The Dream of a Trip to Kyushu and the Way to the Tea of Kirishima

2006, when we first came to Japan for about two weeks, we just had the chance to visit some places on the biggest main island, Honshu. Our home base was the grandmother’s house of a friend, whom we knew from Berlin. There he was an exchange student one year before and in 2006 he invited us to visit him in Tokyo. It took all our money to buy the flight tickets and a Japan Rail Pass for travelling within Japan, so the budget was too small to pay for additional hotels. That is why we just made one-day trips from Tokyo. By train we travelled to Kyoto, Uji and also to Mie. At the train stations we saw wonderful pictures of Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost main island, and got the dream to go there. Indeed Kyushu was much too far away for a one-day trip.

It took about one year before we once again had the chance to travel to Japan and to finally see Kyushu. In Germany, we already had heard about tea cultivation in Kagoshima and in particular about the area of Kirishima, which made us come up with the idea of visiting a tea garden in that area. After riding the train for some hours from Honshu, we arrived in Kagoshima, where we looked for places in which Kirishima tea might have been grown on a map in the train station. We took another train headed for the Kirishima Mountains in the hopes of somehow finding a teagarden. We got completely lost. Only a hiking road into the mountains started at the station and on top of it all rain began to fall. But thanks to the rain on that day, we were able to meet Narieda Shinichiro and his unique ceramics. He told us that there was not a single tea garden to be found anywhere near his pottery workshop. Since that day we have visited Narieda each year and also started to explore the volcanic scenery of the Kirishima Mountains. We still have not found even one tea garden this way.

Seven years later, during the preparation of a university seminar on the identity and philosophy of founders of organic tea gardens, we came across a tea garden in Kirishima. The student working on this topic held a presentation on the ideas and the philosophy the Hayashi family held during their conversion to organic cultivation. This report got us interested in the passion Osamu Hayashi showed in restructuring his tea garden, during which he also convinced his brother and his son Shutaro of the ideals of organic tea cultivation.

Another year passed, before we finally had the chance to meet this family in person. As fellow green tea enthusiasts and advocates of organic agriculture, a tight bond swiftly formed between this family and us. We found a good friend in Shutaro Hayashi, Osamu’s oldest son, who is almost exactly our age and who also cannot imagine a life without green tea. Now, every time we are in Kirishima, we have not only formed the habit of visiting the ceramicist Narieda and going to an Izakaya (a smaller Japanese bar) together with Shutaro, but also to make short group trips to other tea gardens. Topics like Japanese tea cultivars, the facets of green tea processing and conversations about different preferences in taste are a vital part of our trips together. We are often listening intently to Shutaro’s explanations, which are not only based on experience, but also on the knowledge he gained while studying agriculture and tea cultivation at university. This makes the development of new teas one of many topics which connect us with Shutaro Hayashi.