The tea space on a tea farm is visited by 6000 people a year. Protecting the tea landscape and tae until quitting the job at a major company. [AOBEAT / Serika Tsuji]

A view of the tea farm.

Deep green stripes woven by humans and nature. During the season of fresh greenery, the area is full of budding vitality. The clear blue summer sky and tea fields, the misty morning tea fields, and the snow-covered winter tea fields. The scenery is even more captivating when one thinks of the continuous efforts of the people who have lived here since long ago.

A truly spectacular view. However, this beautiful landscape of tea fields is now disappearing all over Japan. In 1986, tea farms peaked at 61,000 ha (1 ha is the size of a baseball field), but today they cover only 60% of that area (37,000 ha), and the speed is increasing in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Falling tea prices, aging tea farmers and decreasing population. Now that many households no longer have tea spaces or teapots, is this landscape of tea fields doomed to simply disappear?

Nowadays, there is a growing movement in tea-producing regions across the country to protect this spectacular view and share it with people who have never seen it before.

One such initiative is the tea spaces called Chanoma (茶の間), that are terraces overlooking tea fields with a spectacular view. Every chanoma is a wooden deck with a panoramic view of the beautiful tea fields, and is located in six scenic tea fields around Shizuoka Prefecture. Those who wish to use the tea terraces can choose the date and time and make a reservation, which must be done in advance. Visitors are free to bring their own drinks and food. Some couples have held their weddings in these tea spaces and some groups have held yoga meditation sessions.

These tea spaces are run by Serika Tsuji and her team at AOBEAT. We spoke with Tsuji-san about her desire to preserve the spectacular view of the tea fields and the tea produced there, even to the point of quitting her own job at a major company.

Serika Tsuji

Serika Tsuji was born in Shizuoka, Japan. In 2013 she joined JTB – tourism company, and was engaged in corporate sales for companies, schools, and other groups, as well as tour operators in Japan and overseas. In 2018, Tsuji-san was transferred to Lotte JTB (Seoul), where she was engaged in outbound sales and inbound sales for local Japanese corporations. In 2019, she was transferred to the Planning and Tourism Bureau of Public Interest Incorporated Foundation. In 2021, Tsuji-san left JTB and established AOBEAT, where she has been developing Japanese tea services and products, operating tourism services, e-commerce retail and wholesale of tea, restaurants (tea stands), and educational business.

Have the view of the tea fields all to yourself! What is the hourly rental service Chanoma?

Q: Tell us about Chanoma.

Tsuji: Chanoma are terraces situated on tea fields with spectacular views at six locations in Shizuoka Prefecture.

There are currently six tea field terraces in Shizuoka City, Makinohara City, Shimada City, and Fuji City. Fuji Tea Terrace in the tea field close to Mount Fuji and the Golden Tea Terrace is the world’s only golden tea field, where you can enjoy local Japanese tea amidst spectacular views.

Weddings can also be held at Chanoma.

At Chanoma the tea field landscape is rented by the hour. You are free to bring your own items, so some guests do yoga. Wedding plans are also available with advance reservations.

The Tea Girl – Chamusume plan seems to be popular with people from overseas as well.

Chanoma in Fuji also offers a service called Chamusume plan, in which you can dress up as a tea girl and have your picture taken, which is especially appreciated by the visitors from overseas.

Q: What is the appeal of Chanoma?

Tsuji: From the customer’s perspective, the attraction is that the scenery is spectacular, and you can enjoy a moment free from everyday life.

The view from the Golden Chanoma.

The view of the tea fields is an everyday sight for Shizuoka residents, but for people outside of the prefecture, it is something out of the ordinary. Therefore, every time they visit Chanoma they are impressed by the sight of the tea fields spread out before their eyes.

I also feel that tea tastes best when drunk on a tea farm. I often receive comments from customers that it is a luxury to be able to drink tea made in that area while enjoying the view of the tea fields.

The Panoramic View Chanoma, from which you can see Mount Fuji.

I think the charm of this place is that the tea produced by each of the six tea farmers who host the Chanoma is truly wonderful. Each Chanoma has a different landscape, and the stories the farmers tell their customers are completely different, so each tea space is very unique. For this reason, Chanoma fans often visit all six of them. Some of our regulars come back three or five times over.

Q: How is the Chanoma service designed?

Tsuji: The main service of Chanoma is to provide scenery, but we also sell goods and hold seasonal events.

In designing the service, we work with the farmers to decide the details, such as the selection of tea utensils, backpacks and other equipment to take with you, and ti decide  the contents of the seasonal plans.

We also do promotion and customer acquisition, issuing press releases to attract media, and actively managing Instagram.

Q: How many people use Chanoma each year?

Tsuji: In 2023, Chanoma had approximately 6,400 visitors.

Q: Please tell us about the business that AOBEAT is involved in.

Tsuji: AOBEAT is engaged in planning and development, tourism services, restaurant business, wholesale, retail, and education mainly for Japanese tea.

Selling leaf tea is the best both for us and for tea farmers, so we are working to create opportunities for consumers to become interested in Japanese tea by increasing the number of contact points and hope this will lead to leaf tea purchase.

In the planning and development field, we provide product development and event planning services related to Japanese tea.

In the tourism services field, we operate private tea terraces Chanoma in six locations with spectacular views of tea fields around Shizuoka Prefecture.

In the food and beverage business, we also run a tea stand called aardvark tea Astand. In our retail business, we sell tea leaves through two online shops: Moegi Shoten and aardvark TEA.

Founded in 2021, we currently operate this type of business with seven people, including directors.

Q: What is the mission of AOBEAT?

Tsuji: It is about promoting local resources that are about to be lost as something of value.

I think it is the same with other local resources, but in Shizuoka, there are many interesting and amazing people involved in Japanese tea. However, their potential is not well recognized, and I would like to see them shine brighter. I would like those people to become more famous, and the Japanese tea they make to sell more. I keep running with all my heart, always thinking about these things.

My colleagues and I want to preserve the wonderful Japanese tea produced by our favorite farmers. Eventually, we would like to expand our activities to include other local resources beyond Shizuoka’s tea, so that we can improve their value as well..

An eye-opening encounter with delicious Japanese tea. I want to preserve and protect the tea scenery of Shizuoka.

Q: Why did you start your Japanese tea business?

Tsuji: Although I am originally from Shizuoka, my family was not involved in Japanese tea at all, and I was far removed from it.

After graduating from university, I started working for JTB – travel agency, and while I was with JTB, I was transferred to a tourism and community development corporation called Suruga Planning and Tourism Bureau. While working in tourism, I met a tea farmer called Mohei Honda. This was the beginning of my interest in the world of Japanese tea.

Tsuji-san (left) and Honda-san (right) teaming up at aardvark tea Astand.

Honda-san brewed Japanese tea in a teapot on a tea farm, and it was very impressive. I was really surprised at how delicious it was. I was also given the opportunity to drink a blend of Japanese tea with flowers and other ingredients, which made me realize that there are other ways to enjoy Japanese tea and other possibilities for it.

I am from Shizuoka and grew up in Shizuoka, so Japanese tea was familiar to me, but I was still really astonished by its deliciousness.

After being fascinated by the Japanese tea produced by Honda-san, I began to visit tea farmers and do my own research on Japanese tea. As I learned more about Japanese tea, I realized that farmers were leaving the tea industry due to the declining demand for tea leaves and the falling price of tea. I used to think that the landscape of tea fields was typical of Shizuoka, but when I learned that it was rapidly disappearing, I felt strongly that we had to preserve it.

Q: What does Japanese tea mean to you?

Tsuji: It is interesting and has a lot of potential.

Q: Are there any difficulties in working with Japanese tea?

Tsuji: I think Japanese tea has a very serious image compared to things like coffee, and I think many people find it difficult to start drinking Japanese tea. I believe that this image and difficulty in getting to know Japanese tea is what makes it so hard.

When I tell people who come to my tea stand that this tea is made from a cultivar called XX, they often say, “I am sorry, I do not know much about it.”.

Personally, I do not think it is necessary to know much about Japanese tea at all. First of all, it is important for people to feel that Japanese tea tastes good as a drink, and once they become interested in it, they will learn more about it on their own. And to start engaging with Japanese tea, you need to buy a teapot, but there are many kinds of teapots in various shapes and materials, so it is hard to know which one to choose. We need to change this image first, but that is a bit difficult.

A special teapot bottle that took two years to develop.

Last November, we also developed our own teapot bottle, which allows people to enjoy Japanese tea both at home and outside, in line with the modern lifestyle. We hope that these items will expand the use of Japanese tea in a casual and easy way.

Selling Shizuoka tea leaves beyond Japan, to the world. The future that Tsuji-san envisions with her friends.

Q: Who comes to mind when you think of people who are doing interesting things in the tea industry?

Tsuji: For me that is Masamichi Itani of NO’AGE concentré, a fellow member of aardvark TEA who is spreading the joy of tea together with us.

Tsuji-san said that Itani-san was like a mentor to her.

At that place, you can enjoy creative tea cocktails paired with creative cuisine. The combinations of tea and various ingredients that Mr. Iya weaves together always surprise and inspire me, and most importantly, they are delicious. I consider Itani-san as my mentor who teaches me the joy of tea.

Q: What are the future plans for Chanoma and AOBEAT?

Tsuji: To be honest, we are not planning to increase the number of Chanoma in Shizuoka Prefecture, but we would like to increase the number of events and activities that can be enjoyed there by consulting with the farmers of Chanoma.

For example, we have a kakigori (sweet shaved ice) plan in the summer and a kotatsu (heated table with a blanket) plan in the winter, and I think it would be interesting if we could add more ways to enjoy the Chanoma in each season. I also hope that more people from overseas will visit us, and that the beautiful tea fields and Japanese tea produced by these farmers will spread around the world.

In addition, we have also been contacted by some tea producers outside of the prefecture who would like to build decks and we are assisting them. In terms of expanding Japanese tea, we believe that it is good to have more opportunities outside of Shizuoka for people to become interested in Japanese tea.

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

Tsuji: Leaf consumption has not stopped declining year after year, but we are encouraged by the fact that there are many people who are serious about tea, including ourselves. I hope that through these efforts, there will be more opportunities for people to come to love tea and more friends to think that Japanese tea is interesting. And I hope that in the future we will be able to continue drinking tea from our favorite farmers.

Tsuji-san (left) visiting a tea farm.

Farmers who have a clear philosophy on tea production and produce excellent Japanese tea have already gathered at Chanoma. AOBEAT would like to sell more tea leaves from these farmers beyond Japan, to the world.

AOBEAT is working hard on selling tea leaves, to realize their  goal of going beyond Japan and selling to the world, 

For this purpose, we created the aadvark TEA brand. We have opened a tea stand in Shizuoka Prefecture, where you can enjoy our homemade craft tea drinks that combine Japanese tea with various ingredients, and we also sell about 20 kinds of leaf products. The teapot bottle, which was just released last November, is also very popular at our shop.

We have an online shop, but we also have a place where people can visit in person, pick up the actual teapot bottle, see how it feels, and also try the aroma of leaf products. Many people end up buying leaf products to go with the bottles.

The tea stand is very important to us because it is the place where we can really communicate with customers and explain our brand. The farmers’ tea leaves sell well and their names become famous. This naturally increases the value of the tea stand and encourages the farmers to produce more and more Japanese tea. As a result, I believe that the landscape of the tea fields will continue to exist.

Mount Fuji and Sea Chanoma.

I would like to continue to increase the number of our friends and supporters, and to increase the number of Japanese tea fans.

*All photos by AOBEAT