Japan: Kyoto Tea Plantation and Fushimi Inari-Taisha

Nick and I overslept this morning.  Badly.  We arrived to breakfast with only 20 minutes to meet the group and we were further delayed as it was a busy morning (other tourists and a school group) and we had to wait for a table to become available for us.

We both bolted down some food and took some take-away coffee with us to meet the group – we weren’t late per se, but we were suspiciously exactly on time.

Once the group was together, we started making our long trek to the Obubu Tea Farm in Wazuka, Kyoto.  This involved 2 trains and a bus ride and took about 1.5 hours.  25% of Japan’s matcha tea is produced in this area and it’s one of the top 5 producers of tea in the country.

Obubu translates in the Kyoto dialect to ‘tea’ and met with Hiro, Moe & Kate who were our tea hosts for the day.  Hiro led us in tea leaf picking and showed us a certain way of bending and snapping the stem so that the tea-plant wasn’t damaged.

They then took us on a factory tour where they talked us through the process of making sencha (which is their speciality) which is a pretty involved process.  However, they also told us that once a year, they participate in a festival where tea is processed in the old-fashioned, hand-made way.  They hand-picked 12kgs of tea leaves to make 3kgs of tea.  A process which took 30 people several hours.  The leaves are then processed by hand to create the distinctive ‘needle’ shaped leaf for sencha.  This tea is sold for approximately AUD$1700/kg(!!)

After the factory tour, we got to participate in brewing and tasting several different types of tea and were shown how you are able to infuse Japanese tea several times for different flavours and strengths.  Tea can have a very umame taste – almost like a broth and this is referred to as ‘sweet’ tea.  Tea can also have bitterness.  I was surprised to find I preferred the tea with the bitter taste.  I would have thought I would prefer the sweet!

After the tasting and presentation, we farewelled the Obubu farm and their lovely hosts to go to lunch at a restaurant in the Wazuka area, their name translates to “Tea Ceremony Bamboo Shoots”. Nick had curry udon and I had a noodle broth soup.  Tasty and filling, but not too exciting.

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After lunch, we made the trip back to Kyoto city and Marin, Jen, Nick and I split from the group to visit Fushimi Inari-Taisha a shrine made famous for its multitude of torii gates. I was very excited to visit this shrine as pictures of it feature in most brochures for visiting Japan.  There are over 32,000 torii gates at this shrine.  Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we were not able to trek to the summit of the mountain but we did get a good 60% of the way up before having to turn back to make our dinner reservation.

Dinner was back in Kyoto at a shabu-shabu restaurant called Miyabi-an.  This was our last group activity with the Intrepid Tour and we decided to get together one last time to celebrate.  Shabu-Shabu and Sukiyaki are a kind of Japanese hotpot meal.  It’s a very communal style of dining where everyone shares a pot and you cook meat and vegetables in either water (shabu-shabu) or a tasty soy, mirin and vinegar mixture before dipping the cooked food into raw egg and eating it (sukiyaki). Rika said that is it usually used by families to celebrate.

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Rika was so sweet, she gave everyone in the group a set of chopsticks from the Hida region which we visited (famous for woodworking) as a souvenir and gift.  Astonishingly, she also presented Nick and I, the honeymooners, with a special gift.  A matching set of hand painted rice bowls which is a traditional wedding present in Japan.  The group further surprised us by presenting us with hand written notes from each of them wishing us well or giving us advice on marriage.  I have never been so touched.  I was very close to crying. I do not even know when they found time to do something so lovely for us.

Someone in the group must also have told the hotel that we were on our honeymoon as we had a couple of glasses of chilled white wine waiting for us.  It was very special.

Tomorrow sees us leaving the group and making our way on to Hiroshima. Honestly, I am quite sad to be leaving the group as we have had a marvellous time travelling and eating with them.  But Nick and I are both looking forward to continuing our adventures together – we are having the most wonderful time.

Tomorrow: Hiroshima!

 

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