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Hometown heritage focus with Satoshi Takahashi #7: Devoted to hand-making green tea

Keiko Kajiwara hand-rolls tea leaves in the Hiyama district of Noshiro, Akita Prefecture, on July 10, 2021. (Satoshi Takahashi) =Click/tap photo for more images.

Japanese photojournalist Satoshi Takahashi, renowned for his pictures of political unrest in Cambodia, has recently focused on the diverse heritage of his home prefecture of Akita in northern Japan. For the seventh article in this series, Takahashi visited a farmer producing green tea leaves in the traditional way -- manually.

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    "I just want to produce delicious tea leaves. That's my goal," said Keiko Kajiwara, a 59-year-old farmer who has preserved the traditional "Hiyama-cha," a green tea variety unique to the city of Noshiro's Hiyama district.

    The tea is labeled "tea from the northern limit," as the fields are the furthest north of any commercially grown tea in Japan. Its history goes back three centuries, to the time the ruling samurai family imported the prestigious Uji-cha production methods from Kyoto. The district had 200 tea farms at its peak, but only two remain.

    Kajiwara jumped into the business 16 years ago, helping her uncle, and she has learned his ways. She carefully observes the condition of the leaves, hand-rolls them, and is devoted to perfecting her skills. Her words and positive attitude remind me of what it means to dedicate one's heart and soul.

    Processing the tea takes a full day of rigorous work, from picking to steaming, hand-rolling and drying the leaves, the last two steps while standing next to a heated work table. Kajiwara adopted a manual rolling style in Shizuoka, a prefecture distinguished for its high-quality tea, about a decade ago when studying it for further improvement.

    "First, the sweetness, and then, the refreshing bitterness flows across your palate. You can appreciate the earth and the flavor given to us by nature," Kajiwara said.

    She has had her fair share of ups and downs, and felt the pressure to carry on the region's unique tea culture. Overcoming obstacles, she has decided to "concentrate on what I can achieve now." With that determination, she continues to blow life into the local harvest.

    (The Japanese original of this article by Satoshi Takahashi was published on Aug. 30, 2021)

    In Photos: Farmer preserves Japanese hand-processed tea culture in Akita Pref.

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    Satoshi Takahashi was born in the city of Akita, Akita Prefecture, in 1981. Residing in Phnom Penh from 2007 to 2018, he captured the social problems of Cambodia through his photographs, which were published globally. In 2019, his publication titled "RESISTANCE" (whose subtitle roughly translates to "the undaunted spirit of Cambodians") won the 38th Domon Ken Award sponsored by the Mainichi Newspapers Co.

    More information in Japanese can be found at the following Mainichi Shimbun page online:

    Domon Ken Award: https://www.mainichi.co.jp/event/aw/domonken_archive.html

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