The island of Hirado in Nagasaki has long been Japan’s gateway to the world. It was here that the monk Eisai returned to from his pilgrimages to China, bringing both the Rinzai school of Buddhism. And it is here that it is said Eisai planted Japan’s first green tea plants in 1191 at Senko-ji Temple, which claims the oldest tea plantation in Japan.
When Dutch traders arrived at Hirado in 1610, they drank Nagasaki green tea. Four decades later the monk Ingen traveled from China to Nagasaki to spread sencha tea culture, popularizing the drink, which had been limited to the ruling class, with all people throughout Japan. Then near the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Nagasaki businesswoman Oura Kei exported the local tea to the world, including the UK, the US and Arabia.
So while tea-growing regions in Japan such as Shizuoka, the largest tea-growing region in Japan, receive more attention for its green tea, the lush tea fields of Nagasaki is where it all began – and still thrives.
The good people at Nagasaki Ikedoki tea tours want to expand your knowledge of Japanese tea. During their upcoming two-hour, English-language online monitor tours, you’ll learn about the history, traditions and, most importantly, how tea goes from farm to cup.
Rich Tea Farms of Nagasaki
Nagasaki Ikedoki Tea is a project launched at the tea-growing town of Higashisonogi, a small town with a population of about 7,800 located an hour outside of Nagasaki Station. This small town that sits between two incredible forces of nature – the powerful ocean to one side, and an awe-inspiring mountain range to the other – has a 300-year history as a tea-producing region.
This fortuitous location creates the perfect environment for producing delicious green tea. The region specializes in producing Tamaryokucha, a steamed green tea not often seen outside of Japan. For three consecutive years since 2017 the rare Tamaryokucha tea ranked first at the National Tea Fair (and ranked first for four consecutive years in the individual category) – a competition that decides the best tea in Japan.
Learn More about Nagasaki Ikedoki Tea
In the regional Nagasaki dialect, Ikedoki means “tea break,” and the Nagasaki Ikedoki Tea project provides English-language tea tours for foreign visitors to Japan and foreign residents in Japan. Since Nagasaki has long been connected to the international world, the tours are designed to convey all of the area’s history, including that of the hidden Christians and the atomic bombing. Nagasaki Ikedoki Tea has the mission to provide the message to “make a peaceful world with Japanese tea.”
In 2020, the regular tea tour was canceled due to the influence of the new coronavirus infection, but Nagasaki Ikedoki Tea is conducting an online virtual tea tour where you can experience the tour remotely. You can learn about the inner workings of tea production in Japan, visit some breathtaking tea fields and take in a wealth of information about some different local regional teas.
As history is so important in the tea-growing industry, during these tours Nagasaki Ikedoki Tea will also share with you the unique history of tea growing in Nagasaki and how it became a crucial player in sharing Japanese tea with the world.
The tea tours are free. During these times where travel is becoming increasingly difficult – if not impossible – the Nagasaki Ikedoki Tea project wants to keep sharing their knowledge of tea with the world in the hopes that learning more about what goes into a cup of tea will deepen one’s appreciation for it.
Why a Virtual Tour?
As a traveler, getting access to tea fields around Japan is much harder than one would think. Of course, there are language barriers, but the more difficult hurdle to jump is the fact that most tea farms in Japan are in fact, private. Ikedoki acts as a bridge between the tea-growing world and tea enthusiasts, allowing information to be passed from tea grower directly to you unimpeded.
Nagasaki Ikedoki believes that “it would be a shame to not be able to share the beauty of Higashisonogi with the outside world.” As most smaller countryside towns in Japan don’t see the same level of tourism as their larger city alternatives, these virtual tours will also hopefully spark interest in areas of Japan more off the beaten path. This is truly a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse into the Japanese countryside from the comfort of your own home.
In addition, on November 14 and 21, Nagasaki Ikedoki Tea will host a bus tour that you can participate as a monitor. As with a regular tea tour, you can experience a tea plantation with a view of the sea, a tea factory tour and tasting at an old private house. It will be a local tour to and from Nagasaki City and Sasebo City. Participation fee is free. Please apply from the website below.
How To Join
Sign up for Nagasaki Ikedoki’s next free virtual tour on October 17, 2020, at the link here. Another free virtual tour will be held on November 28, 2020 (details coming soon).
For more information about Nagasaki Ikedoki, check out their website at: https://ikedokitea.com