Omi – Birthplace of Japanese Green Tea
The history of tea in Japan began in 805 when the great monk, Saicho, a historic figure within Japanese Buddhism, brought tea seeds back from China and planted them at the foot of Mt. Hiei in the Omi region (now Shiga Prefecture). His tea farm still remains in this area today. This is believed to be the origin from which tea farming culture then began to spread out across the rest of the country. Therefore, our home of Shiga, once called Omi, is known as the birthplace of Japanese tea.
An ideal environment for growing good tea includes abundant clear water, a climate with a wide temperature difference between seasons, and areas like mountains or hillsides that are prone to morning mist. Shiga, the former Omi region, is home to Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake, which is at the center of a rich freshwater ecosystem. The surrounding forests and mountains provide many water sources, including underground rivers, that all flow into the lake. Tea farming has thrived here since ancient times as the benefits of the local environment were recognized long ago. You may know some of the famous tea regions such as Kyoto’s Uji or Shizuoka, yet history shows us that Omi has also been recognized as one of Japan’s top tea farming regions. We lack the production volume of other major farming regions, but the tea grown and produced in our region, called Omi Tea, is acclaimed for its quality, and in particular for its aroma and deep, rich flavor.
As mentioned above, hillsides are the traditional terrain of choice for growing tea as the sloping landscape provides natural protection from frost. Contemporary technology has allowed tea faming on flatter ground, which in turn facilitated large-scale automated farming, a growing industry trend throughout the country. In the Omi region, however, it’s still common to find hillside tea farms practicing traditional methods with more manual labor and a smaller scale of operation. This style of farming is now only found in few regions of Japan, including Omi.
Mass-scale farming sacrifices quality by prioritizing efficiency, whereas our region remains focused on fine crafted tea. The ultimate quality of the tea depends on various factors such as fertilizer type, machines, and production methods. Unlike the uniformity found in tea from large-scale farms, the tea from this region includes a wide variety of flavors, with each farmer committed to their own personal method of growing exclusively unique tea leaves.
About Omi Tea
Omi Tea consists of teas produced in three major areas of the region: Tsuchiyama, Asamiya and Mandokoro.
Tsuchiyama Tea ( 土山茶 )
Tsuchiyama is the largest of the three Omi areas both in terms of farmland and production volume. The tea is known for its richness as well as a wide variety of tastes and flavors.
Asamiya Tea ( 朝宮茶 )
Asamiya Tea is cultivated on hillsides of the Shigaraki highlands, and is recognized as one of Japan’s Five Greatest Teas. This tea is praised domestically and abroad for its sophisticated aroma and deep, rich flavor.
Mandokoro Tea ( 政所茶 )
Mandokoro has the longest history of the Omi Tea areas. The tea here dates back to the 14th century and was once served to the Imperial Family and shogunate of feudal Japan. Today, the production volume is very limited, and is therefore known for its rarity.