It is mid-April 2014: Exhausted from the tea harvest and sencha processing in Miyazaki, we conceived the plan to relax a few days in the nature paradise Yakushima: three days in the wild, climbing mountains and hiking. Three days for enjoying teas surrounded by nature and also for taking one step back from the daily routine of tea production. On the train from Miyazaki to Kagoshima we look for the things that might be waiting for us on the volcanic island 140km South of Kagoshima. While the centre of the island is topped with the highest elevation of the area – the Miyanoura-Dake (1900m), it is still possible to farm on narrow strips of land near the coast. To our amazement we learn that tea is also grown on Yakushima. A small organic teagarden strikes our eyes: The teagarden of Mankichi Watanabe. The people in the picture seem likeable and we notice the range of tea sorts that are offered. We are curious.
We travel to Miyanoura on a hydrofoil boat, drop off our luggage at our accommodation, rent two bikes and set off in the direction of Mankichi Watanabe's tea garden resolutely. There is a drizzle, which is not uncommon on Yakushima. We are convinced that we will make it because of our rain wear, but halfway in, a strong wind comes up and the rain gets stronger and stronger. The ride is also getting more strenuous with each movement up- and downhill as the bicycles are not that well maintained. The wind is blowing furiously, but one thought forces us to continue: If the way to the Watanabe teagarden is this hard and everything seems to tell us to “Turn around and forget about it“, then a truly astonishing teagarden has to be waiting for us at the end of that road. We persevere. After two hours spent on bike, we reach Mankichi Watanabe's teagarden totally drenched and exhausted.
After exchanging some words and clearing the Watanabes' astonishment about the drenched cyclists, we get along well with each other. The weather changes to a light tropical storm during our conversation, so Mankichi Watanabe does not want us to return on our bikes to Miyanoura. He kindly offers to bring us back in his car, which gives us even more time with him. We return with some teas which we try the following morning. They open up a new world of tastes. The extraordinary climate on Yakushima, Mankichi's processing philosophy and his ideals in connectedness to nature create unique teas, which express all of these very things.
We return to the Watanabe's the next day, as our bikes are still parked at their tea garden. This time the weather is better – even the sun comes out – which gives us the chance to visit the different parts of the tea garden with Mankichi. They are surrounded by forest, bushes and birdsong – an idyll worth painting. Here, Mr. Watanabe, Ms. Goto and their helpers were already preparing the second flush harvest, while we were still concerned with the last parts of the first flush harvest in Miyazaki. Together we taste different teas and listen to Mankichi's explanations.
Before we depart, Mankichi Watanabe tells us that it is a good thing that we met during such a strong rain. It is a good omen for a successful cooperation.