Tea was first introduced to Japan from China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907).
In Kyoto’s Minamiyamashiro region, tea production techniques were established and different types of green tea were developed.
These include the matcha used in the tea ceremony, sencha for daily tea consumption, and gyokuro, which is regarded as one of the finest grades of green tea in the world.
For over 800 years, people living in this region have developed a wide variety of first-class teas and continue to be leaders in tea production and processing, while also continuing to make important cultural contributions to the lasting traditions of the tea ceremony.
Visitors to this region can experience the different developmental stages in the history of tea production through the beautiful tea fields, rows of wholesale shops and tea-related festivals.
Uji region has been prospered as another work place of high-class nobles. And it has natural features as to meet the demands of court nobles, water transport between Kyoto, climate and soil in which river fog sets in, and good vegetation. In the 13th century priest Myoe gave lessons of tea cultivation technique to local people using horse. It was first transported from China by priest Yosai. In a birth place of Uji tea cultivation, a stone monument stands named “Komanoashikageen”.
Uji-Tea has been appreciated by Ashikaga Shogun family in the 15th century and has become the highest Japanese tea. Shogun families and government officials established special seven tea gardens in Uji. They made people to produce the highest quality tea leaves by outdoor cultivation. One of the gardens named “Okunoyama tea garden” has been producing tea from Muromachi period. There is Koshoji Temple found by Dogen Zenshi. He wrote “Eihei Seiki” which has become the base of Japanese tea ceremony.
In the 16th century people begun to produce “Tencha” according to the request of Sennorikyu by using black net made of reeds grown on the Ogura pond. By covering tea leaves by black nets people established the production of “Maccha” which has dark green color and strong sweetness. Uji tea had a special status by protection of three Shogun, Nobunaga Oda, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, Ieyasu Tokugawa and established Uji tea brand.
The birth of “Sencha” and “Gyokuro”
In the 17th century Ingen Zenshi, the founder of Obakusan Manpukuji, introduced “Encha method” by poring hot water to dried tea leaves. In “Seisei Sencha Hou”. He steamed new bud of tea leaf and dried under the drier by rubbing tea leaves by hands. It is “Sencha” which is superior in color, smell and taste. Sencha has 80% of circulation of tea in current Japan.
In mountainous region in Kyoto like Wazuka, Yufune, Harayama farmers begun to develop tea gardens by contour cropping.
The natural features to make technological innovation of this land produced “Gyokuro” which is the highest green tea in the world with sweetness and body.
In Uji region blessed with history and culture of tea, landscape people make efforts to recognition n and succession of tea culture. Kyoto prefecture designates “Uji tea hand-rolling Technique” as an intangible cultural asset. Tea leaves picked on the 88 days after the first day of spring have the highest quality and people have a long life if they drink it. A gathering “Uji new tea leaves picking on the 88 days” is held in Uji. Tea farmer makes it practice that tea leaves picked after 88 days will be put on a tea jar, stored under a cool dark place. In autumn people take out the tea leaves and grind them in a stone hand mill. In October people hold tea festival, offer of tea to the founder of tea cultivation.
In tea offering famed water picked on the third place of Uji Bridge will be used and carried to the Koshoji Temple with the procession of Edo era costume.