KOEDO-KAWAGOE

by Yumi Ryujin
Kawagoe Goodwill Ambassador for Tourism
 

§ No.16

TAKABAYASHI Kenzo, who invented tea-producing machines, and the social background to this time

Welcome to Kawagoe! Kawagoe is an old town whose history can be traced back to the Old Stone Age. I would like to tell you a story about the Kawagoe of olden times. This story is about TAKABAYASHI Kenzo, who invented tea-producing machines, and the social background to this time. This is number sixteen in the series of stories about Kawagoe.
 
The Edo Period and Tea
They say that documents from the Edo Period show that the government imposed three times the duties on tea cultivation that it imposed on rice production. The government issued a notice saying "you should divorce your wife if she only drinks tea, even if she is extremely beautiful." I assume that tea was a luxury item for the common people at that time.
 
Closing the Door to Foreigners
In 1612, the Tokugawa Shogunate issued a law prohibiting Christianity in the areas under its direct control. Starting with the Shimabara Rebellion in 1637, it reinforced its laws restricting overseas travel. In 1641, the Dutch Mercantile House in Hirado, Nagasaki, was transferred to Dejima Island, Nagasaki. This was the completion of the self-imposed period of isolation. The shogun at that time was TOKUGAWA Iemitsu, the 3rd shogun.
 
Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan to the World
It was America that knocked on the door that Japan had closed for more than 200 years. In the middle of the 19th century, America expanded its territory to Japan's Pacific Ocean shores. It needed to have ports in Japan for its whaling operations in the North Pacific Ocean and to trade with China. In 1853, Commodore Perry's four black warships were anchored off Uraga and he forced Japan to open the country. The next year, he came again and strongly pressed Japan to conclude a treaty. Finally, the "Treat of Peace and Amity between the United States of America and the Empire of Japan" was concluded. Then in June 1858, after the shogun's highest-ranking assistant, Ii Naosuke, concluded the "Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the United States of America and the Empire of Japan," trading began at last.
 
Expansion of Tea Production
Under such conditions, it became known that tea would become an important export item, so people started to expand production here and there. The Shogunate had implemented a policy of suppressing the production of tea, a luxury food. However, with the turning point of 1858, it suddenly recommended that people start planting tea trees.
 
A Doctor in Kawagoe, TAKABAYASHI Kenzo
TAKABAYASHI Kenzo was born near Kawagoe in 1831 and started his own medical practice in Kosemba, Kawagoe, the year after the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the United States of America and the Empire of Japan was concluded. However, as Kenzo watched the political situation, along with the drastic movements of the country, he noticed that Japan's only exports were thread and tea and that Japan imported more than it exported. He worried that the amounts for export were extremely small. His family came from a background of poor farmers. He studies medical science almost entirely by himself and became a surgeon so he must have been freed from poverty and felt relief. However, he decided to tread the thorny path to inventing machines able to produce tea that was loved by Americans.
 
TAKABAYASHI Kenzo by courtesy of Kawagoe City Education Board
TAKABAYASHI Kenzo
by courtesy of Kawagoe City Education Board
 
 
Development of a Tea Plantation by Kenzo
First of all, in 1869 he created a tea plantation to the east of "Sammon (gate)" of the Ki-tain Temple in Kawagoe. He was 38 years old. The next year, he also borrowed a tea plantation from Mr. Funatsu in Kishi-village. I assume that the master of the Funatsu family at that time was FUNATSU Ranzan, a painter retained by the Kawagoe Domain who painted pictures on the sliding doors of Kawagoe Castle ten years before the Meiji Restoration. However, Kenzo soon realized that hand-rubbing production would produce few profits and that tea from India and Ceylon produced by machines was rapidly taking over the market. Finally, he realized that it would definitely be necessary to invent machines suitable for producing Japanese tea.
 
Green tea (Sayama tea) plantation in Iruma City, Saitama Prefecture
Green tea (Sayama tea) plantation in Iruma City, Saitama Prefecture
 
The Invention of Tea-producing Machines
Through trial and error, he built a machine able to roast tea in 1884 and obtained the patent. This invention was supposed to reduce manpower costs. But due to the unsophisticated techniques of the workers, all of his products were regarded as defective and this forced him into a tight corner. He improved and improved. Finally, he built a machine that was able to rub tea in 1898 and he obtained the patent for this as well. However, the Sayama tea makers and suppliers, who placed importance on quality, never accepted his machines. He then set his hopes on Shizuoka tea but passed away in Shizuoka in 1901. He was 70 years old.
 
Takabayashi-type Tea-producing Machine In Kawagoe City Museum's possession By courtesy of Kawagoe City Museum
Takabayashi-type Tea-producing Machine
In Kawagoe City Museum's possession
By courtesy of Kawagoe City Museum
We drink tea every day as a matter of course. Through the efforts of our predecessors, our daily life is possible.
 
 
Please visit Kawagoe again! We welcome you!
 
©Yumi Ryujin   All rights reserved.
 

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