ESCAPING CITY LIFE TO THE UTOPIA OF TEA
by Julie Wang
This autumn, tired of city life and the corporate grind, Julie Wang decided to come back to Wazuka – to slow down, get in touch with nature and rekindle her love for tea.
October 21, 2019
The year was 2017 and I was just coming off from the city hustle and bustle of Tokyo and Singapore. The plan was to do a quick visit to the countryside tea fields in the south of Kyoto. For once, I did not do any prior research of my destination and did not know what to expect. I remembered the feeling of waking up to dappled sunlight streaming on my face as the car meandered into the village. As my eyes slowly adjusted to the light, I could not believe what was in front of me and for a moment, thought I was dreaming. Awe struck by the ethereal sight of endless rolling hills of beautifully manicured tea fields, I held my breathe and soak in the sights as I entered Wazuka. Also known as Teatopia – the Utopia of Tea.
So taken by it’s tranquil beauty that I ended up spending time here longer than planned. Skipping touristy towns and just soaking up the sunshine in tea fields, hiking through the forest, sipping local tea and hanging out with friendly locals. I was sorry that I only had 2 days here and I was determined to be back.
This autumn, tired of city life and the corporate grind, I decided to come back to Wazuka – to slow down, get in touch with nature and rekindle my love for tea.
MOST BEAUTIFUL VILLAGE
Luscious green tea fields, glistering gold paddy rice fields and beautiful traditional Japanese houses that has been passed from generations to generations, is a portrait of the peaceful coexistence of the village folks with nature. Whether it’s the artistically circular patterns of tea bushes at Harayama, the tea fields that seems to reach for the sky at Ishitera, or the unique patchwork like tea fields that covers the entire mountain at Erihara, the stunning view of these tea farms that changes every season, is one of the reasons why Wazuka is named as one of the most beautiful villages in Japan.
Hands-on learning on tea harvesting in the fields.
Located on the west of the village, Ishitera Tea Plantations has been designated as a Japan Heritage Site.
Breathtaking views greet you at every corner in Wazuka.
Processing freshly plucked leaves to Kamairciha via pan frying.
THE BIRTHPLACE OF JAPANESE TEA
Steeped rich in over 800 years of tea growing history since the Kamakura Era, this hometown of Uji tea once provided tea for Emperors. Surrounded by mountains and clear streams, the geological condition of this isolated village creates a distinctive temperature gap between night and day. This often results in the formation of fog that shields the tea leaves from strong sun exposure, which creates an ideal condition to produce high quality Japanese green tea.
The village traditionally produces high grades of Sencha but due to demand, is now increasingly switching to tencha, the leaves used to grind into Matcha. While most teas are now processed by machines, the farmers here established the Wazuka Tea Hand-Rolling Preservation Association to protect the traditional craft of handmade teas. In fact, the national champion of tea hand-rolling, Kenta Hosoi hails from this village.
HANDS-ON JAPANESE TEA LEARNING
31 classes of deep hands-on Japanese Tea immersion, conducted by Obubu Tea Farms and the Global Japanese Tea Association, was certainly one that not only rekindled my love for tea and learning, it was also one that helped me again a deeper appreciation of the hard work that goes behind every leaf. From the classroom to rare tea tastings, to harvesting in tea fields, to making own teas. From meeting and learning directly from tea farmers, tea makers, tea auctioneers, tea evaluators it tea ceremony masters. All these taking place while being in the warm company of fellow tea enthusiasts from all over the world, friendly tea instructors and surrounded by the impossible scenic beauty of endless tea fields. I was especially inspired by our tea instructor Yasuharu Matsumoto’s learning philosophy that it is more important to deepen your knowledge than to be correct as correctness can change over time.
Ikuko, who is certified in macrobiotic cooking, incorporates its principles in whipping up breakfast for guests, to give them a nutritious start for the day.
Meet the Blodgetts including their 2 lively daughters – Olivia and Margie, who no doubt, created endless smiles and laughter during my stay.
Tea fields just right in front of Blodge Lodge.
WAKE UP TO TEA FIELDS AND HOMEMADE JAPANESE BREAKFAST AT BLODGE LODGE
Blodge Lodge is a warm and comforting ryokan-style Bed and Breakfast that is located on top of a hill, surrounded by terraced tea fields. The experience of waking up to the sight of luscious tea fields and to the “Scent of Fog” (Kirika), which refers to the fragrance of tea produced in Wazuka, as well as the warm hospitality of it’s owners, Michael and Ikuko Blodgett, was one of the reasons that brought me back to Wazuka. This time, it was to do an internship with them – a perfect way for me to get even closer to the local authentic experience and it was certainly one that made me grow as a person as I learnt about appreciating the simple way of life through them. Embracing the philosophy of farm to table, Ikuko would often harvest from the family farm and treat guests with her home cook Japanese meals. Being in a tea village and a Japanese Tea Instructor in-training, she often incorporates tea in her dishes too, which is a real treat.
AUTHENTIC LOCAL FOOD FROM THE HEART
Café Lunch Waka is a tiny eatery that is highly popular with locals. Run by the friendly and kind Mr and Mrs Maru, their seemingly simple bowl of Udon is one of the best I ever had. I also love the lively atmosphere and unpretentious great local food served on hotplates at Tampopo and Okonomiyaki Ecchan.
SIP AND DINE WITH PICTURE-PERFECT VIEWS
Voted as one of the most beautiful tea village in Japan, with picturesque views at every corner, you get to sip tea and enjoy tea-infused dishes at various cafes and restaurants in Wazuka. The relatively new Dan Dan Café is located right in front of beautiful Ishitera Tea Plantations. Their Matcha gelato is a simply pure tea bliss and not to be missed. Just down the road, is also a lovely Japanese handmade sweets and bread shop – Ishida Choeido. d:matcha Café & Kitchen is the perfect spot to enjoy ceremonial grade Samidori matcha while staring out the vast landscape of golden paddy rice fields and scenic tea fields. While The Heavenly Café, a quaint wooden private tea house, perched on slits on top of a hill, provides a panorama view of the village and a tranquil space for sipping tea.
"Skipping touristy towns and just soaking up the sunshine in tea fields, hiking through the forest, sipping local tea and hanging out with friendly locals. I was sorry that I only had 2 days here and I was determined to be back."
Picturesque view of Ishitera Tea Plantations at Dan Dan Café.
The Heavenly Café overlooking the village.
The timeless beauty of nature, simple tranquility of the village and warmth of local folks have somewhat of an effect that cleared my mind and nourished my soul. I came back to Singapore, having a different perspective of life and longing to be away from the city distractions. This is the effect of Wazuka – the Utopia of Tea.