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Kagoshima Prefecture is struggling to make a name for itself as a green-tea powerhouse despite dethroning Shizuoka Prefecture as Japan’s biggest producer.

The southwestern prefecture surprised the tea industry when statistics released in March showed that it produced ¥25.2 billion-worth of tea leaves in 2019, beating Shizuoka Prefecture’s ¥25.1 billion.

Shizuoka Prefecture has long been the green tea capital of the country, topping the production rankings released by the agriculture ministry since such records began in 1967. In 1980, its ¥74.6 billion output was more than five times greater than that of runner-up Kagoshima Prefecture.

But the fall in demand for high-grade tea since the industry’s heyday has led to a steady decline for Shizuoka’s tea business.

“Much of the land (in Kagoshima) is flat and suitable for large-scale machinery, leading to an expansion of production,” an official from the agriculture and horticulture division at the Kagoshima prefectural government said.

Meanwhile, the Shizuoka prefectural government’s tea promotion division attributed its fall from grace to “changes in consumers’ lifestyles, which made high-grade tea difficult to sell.”

Despite its newfound status, Kagoshima’s name recognition as a tea producer has yet to catch up with the official figures.

The prefectural government official lamented that even its most popular tea brand, Chiran, is not recognized nationwide as being from Kagoshima.

The prefectural government plans to boost promotional efforts such as developing sweets using local tea, according to the official. “We want people to know that ‘Kagoshima is also a tea producer,'” the official said.

Meanwhile, Shizuoka’s tea makers are taking news of Kagoshima’s rise in their stride, thanks to Shizuoka’s unwavering name recognition and brand power.

According to the Tea Commerce & Industry’s Association of Shizuoka Prefecture, there are 17 locations in the prefecture that are known for tea, resulting in a variety of tea leaves based on the respective geography and climate.

“We want to protect the image of Shizuoka as being a tea country, without caring about rankings,” tea farmer Takaaki Ueda, 41, said.

But the popularity of bottled tea continues to put downward pressure on the market prices of Shizuoka’s mainstay high-grade tea, prompting the prefectural government to take action to develop new distribution channels.

It has launched a website helping match tea producers with distributors in and outside Japan, and also asked a Japanese patissier in Paris to develop recipes using matcha paste developed by the JA Shizuoka economic and agricultural cooperative association.

The battle to be top tea producer is a relative storm in a teacup compared with the industrywide struggle to cope with a shrinking market. Both prefectures face a need for efforts to spur demand for tea as a whole, especially with tea harvesting season coming up.

“We want to energize the whole industry by working with Shizuoka,” said an official from Minamikyushu, the biggest tea producer in Kagoshima Prefecture.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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