Tea Harvest in Kumano

Tea leaf picking on my doorstep

By Alena Eckelmann    - 3 min read

Living in a village near Hongu on the Kumano Kodo trail, I have watched my neighbors pick tea leaves every year at the beginning of May. This year I went out and picked some leaves myself.

The first week of May is tea leaves picking season here. It is Golden Week too and many family members who now live in Osaka, Nagoya, or elsewhere in Japan come back to their home village to help their grandparents with the leaves picking. I can hear the happy chatter of the people in the tea plantations located all around this village.

It takes time to empty one bush, not to mention row upon row of tea bushes. We pick only the young fresh leaves and collect them in baskets typically tied with a rope on the waist. Traditionally these were bamboo baskets but nowadays there is also the plastic-type.

The tea leaves harvested in the vicinity of Hongu - in Fushiogami Village, Hosshinmon Village, Ippon-matsu Village, and Kawayu Village - are sold under the name "Otonashi-cha". This 'brand name' was taken from the name of the river, Otonashi River (No-Sound River), which flows through this area.

There are said to be close to 50 households, possibly more, who still engage in growing and harvesting tea here.

After picking the leaves, they are put in a big pot and heated while the leaves are stirred. This is to get the excess moisture out and prevent oxidation, as well as for sterilization. The leaves are then rolled by hand to get out the juices and enzymes. Then they are put on thin tatami mats which are put outside in the bright sunshine. The leaves will try naturally in a few days' time.

You can find packets of Otonashi Tea at the Oku-Kumano Michi-no-eki, a road station with a small Acoop supermarket. It is located right by Road 168, about 5 km after Hongu Town in direction of Totsugawa Onsen.

There is Sencha (from first harvest leaves) and Bancha (from second harvest leaves). If Bancha is roasted, you get Hochicha. Locals also drink Genmaicha (Bancha mixed with Genmai brown rice).

The locals say that this tradition of growing tea here in the Kumano area started in the late Heian Period (794-1185). During this period of Japanese history, the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage had become popular with retired emperors and aristocrats from Kyoto. They probably wanted to sip green tea when they stopped for a break at one of the numerous tea houses along the pilgrimage trail. Not wanting to carry a big load of green tea, one might have had the idea to plant some tea bushes here in Kumano.

If you have walked the Nakahechi trail of the Kumano Kodo, then you will have passed through some of the tea-growing villages just before you reached Hongu. One can see the tea plantations all year round but the tea leaves picking happens in early May.

There are stalls set by the roadside where farmers sell their produce to trail walkers and visitors. If you are lucky, you might be able to buy a bag of tea leaves. This is a very unique souvenir from the Hongu area of Kumano.

Getting there

Take the local bus from Hongu Town, bound for Hosshinmon-oji. Get off at Fushiogami-guchi, the entrance to Fushiogami Village. Alternatively, you can get off at the last stop and walk the Kumano Kodo trail in direction of Hongu. You will pass through Hosshinmon Village and Fushiogami Village.

You can also get off at Oku-Kumano Michi-no-eki, visit the shop, then walk up the short but steep trail that starts behind JA Bank on the other side of the road.

More info

Find out more about Kumano Kodo.

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Alena Eckelmann

Alena Eckelmann @alena.eckelmann

Born East of the Wall and South of Berlin, I am celebrating my 15th year anniversary in Japan in May 2020, the country that I call home now. I lived in crazy Tokyo for 6 years and since 2011 I call the beautiful Kii Peninsula (Kumano, Koyasan and Yoshinoyama) my home.I have been a JapanTravel Partner since the conception of the platform in 2011! In Tokyo I worked in market research at AIP Corporation and in business education at JMEC. For the last 10 years I have been a guide for foreign visitors at Venture Japan, on top of being a Freelance Writer and a Business Researcher.  Apart from work, I trained at the Yoshinkan Aikido Dojo and at the Oedo Sukeroku Taiko Dojo for several years each, and I ran the 1st Tokyo Marathon and enjoyed cycling around Tokyo. During the last 10 years I am working with local authorities to improve their hospitality to foreign visitors and I have participated in many monitors as a media representative.  My current interest is in Japanese nature and spirituality. I love spending time in the forest and mountains, and I love visiting temples and shrines.   I am a licensed guide for the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails  and for Koyasan, the Buddhist monastery, in addition to being a practitioner and licensed guide for Forest Therapy (Shinrin Therapy).  As a guide for walking tours, I have taken visitors to walk the Kumano Kodo trails, the Nakasendo trail and the Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage trail.  Being grounded during this COVID-19 crisis, I enjoy gardening, baking bread in my new Japanese bread-maker and going for walks around 'my' village.  Take care, keep well, stay safe! 

Join the discussion

Kim B 5 months ago
Would love to experience this myself someday!
Bonson Lam 5 months ago
Great to hear the story of people coming back home to help with tea picking. It reminded me of the tea farms in Wazuka (near Uji), as well as my encounters with a tea professor. https://en.japantravel.com/kyoto/horaido-tea-shop-teramachi-kyoto/7617