Dotted with tea plantations across the prefecture, Shizuoka remains as one of Japan’s largest and most prestigious tea producing regions. | ©PhotoAC

Shizuoka (静岡), alongside Uji and Kagoshima, stands out as one of Japan’s premier green tea producing regions, responsible for around 40% of the nation’s annual commercial output. Renowned for its exceptional quality and diverse varieties, Shizuoka tea (静岡茶) collectively refers to green tea that are produced within the region. 

Having continuously cultivated and refined its flavours for centuries, Shizuoka produces exquisite green tea that is distinctively Japanese. What exactly sets Shizuoka tea apart and makes it so highly sought after?

 

History of Shizuoka Tea

Makinohara PlateauMakinohara Plateau, the area in Shizuoka that was first established as the leading tea-producing region during the late Edo Period. | ©PhotoAC

Before delving into the secrets behind Shizuoka tea, let’s first understand how tea production took root in this region.

It is believed that tea cultivation in Shizuoka Prefecture started when Shoichi Kokushi, a monk from the mid-Kamakura period, brought tea seeds from the Song Dynasty to Suruga Province, now Shizuoka Prefecture, and began growing them. As a result, Shoichi Kokushi is regarded as the founder of Shizuoka tea, and his birthday, 1 November, is celebrated as Shizuoka Tea Day (静岡市お茶の日).

Since then, Shizuoka tea has undergone remarkable development. At the end of the Edo Period (1603–1868), displaced samurai began cultivating the Makinohara Plateau (牧之原台地) in midwestern Shizuoka, significantly boosting green tea production and establishing the area as Japan’s leading tea-producing region. The expansion of tea plantations led to a substantial increase in production across Shizuoka Prefecture. 

Towards the end of the 19th century, with the opening of Shimizu Port in 1899, Shizuoka started exporting tea overseas and improved distribution channels made Shizuoka tea accessible both domestically and internationally. 

The prefecture’s proximity to the Tokaido Highway and Yokohama Port also ensured stable production and shipments, solidifying Shizuoka’s reputation as a renowned tea-producing region.

 

So, What Makes Shizuoka Tea Exceptional?

Let’s take a look at the factors that contribute to the fine production of Shizuoka’s green tea.

 

Natural Environment and Favourable Climate

Snow-capped Mount FujiMount Fuji plays a crucial role in the provision of nutrient-rich topsoil which enhances the growth of the tea leaves in the surrounding plantations. | ©PhotoAC

Located just south of the majestic Mount Fuji, Shizuoka Prefecture benefits from nutrient-rich volcanic soil, which fosters the growth of healthy green tea leaves. Additionally, the region is crisscrossed by rivers filled with fresh water, delivering mineral-rich sediment and a clean hydration source to the countless tea farms scattered throughout Shizuoka.

Situated in the Tokai Region, Shizuoka Prefecture enjoys a warm climate year-round, thanks to the Kuroshio current flowing through the Kumano and Enshu Seas, moderating the temperature, and making it an ideal environment for tea cultivation. 

The mountainous areas contribute to significant temperature variations, which can influence the flavour of the tea produced. In the warm coastal regions, tea tends to have an aromatic and refreshing taste. Conversely, in areas with larger temperature differences, tea bushes grow more slowly, undergoing photosynthesis during the day and resting in the cool night air. This process enhances the tea’s rich flavour and sweetness. 

Additionally, in such regions where river mist is common, the mist blocks direct sunlight, promoting the growth of more chloroplasts and thereby intensifying the tea’s flavour.

 

Methods of Cultivation

Separating tea that have been harvestedCultivation and harvesting methods used in Shizuoka are key factors in ensuring the production of high quality tea leaves. | ©PhotoAC

Besides the ideal climate, the cultivation and harvesting methods used in Shizuoka play a crucial part in the production of high quality green tea. Since becoming a renowned tea-producing region in the Meiji Period (1868–1912), Shizuoka tea has continually improved and upheld its quality and diversity, through centuries-old techniques developed by skilled craftsmen to suit the specific climate and characteristics of each area within the prefecture.

One such method is the tea shading process, traditionally using handmade rice straw canopies to shade the bushes before harvest, enhancing the umami-rich flavour of the tea. These straw screens are more effective at filtering light compared to the more commonly used black plastic netting. Additionally, the straw screens are sustainable, originating as a byproduct of rice grown locally and, when worn out, are repurposed as mulch to protect the base of the tea bushes during winter.

 

The mowing of semi-wild grasslands surrounding tea plantations.The mowing of semi-wild grasslands surrounding tea plantations. | ©PhotoAC

Another unique agricultural practice in the region is known as chagusaba nōhō (茶草場農法), which involves spreading grass, like silver grass or bamboo grass, harvested from the grasslands surrounding tea plantations. The grass is then dried and cut to be used as organic matter within the tea plantation. This technique is believed to enhance the flavour and aroma of the tea leaves. 

After harvesting, tea leaves undergo steaming, rolling, and drying to produce unrefined tea known as aracha (荒茶). By adjusting the degree of steaming and heating, the unrefined tea is transformed into fine tea. 

These manufacturing methods, such as hand-rolling and deep-steaming, which are now widely used, reflect the accumulated wisdom of past generations who had experimented ceaselessly in order to craft the delicious tea that we enjoy today.

 

Types of Shizuoka Tea

Yabukita teaYabukita is the most common cultivar in Shizuoka. | ©PhotoAC

The predominant tea bush variety in the region is known as yabukita (薮北), constituting 90% of Shizuoka tea production. It is renowned for its harmonious blend of sweetness, vegetal notes, and umami flavour, making it ideal for crafting sencha.

Developed in Shizuoka Prefecture in 1908 by tea farmer Hikosaburo Sugiyama, yabukita was selected for its ability to withstand frost, yield high quantities, and deliver excellent taste. This cultivar then became the most widely cultivated tea bush in Japan. The original yabukita bush, discovered over a century ago, still exists today and holds the status of a natural monument in Shizuoka Prefecture.

Though sencha (煎茶) reigns as Shizuoka’s primary product, the region also cultivates and exports other teas like bancha (番茶)matcha (抹茶), and genmaicha (玄米茶), enjoyed not only across Japan but also globally.

Why not take the opportunity to sample some of Shizuoka’s finest green tea while you’re in the area? Let’s have a look at three of them:

 

1. Kakegawa-cha

Tea fields in Kakegawa, ShizuokaA tea plantation in Kakegawa. | ©PhotoAC

In the city of Kakegawa (掛川), you’ll find Kakegawa-cha (掛川茶), a type of fukamushi-sencha (深蒸し煎茶) which is a unique tea variety pioneered in the region and celebrated for its deep aroma, sweetness, and umami flavour, achieved through an extended steaming process lasting 2–3 times longer than typical sencha. This method was developed to mitigate the bitterness and astringency often associated with tea, resulting in a remarkably smooth and flavorful brew. 

Comprising 10% of Shizuoka’s green tea production, Kakegawa-cha has clinched the Area Award in Japan’s National Tea Competition for an impressive 23 consecutive years. Renowned for its sweet, full-bodied flavour, boasting deep umami and richness alongside an exceptionally smooth texture, the Kakegawa-cha offers an unforgettable aroma and refreshing finish that make it an exceptional choice for tea enthusiasts.

 

2. Honyama-cha

Abe River in HonyamaThe mineral-rich soil and enveloping fog of the Abe River supplies the tea leaves of Honyama-cha with exceptional nutrients. | ©PhotoAC

Located where Shoichi Kokushi is believed to have planted his first tea seeds, Honyama-cha (本山茶) thrives on the slopes in the upstream region of the Abe River (安倍川), boasting a history spanning over 800 years, making it the oldest tea in Shizuoka. Revered by Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first shogun to unify Japan, Honyama-cha’s tea leaves flourish in the region’s mineral-rich soil and the enveloping fog from the rivers.

Regarded as one of the “Three Great Teas of Japan”, Honyama-cha exudes an elegant aroma reminiscent of mountain scents. Its fresh, transparent colour harbours a robust and intricate flavour profile, truly embodying its mountainous heritage.

 

3. Kawane-cha

Oi River in Kawane, ShizuokaThe pristine waters of the Oi River and the high altitude mountains provide the ideal conditions for the cultivation of soft tea leaves which retain high water content. | ©PhotoAC

Known as the Darjeeling of Japan, Kawane-cha (川根茶) is among the highest grades of sencha produced in the country. Cultivated using the pristine water of the upper Oi River (大井川) and the pure air of the high-altitude mountainous region, this distinguished tea is crafted using the kawane momikiriryu (川根揉み切り流) technique, resulting in a lighter steamed sencha

Benefiting from the area’s abundant precipitation, the soft tea leaves retain a high water content, and the use of the kawane momikiriryu technique thus maximises the tea leaves’ potential by minimising steaming, heating, and rolling. 

Awarded the prestigious Tennouhai (天皇杯) Award in 1964, Kawane-cha remains a top-tier tea, renowned for its clear, mellow taste and fresh aroma reminiscent of dewdrops in the misty mountains.

 

Shizuoka: Home to Japan’s Finest Flavours

Tea plantation in ShizuokaDelivering the very best of Japan’s green tea, Shizuoka Prefecture stands proudly as Japan’s most revered tea-producing region. | ©PhotoAC

Stands as a bastion of Japan’s illustrious tea culture, Shizuoka Prefecture offers a diverse array of teas that reflect centuries of expertise and innovation. From the revered Honyama-cha and the prestigious Kawane-cha, each variety embodies the region’s rich heritage and commitment to excellence. With its ideal climate, fertile soil, and time-honoured techniques, Shizuoka continues to produce teas of unparalleled quality and flavour, cherished both domestically and internationally, inviting all to experience the exquisite taste and cultural significance of Japan’s beloved beverage.

 

Matcha Snack Box by JAPAN RAIL CLUB

So Much Matcha Snack Box by JAPAN RAIL CLUB


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