Famed for its tea, Yamashiro Province (山城国 Yamashiro no kuni) once included the ancient capital of Kyoto and served as the seat of the Ashikaga Shogunate which ruled Japan from 1336 to 1573. Uji green tea was a favorite of the Shogunate.
"It is believed that in the 13th century, the Zen Buddhist Monk Yosai brought over the method of tea cultivation from China, while the Buddhist Monk Myoe taught villagers of Uji to sow tea seeds in the traces of horses’ hoof prints."1
Historically, the "Uji powdered-tea [matcha] industry was so important that it received bakufu protection, and farmers had to sell their tea through designated channels. Unlike farmers in other parts of the country, who cultivated tea on the footpaths between fields or on mountain slopes, Uji farmers grew their plants in groves. To produce a high-quality product, they latticed over their groves for superior grades of tea with straw or reed to protect the plants from the elements until the buds appeared."2
Two of 118 prints in the series Dai Nippon Bussan Zue (Products of Greater Japan) issued in August 1877 to coincide with the opening of Japan’s first National Industrial Exposition (Naikoku Kangyō Hakurankai) held in Tokyo’s Ueno Park.
PICKING THE TEA
About thirty days before the first harvest, which begins in the middle of May (the second commencing at the close of the rainy season, about two months later), the tea-gardens of Uji are roofed over. The roof rests on stakes and poles, and is composed of mats made from reeds laid closely side by side. It stands from one and a half to two meters above the ground – the bushes are from half to one meter high – so that people at work can walk about under it comfortably, and attend to the first crop of leaves. When this is over, the roof is taken down and put away in houses or sheds set apart for it, till the next year. It is said that it was in use more than two hundred years ago. Its object is to protect the bushes from the cold dew, which reddens the young leaves and gives them a bitter taste. It evidently diminishes the radiation of heat from ground and leaves, and thus the nocturnal cooling; the softened light, at the same time, lengthens the internodes of the young shoots and makes the leaves more tender.
Source: The Industries of Japan: Together with an Account of its Agriculture, Forestry, Arts and Commerce, J. J. Rein, A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1889, p. 116.
PROCESSING THE TEA
[To sift the tea] a sieve is suspended breast-high by a rope from the ceiling, so that it can be moved with ease in every direction, as well as in a circle. The finer stuff falls through on a pile, and there remains the more equally rolled and twisted leaves. Lastly, this tea, designed for exportation, is spread out on a table and carefully gone over again by girls, who pick out all remaining impurities…
A series of immured iron kettles (or pans) are half filled with water, which is brought to boiling by fires of charcoal beneath them. The mouth of each kettle is closed by a sieve, that fits tight into it. This is about 45 cm. in diameter, and on its bottom several handfuls (about half-pound) of fresh tea-leaves are spread out. The sieve is closed above with a cover. For a short time, generally about half a minute, the steam is permitted to act upon the leaves, long enough to produce the characteristic odour of tea. The sieve with its contents is then taken off from the pans. The leaves are shaken together and then spread out over straw mats or tables. The damp leaves, of course, have lost their stiffness. They are soft and easily bent in all directions, showing everywhere traces of the oil which comes from them. Being spread out and fanned, they are quickly cooled, and then subjected to another operation, of especial importance.
All these processes being at length over, the product is packed in new wooden chests, each of which holds a half picul (30 kilo), and is sent to one of treaty-ports for sale.
Source: The Industries of Japan: Together with an Account of its Agriculture, Forestry, Arts and Commerce, J. J. Rein, A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1889, p. 116-118.
It is clear that the English script on the bottom of the print describing the four sections of the illustration was written by a native English speaker, as they are grammatically perfect. English-language script on this print is not surprising given that almost half the tea exports from Japan during the early 1890s went to the United States. The Yamashiro Tea Company's founder Itō Kumao worked to increase tea exports to the West.
A rather large print promoting the Yamashiro Tea Company formed in 1885 by Itō Kumao 伊東熊夫 (1849-1913), a driving force in modernizing Japan's tea industry, during a boom in the export tea trade. This print depicts their tea plantation and curing and packing facilities in Uji, Kyoto Province, situated on the banks of the Lake Biwa Canal, completed in 1890, along with a stone monument erected in Manpukuji Temple in Uji in 1887 called “Koma-no-ashikage-en-ato-hi” (monument for horse hoof print tea gardens) dedicated to tea culture.
The tea industry was subject to greatly fluctuating prices and it is likely the Yamashiro Tea Company failed by the mid-1890s, but its founder Itō Kumao would become the Vice President of the Japan Tea Association and continue his work to increase Japan's exports of tea to the West.
Print Details and additional information for the above prints can be seen by clicking on the following links: