Hidden Kyoto Countryside Tour.
The Yamashiro area in southern Kyoto prefecture is the historical center of Japanese green tea production in Kyoto. It covers an area that includes 12 cities, towns and villages. It has long flourished as a hub of people, goods and culture, with many significant temples and shrines being constructed here. In addition to the Unesco World Heritage sites of Byodo-in Temple and Ujigami Shrine in Uji, exquisite temples and shrines designated as National Treasures and important cultural properties are dotted around the area.
But it is the humble tea plant that unites the area and continues to attract visitors from all over the world, eager to unearth its green tea secrets. From its picturesque tea fields, historic buildings and serene temples and shrines, to its contemporary architecture and restaurants, the Yamashiro area reveals a history and culture deeply intertwined with its 800-year tea heritage. Compared with the ever-popular Kyoto and Nara, Yamashiro benefits from being off the main tourist trail, affording the adventurous traveler an authentic Japanese experience without the crowds. Immerse yourself in this ancient land and your next cup of green tea will never have tasted better.
The history of Kyoto Tea Country.
The Yamashiro area located in the southern part of Kyoto Prefecture is naturally blessed with the soil and climate suited to tea cultivation. Tea fields were first established in the Uji area during the Kamakura period (1185–1333) when the monk Myoe introduced seeds to villagers on return from his travels in China.
So began an 800-year history of tea cultivation and culture in Yamashiro, with Uji tea soon establishing itself as the most prized brand of tea during the Muromachi period (1336–1573), becoming the tea of choice for even the shogunate. This official endorsement prompted the establishment of the first dedicated premium tea plantation in Uji, Shichimeien.
Later during the Sengoku (feudal) era, the act of drinking tea was elevated to a Zen-like pursuit by tea master Sen no Rikyu and grew in popularity with the samurai class. The tea ceremony was born, ushering in a new era of tea appreciation and the demand for premium tea skyrocketed.
Forced to up their game, the Uji farmers responded by developing a covered growing technique for cultivating the richest, most flavorsome tencha leaves, used to grind into the vibrant green matcha powdered tea used during the tea ceremony.
In the Edo era, Nagatani Soen developed a ground-breaking new method of steaming and rolling tea leaves, that resulted in a tea that retained its green color and intense flavor, a far cry from the sun-dried brown tea that had been the norm up until then. His technique sparked a revolution in sencha production, that remains largely unchanged to this day.
It was not long before Uji growers were able to take advantage of Soens’ new steaming and rolling techniques, and apply it to their own shade-grown leaves, bringing to market the most coveted of all premium green teas - gyokuro.
Uji became synonymous with premium tea production and during the Meiji era (1868–1912) as Japanese tea began to reach foreign shores, the area of tea production rapidly expanded from the hillsides to the tops of the mountains, shaping the landscape that still exists to this day.
In 2015, the history and culture of Uji tea and its picturesque tea fields collectively received Japan Heritage status as “A Walk through the 800-year History of Japanese Tea”.
Supported by the patronage of emperors throughout the centuries including Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu, the Uji brand has continually set the standard for tea production in Japan. Through innovation, expansion and by embracing new technology in the pursuit of unerring quality, Uji is the birthplace of the green tea we know today - of sencha, matcha and gyokuro.
Journey through Yamashiro and follow the trail of tea, discovering a culture that has existed for over 800 years.