While picking tea leaves in the fields of the Sayama Green Tea School I glanced up and saw a friendly Totoro statue standing outside a neighboring house. As it turns out, the rolling hills surrounding the tea school near Tokorozawa in Saitama Prefecture are called the Totoro Forest.
The area is said to be the inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki’s classic animated film, My Neighbor Totoro. The Totoro statue (which can be visited as a separate activity aside from the Sayama Green Tea School) was one of the many highlights offered during my enlightening experience at the family owned and operated farm.
Sayama Green Tea School consists of five local tea farms – Sayama Farm, Okutomi Farm, Yokota Farm, Nishizawa Farm and Ikenoya Farm – where international guests are welcome to enroll in a range of programs from picking tea leaves to roasting leaves to brewing the perfect cup of green tea.
I was surprised that Ryoichi Wada’s tea farm – Sayama Farm – is just a 30-minute train ride from Tokyo’s Ikebukuro Station, plus an additional 10-minute bus ride. Wada, who has worked on the farm for 23 years, led us to the tea fields to demonstrate how to pick the perfect tea leaf. His hands worked with swift precision, sifting through the plants and selecting the shoots.
Our next lesson was to learn the manufacturing process. Wada dumped a mound of crushed green tea leaves in a tray on top of a mysterious wooden box and turned a dial. We craned our necks to see something like a gas burner inside. Heat emanated from the box as Wada flipped the crushed tea leaves over to distribute the heat evenly. When it was my turn, I ran my hands through the tea leaves over and over, until I felt I was in a trance.
The final stage of our schooling was the tasting. Wada taught us to cool down the boiling water before pouring it on the leaves, how long to wait for the tea to brew and how to pour the tea into each cup little by little. He explained to us that the time isn’t wasted in waiting, but rather provides the chance to chat with family and friends. “I think it’s a great tragedy,” he told us philosophically, “that young people only know the taste of bottled green tea.”
The particular tea produced at Sayama Farm and the surrounding green tea farms is called Sayama Green Tea and traces its history to the 14th century. Sayama Farm has embraced the farm-to-table philosophy, and their extensive lineup of green, black and iced teas can be enjoyed at their café. The Sayama Green Tea School offers a fascinating opportunity to learn about the entire process of tea-making – in addition to a photo op with Totoro.
Find more information about Sayama Green Tea School on our Concierge listing.
Photographs by Andrew Goldie