In the center of Kyushu, in the far west of Japan, lies a land called Kumamoto. Surrounded by a bottle green sea and towering mountains, this place of outstanding beauty is known as the “Land of Fire”…and where there is beautiful nature, unique and intriguing cultures flourish. Naturally, the people of Kumamoto have imbued their own culture and language with these same, mystifying characteristics…
LEGEND OF “WASAMON”
— the article series that aims to introduce the “WASAMON” people of Kumamoto.
ep.6 – Japanese “Black” Tea in Kumamoto!?
What is your favorite drink?
Coffee, tea, cola, lemonade, milk, longan, cocoa, wine, beer……There is an abundant choice of drinks in the world, with each country proudly championing its own “national” drink.
Needless to say, the “national drink” of Japan is most definitely TEA. Ever since it was first introduced by Chinese monks in the 7th century, tea quickly became of staple Japanese cuisine. The influence was so strong in fact, that it even gave birth to new Japanese cultural elements, such as tea ceremonies. Nowadays, Japanese people drink tea on a daily basis, with people enjoying a wide variety of flavors, including Green teas, such as Sencha and Matcha; brownish ones like Houji-cha and Mugi-cha; Genmai-cha, made from rice; Kobu-cha, from seaweed and even foreign teas such as Oolong tea, Jasmin tea, and of course, Black tea (Although in Japan, we call it Koucha, meaning “Red tea”).
Now, I can easily imagine you thinking, “Japanese tea? Gotta be Green tea!”, but as a matter of fact, Japanese people also love Black tea. Especially among young, high school* and college students (who don’t have much money!). The 500ml drink boxes of black tea (usually sold in a cheap price at the convenient store) is a necessity of life.
*Stick a straw directly into the drink box, and you’ve mastered the classic “Joshi-Kousei (High school girl)” style of drinking tea!
A little known fact…the first Japanese Black tea was made in Kumamoto!!
The story begins in 1875, right after Japan had opened its doors to the world. The entire nation was eagerly absorbing western culture, from technology, models and government and fashion! Those days, people began to become familiar with Black tea, considering it a “High-collar (fashionable, western, and modern)” drink. As a result, the Japanese government decided to produce and export more Black tea leaves with the establishment of a black tea laboratory (Koucha Denshujo) in Yamaga city, a city located in the northern part of Kumamoto and already famous for producing green tea. With the support of two professional technologists from China, the laboratory gave birth to the very first Japanese Black tea, Chinese style. With the success of this invention, the government then made more tea laboratories outside of Kumamoto to fulfill the fast growing demand.
Eventually, the technology of producing Japanese Black tea was halted, due to an increase in imported foreign tea leaves. However, in 2008, Japanese Black tea was revived by the hands of a curious WASAMON from Kumamoto!
That WASAMON is Mr. Kunio Fujimoto, the 3rd generation president of tea producing company, ”Fujimoto Tea”. For five years, he studied the methods of the 19th century tea makers and succeeded in reviving the flavor. He then started selling the tea with the name “Yamaga Fukkoku Koucha (Yamaga Revived Black tea)”. With it’s delicate, mild taste due to organic farming, “Yamaga Fukkoku Koucha” has a strong fanbase both within Kumamoto and beyond.
“Fujimoto Tea” is located in an area called Takema, in Yamaga city. An area close to the borders of the neighboring prefecture Fukuoka, this picturesque part of Kumamoto is abundant with fresh greenery, a magnificent valley and a beautiful river. Takema also has a long history of producing Green tea thaw was a firm favorite drink of the rulers of Kumamoto during the Edo period. However, that’s the story of Japanese Green tea!
Surprisingly, the knowledge of a Black tea laboratory in Yamaga was barely known amongst the residents of the Takema area. Mr. Fujimoto says:
“When I started producing Black tea, I could see that the other tea farmers were very confused. Their faces clearly voiced their opinion, like ‘What on earth is he doing?’” He chuckles.
So why did Mr. Fujimoto want to make Black tea in the first place?
“I was driven by pure excitement and anticipation. I really wanted to drink the very first Black tea that was born in Japan.”
Mr. Fujimoto’s eyes were shining with glee. You guessed it, it was pure curiosity! What else besides WASAMON could we call Mr. Fujimoto? He GAVE IT A TRY and took a long time reviving and perfecting the taste of Japanese Black tea, purely driven by strong curiosity!
Penmaru: Fujimoto Tea has also developed new flavors of Japanese Black tea, such as “Yamaga Fukkoku Koucha Earl-grey”, the tea with the scent of bergamot! Sounds yummy… I wanna try it!
Shihan: On one hand, Fujimoto tea shows respect to the local history, while also adding a new and unique value to it……and send out into the new world. This frontier spirit is definitely that of WASAMON!
Japanese Black tea isn’t too bitter and has a refreshing aftertaste. Secretly, this type of tea is fast becoming very popular, thanks to how it goes with both Japanese sweets and Western sweets. Why not give it a try?
Now, this is the final episode of the “Legend of WASAMON” series. We hope we have enlightened the spirit of WASAMON with you, with these episodes and examples from the people of Kumamoto.
From unique features in public facilities to novel food and drink, and even convenient tools that help make life better…
Challenging and curious, WASAMON is everywhere! So, who’s going to be the next WASAMON who paves a new path in the manga world? Maybe it’s YOU?
Show us your hidden potential, and prove to the world that you’re right, by submitting an entry to SMA-EX3 – KUMAMOTO round! You still have the time to create a manga piece!
The SMAC editorial team, the ZENON editorial team, and our honorable judges are all waiting to see your wonderful entry. Good luck, and happy drawing!!
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