Modern-day Baisao, who has equipped his yacht and campervan with a tearoom, and traveled more than 30,000 kilometers across the country to serve Japanese tea. Next, he sets sail into the world where 10,000 people are waiting. [Runahoan / Sosui (Hideaki) Hasegawa]

“From a hundred gold pieces to half a penny for tea. You can drink it for free. But nothing less than free”

These are the words of Baisao, who popularized sencha to the general public during the Edo period. In 1736, at the age of 61, he began serving tea in Kyoto.

Just around the time he was alive, Zen master Ingen introduced loose-leaf tea (1654), and Soen Nagatani invented needle-shaped tea (1738). At that time, matcha was the drink of the upper class. Then, sencha was introduced to Japan, and it is said that Baisao, who was from Saga, spread the appeal of sencha to the people of Kyoto.

At that time he started the sales pitch saying “If you have money, you can pay for tea as much or as little as you feel like. You can drink it for free, but I cannot give it to you for less than free.”

Because Baisao promoted sencha this way, it is possible that the tea culture of the common people is alive in Japan, that tea is widely shared as a common form of hospitality, and that tea has become something that is offered free of charge.

Hideaki Hasegawa, introduced here, left his hometown in Tohoku at the age of 64 to live on a yacht with a tea house and a campervan with a tea house, and has been traveling around the country offering tea for free. He has already traveled more than 30,000 kilometers and served tea to more than 3,000 people.

Now he plans to serve tea to 10,000 people in various countries around the world.

Tea is the expression of hospitality. It is not something that should be priced. However, in today’s economy-first world, such a thing cannot exist, especially in business. Hasegawa-san’s activities continue to convey the true spirit of hospitality, which does not ask anything in return for a cup of tea.

We interviewed Hideaki Hasegawa, a modern-day tea master who continues to live on a boat and in a car while serving tea throughout Japan and, in the future, the world.

Sosui (Hideaki) Hasegawa

Hideaki Hasegawa is a full-time instructor of the Urasenke tea ceremony school. He received his tea name Sosui from Iemoto – the leader of the Urasenke tea ceremony school. Born in Odate City, Akita Prefecture in 1954, he has traveled domestically and internationally since his late teens, exploring the Amazon and Andes area three times. After returning to Japan at the age of 25, Hasegawa-san entered the Urasenke tea ceremony school. At the same time, he began working for a woodworking company and learning pottery. In his late 30s, Hasegawa-san began making canoes and furniture, and in his late 50s he moved his studio to Lake Towada in Akita Prefecture. He is also the author of the book “Cheap Yacht Life 2to”.

The stage of activities is the sea and land. Serving tea in various places while traveling 30,000 km by yacht across Japan and more than 20,000 km by campervan overland. The goal is to reach 10,000 people.

Q: Do you travel around the country with your yacht and campervan to serve tea?

Hasegawa: I bought a yacht at the end of 2018 and built a tea room on it. While living on a yacht, I sailed 30,000 kilometers across the country, serving free tea at every stop.

A remodeled camper with a tea room.

In June 2022, I purchased a Nissan Caravan, converted it into a campervan with a tea room, and have continued to travel overland across the country to spread the word about tea.

Q: How old were you, at the end of 2018 when you bought the yacht and set out on the nationwide voyage?

Hasegawa: I was 64 years old.

Until then, I studied the tea ceremony with a Urasenke tea master and received my tea name.

Hasegawa-san serving tea to foreign people at Towadako Hotel.

After moving to Lake Towada (about 10 years ago), I performed outdoor tea ceremonies – nodate, at the Oirase stream and lakeside, and served tea to tourists passing by. I also did tea ceremonies at the hotel lobbies for people staying there.

Q: What made you decide to embark on such an adventure?

Hasegawa: I have had many life experiences. Through these experiences, I now have a stronger desire to introduce the wonderful Japanese tea culture to people around the world and to have them understand its value.

I have been indebted to many people in my life. Although I cannot repay them directly, I thought that I could repay by offering delicious tea and Japanese sweets to the people I would meet in the future, so I decided to go on this trip.

The process is more important than the end goal. The starting point of the wandering journey.

Q: How did you start this journey?

Hasegawa: The reason why I started this journey goes all the way back to the beginning, if I may.

When I was 19 years old and graduated from high school, I thought that if I went to university, got a job, my life would end just like that. I thought there must be some other possibilities.

I had a desire to travel abroad, but since I was a minor and with the advice of those around me, I decided to start my journey in Japan first.

I liked mountains, so I left Odate, Akita, in the middle of winter and set out for Yakushima Island. I arrived in February, taking trains and boats while working part-time at various places along the way.

However, in the end, I was unable to climb Mount Miyanoura in Yakushima, which was my goal, because it was covered in snow.

Hasegawa later reached the summit of Mount Miyanoura.

After traveling around Japan for two and a half years, I went overseas to Peru at the age of 22. I was very interested in the Inca civilization, so I wanted to see the ruins of Machu Picchu. 

However, I did not have enough money to fly to Peru, so I saved up money by working part-time in Canada and the United States. I then traveled south to Los Angeles, crossed the continental United States to Miami, and finally flew by plane to Venezuela. If you went straight south from Venezuela, you would end up in Manaus, a stopover in the Amazon; but at the time, in 1978, few people took that route.

I could have chosen an easier route, but I decided to go through the Amazon.

A picture at the departure down the Amazon river.

Inevitably, everyone takes shortcuts to achieve their goals.

In my case, however, I thought let’s take a detour instead of a shortcut. I think that process was the purpose of my trip.

Q: How did you live after returning from that trip?

Hasegawa: After that, I lived a secular life until I was 64 years old. I worked at a woodworking company, got married and had children.

Now that my children have grown up and we have a foundation for their own lives, I decided to do what I always wanted to do and set out on a journey to promote tea at the age of 64. Before I left for this journey, I peacefully divorced my wife.

I always had the desire to travel around Japan and the world to introduce tea, so perhaps I should have acted on it earlier. However, since I am still able to move around with energy and vitality, I think that the timing was not a problem.

I traveled abroad when I was young, returned to Japan and left again at the age of 64, having a gap of nearly half a century. But for me, that time was also an important period to develop my way of life little by little.

I want to make tea until the end of my life. Repaying the favors I received as a traveler with delicious tea.

Q: What made you decide to start engaging with tea?

Hasegawa: On my way to Peru, I was forced to stay in a town called Cruzeiro do Sul (meaning Southern Cross) in Brazil for about 45 days because the road was cut off. Then, on the 46th day, when I thought I had finally made it to Peru, I developed acute hepatitis and was hospitalized in the capital city of Lima for a month.

After recovering from my illness, I went to Cusco, where I visited Machu Picchu, which was one of my goals, and Vilcabamban, the last capital of the Incas.

After visiting the cities of the Inca civilization that I was interested in, I entered Bolivia. Then I entered Brazil again by rafting down the Amazon River from Rio Beni, a sub-branch of the Amazon River that flows from the north of La Paz, the capital city.

Photo on the way to Vilcaban in the Andes Mountains.

Thanks to the events of my trip in South America, I was able to think a lot about my past and future life, and I found a kind of prototype for my current lifestyle – a slow life in the mountains.

When I thought about why I was able to return safely to Japan, I realized that it was because of my humbleness, both toward nature and people in the Amazon. When I realized this, I felt that I need to have the same sense of humbleness in my future life in Japan.

At that exact moment, I happened to see an announcement for a tea ceremony class. Maybe if they were doing flower arranging instead of tea, I would have ended up with that, so it was a really serendipitous encounter.

Following this guidance, I entered the Urasenke school at the age of 25, but until the age of 64, when I set out on a yacht to travel, I only went to learn about the tea ceremony from a teacher.

Q: Why did you decide to go on a yacht trip?

A tea break at the marina.

Hasegawa: In the end, I believe that what has shaped me into the person I am today is the tea ceremony, nature, tea, and other aspects of Japanese culture and spirit. I wanted to let people overseas know how good these things were.

Another thing is that when I was young, I wandered around and was helped by many people. Even now, in a sense, I am traveling and living like a nomad, and I am getting help from a lot of people.

Although I cannot give back to those people directly, I feel that I can repay the favor by offering delicious tea and Japanese sweets to the people I will meet in the future.

Over the past 40 years, I have been surrounded by the mundane world, but I have also gained various life experiences. After that period, I now have an even stronger desire to introduce this wonderful Japanese tea culture to people around the world and help them understand its goodness.

I have never really thought about dying, but I suspect that one day I will meet my end sipping tea in a hut I have built myself.

In my travels when I was young, I had nothing. But now I have something called tea. That is why I can connect with people through tea. I believe that I will continue my life’s journey with tea until the end of my life.

Q: What is the best part of this trip?

Hasegawa: The most attractive thing for me is to see everyone smile after drinking tea. People have very nice smiles.

Maybe it was a coincidence that we met. Of course, not everyone I meet is happy, and they may have had some hardships or sadness before we met, but they all smile so much after drinking a cup of delicious tea that I prepared for them.

Hasegawa-san’s tea makes people smile.

That smile is my driving force. I want more people to smile like that.

I am not looking for anything in return from the those people, but I would be happy if they could someday recall at least one thing, such as “I enjoyed the tea I drank there” or “I felt relieved after drinking the tea, even though it was offered to me by a person dressed in some kind of dirty outfit”.

Q: Please tell us about your future plans.

Hasegawa: I want to accomplish many things. Simply put, I want to make people around the world smile by serving tea. My goal is 10,000 people.

Unveiling the campervan tea room Runahoan to the students of the tea ceremony class in Omotesando.

The reason for 10,000 people is that we had a 100 million yen crowdfunding campaign, and at that time we thought it would be better if 10,000 people pledged 10,000 yen than if we had 100 companies pledge 1 million yen each. From there, I set a goal of having 10,000 people drink tea when I travel around the world.

Q: Please tell us your vision for the future.

Hasegawa: Right now, I am working on leaving Japan. Originally, I had planned to raise 100 million yen through crowdfunding, purchase a large yacht, build a tea room on it, and hold tea ceremony experiences, performances, and introductions to Japanese culture at ports around the world.

But that 100 million yen crowdfunding campaign ended in failure with less than 500,000yen raised.

I am now thinking of flying overseas first and then looking for a yacht. There are many catamarans (catamaran boats) overseas that I am looking for.

Hasegawa-san making tea on the yacht deck.

Q: I do not see the word “give up” in your mind.

Well, my goal in life is to serve tea to people all over the world, so even though I failed at crowdfunding once, I have not given up.

Now I am preparing for my trip around the world while working part-time and living in my car.

However, I myself am not a particular person, so I am not particular about the way I travel around the world. I do not care if I use a yacht or a campervan. My goal is to serve tea to people from all over the world while touring various places.

I would like to start my world tour around the spring of 2025.

Q: Where are you now in relation to your vision for the future?

Hasegawa: I have already served tea to about 3,000 people, but I am expecting 10,000 new people, so in that sense I am at the zero state.

I do not know if the first person to drink my tea will be a fisherman or a housewife walking back after shopping. I cannot wait to meet the first of 10,000 people waiting for me somewhere in the world.

I do not know how many years it will take to reach 10,000 from now, but considering that it took me three and a half to four years to get to about 3,000 people, I feel that I can reach 10,000 in about 12 years.

The important thing is to continue serving tea. If the goodness of the tea is conveyed, demand will naturally increase.

Q: Are there any examples, benchmarks, or rivals that you refer to?

Hasegawa: Not really. I may be the first one to do what I am doing now. Maybe the second, maybe the third. But I do not think anyone is aiming for it. Most of all, such solitary people are usually not out in the open.

As I said before, I am not particular about yachts right now, so I could drive around in a car or maybe use a hot air balloon. Like a flying tea house (laughs).

Q: What does tea mean to you?

Hasegawa: First of all, it is delicious. But if I say it is delicious, it just ends there. There is something about drinking tea, including matcha, that makes you feel relaxed.

Q: Are there any difficulties around tea?

Hasegawa: In my case, I only drink matcha in my daily life, but matcha oxidizes quickly, so after opening you have to drink it as soon as possible.

Since I live in a campervan, I have to be careful about high temperatures and humidity. It is best to store it in the refrigerator.

Q: What do you think the future of the tea industry will be like? What would you want it to be?

Hasegawa: In tea production areas such as Uji, they serve matcha with sweets for 600-800 yen. But I think they should give it away for free.

Especially among foreigners, there is a great interest in Japanese food and Japanese tea nowadays. Why don’t we take the initiative and ask them to have delicious sweets and tea for free and donate the money? If they like it, they can pay 500 yen, and if they do not like it, they do not have to.

I think that through such efforts, the good qualities of Japanese tea, including matcha, will become more and more well known and demand will increase. I would like to see more shops actively offering free tea, especially in Kyoto City and Uji, the home of tea.

I really like the word to treat. You feel the spirit of not wanting anything in return.

At the same time as introducing the wonderful Japanese tea culture to people around the world, I would like to return the favor by serving tea as a way of expressing my gratitude to the many people who have helped me to survive until now.

*All photos by Runahoan / Sosui Hasegawa