Summary – 30 Innovators in Japanese Tea

After reading this far, what did you think?

It takes some effort to read about all 30 initiatives.

In fact, the 30 innovators we had the pleasure of interviewing this time are all putting their lives on the line, even when they sleep. So much so that we, the interviewing team, had to work hard just to keep up with their passion.

We have tried our best to do what we can to research, write and edit the articles so that you can feel the passion of the 30 innovators as much as possible. However, there were many limitations on our abilities.

First of all, we were only able to introduce 30 people. There are many more people who are doing wonderful things. However, considering the 4 points mentioned in the introduction we had to select only  30 people this time. If we were able we would have selected 100 Japanese Tea Innovators and introduced them to you.

Second, there may be innovative initiatives that have yet to be discovered. Tea is as ubiquitous as water and air, so much so that it is difficult to find someone in Japan who has never had a cup of tea. This is why we spent months searching for innovative initiatives of Tea & X, but there may be innovative initiatives that have not been discovered yet. For this we apologize to our readers and to the innovators we were unable to find this time.

Within a few years, we hope to do another edition of 30 Japanese Tea Innovators (although the number may change) and would love to introduce you to those yet-to-be-seen innovators.

So if you know some innovative tea initiatives in Japan please let us know.

Lastly, in selecting the 30 innovators for this edition, there was one point of bias. That is, we tried to feature as many women as possible.

There are many women who make tea at home and who enjoy the tea ceremony. In fact, many women are involved in the tea industry. Nevertheless, most are men. As they say, the 21st century is the era of women. We imagine that women will play an active role in the Japanese tea industry in the future. So in this edition of 30 Japanese Tea Innovators, we tried to include as many women as possible.

Here is a summary of what we have learned from our interviews with the 30 innovators.

Similarities and Differences between the 30 Japanese Tea Innovators


There are no Rivals

What the 30 innovators have in common is that they have no rivals. Tea pairings and draft tea (tea foamed with nitrogen gas) have even been registered as trademarks, and there is competition. However, the top runners do not have rivals in sight.

As for benchmarks, the Japan Ochawari Association mentioned the Japan Karaage Association as a reference, and the other 29 did not mention any clear benchmarks. Before the interviews, we had assumed that they were pursuing their businesses while referencing other business sectors. However, this was not the case.

Passion for their Work

The 30 innovators are all people who are passionate about their work. They think about their work 24 hours a day, act spontaneously in the morning, and work until midnight.

Here are their words: 

“I am what I am because of tea. I have never encountered something so elusive, and so hard to reach a goal of, and even if I devoted all my life to it there still would not be enough time.” (Miura-san from the Japan Tea Guide)

“There is no feeling of wanting to quit because it is not profitable as a job. Every day we are having fun trying to figure out how we can remain in business through trial and error.” (Hojo-san from Ashikubo Tea Works)

“My passion for tea seeds has boiled over so much that it may have already evaporated (laughs).” (Jito-san from the Japan Tea Seed Oil Association)

It is said that work equals ability ✕ passion ✕ time, but we believe that innovation occurs when we combine and exceed our own abilities. Innovation cannot occur in work that is commissioned by someone else. Even if you start it out as compulsory work, it is only when you sublimate your motivation to the point where you are completely passionate about it that innovation is born.

Moving in your own Pace

The 30 innovators can be described as fast-paced. Of course, on a daily basis they are juggling an intense amount of tasks. There is also a schedule necessary for the survival of the business, such as sales.

However, since innovation has no clear goal, it is impossible to establish a clear schedule. It can even be said that changing goals is the innovation itself.

For historians and researchers, innovation is something that has already happened. Therefore, innovation is static. In the field of innovation, however, innovation is an ongoing process that is happening right now. In other words, it is not static but dynamic and in the midst of change. 

Actually, it is not Tea & X, but rather Tea & X & X. As a result, the process of exploring the goal is the path to innovation. The key is not to set a schedule, but to allow for failure and to remain passionate. In other words, innovators appear to be the first to reach a certain area, but innovation is the result of steadily progressing at their own pace through their daily activities.


What is Tea?

There were many differences. Among them, it is really interesting that the 30 innovators perceive tea so differently.

For example:

“World-class treasure” (Morikawa-san from Chabacco)

“Family”  (Matsumoto-san from mirume Shinryoku Sabou)

“Life itself” (Nakamura-san form Baisa Nakamura)

“It is something bigger than yourself. Something that does not move even if you touch it” (Tanimoto-san from TOKYO TEA JOURNAL)

“A microcosm of the issues facing Japan” (Miura-san from CHABAKKA TEA PARKS)

“A symbol of getting along with people” (Toda-san from the Bamboo Tearoom Ki-an)

“A part of fun” (Matsumoto-san from Kyoto Obubu Tea Farms)

“Something interesting and with potential” (Tsuji-san from Tea Terraces Chanoma)

“A very interesting culture of East Asia” (Tanida-san from Kyuutouryuu Sado)

The answers were strikingly different. And that difference might be the source of innovation.

Also, because tea is as common as water or air, there are probably countless answers to the question “What is tea?”. This is also a manifestation of the elusive nature of tea in Japan, and it may be contributing to the difficulty of tea.

Value and Monetization

Regarding value and monetization, we have also selected initiatives that do not aim to monetize. From a business perspective, monetization should be the most important factor. However, from the perspective of innovation, that is not necessarily the case.

In particular, it is difficult to monetize the areas of culture, entertainment, learning, and gatherings, as it is difficult to determine where, how, and at what price to monetize them.

Before saying that it is difficult, as Hideaki Hasegawa, a modern-day Baisao, says, “We should offer tea for free and receive money by donation,” rather than by charging a price.

Additionally, in Japan, the commonly held belief, that intangible services (knowledge, experiences, and especially Japan’s unique culture such as tea) are free of charge, has a large influence.

There are innovations such as Tea & Robotics as well as Tea & DNA, which are currently not for sale to the general public and are extremely expensive, but will become less expensive as they become more popular.

Trends and Business Stages

The relationship between trends and each initiative varies. 

Tea dessert courses (Tea & Dessert) and ochawari (Tea & Alcohol) will soon become trends. However, it will take a little more time before there is a big wave, as in the case of frozen tea (Tea & Freezing) and tea seed oil (Tea & Tea Seed Oil). The 30 innovations selected for this edition varied in terms of their position to trends. The business stages of each initiative also varied.

We introduced initiatives at various business stages, from initiatives that have innovative products and services and are already established as businesses, to initiatives that do not aim to commercialize (monetize) their innovation at all.

Difficulties with Japanese Tea

In these interviews, we also asked about the difficulties in Japanese tea. We asked 30 Japanese Tea Innovators who are active in various fields what aspects they find difficult. We general got two answers.

“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.

Tea is Free

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.”

Baisao lived about 300 years ago, and there are things about tea that have been passed down from this era.

First, the value of tea starts as free. Tea is still served free of charge in many restaurants. A cup of coffee or black tea for 300 yen is normal, but a cup of hojicha or sencha for 300 yen is special.

We often ask frequent tea drinkers (especially older people), “Do you know anything about tea?”. Many respond, “I like tea, but I do not know much about it”.

The point is that even though we usually drink tea on a daily basis, and even though tea is offered for free in restaurants, I think there is a world of tea that we are out of touch with. Tea seems to lie somewhere in between.

“Many people in Japan have been exposed to Japanese tea in different environments, so their concept of what is normal is different. For some people, it may seem cheap, for others, it may seem expensive. It may be something worth paying for, or it may be normal to be offered for free. Of course, each individual’s original experience that makes up that “normal” is different. 

The history of Japanese tea is the accumulation of each individual’s past. However, since everyone has a different original experience, their values and ideas about tea are different. We have to make different proposals for each person. When I think about it that way, I feel that it is difficult to approach.” (Miura-san from Nihoncha Seikatsu)

This point seems to be the difficulty that becomes more clear when restaurants want to charge a fee for tea (particularly sencha, hojicha, genmaicha, etc.). However, it is also true that the stereotype of tea being free is gradually changing. Kono-san from Logiconecti, introduced under Tea & Pairings said, “Breaking down those stereotypes is both a challenge and a pleasure.”

At Japanese tea cafes and restaurants where you can enjoy tea pairings, it can be a big change when tea will no longer be served for free.

Tea is a Hassle

Another difficulty with tea is that it is seen as a hassle. That is especially noted in two cases.

The first is tea brewing. The taste of tea changes depending on how it is brewed. Some people find it a real pleasure, but for those who are busy or not particular about it, it can be a hassle.

As Tajimi-san from the Japan Ochawari Association points out, “There are a number of people who grind coffee beans at home and are dedicated to it, right? I would like to increase the number of people who enjoy Japanese tea in that way. However, I also think that Japanese tea is more difficult to brew than coffee because there are more things that can go wrong. Especially when it comes to Japanese green tea, there are too many troublesome things in the brewing process.”

This is often the first reason why tea is considered troublesome.

The second is seriousness.

“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”.” (Tsuji from AOBEAT)

Because of the idea that Japanese tea is a Japanese thing, many people feel ashamed of not knowing about it, even though it is natural to know about it.

Also, due to the tea ceremony, there is a strong image that tea has manners and etiquette. This makes people who drink tea every day think that they do not know anything about tea, creating a situation where many people feel that the hurdles are too high. The serious image of these teas is probably the second reason why people think tea is a hassle.

The Future

Further Elimination

Through our interviews with the 30 innovators, each of them is pursuing their business with the feeling that further elimination will continue in the future. In terms of tea production, after peaking at 100,000 tons in 1975, production has been on a downward trend since then, although there was an increase in production in the 2000s with the advent of PET bottled tea.

The current tea production under 80,000 tons is about the same as in the 1960s. Demand for culinary grade matcha for matcha lattes and matcha sweets is expected to keep increasing. However, it will be difficult to create the same impact as the increase in production from PET bottled tea in the 2000s.

Tea exports have also failed to increase the overall production. Unfortunately, this trend is likely to continue in the future.

Demand Will Not Go to Zero

However, the demand for tea will not be zero. Demand from overseas, especially for matcha, is expected to keep increasing for some time to come.

Domestic demand will still continue to decline, but will not go to zero. Since tea in plastic bottles is consumed regardless of age, the demand for tea brewed in a teapot will continue to decline, but it is unlikely that the demand for tea will reach zero in Japan.

Era of Group Heroes

Although there will be further elimination, the demand will not go to zero. Under such circumstances, major trends like tea in plastic bottles and matcha sweets will be emerging from innovations such as the 30 Japanese Tea Innovators introduced this time.

However, in a world that is flattening due to the prevalence of information technology and the ability to deliver to individuals around the world, demand is becoming more and more diversified. Therefore, even if a major trend emerges, not everything will be integrated into it.

The old standards such as Yabukita and 100g of blended tea for 1,000 yen will increasingly disappear, and it will become more possible and important to make the products we want to sell and sell them ourselves rather than just make products that sell.

The production of Japanese-style tea will further expand overseas, and suppliers of cheaply-priced tea will move overseas. This is similar to the relocation of automobile, pineapple and banana production among different countries.

In the case of tea, various other values exist besides drinking it, such as the scenery of tea fields, the experience, and the lifelong learning value represented by the tea ceremony.

Such diverse values will become even more diverse, and the environment will become increasingly receptive to them. In other words, even if a major trend emerges, there is no need to pander to it. The environment is becoming more and more conducive to creating and selling the products we want to sell.

In the words of Miura-san from the Japan Tea Guide, we can say that the era of group heroes will advance even further. This includes both the efforts to protect and preserve, as in the case of Yamagata-san from Mandokorocha Ennoka, who was introduced in the Tea & Producing Area, and the efforts to generate buzz and demand, but not profit, as in the case of Hasegawa-san, a modern-day Baisao.

In other words, the era of group heroes means a diverse world in which various initiatives further occur in different places, aiming in different directions, rather than in the sense of fighting and undermining each other.

As Tanimoto-san from TOKYO TEA JOURNAL says “What will remain in the future will be what makes people want to belong to and contribute to this community. That is why tea that can perform the essential act of properly conveying something good will survive.” This is what we call the era of group heroes.

The Importance of Vision and Leadership

Vision and leadership are probably the most important things in such an era of group heroes. The Japanese translations of vision and leadership are the ability to guide and the ability to lead, respectively. These two keywords are indispensable in the field of innovation, where the future is created from a vision.

Ambition and thinking like Iwamoto-san from the TEA ROOM are a vision in itself. Starting from scratch during his student days, he has built his own unique worldview in less than ten years. Iwamoto-san’s vision will become even more of reality.

When you have a vision, people will gather around it. Also, it is impossible to realize a vision alone. You need someone to at least drink tea together.

When we see people like Tajimi-san from the Japan Ochawari Association, Tsuji-san from Tea Terrace Chanoma, and Matsumoto-san of Morning Bottle working with their colleagues to bring their visions into reality, we want to cheer for them. It is encouraging to see them updating tea for the next generation in ways that have never been done before.

In such a field of innovation, a vague vision is not acceptable. The vision must clearly map out everything from a cup of tea to the entire worldview that we want to achieve. Of course, it will be impossible to see everything from the beginning. However, innovation will not be possible without leadership, which is the ability to work with others toward a clear vision.

The opening of an unprecedented large-scale facility in the tea industry such as KADODE OOIGAWA in November 2020, right in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, is also a result of vision and leadership. It takes time to realize a vision. Moreover, things often do not go as planned. Especially at first. In the era of the group heroes, leadership has become more and more important, as we adjust our vision through days of trial and error, and lead our peers and customers.

Ideas for Those Starting to Innovate

There is a great deal to learn from the 30 Japanese Tea Innovators. Among them, I would like to mention three things that I believe will be helpful to those who are just starting out to innovate.

Matcha Flavor, PET Bottles and Tea Bags

Ota-san from KADODE OOIGAWA, a large-scale tea facility that attracts more than 900,000 visitors a year, says, “In this day and age, not many people own a kyusu”.

Demand for tea in plastic bottles and tea bags will continue to increase. Demand for culinary matcha is also expected to increase. The increasing demand for matcha flavor, PET bottles, and tea bags will create a variety of needs, from low-priced to high-quality products. The production of low-priced products will likely move from Japan to abroad.

Convenient versus Deliberate

Now that kyusu teapots are no longer common, the standard for tea has moved to easy PET bottles and tea bags. Toda-san from Bamboo Tearoom Ki-an says:

“In this day and age, people buy tea in plastic bottles and drink it straight from the bottle. It is extremely outdated to serve tea one bowl at a time. This is certainly the case.

However, when I went to Los Angeles, USA, and served matcha to a woman at Kian, she suddenly started crying.

When I asked her what happened, she said ”I have never had anyone do something like this for me”. Indeed, if you think about it carefully, it is surprising that in today’s world it’s not possible to make or do something just for that person.” (Toda-san from Bamboo Tearoom Ki-an)

As this story suggests, as things become more convenient, the act of lovingly offering tea like Toda-san will become rarer. In the case of Toda-san and his team, I think it is precisely because they do not aim to monetize their efforts that the purity of this deliberate offering of tea stands out and is even more moving.

However, even for those who make tea for a living, this story of convenience and deliberation is an insightful one. Even if everyday tea tends to be convenient, deliberate tea can be extraordinary. Tea terraces Chanoma by AOBEAT and tea tours by Kyoto Obubu Tea Farms are the moterization of the actual deliberate tea. Customers go out of their way to pay for scenery and guides to experience the extraordinary cup of tea.

Tea in the Broad Sense and in The Narrow Sense

The word tea has a broad meaning.

The tea industry wants to expand demand for tea, which is harvested from the tea plant – camellia sinensis. However, drinking coffee and having a chat at a coffee shop can also be described in Japanese as “having tea”. In other words, the word tea has two meanings: tea in the narrow sense, which is made from a tea plant, and tea in the broad sense, which includes herbal teas and even coffee.

In the past tea used to mean sencha. However, now more and more people are familiar with the term wakocha. Herbal teas are also becoming popular.

In addition, the concepts of sobercurious (daring not to drink alcohol at a bar) and smart drinking, as introduced in Tea & Creativity, will be the trend of the future. This will diminish the boundaries between bars and cafes, and will increase the consumption of tea at drinking parties. However, the tea in this case would not be tea in the narrow sense such as sencha, but would be a drink derived from plants, which is tea in the broad sense.

More broadly, tea will increasingly be used for more than just drinking, such as in bath salts and sauna lotions. This also follows the trend of producing matcha flavor from culinary matcha.

In other words, in the future it will become  important to take the stance that tea in the narrow sense exists within tea in the broad sense. This trend can be seen in the efforts of Kono-san in Tea & Pairing and Mr. Chun efforts in Tea & Export.

There is so much we can learn from the innovations that the 30 innovators are currently carrying out. However, I would like you to observe these innovations from the perspective of the sixth transformation (integrated tea industry system) as well as value and monetization. I think there are some discoveries and inspiration in this regard as well.


What did you think of the 30 Japanese Tea Innovators?

It was a project that took more than a year from conception to completion, with a total of more than 200,000 kanji characters.

It was probably hard to read. Even so you have read all the way to postscript.

What the 30 innovators convey is that tea is a wealth of possibilities and a Japanese treasure that we all share. And they themselves prove it every day.

Tea continues to fascinate us, and there is still much that can be done about it. It would be wonderful, if while drinking tea, you could do something from your own perspective, just like the 30 innovators introduced here.


We are truly grateful we had the opportunity to work on this project – 30 Japanese Tea Innovators.

We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Japan Tea Central Association for giving us this opportunity, as we continue to wander around the edges of the tea industry.

We would also like to express our gratitude, which words cannot fully convey, to the members of the Global Japanese Tea Association and Kooga for their invaluable support in carrying out this project, and to the 30 innovators, who accepted the invitation to participate.

Thank you very much!

Lastly, we are grateful to all of you for your patience and for reading until the very end. We hope that one day you will be as active as the 30 Japanese Tea Innovators in expanding the world of Japanese tea. We hope that through your continued efforts, the scope of Japanese tea will expand and the demand for Japanese tea will grow.

End Credits

Project Participants

・Jutaro Mochizuki(REDD inc.)
・Masayuki Inaida and the abbot Seizan Toda
・Sosui (Hideaki) Hasegawa(Runahoan)
・the leader – (tentative) iemoto Hankyu Tanida(Office Kitchenette Style Tea Ceremony)
・Shoko Takenaka(Yamecha Sommelier School)
・Yoko Mitsuki(Japanese Tea Ambassador Association)
・Kazutaka Miura(Japan Tea Guide)
・Takahashi Ikka(Shizuoka University)
・Eiji Nakamura(Baisa Nakamura)
・Tomoki Kawano(LogiConnecTea)
・Tomotaka Tajimi(Japan Ochawari Association)
・Serika Tsuji(AOBEAT)
・Hiroaki Hamada(Ryumeikan)
・Hirokazu Matsumoto(Kyoto Obubu Tea Farms)
・Youichi Kourogi(Ryokuheki Chaen)
・Masamitsu Akahori(Akahori Seichajo)
・Ryo Iwamoto(TeaRoom)
・Ren Yamagata(Mandokorocha Ennokai, Cha Enmusubi)
・Daisuke Horiguchi(Horiguchi Seicha)
・Soma Matsumoto(mirume Shinryoku Sabou)
・Toshihiro Tanaka(VERT)
・Kazuhiro Koyama(Chushutsu-sha)
・Mikito Tanimoto(TOKYO TEA JOURNAL)
・Kumiko Jito(Japan Tea Seed Oil Association)
・Ian Chun(
・Ashikubo Tea Works
・Shota Morikawa(Showtime)
・Hiroki Matsumoto(Kaneroku Matsumotoen)


Yasuharu Matsumoto(Global Japanese Tea Association)


Misako Yoshida(Kooga)
Igari Asuna
Arimura Natsumi


Misako Yoshida(Kooga)


Simona Suzuki(Global Japanese Tea Association)


Sho Miwa(Kooga)

Project Producer

Kooga inc

Project Creator

Global Japanese Tea Association

Project Organizer

Japanese Tea industry Structure Reinforcement Promotion Council