By Cathy Cawood
Shizuoka is famous for its views of Mount Fuji, its seafood, and historic Kuno-zan Toshogu Shrine. However, most visitors don't know that Shizuoka is also famous for this popular and well loved tradition of Japan, green tea. It is the home to 50% of Japan's green tea, ocha.
Japanese ocha is a wonderful souvenir for anyone visiting Japan, but why just buy it from a store when you can learn the history, explore the fields, and be taught how to make the tea, all from the masters themselves? You can do this on a specially designed small group tour which takes you on an adventure to Ocha-no-machi, Shizuoka's tea town.
Ocha-no-machi is filled with tea plantations which, because the fields are so large, are not located near the main city of Shizuoka. If you are wondering how to get there, don't worry: a custom designed tea taxi will pick you up at your hotel. This stylish green taxi fits three or two visitors and tour guide and, since the plantations can only be reached by car, this is a convenient and fun way to tour the tea fields.
On these specialized tours, visitors get the opportunity to enjoy the real green tea experience. I was fortunate enough to try out the tour myself.
The journey to the plantations in the Ocha taxi was a smooth, relaxing one hour ride. You know you have arrived when all you see is field after field of Japanese tea bushes everywhere you look. The farms had workers harvesting, one leaf at a time, the fields cut and tea bushes shaped into pristine, perfect lines.
I had the pleasure of visiting one of the tea masters in his traditional Japanese home at Sansuien Tea Farm. Instead of just waiting for our tea program to begin, we were given the chance to explore the fields and see where the tea leaves are grown and how they are harvested. After our tour, we were invited into the tea room of Mr. Uchino, a tea master from Shizuoka. He specializes in farming and making Kiyoka, a kind of Japanese green tea. The helpfulness of the tour guide and the pleasant disposition of Mr. Uchino made it easy and enjoyable to follow along in my language as well as Japanese.
We were shown step-by-step how to steep the leaves and pour the tea. The tea leaves we used were called yabukita. In our tea program, we learned the three pourings of the tea, each representing a flavor experience: these are Umami (taste), Sibumi (astringency), and Nigami (bitter). It was accompanied by Japanese sweets, which included yokan (japanese jellied dessert) and zenzai (homemade red beans and grilled rice cakes). After finishing all three tea sessions, we added salt to the used tea leaves and ate them. They were very delicious and had a nice, slightly bitter taste.
Between each of the sessions, we listened to stories from the tea master, and I enjoyed hearing about his love of tea and Shizuoka. After saying goodbye to Mr. Uchino, the Ocha taxi took us back to Shizuoka Station. The Ocha Taxi is available to pick up and drop off tour guests at their requested location. I won't forget the sincere hospitality and noteworthy experience from Mr. Uchino, my tour guide, and the Ocha Taxi.
The tour I went on was designed for a small group, but it's possible for larger groups to be accommodated for. For a fun, unique, and authentically Japanese way to spend your visit, look no father than Shizuoka and Ocha-no-machi.
Each tour is customized to the visitors' interests, the taxi pickup/dropoff, and the tea program. The program I went on can be arranged with Mr. Uchino for the best times.
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