Two months ago we decided to start a series of interviews to young Japanese people that work in tea. They have been bringing excitement and passion, giving a brighter hope to the difficulties that the Japanese tea sector is facing nowadays. The first article was about Konomi Sugimoto and her Tea Stand Moku.
The guest this time is our friend Akito Ohashi. He is originally from Shizuoka prefecture and is 42 years old. He has been around tea since he was little, but started to get passionate about it and work professionally with it a few years ago. Akito now runs “Tea Cup Trip“, where he offers deep tea experiences through wonderful tea farm and tea café tours. In this way, he hopes to attract more people from around the world to like Japanese tea. Aside from this, two years ago Akito was in charge of an educational tea program hosted by the World Green Tea Association, which is an organisation established by the government of Shizuoka prefecture! Let’s find out a bit more about Akito.
Q: When did you start drinking tea?
Akito: “I started having tea daily when I was six years old because my elementary school offered complimentary green tea. But I have probably tried tea before then. My grandparents were farmers and my mother is from a district with more than 100 tea factories and tea-related companies.”
Q: When did your passion for tea start?
Akito: “It started when I had an amazing tea at my favourite teahouse called Chakukan, in Shizuoka, while studying Japanese tea in 2016. The tea I had was kabusecha, a type of shade-grown green tea. I had never had tea with such a full-flavoured, savoury sweetness. Although tea was always around me growing up, it took me a long time to realise that tea is something special; until I had that tea! This experience made me dive deep into the world of Japanese tea.”
Q: How did you decide to start Tea Cup Trip?
Akito: “In 2016, while working as a marketer for a mobile carrier in Tokyo, I was running tours for my international friends to show hidden gems in Shizuoka and to promote my hometown. They stayed over at my family’s house that has a small tea and vegetable farm. They loved the tours, and quite a number of my friends got interested in green tea, which Shizuoka is famous for. I decided to change my career path and focus on studying Japanese tea. I worked for farmers, visited some tea manufacturing wholesalers and teahouses in Shizuoka and Kyoto with my American friend that was visiting Japan to learn about tea. Then we realised there was a huge gap between tea farms and international tea drinkers who want to visit farms and learn about tea deeply. The gap mainly comes from the following reasons: 1) tea farms are privately owned; 2) tea producers often don’t speak English; 3) tea producers are too busy, especially during the harvest seasons. To solve the problem and share our experiences with tea lovers, my friend and I started tea farm tours in 2018. Farmers were happy to see our guests enjoying their tea and buying it as a souvenir. However, the business partnership with the friend did not work out. To continue the tours and provide deeper tea experiences, I launched Tea Cup Trip in 2020.”
Q: How did things change for you during the pandemic??
Akito: “The pandemic really impacted our tours and shut things down completely. But we were fortunate because we launched an online store in 2020 and started selling my personal curated authentic tea and tea-ware. Although our store is still small, we have shipped our products to over 15 countries. We share the feedback and comments we get from our customers to the tea producers, and they really appreciate it. One of the highlights of the year was when one of the most popular teas we sell, a tamaryokucha, received a prize at a prestigious national tea competition called Nihoncha Award. I was so excited because the producer of the tea, Mr. Imura said that the excellent feedback from our customers gave him confidence in the tea he made.”
Q: What do you like the most about working in tea?
Akito: “The most amazing thing is that I can connect with wonderful people from all over the world thanks to being involved in the tea business.”
Q: Would you like to say something to all the Japanese tea lovers around the world?
Akito: “You are an ambassador of Japanese tea in your country. Share your love for Japanese tea with your family and friends, and stay healthy with tea! lf you are looking for unique and authentic Japanese teas, please check out our online store. Also, visit us in Shizuoka if you ever come to Japan. Shizuoka is just an hour from Tokyo towards Kyoto by Shinkansen bullet train. I recommend tea lovers to visit Shizuoka and Kyoto and feel the different unique tea cultures.”
Thank you, Akito-san! We are excited to see that you are spreading Japanese tea all around the world and giving glimpses of beautiful Shizuoka to the tea lovers that visit Japan. We look forward to have some tea together soon among those stunning tea fields!
*Image source: Akito Ohashi. You can see more of his photos on his instagram profile.