Walking on Drift Ice
Saga Prefecture is actually the first place that Japanese tea was cultivated. It is said that the cultivation of tea trees in Japan began in the early Kamakura period (1191), when the Zen master Eisai returned from Song dynasty China bringing tea seeds, which he planted at Mount Seburi in Saga Prefecture.
In 18th century Edo, Koyugai Baisao ("Baisao" means "old tea seller") from Saga preached the principles of Zen while handing out green tea in Kyoto. While tea had once been the domain of people of status, Baisao helped popularize it among the masses. In contrast with Rikyu, known as the founder of wabicha style tea, Baisao is heralded as the founder of the sencha style.
With Saga Prefecture's links to the history of Japanese tea, there is currently a thriving tea cultivation industry there centered on the city of Ureshino. The origins of tea there stretch back to 1440, when a potter who came to Japan from Ming grew tea for his own use. The region became a major producer in the 17th century, when Shinbe Yoshimura, known as the father of Ureshino tea, endeavored to cultivate land for a tea plantation and spread its manufacturing techniques. In recent years, the region has eagerly pursued the development of new products, such as the creation of black tea using Ureshino tea leaves.
Ureshino tea is a curled leaf variety (guri-cha) with a unique rounded appearance. Each leaf is curved and has a deep green luster, and the tea has a distinctly strong fragrance and taste. It is acclaimed for its high quality production, having won the prestigious Minister's Prize from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries many times in the Steamed Curled Leaf Tea category at the All-Japan Tea Industry Fair.