Discover the unique tea fields, wholesaler houses, and festivals that are still present in the Yamashiro Region today
This area prospered as a land of nobles’ villas, with favorable conditions. Its environment met the tastes of high-ranking people, with water transport running to the capital and a climate with river mists, soil, and vegetation. It is believed that in the 13th century, the Zen Buddhist Monk Yosai brought over the method of tea cultivation from China, while the Buddhist Monk Myoe taught villagers of Uji to sow tea seeds in the traces of horses’ hoof prints. A monument called “Koma-no-ashikage-en-ato-hi” (monument for horse hoof print tea gardens) was erected at the beginning of this fully-fledged production of Uji-cha green tea.
In the 16th century, the shade-grown cultivation method was introduced in response to requests of people including Sen-no-Rikyu.
Tea fields are covered with meshed reed screens to harvest tencha tea leaves with a less astringent flavor, and matcha with a vivid dark green color and strong umami flavor also began being produced.
In Uji City, the honzu cultivation method using naturally grown reeds and straw is still in operation today.
The tea production conducted during the 16th century is described in more detail by a priest of the Society of Jesus, Joan Rodriguez, in “History of the Japanese Church” (late 16th century).
Under the protection of the powerful feudal lords Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Shogun, Uji-cha green tea established a special status and brand. In the Edo period, a town of tea wholesalers was created in the Nakauji area, including a powerful Uji-cha tea blender family called Kanbayashi Shunshoke. At the foot of Ujibashi Bridge is Tsuen Chaya teahouse, which is regarded as the oldest in Japan.
In the 18th century in Yuyadani, Ujitawara Town, Nagatani Soen created the aosei-sencha-seiho method of steaming and drying by hand-rolling new tea leaves on the hoiro drying table to produce sencha green tea with an excellent color, aroma, and flavor.
Sencha currently makes up as much as 80% of Japanese tea consumed in Japan.
This hoiro has been preserved in the birthplace of Nagatani Soen, nearby which Chasomin-jinjya Shrine is located.
In order to meet the demand for sencha, land was reclaimed on the rolling hills in areas such as Yubune and Harayama in Wazuka Town, which expanded the tea fields onto the mountainsides around the tea farmers’ homes and further up the slopes approaching the summits, creating a distinctive landscape.
The culture that seeks innovation in this area combines the shade-grown cultivation with the Uji-cha tea process, and has created the world's finest green tea, gyokuro, with its sweetness and rich flavor.
Sandy soil is suitable for cultivating the gyokuro tea leaves, and good tea fields have developed in Kozuya on the riverbeds of the Kizu River in Yawata City as well as in Joyo City, and hamacha tea in Hamadai, Kumiyama Town.
In the hilly Ino-oka area in Kyotanabe City, you can see a unique landscape of paddy fields (covered with straw), shade-covered tea fields, bamboo groves (covering materials) in the foothills, and the village and gyokuro tea fields located further up.
In addition, tea leaves were collected from various places in Kamikoma, Kizugawa City, which was key to water transportation via the Kizugawa River, and a town of tea wholesalers was formed and flourished.
In order to produce large quantities of tea leaves, tea fields have been cultivated up to the mountain summits since the 20th century, and a unique and beautiful landscape of ridged tea fields stretching almost up to the heavens has spread in areas such as Ishidera, Erihara, and Kamazuka in Wazuka Town.
In addition, in Tayama and Takao, Minamiyamashiro Village, tea fields expand with an unusual vertically-ridged pattern that falls from the top of the mountain to the middle of the hill, forming a unique scenery dotted with tea farms.
The tradition says that you will live a long life if you drink Uji-cha tea. In order to protect this tradition, new tea leaves of Uji-cha tea are picked on the eighty-eighth day of spring and matured in a tea urn.
The event of “tea picking on the eighty-eighth night" still happens today, as well as a Uji-cha Festival, which is held every October.
During the Uji-cha festival, a tea ceremony called “Chatsubo-kuchikiri-no-gi” is dedicated to the founders of the Japanese tea ceremony. A memorial service called “Chasenzuka-kuyo”, also uses worn out bamboo tea whisks.
It is said that Hideyoshi Toyotomi had water drawn for a tea ceremony from the San-no-ma terrace of the Ujibashi Bridge. The act of drawing water by the priest of Uji-jinjya Shrine from the same place to serve tea is still done during the festival. The water is transported to Kosho-ji Temple by a procession of people dressed in traditional attire of the Edo period.
In various parts of the Yamashiro area, the traditional tea ceremony Chakabuki (identifying tea brands by tasting them), which started in the Kamakura period, and various other tea-picking experience events, are still enjoyed by people there today.
The tastes of traditional green tea dumplings and new western-style tea sweets also continue to be enjoyed by people today.
Provided by Kyoto Prefecture
In cooperation with Uji-cha Dojo Takumi-no-yakata, Uji City Municipal Tea House Taihoan, and Tsuji Rihei Honten