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5 young farmers aim to export organic Shizuoka 'matcha' to the world

Yoshiyuki Tamura, far left, and the other members of "Matcha Organic Japan" pose in the city of Shimada, Shizuoka Prefecture, on May 21, 2017. (Mainichi)

SHIMADA, Shizuoka -- A group of five young farmers here has launched a new company with the goal of bringing "Shizuoka 'matcha' to the world," following Western health trends favoring the Japanese powdered green tea.

    The company is called "Matcha Organic Japan" and was started by the five men in their 30s in December 2016, hoping to export organic matcha made from green tea leaves they cultivated in fields that have fallen out of use. The inspiration for starting the enterprise came to 39-year-old Yoshikyuki Tamura after attending business conferences about tea sales in Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.

    "I was moved by how many people knew about matcha. I became confident that there was a market for it abroad," Tamura said.

    In fact, there is a Japanese tea boom overseas. According to the Ministry of Finance, the total export revenue for Japanese tea, including matcha, has more than doubled over the last five years, and came to roughly 11.55 billion yen last year.

    On the other hand, the domestic consumption of tea leaves that require being steeped in a teapot has been decreasing. In 2005, the average household nationwide purchased 1,133 grams of tea. That amount decreased approximately 24 percent to only 856 grams in 2016. Even in Shizuoka Prefecture, famous for tea production, the planting area for tea cultivation has continued to decrease, falling 8 percent (1,600 hectares) from 2010 to 2016.

    "Let's produce matcha for export. If we make use of dilapidated tea fields, we can connect the business to revitalizing the region." That was Tamura's message when he appealed to other heirs of tea farmers. Since then, four young farmers agreed to join him, and while renting or buying tea fields from elderly farmers, they got a feeling for the timing needed for tea cultivation. "Just clipping the overgrown tea leaves took a full five days," he recalled.

    Currently, the company is cultivating a total of 2 hectares of their tea fields in three locations within the city of Shimada without using any fertilizer or pesticides. At a food event held in the city of Chiba this March, their tea was pitched to foreign buyers. The company aims to export 3 metric tons of matcha within the next three years.

    "As a tea farming company looking toward the future, I want to further increase our production volumes and continue exporting high-quality organic matcha," vowed Tamura.

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