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Yokohama holds a giant tea party

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

In 1859, five years after Commodore Matthew Perry demanded Japan make itself accessible to international trade, Yokohama opened its port and it quickly became a raw-silk trade stopover and gateway to the rest of the world. Among the exports was green tea, which became so popular overseas that Japan had trouble keeping up with the demand.

It’s believed that suppliers in Japan began blending tea with willow-tree leaves, and that tea leaves harvested in different parts of the country were brought together at specially designated centers in Yokohama. There, thousands of women gathered early in the morning to mix and blend different “flavors” for export.

This Saturday, the Yokohama Tea Port Town Party at Kaiko Kinen Yokohama Kaikan (also known as Jack’s Tower) invites visitors to learn more about Japan’s most commonly drunk beverage. Among the types of tea available to taste and purchase are steamed, pan-fried, fermented, roasted and herbal varieties. For ¥500, visitors can join a workshop at which they will be able to taste, mix and create new flavors, as well as learn how to distinguish between various types of tea.

As home to one of Asia’s largest China Towns, Yokohama also offers the widest selection of Chinese teas available in Japan. Those interested in the tea ceremony can try the Free Cha-seki tea ceremony corner, where more than 40 types of Japanese, Chinese and Korean teas are being featured. For those who prefer to drink at home, a selection of teas will be available to buy in the square in front of Kaiko Kinen Yokohama Kaikan and at the other two Yokohama towers next to the Nihon Odori Station entrance.

Yokohama Tea Port Town Party takes place on Feb. 15 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Yokohama Kaiko Kinen Kaikan (Yokohama Port Opening Memorial Hall), which is a minute’s walk from the No.1 exit of Nihon Odori Station on the Minatomirai Line. The event is free, but reservations must be made for the workshop, which costs ¥500. Participation in the tea ceremony also costs ¥300. For more information, visit www.yokohama-tea.jp or call call 080-8866-1761.