Possibilities of Japanese tea from a creative perspective [REDD inc. / Jutaro Mochizuki]

Drinking tea at a bar.

In this case, tea is nuanced to mean all non-alcoholic beverages. However, more and more people dare to choose not to drink alcohol at a bar. The reasons for this are varied: physical condition, mood, driving a car after, and so on. The choice not to drink has been a common occurrence for a long time and is not a particularly unusual story. However, the recent trend is that choosing not to drink alcohol at a drinking party, which used to be a negative image, is now becoming a positive one. One such trend is the promotion of the keyword “sumadori” (smart drinking) which was established in 2022 by Dentsu Inc. and Asahi Beer, and has been promoted by Sumadori K.K. and others.

And one of its origins is the concept of “sober curious” (a term coined by combining two words: sober and curious). Sober Curious is a movement that began in the early 2010s, and refers to a lifestyle in which people dare to choose not to drink alcohol. Recently, it has been spreading in Europe and the United States, especially among Gen Z youth.

As the number of people choosing not to drink alcohol increases, drinking parties will expand from nighttime and indoors to daytime and outdoors.

With the domestic market for non-alcoholic beverages estimated at over 300 billion yen, what possibilities are there for tea?

We spoke with Jutaro Mochizuki, who sees the potential of tea beyond “daring not to drink alcohol” and has already embarked on various activities.

Jutaro Mochizuki

Jutaro Mochizuki joined Hakuhodo i-studio in 2003 and established REDD inc. – a design R&D themed company in January 2019. He is engaged in planning and production of promotion/branding for various companies and products, mainly focusing on digital creative direction, art direction, and story writing based on future insights. In his previous position, Mochizuki-san led the R&D department and developed over 120 prototypes and new products/services, including Pechat. In 2018, he also started the food research project UMAMI Lab, which includes workshop demonstrations and joint seminars with university institutions in various regions of Japan. Mochizuki-san has also expanded his activities overseas, holding events and workshops on the theme of umami at SXSW (USA) and Border Sessions (Netherlands). Other activities include: part-time lecturer at Musashino Art University, official speaker at Border Sessions 2019 & 2018, official speaker at SXSW 2017, official speaker at Cannes Lions 2016, and official speaker at China International Advertising Festival.

REDD inc. realizes various needs with a new R & D approach that incorporates education and design.

Q: Please tell us about REDD inc., which you run.

Mochizuki: It is a new design-oriented R&D that incorporates the four aspects of Research, Education, Design, and Development, which is also the origin of our company name. We support the creation of new solutions based on prototyping. Specifically, we are able to perform consistent work from the planning of creative strategies to the development of PR and new services/products.

REDD inc. representative Mochizuki-san. (photo by Hiroki Yoshida)

Q: What kind of projects have you been involved in so far?

Mochizuki: We provide a wide range of services, from new business support for major companies and co-creation with local people to education.

For example, in the Kochi Business Design School project, we created new business ideas by combining the knowledge of multiple startups and local issues, and held a presentation of the results.

We also planned and developed hardware that turns stuffed animals into talking toys, which has sold over 100,000 units.

I was also in charge of the overall planning and facilitation of the workshop program for general consumers about the Shiseido R&D team’s co-creation project fibona.

Recently, I have been participating in a cross-sectional open innovation project called Sober Experience Studio, which aims to create a new food culture with non-alcoholic drinks.

Development of COLDRAW to give a tailwind to the new Sober Curious movement.

Q: What kind of things are you working on at Sober Experience Studio?

Photo by Sober Experience Studio

Mochizuki: We developed COLDRAW, a new platform for non-alcoholic drinks that focuses on botanical ingredients such as tea leaves, herbs, and coffee beans, and extracts the original flavor and color of plants in a few minutes.

REDD inc. is mainly in charge of creative direction, communication planning and production for this project.

Q: How innovative is COLDRAW?

Botanical cold brew extracted using COLDRAW (photo by REDD inc.)

Mochizuki: Until now, water extraction of botanical materials has taken all night. Moreover, since extraction is carried out at a low temperature, the longer the extraction time, the more bacteria may grow, causing sourness and bitterness.

However, by using the newly developed COLDRAW, the extraction time is significantly shortened to just a few minutes due to its unique high-speed extraction, making it possible to create a freshly made non-alcoholic craft drink with extremely minimal unpleasant taste.

This technological development will make it possible to easily provide high-quality non-alcoholic craft drinks in a variety of situations.

Q: Why did you focus on non-alcoholic craft drinks?

Mochizuki: In recent years, there has been a movement called Sober Curious that has been attracting attention among young people in Europe and America. The term was coined from the words sober and curious, and refers to the mindset or lifestyle of daring not to drink alcohol.

While the idea of Sober Curious is gradually becoming widespread in Japan, the current situation is that there are still very few non-alcoholic options available at food and drink points.

The attention to this Sober Curious movement led us to craft non-alcoholic drinks. We believe that COLDRAW will provide more people with more choices in their lifestyles.

The existence of tea from the perspective of creativity.

Q: You have been involved in a wide range of projects, but if you had to describe yourself in one word, what would it be?

Mochizuki: I am a Hyakushou (百姓) – creative peasant.

The man with the cap standing in front of the siphon is Mochizuk-san (photo by REDD inc.)

It is said that the original meaning of the word Hyakushou was to have a hundred surnames, or in other words, to be a person who could do many different jobs.

One of my titles is creative director, and I have created various things through my design efforts. I describe myself as a creative peasant because I can do many things through design activities in the very broadest sense of the word.

I mentioned Sober Experience Studio earlier, but in addition to extraction from botanicals, I can also make bath salts, like tea leaves and herbs, moxibustion, and washi paper.

In addition to creation, I can also use my knowledge and skills to provide education and corporate consulting services.

At first glance, it may look like I am involved in many different things, but at the core, it is all the same – design. I am just trying to shape up something that is complex.

Q: Do you have your own mission?

Mochizuki: I feel like there are many things I could say, but if I had to pick just one, my current mission is to create a situation where the local life is worth living.

(photo by Hiroki Yoshida)

There are various ways of perceiving the word local, but first of all, I want to do things that make my hometown and the place where I live enjoyable. And, like me, there are many people in Japan and around the world who want to make the place they live enjoyable. So I hope I can help people who are doing this kind of work.

Q: Can you give some examples of what you are doing to create a situation where the local life is worth living?

Mochizuki: For example, I am the producer of the Soyu project to protect and revive the nature of Mount Ibuki, located on the border between Shiga and Gifu prefectures.

Soyu – botanicals for bathing (photo by Ibukiyama Soyu Project)

Ibuki is one of the 100 most famous mountains in Japan, and 1,300 species of plants and 280 species of medicinal herbs used to grow on its summit. However, in recent years, the beautiful summit has been devastated by landslides and damage caused by wild animals such as deer.

Mount Ibuki in ruins. (photo by Ibukiyama Suyu Project)

We decided to do something about it, so we focused on the herbal bath culture that was unique to the region and in cooperation with the local Ibuki Herb Village Cultural Center in Maibara City, Matsuda Pharmaceuticals, Shiseido’s fibona team, and Shiseido Creative developed the botanical Soyu for bathing; and took on the challenge of crowdfunding. Donations raised through crowdfunding will be used for local vegetation restoration activities.

I have participated in many projects like this. And I really enjoy the creative process of making things. I think what I should be doing now is make things that are fun for me and that the local community can enjoy as well.

Q: What is tea from a creative perspective?

Mochizuki: It is a plant.

This is a little off-topic, but I think that everything can be described as tea.

There are herbal teas, of course, and even bean tea called kuromamecha, and barley tea called mugicha. Therefore, I believe that ultimately coffee can also be classified as tea. Especially in Japan. Here when we say “Let’s go for tea” it can mean having coffee at a coffee shop.

Asparagus tea – suikecha. (photo by REDD inc.)

In collaboration with farmers and welfare offices in Nerima Ward, I myself have been making Suikeicha using discarded asparagus. This is another kind of tea using vegetables.

I respect traditional performing arts very much, and there are many traditional performing arts that have been created by incorporating various cultures and other performing arts.

I believe the same can be true for Japanese tea. I think it would be good to have a broader view of tea rather than the narrow concept of “This is what Japanese tea is like”.

Q: Have you experienced any difficulties in working with Japanese tea?

Machizuki: I think the difficulty is how to get people who have never had tea made in a kyusu to try it.

I am sure there are many people who think “tea bags are fine” or “bottled tea is fine”. But Japanese tea, coffee, or soup stock, is much tastier and more enjoyable when it is made from real ingredients.

Mochizuki-san making dashi using a siphon. (photo by REDD inc.)

I once did a distillation and dashi event at my daughter’s preschool, and it was quite a challenge to talk for three hours straight (laughs).

I used a siphon to make dashi. I demonstrated and talked about how you can make such a delicious dashi by selecting ingredients with your own eyes and by carefully grinding them.

When I held this event, I realized that the same is true for Japanese tea.

It is very difficult to get people to experience Japanese tea brewed in a teapot and the goodness that comes from it, and to make them incorporate it into their daily lives. But I felt it was necessary.

I think traditional things can sometimes have a sense of closure. It is difficult to show the way for people who want to enter the world of Japanese tea, which has a certain sense of closure. So, perhaps the best way to guide people to the world of Japanese tea is to give them good tea leaves as a gift and tell them that tea is very tasty when made in a teapot.

The keyword is monoculture. The tea industry should break away from the world of mass production, mass consumption, and low prices.

Q: What do you think is the reason for the decline of the tea industry?

(photo by Hiroki Yoshida)

Mochizuki: I think one reason is that we are still in a monoculture. We have not escaped from the world of mass production, mass consumption, and low prices, and it is difficult to escape it.

One time, a tea farmer told me that delicious Japanese tea is not the same as sellable Japanese tea. When I asked him what he meant, he said that even if he thinks the tea is delicious, but is somehow unusual, it is difficult to sell it at a high price.

I think the current situation in the tea industry is that even delicious tea does not sell at a high price unless it wins an award at a tea competition.

If everyone chooses to only produce Japanese teas that sell well, all Japanese teas in the world will become standardized and tasteless.

That is why it will be important for the future of Japanese tea to focus on creating quality products and producing them outside of the normal commercial stream. Otherwise, I believe we will experience a more serious cultural decline.

This is not limited to the tea industry. Whether it is a job or industry, in a world that is stable and peaceful, innovation does not occur. This is what causes the industry to decline.

The global trend is storytelling and craftsmanship. Looking overseas, we should create tea that has never been seen before, making full use of the Japanese tea potential.

Q: If you were to convey the possibilities of tea to people involved in the Japanese tea industry, what would you tell them?

Mochizuki: I would like to tell people that they do not have to be concerned only with local production for local consumption, but that they should think about how to get more people, including overseas, to buy and drink Japanese tea.

I think Japanese people are sometimes too conscious of local production for local consumption, but I do not think that is necessary.

Some say that only matcha sells overseas, but if blended teas sell, then blended teas are fine. If the reason why Japanese tea does not sell well is because it is brewed at high temperatures, we should make tea leaves that can withstand high temperature extraction and make it easy to brew.

I believe that Japanese tea has tremendous potential for growth. Japanese tea is easy to present to foreign countries because of its tradition and story. It also tastes delicious. I feel that if the packaging is done well, it will sell even more.

Q: Storytelling is also important, isn’t it?

Mochizuki: It is the story and the craft.

Monocultural items are thought to be better than craft items, because by meeting the standard they are more stable. However, that is not the case. It may seem somewhat odd, but if there is a story that a team has made Japanese tea in a way that suits the climate and is environmentally friendly, just like the enjoyment of wine terroir with sayings “This year was very good,” or “This year was just meh”, it would definitely sell overseas.

I was asked about this when I went to Europe, and I think the world is moving in the direction of craftsmanship, storytelling, and environmentally friendly SDGs.

Q: How would you direct Japanese tea in order to expand its consumption?

Mochizuki: I think the first thing we need to do is to design the sales process. I believe it is necessary to design the flow from the creation of the product to its delivery to the consumer, as well as to design marketing.

As an example, let me tell you about a tofu shop. The tofu shop was producing very high quality tofu. However, they did not have many sales channels. In order to increase sales, they thought it would be a good idea to mass-produce tofu and distribute it through existing distribution channels. That way, they could sell in large quantities.

Unfortunately, as a result, that tofu shop produced a large quantity of low-quality, low-price tofu and nearly went bankrupt. It was unable to get its mass-produced tofu onto existing distribution channels.

The tofu shop was revived through M&A (mergers and acquisitions). 

The key point here is how they were able to revive their business.

The company that acquired the tofu shop reverted to the policy of making quality tofu. Of course, it was not only that, but they also established their own distribution and sales channels.

Here is another easy-to-understand example of this unique distribution and sales channel. Life, a major supermarket chain, has private brand products, all of which are delivered to consumers through its own distribution line.

In other words, Life designs its products, sells them in its own supermarkets, and delivers them to consumers.

(photo by Hiroki Yoshida)

I believe that it is necessary to ensure that good products reach end users not through existing distribution lines, but through other unique distribution lines.

If I were to direct Japanese tea, I would do two major things. First, I would build a non-existing distribution line. Then, I would decide on the target market and create teas and products that meet that target market.