Where is the Tea Field?

Where is the Tea Field?

The commonly held stereotype regarding the landscape and atmosphere of Japan, gives way to two general beliefs and one major misconception. One image of Japan: The first image that many foreigners never having visited the land of the rising sun might conjure up is that of downtown Tokyo or perhaps Osaka; it's noisy - people everywhere crossing the street in herds, skyscrapers towering above, lights and billboards, even sushi bars as far as the eye can see. It is the technologically advanced industrial powerhouse nation commanding the 3rd largest economy in a country smaller than the size of the state of California. Sony, Panasonic, Honda, Nissan, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Nintendo, Fuji, Canon, etc. These are the names we associate when we think of the booming cities in Japan and all of it's glory of wealth.

Another image of Japan

Interestingly enough, the other most common perception of Japan that outsiders often indulge is entirely different, that of old Japan, the Japan we studied in our history books or saw on National Geographic. Imagine the majestic rolling hills that shape most of the country, bamboo framed temples and shrines where monks sit unmoved and unphased in a state of unmatched satisfaction, harmony and peace. An impression of zen: where community people, local farmers, artists, poets, families, women in traditional kimonos or perhaps even geisha talk quietly over hot tea, kneeling on tiny cushions or stretched out over tatami mats in a nearly empty room, basking in the beauty of the cherry-blossom trees or the mountains’ autumn colors. Life here is simple and easy.

The misconception

The unfortunate misconception of Japan lies in this second, commonly-purported image of rural Japan. The truth is that, today, it's nearly extinct. The once quaint, local farming villages that covered the whole of Japan have all but few morphed into the common suburbs of any first-world country we know. The culture and the people and the food might all be unchanged, but the landscape is much different accommodating shopping malls, and pachinko parlors, game centers, giant supermarkets, McDonalds, and other chain stores of the like. Nothing is quite as simple, pure and untainted as it may have been a hundred or two hundred years ago when businesses and local markets ventured as far as the 10. 20 or maybe 30 other familes in the closely-knit rural areas. In that world, people made their own food and clothes; communities were truly self-sufficient. Those villages have all but been lost, but not completely.

A mystic village

Located in the heart of the Kansai region, nestled away in the mountains of Kyoto, there lies a well-kept secret of Japan, a gem, the village of Wazuka. A picturesque retreat: in a tiny valley at the top of tea-covered mountains, lives on, as it has for thousands of years, a small tight-knit community of farmers, primarily tea-farmers.

An old, time-honored lifestyle

Arguably the most famous and best green tea in all of Japan, Uji Tea, is produced using tea not from the town that it's name would suggest, Uji, but from the tea of Wazuka. Here, the hillsides are seemingly painted with tea fields, the houses are antiques, people keep warm during the winter sipping tea around an open fire-pit in the middle of their living rooms, the mountain water is free, many houses also have a well, shopping malls and chain stores are non-existent, there are no trains, or taxis, the bus only comes once an hour and there is only one main road. No movie-theatres, no game centers, no supermarkets or chains, Wazuka is marked by a tiny department store, a farmer's market-type grocery store, an even smaller convenience store, and a small meat market and not much else. People here have been living life and going about business much as they have for hundreds of years. Most of the tiny businesses, located in people's homes, and even the "bigger" grocery store and a small department store allow each other to pay using a tab or sometimes even barter. Many of the farmers live on an income that they receive bi-annually after the big tea and rice harvests; in this way, as everyone knows each other (some family histories' go back nearly forever) the town has learned to survive around these harvests. As for it's tea and the tea fields, they are renowned, beautiful, abundant and delicious.