Japan

Tea harvesting is mechanized in Japan

18 May 2010
Tea harvesting is mechanized in Japan

In Japan, tea harvesting is highly mechanized. In the Shizuoka region, which is on the Makinohara plateau and where Sencha teas are produced, you come across some machines that have a very strange way of talking to the tea leaves. And yet these sharp, deft steel fingers don’t harm them. With extreme precision, this strange harvester takes just the most tender parts of the shoots.

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How to forge good business relations in Japan ?

11 May 2010
How to forge good business relations in Japan ?

There is a Japanese tradition that is completely unrelated to tea, but I like it so much I want to tell you about it. It is about the famous onsen, the hot springs.
In a volcanic country like Japan, with all that matter fermenting together underground, it is no surprise that boiling water erupts from the ground everywhere. There are many hot springs in the land of the rising sun.

The water temperature is so high that even in the middle of winter, it can make you hot even when your shoulders are exposed to the cold air.

The onsen are an extremely popular destination among the Japanese: they bathe in them to relax, rest and even cure themselves. They spend weekends, even entire vacations, in them. You go to the onsen with your family and your friends. When you go with a client, or a business contact, it is known as “hadaka no tsukiai”, or “naked communion”. The Japanese believe that bathing together, naked, is a way of showing yourself as you really are, with nothing to hide. This is important, they say, if you want to forge transparent business relations.

Here, near lake Tazawa, the deepest in the country, I am taking part in “hadaka no tsukiai” with Koichi Fujiki, a producer of tea canisters. We want to work together, for a long time, to be able to trust each other in business, without hiding anything. And this is how you do it!

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How to forge good business relations in Japan ?


How to forge good business relations in Japan ?

There is a Japanese tradition that is completely unrelated to tea, but I like it so much I want to tell you about it. It is about the famous onsen, the hot springs.
In a volcanic country like Japan, with all that matter fermenting together underground, it is no surprise that boiling water erupts from the ground everywhere. There are many hot springs in the land of the rising sun.

The water temperature is so high that even in the middle of winter, it can make you hot even when your shoulders are exposed to the cold air.

The onsen are an extremely popular destination among the Japanese: they bathe in them to relax, rest and even cure themselves. They spend weekends, even entire vacations, in them. You go to the onsen with your family and your friends. When you go with a client, or a business contact, it is known as “hadaka no tsukiai”, or “naked communion”. The Japanese believe that bathing together, naked, is a way of showing yourself as you really are, with nothing to hide. This is important, they say, if you want to forge transparent business relations.

Here, near lake Tazawa, the deepest in the country, I am taking part in “hadaka no tsukiai” with Koichi Fujiki, a producer of tea canisters. We want to work together, for a long time, to be able to trust each other in business, without hiding anything. And this is how you do it!

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The delicate art of making tea canisters from cherry bark

7 May 2010
The delicate art of making tea canisters from cherry bark

During my recent journey to Japan which led me to the north of Honshu at the extreme south of Kyushu, I visited for the first time a lovely city deeply nestled among mountains covered with woods. This city is Kakunodate, located nearby Akita (I’m giving details for the people, like me, who enjoy poking their nose on a map and dream while pointing their finger on imaginary roads).

In Kakunodate the tradition of wood work is still carried on. But not any wood ! Here they are only interested in cherry tree. Objects are carved in its bark, or, in other words, this beautiful bark is turned into a smooth and delicate leaf just like a precious parchment and is then pinned against the desired object:  a tea canister for example.
It is a very slow and meticulous work: once the wet season is over, a sample of bark is taken (approximately ten meters above the ground) and is then left to dry for no less than a year ! This leaves enough time to carefully think about its destiny…

With the help of a small flat-iron, this worker smoothly presses against the bark, after having coasted its back so that it perfectly sticks to the tea canister’s body. Of course, before that, she slowly polished the bark with great care,  using the blade of a knife in a repetitive movement  so as to make it surprisingly soft.

I’m admiringly watching her, in the silence surrounding her workshop. Once the tea canister is finished, she strokes it and holds it out to me with a discreet pride and I’m thinking about the beautiful Japanese green tea which will be a perfect case for it.

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In Japan, the harvests of tea are also delayed

4 May 2010
In Japan, the harvests of tea are also delayed

These days I was nearby Shizuoka, the main tea producing region of Japan. I took this picture in Tawaramine, a highly considered place for growing tea. Beyond the harmonious curve made by the row of tea trees, one can see the city of Shizuoka spreading out on the border of the Pacific.

The farmers of Tawaramine, just like the ones of the other surrounding mountains (Asahina, Hirayama…), don’t have much to complain this year. The harvesting of tea is of course very much delayed this year due to the cold weather of April and the shoots are only beginning to show up. However they do not have to experience the disaster of their colleagues located on the Makinohara plateau: because of a lower altitude and an early spring followed by a rough cold snap, the tea trees have simply frozen, and as a result the production of tea is partly compromised for them.

So from Darjeeling to Shizuoka, from Yunnan to Anhui and from Zhejiang to Fujian, the harvests are really delayed this year.

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Hisanori Masuda, teapot designer

23 February 2010
Hisanori Masuda, teapot designer

I’m happy to introduce to you my friend Hisanori Masuda. Hisanori is a famous Japanese designer who creates great models of cast iron teapots. He has exhibited worldwide (in New York’s MoMa for instance) and teaches at university in Japan. We have known each other for fifteen years thanks to Kayoko Nishikawa with whom I travelled a few times in the north of the archipelago, notably in the district of Iwate. It’s in fact the region where cast iron teapots are made. They are still casted one by one today. Hisanori has also made very nice models of tea kettles, with a simple, traditional and meticulous design. The Hikime, Chokaku and Natsume teapots illustrate his work perfectly.
We got together last week at the Ambiente fair in Frankfurt. Hisanori came to visit the Palais des Thés’ stand and I thus presented him to our team who was looking forward to meet him. This photo was taken for the occasion.

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Tea plants around Mount Fuji

19 February 2010
Tea plants around Mount Fuji

There are many tea plantations around this Japanese peak, but it’s not easy to find a spot where you can only see the tea garden with Mount Fuji in the background. You have to drive around the narrow back roads, keep turning round… It requires patience. And when you reach your goal, don’t expect solitude: the Japanese are keen photographers, and there is a real cult attached to their favourite volcano… There were at least a dozen Japanese around me when I took this photo.

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