to the harbour of Kagoshima, where to high speed boats leave for Yakushima. Arriving there, the exhausted feeling caused by the short night went away were fast, since it is everytime a fantastic day when the time has come to go back to paradise: The little island Yakushima, around 150kg south of the city Kagoshima.

In the tea garden of Mr. Watanabe: Marimo together with two customers (tea shop owners from Paris and Tours)

Because the tea bushes are already in the right condition to be harvested, all staff of Mankichi Watanabe's organic tea garden is working for the harvest and the Aracha production. Mr. Goto cares for the harvest together with one assistant, which brings the tea bags with fresh harsted leaves to the little production hall of Mankichi Watanabe. But before Mr. Goto begins with the harvest, the black nets for the shading of the tea bushes [ kabuse cha ] have to be taken away by two further helpers. In the organic tea garden of Mankichi Watanabe in Yakushima, during the first flush harvest season, only kabuse cha is to be produced.

20 April 2016 - Visiting the organic tea garden of Iwao Hayashi in Mie-Prefecture

Since yesterday we are not travelling alone any more. Valérie and Francoise are on the way together with us during the next ten days. Our first tea garden visit is today in Mie Prefecture the organic tea garden of it's founder Iwao Hayshi. This time Iwao catched us up from the train station toegether with his grandson Shuhei. That also Shuhei started to work for the garden of his grandfather means that now three generations are working for the garden together. All organic tea garden parcels together have a size of around eight hectare. Together we go with the car for around half an hour until we arrive in a little village, which is surrounded by several hills of about 300 to 400 meters high.

Photo: Yabukita tea bushes in the organic tea garden of Iwao Hayashi in Mie Prefectre

After we have arrived at the house of Iwao Hayashi, he shows us a new room, which they have build in the old tea factory building. Until the year 2015 the tea factory was in a quite small building, and all the green tea processing machines were standing in the second floor of it. Since this was quite risky in case of an earthquake, the family decided to move the tea processing machines to another building, which was built in the year 2014. Thanks to the fact, that most of the green tea processing machines have been moved to the new building, the old little factory building,where now only the final processing machines (sorting and final heating) are located, had some free space for a nice meeting room, which Iwao Hayashi proudly showed us. Until last year we every year met in a really little room, which was the office and at the same time also the tea packaging room.

Photo: Iwao Hayashi - the founder of the organic tea garden in Mie Prefecture, Japan

We all are very impressed by the young and energetic atmosphere of Iwao Hayashi. The neary 80 year old grandfather still works in his organic tea garden. During our talk we ask him about his secret to stay so young and having so much power. Naturally he tells us, that this is thanks to drinking his organic green tea every day, but there is also another important point. He expresses, that he is really sure, that also they choice of a good water is important to stay healthy. Iwao Hayashi gets his water from the hills surrounding the village the family lives, and he has a special technique of storing it and to filtier it with a kind of coal. He is not able to explain as the details of the chemical process, which is going on in the water tank thanks to the coal he puts into the tank, but he is sure that the coal takes out substances from the water, which would not be good for his health. Furthermore, he tasted that the water is getting much milder and rounder, which fits perfectly to his style of green tea.

This year it is already nine years ago, when we met Iwao Hayashi the first time in 2006. The first time we went to Mie to visit him for an Interwiev on organic agriculture, which we made for a graduation thesis. It was thanks to this talk, that Iwao Hayashi had the idea to ask us to import his tea to Europe and sell it to tea shops there.

18 April 2016 - Zen and Arts in the Kyoto National Museum

For today we decided to visit an exhibition in the Kyoto National Museum, which is called "The Art of Zen - from Mind to Form". Since it will only take place until mid of May 2016, we are happy to have the chance to see it.

We hope to find new inspiration for our "matchaschalen project", which we still perform by our little company A.M. GbR (art management for Japanese ceramics and tea utensils), which goes back to a project with European ceramic artists started in 2005. On the other hand we also hope to learn more about the connection between Zen and Japanese Arts. In the third floor of the exhibition we find many calligraphies, around half of them written by Chinese monks, which is due to the fact that Zen Buddhism, like all the other old Buddhists schools, were earlier florishing in China and later they came to Japan, where they partially splitted into new schools.

In the second we find sculptures of Bubbha and Boddhisattvas, which are quite interesting to be seen so close. In the temple mostly it is not possible to come so close and to see all the details and the sorts and character of the materials, they are made of. Finally, in the first floor we find some matcha tea bowls, who mainly were made in the Chinese Song Dynastie, which means that we talk about so called Temmoku Chawan (in Japanese), which orinally are called Tien Me Chawan (in Chinese). One the one hand we miss a bit to see more ceramics, which are usually exhibited in the Kyoto National Galerie, but not now, even of Matcha tea bowls and Zen naturally have a strong connection. But, on the other hand, which is even more regrettable, that there is nearly anything written in English about the exhibited objects, so that we finally do not understand much more about the connection between Zen and Art as I still remember from my university courses. Regrettably, my Japanese is too poor (and I am still too tired because of my little Jetlag), that I also do not take time and try to read the Japanese explanations, which are full of rare Chinese characters, which I cannot read, since all the monks names are written with them. What a pity: So many nice objects exhibited, but nealry impossible to understand by people other than Japanese, and this in the Kyoto National Galerie.

After we come out of the Kyoto National Museum, the beautiful sun of this nice spring day is still shining, we we decide to walk around and look out for pottery artists in Kyoto. After walking some kilometers, we find a little studio of a family, of which nearly all family members are ceramic artists. While the style of the mother is more traditional Kyoto-Style with flower and bid paintings on Matcha tea bowls, the works of her son are more minimalistic and a bit rawer, using more complicated sorts of glazes. We talk about bit and come to the conclusion that we might work together in the near future. Again after a work of around half and hour, we find another place with nice ceramics, were we decide to buy a well arranged set of Kobiki Glaze little tea pots and a Shiboridashi Kyusu.

17 April 2016 - A day in Kyoto

Before we start with the visits of our organic tea gardens in many different regions of Japan, we take some time to arrive not only physically but also mentally in Japan, and in the culture of Japan. Therefore, it seems that there is not better place to go than Kyoto, which is said to be the cultural capital of this wonderful country.

After arriving with the Shinkansen from Nagoya at Kyoto station, we take a little walk through the streets of Kyoto, and arrive at a joyfull place, which seems to be perfect to relax for some minutes. It is a cafe at the riverside, where we enjoy the housemade matcha sconnes.

A great place to relax: a cafe at the riverside of Kamo river in Kyoto

16 April 2016

Yes, we arrived in Japan !!