SHIZUOKA - Grateful to have a tea harvest despite major landslides in April, a local union of 37 tea farmers in the Sugi district in Harunocho in Tenryu Ward, Hamamatsu, has started selling "miracle tea" made with green tea leaves harvested in tea fields that narrowly escaped the disaster.
The landslides occurred intermittently in the district, including tea fields, in late April. According to the Shizuoka prefectural government, about 100,000 cubic meters of soil and sediment was displaced in the landslide zone, which was about 160 meters wide and 150 meters in height.
Although parts of the tea fields were destroyed by the landslides, most of the fields narrowly escaped the disaster.
Union head Taichiro Yamashita, 66, lost part of his two hectares of fields in the landslides, which struck shortly before harvest time. As his house was also endangered by the landslides, he and his family evacuated to a nearby community centre for a while.
"I was heartbroken that my tea fields, which I had taken care of so enthusiastically, collapsed," he said. Moreover, it was not clear whether he would be able to harvest the surviving portion of his crop.
However, the prefectural government and Hamamatsu municipal government confirmed the safety of the tea fields after the landslides ceased. Energized by the news, Yamashita was able to ship his tea leaves, which he is proud of, this year as well. Construction projects to cope with future landslides are still under way in the district.
Yamashita came up with the idea of selling tea leaves, taking the nationwide awareness of the landslide disasters and turning it to the farmers' advantage. "Let's make tea leaves, our specialty products, known by people all over the country," Yamashita suggested to Takashi Sugimoto, 65, vice head of the union.
They named the tea "Kiseki no Ocha" (Miracle tea), as an expression of gratitude for the seemingly miraculous harvest and as a prayer that miracles may happen to those who drink the tea.
Sugimoto said he considered various names such as "Tea leaves that barely escaped landslides" and "Tea leaves which did not fall."
"I want students who are preparing for entrance exams to drink the tea, as it did not fall with the landslides, and make a wish on the tea to pass the exams," he said.
The miracle tea leaves were processed after mixing tea leaves harvested near the landslides with those from other parts of fields in the Sugi district. The tea leaves have a deep aroma and high quality, according to Yamashita. An 80-gram package of the tea is priced at ¥800 (S$9.70).