The Katsumata's ancestors, the Imagawa Clan, were once the lords of Suruga Province, the center of present-day Shizuoka Prefecture. However, they were crushed by Oda Nobunaga, one of Japan's Three Great Unifiers, at the Battle of Okehazama in 1560. The Imagawa lost their lands, and while some went on to serve the Tokugawa Clan, others put down their swords and picked up the trowel, taking up tea making.
The current president of Katsumata Seicha, Tomomi Katsumata, is the 18th in his line. His father, Hatsuro, is one of only 20 masters of hand-rolling tea, a certified living treasure of Shizuoka Prefecture. Of course, Katsumata Seicha boasts all the automation you'd expect of a modern facility, but should Hatsuro decide to spend the hours required to make a batch by hand, 1 kilogram (2.2 lbs) would net about ¥1.2 million (over US$10,000)!
Hatsuro demonstrates how green tea is scattered, rolled, rubbed and straightened in a large pan lined with traditional Japanese paper, or washi, which is heated from below. Western tea, he explains, is rolled in a brass pan, which is better for keeping the color of the final product. Enjoyed both domestically and abroad, Katsumata Seicha tea is certified organic in Canada, the U.S. and Switzerland.
The Katsumata tea fields are located in the city of Gotemba, in the hills southeast of Mount Fuji. Beneath the fields, Tomomi is excited to reveal an old bunker that he now uses for storage—though he also shares it with a congregation of very large, hairy millipedes that like to congregate at the entrance. More intriguingly, since 1983, his father has been digging through the concrete floor of the bunker in search of hidden cave systems in the old Fuji lava flow upon which the tea fields stand. While he's yet to come upon anything in particular, he has created an impressive hole over 2 meters (6.6 ft) deep!
From treasure hunting to the simple satisfaction of rolling tea by hand, there's an almost child-like joy about Katsumata Seicha, located in the heart of Japan's premier tea-growing region.
Address: 469 Komakado, Gotemba City, Shizuoka