Located south of Kagoshima, the island of Yakushima is one of Japan’s hidden treasures. Fans of the Studio Ghibli movie Princess Mononoke may recognise the island as the inspiration for the setting of the movie, but apart from the lush vegetation, Yakushima is also home to Hachimanjyu tea farm. The teapasar team managed to interview the Watanabe family over the internet about how Hachimanjyu Tea came to be and what makes Yakushima tea so special.
Note: The interview was carried out in Japanese and has been translated into English and edited for clarity.
Can you introduce Hachimanjyu Tea to our readers?
We’re a tea farm located on the UNESCO World Heritage site of Yakushima, and we grow and produce our organic tea. We are located on the east side of the island, at the foot of Aikodake (愛子岳). It’s a good location for growing tea as the temperature can vary. To build the farm, we cleared the cedar forest of Yakushima with our own hands and because there are no other fields around us, we’re able to grow our tea without being worried about chemicals from other farms affecting us. All our fields are JAS Organic certified.
How did Hachimanjyu tea farm start and how did you come up with the name?
Hachimanjyu (八万寿) comes from the names of the three founders – Shiba Yayoshi (柴 八代志),Watanabe Mankichi (渡辺 万吉) and Kurushima Hisashi (久留島 寿志). They were born on Yakushima and were classmates at Yakushima high school in 1948. The three founders graduated from high school and all of them left the island for about 5 years to live in the city, reuniting with each other when they moved back home. While living in Yakushima, the three of them started looking into whether there was any wonderful thing that they could do together. While they were brainstorming, they heard that Yakushima was perfect for farming tea.
After observing tea farms outside the island, the three of them came back and started getting ready to start Hachimanjyu tea: they got the land, the capital, and learned about how to farm and process tea. The work was divided among the three of them and Hachimanjyu Tea was started with their sweat and tears. Today, my father, Watanabe Mikichi, is the the president of the company and oversees the day-to-day running of the farm.
What are your values?
From ages past, Yakushima has always treasured everyday things that others may take for granted. Hachimanjyu Tea is the same. We are grateful for, and value, the nature in Yakushima, our tea plants, and the people who help run the farm.
What makes Yakushima tea special?
As Yakushima has a subtropical climate, our average temperature is 19.1 Degrees Celsius. But because of our geography, the mountainous areas can get up to 2 metres of snow during winter. As such, Yakushima is the only island where you can experience all of Japan’s seasons.
In addition to the unique geography of Yakushima, we also have the Kuroshio current. Warm seawater from near the equator is pushed up north by large currents. The Kuroshio current flows past the Philippines, the East of Taiwan, as well as the Okinawa and the west of Amami Oshima, reach the southwest of Yakushima before flowing to the Pacific Ocean. Because of the Kuroshio current, the temperature of Yakushima doesn’t vary too much through the year – summers are cool and winters are warm. Even in summer, our nights are comparatively cooler and on clear days, the morning dew falls upon our tea farm.
Yakushima is also known to have “35 days of rain in one month”, making us a rainy island. However, the pattern of rainfall differs within the island and from season to season. On the whole, the east side of the island gets more rain than the west. By the way, we get 4300mm of rain a year, two times that of Tanegashima, our neighbouring island, and three times that of Tokyo.
This is the unique natural environment in which Yakushima tea grows. First flush in Yakushima is from March to April, while the second flush is some time in the middle of May. This is earlier than the rest of the country. Currently, we’re growing Saemidori, Yutakamidori, and other cultivars that mature early.
There are many tea farms on our “UNESCO Island”, and we have been farming organically since the tea farm opened 30 years ago. At that time, the word “organic” permeated society and no one thought that tea could be grown without fertilisers or pesticides. However, we persisted without any chemical fertilisers or pesticides and managed to find natural ways of dealing with pests. In this way, we have managed to find the biorhythm of the farm, which has helped the tea plants become stronger and healthier.
We have also started farming the Kuritawase cultivar, which is suited to Yakushima and Tanegashima and now have seven different cultivars on our farm.
Are there any things about living on a farm that most people (especially those in Singapore) don’t know about?
There are a few that come to mind: For example, we occasionally get snow on our tea farm. This is the southernmost part of Japan where snow will fall. The water of Yakushima is also listed in the 100 Best Waters of Japan and is considered extremely soft.
What is a typical day working on the farm like?
We all pitch in where we’re needed, but during harvest season, our work includes harvesting the tea, transporting it, processing it, as well as carrying out the kabuse process on the tea plants. Kabuse is when we use a black sheet to cover the tea plans, creating a better quality tea.
In non-harvest season, we focus more on creating good products, weeding and fertilising the farm using natural methods, and keeping the factory where we process the tea clean. There’s work to do all year round and life on the farm is not as idyllic as most people think!
Which of your teas do you recommend?
Organic Yakushima Genmaicha
It’s hard to pick one, but if I had to, I would pick our genmaicha. Our genmaicha uses organic rice from Kumamoto and we blend it with first flush tea. It’s probably the most complicated tea we have but the rich scent and the flavours of rice and tea make it worth the time and effort.
What is one way of brewing tea that not many people know about but you would recommend?
I would recommend the mizudashi (水出し) method, where you use cold or room temperature water to brew the tea. It’s perfect for the summer months and for green tea, you can taste the umami and other flavours of the green tea after ten minutes.
For black tea, if you use the mizudashi method overnight, you can get a different sweetness from tea brewed with hot water.
Organic Yakushima Green Tea. Made with first flush leaves, this green tea was also shaded before being harvested, resulting in a stronger flavour. This tea is delicious hot and cold and it comes in loose leaf and tea bag form.
As part of this brand spotlight, , enjoy 20% off all purchases from Hachimanjyu Tea with minimum spend of $30, with the code “HACHI20” on teapasar.com. Valid until 23:59, 15th March 2019. Hachimanjyu Tea is also available at NomadX, Plaza Singapura.