Free from the “Three Cs” of closed spaces, close contact and crowds, tea field terraces and wedding plan attracts a rush of bookings.
Enjoy freshly brewed tea and spectacular views of the Shizuoka countryside from a privately reserved open-air tea terrace in the middle of a tea plantation. Developed by Suruga Bureau of Planning and Tourism (Aoi-ku, Shizuoka, Shizuoka Prefecture), the experience-based program has attracted a lot of attention since its launch in May 2019. We talked with Suruga bureau producer Ms. Suzuki about the new initiative, which has taken off despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Note: As of January 2021, no reservations are being accepted from people living in areas subject to the current state of emergency.
Tea fields become places of recreation to encourage a more relaxed enjoyment of tea.
Tea growing is an integral part of Shizuoka’s economy but today the industry faces numerous problems. Falls in tea consumption and prices, as well as the aging of Japan’s population, have led to a drop in the number of tea producers, while many tea fields have been lost through neglect. The Chajihen project is an attempt to halt this decline. The project was launched with the aim of encouraging a more relaxed enjoyment of tea as well as ensuring that the everyday custom of drinking tea is not lost in the future. The experience-based open-air tea terrace program is part of this project. There are six such tea terraces, each in its own tea field and each with its own particular charm. The Sky Tea Terrace has views of Mount Fuji and Suruga Bay and, in the morning, looks out over a sea of clouds, while the Golden Leaf Tea Terrace stands in a field of yellow tea buds that first sprouted through natural mutation and have been cultivated ever since. The opportunity to enjoy fresh tea on spacious, privately reserved terraces and photograph the spectacular scenery has proved popular, with people in their 20s and 30s behind much of the tea terrace information circulating on social media. Furthermore, there was an upsurge in the number of visitors after the Golden Leaf Tea Terrace was featured on a popular television show.
“Tea letters” as memories of the trip provide a little more added value.
The number of reservations for the tea terraces rose steadily at the beginning of 2020, with some 1,300 people booked for March and April. However, with the outbreak of coronavirus all reservations were canceled. The organizers realized that a counterplan was needed. They came up with the concept of “tea mailboxes” installed on each of the six tea terraces. Visitors use the mailboxes to send “tea letters” to their friends and family. Each letter contains tea leaves and a postcard offering a 30 percent discount when booking a tea terrace. The concept provides young people with the novel experience of mailing a letter from a travel destination and allowing them to connect with their friends without physical contact. Most people who have visited the tea terraces since the relaunch have taken advantage of the tea letter service. With the tea terraces providing safe and secure areas that avoid the “Three Cs” of closed spaces, close contact, and crowds, some 50 recipients of tea letters have actually visited.
With wedding parties no longer possible, tea terraces offer wedding photos with a difference.
In addition, a new wedding photo service called “Cha-no-ma Wedding Plan” was launched in October 2020. Couples choose their favorite of the six tea terraces and are photographed by a professional photographer, who makes the most of each of the locations’ special features to produce beautiful images. It is assumed that weddings, which have been canceled one after another due to coronavirus, can go ahead outdoors in safe spaces. Couples unable to hold conventional wedding receptions have welcomed the Cha-no-ma Wedding Plan and reservations and inquiries have come in from other prefectures as well as from Shizuoka. As it happens, Ms. Suzuki, who is the key person in the cha-no-ma program, is in her mid-20s, while her team members are the same generation. They are similar in age to their target customers and share a similar outlook. Moreover, the fact that they were able to immediately launch a project that they found interesting has probably helped them avoid difficulties brought about by coronavirus.
Collaborating with a local hotel and boosting regional revitalization
Of the six tea terraces, the one in Nippondaira has the most potential to attract visitors from outside the prefecture, given its superb views and accessibility. With the tea terrace as a focal point, it was thought that presenting new ways of spending time could help develop tourism and the local travel industry. With this in mind, the team approached Nippondaira Hotel with the suggestion of working together. The hotel willingly agreed to get involved “for the sake of revitalizing the local economy.” The collaboration has had unexpected results, such as an increase in the number of young people coming for the tea terrace but staying overnight at the hotel. In addition, Izu Marriott Hotel Shuzenji has joined forces with Chajihen to offer its guests four varieties of “welcome tea” and two styles of tea and herbs blended by Fujisan Marumo Chaen’s fifth-generation tea master Honda Mohei. While promoting new ways to enjoy tea in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the initiative is also contributing to revitalization of the local economy.
Gradually welcoming back visitors from outside the prefecture while monitoring the local situation
After the nationwide state of emergency was lifted in May 2020, the project made plans to resume accepting reservations from people living in Shizuoka Prefecture. In order to achieve this, the group first produced a manual of coronavirus countermeasures for tea farmers participating in the project. Next, people in the prefecture who had made reservations were contacted by direct mail, and the organizers returned to posting information on social media in preparation for the arrival of new guests. “It really made us happy that almost 200 people applied in June alone,” says Ms. Suzuki with a big smile. From July, reservations were expanded to include people living outside the prefecture. Due to the difficulty of judging how many visitors should be accepted during a pandemic and taking into consideration not only tea farmers but also local residents, the tea terraces were gradually opened one by one. Some 2,000 people have visited since the relaunch. However, reservations made by people living in areas subject to the current state of emergency have been canceled and no new bookings will be accepted for the time being. The group’s goal for the next financial year is to double the number of visitors. The current difficulties are likely to continue but to reach its goal, the group “hopes to continue supporting Shizuoka’s tea culture while developing original confectionery items and coming up with new ways to enjoy tea,” says Ms. Suzuki.