Sayama-Cha / by Jim Hathaway

Universities are about to start. My days of day painting every day will stop for a while. Transitions are jarring. I took a break from thoughts school and painting to walk around a famous tea spot. On the outskirts of Tokyo’s sprawl Saiyamacha is still grown. It has a long history and although it makes up only one percent of Japan's tea production its name is respected.

An hour on a commuter train brought me to ShinTokorozawa. Fifteen minutes walk from the station brought me to tea fields, hedge rows mostly. Most of the tea fields are gone, changed to vegetable fields or housing. Like many of the great old things tourists look for in Japan and China, they have disappeared.

You can’t blame the locals. If it paid to grow tea more people would be doing it. As the old lady in the tea shop down the hill in Nezu recalls, “There used to be 15 tea shops between here and Sendagi. Now there are just us two. Used to be everyone drank tea. Now there are more choices.”

Many of my university students drink tea but they get it from vending machines in plastic bottles. It is a rare student that ever heats water and makes tea from leaves. I wonder if any of them have every drunk Sayama-cha.