Matsu-san and Alex speak with Wazuka's town mayor.

People of Wazuka: Wazuka Mayor Tadao Hori

As a town with an over 800 year history of tea cultivation, Wazuka is a special place. We are lucky to have a mayor who also thinks brightly about Wazuka’s future. Recently, thanks to Matsu-san from Obubu Tea Farms, we were able to speak with Wazuka’s mayor, Tadao Hori-san. The mayor knows this place very well, and he shared his unique tea-infused philosophy with us.

This conversation was made possible by Obubu Tea Farms’ vice president Matsumoto Yasuharu.

All photographs courtesy of fellow intern Justin Ryals.

Alex and Matsu-san speak with Wazuka's town mayor in his office.

ーWhere is your hometown?

It’s Wazuka. I live in Monzen [a part of Wazuka], so I always pass by Obubu when I go to the town hall.

ーWhat do you think is Wazuka’s attraction?

Wazuka’s attraction is this natural environment, these four seasons. That’s why Wazuka is Tea-topia, not Utopia, Tea-topia. It’s that type of attraction.


To dive a little deeper into the topic, regarding today’s coronavirus situation, everyone has the power of their immune system from the time they’re born. We encountered bacteria and germs, but now everything is being disinfected. But humans are a natural being, so this societal phenomenon might not be so healthy. Immunity comes from the soil and from nature. If people only eat things that taste good, that also isn’t healthy. Tasty foods and convenience alone aren’t healthy. In nature, there’s also inconvenience and things we don’t like, but the important thing is to value these aspects too. There’s always two sides: convenience and inconvenience, city and countryside, plus and minus…if we try to figure everything out in our heads and in books, we might forget how important nature is. Nature also has the ability to teach us. But, talking about plus and minus, actually both have the same value. The important part isn’t in choosing one or the other, it’s in valuing both sides and allowing them to reflect each other.


Speaking about Wazuka’s attraction, I think it would be great if we could live as natural beings in a natural environment. That’s a healthy way of life. For that purpose, we need to cooperate. That’s the main principle of town-building. So, that’s why we’re a chagenkyo (birthplace of tea), Tea-topia.


If you’ve been to one of Wazuka’s tea fields, you’ve been able to enjoy nature. Nature can be violent and difficult. Looking at one of Wazuka’s mountainside tea fields, you can see fog formation and the large temperature difference. Because there are so many steep places, machines can’t do this work for us. But, the tea’s course runs deeper, doesn’t it? That’s why its flavor is so particularly delicious. Wazukacha (Wazuka tea) comes from here.


ーIn a previous interview, you said, “In valuing women’s points of view, I want to perfectly build a community through cooperation.” In what was can Wazuka incorporate women’s perspectives to build community?

Cooperation between men and women is important. That being said, in a countryside time, there’s lots of manual labor. So, men’s voices are often preferentially heard. Society’s the same, no? But, if we want to build a community that encourages cooperation between genders, we need to listen to women’s voices. It’s important to develop a town that is attractive for women.

Matsu-san and Alex speak with Wazuka's town mayor.

ーAt the moment, the Japanese border is opening up. What kind of a relationship do you hope Wazuka to have with the outside world? What kind of a relationship to tourism do you hope for?

I hope for cultural interchange. Wazuka’s population isn’t just the people who live here right now. We also have an important “connected population”. Even if you’re only here for a short while, you become a connected resident when you come here. In this way, even though Wazuka is a countryside town, all kinds of people have a relationship to it.


The most important thing is shared humanity. Every place has good and bad parts. But, it would be great if we can allow different places to reflect each other in their wholeness. It’s not about saying “this part is good” or “this part is bad”, it’s about accepting that many things exist at the same time.


In the past, humans had to give birth to many children or there was no way to survive. But, as civilization came into being, the number of children has continued declining. So, we all have to help each other out. Of course, different places have different cultures and dangers, but we must accept this and work together to live enjoyable lives and build interchange. If we have successful interchange, places can develop.


ーJapan and Wazuka are both facing aging population. What kind of an influence does this phenomenon have on local politics? Is there a strategy to solve it?

By “aging population”, you mean that people’s ages are rising from how they were in the past, correct? But, these people can still participate in society. So, that’s why I don’t think it makes sense to name a general phenomena like “aging population”. I’m 78 years-old at the moment. I want to build a town that brings happiness to all those who live here. People who can drive are people who can drive; let’s leave it at that. People with health conditions have health conditions, whether they’re young or old. So, I’d like for everyone to help each other out and to participate in society in the ways that they are able.


Wazuka’s tea farmers are often in their 60s or 70s. It’s great if young people are interested too. But, there’s lots of parents who live in Wazuka whose children move to live on their own in cities like Kizugawa or Nara. So, the average age of farmers keeps rising. But they’re still able to participate, right?


Of course, I also want to build a town that is kind to elderly people. But I want to build a town that is easy for young people to live in. The important part is, within our abilities, to participate in society and to build a good place together.


ーWhat is your favorite tea?

It’s hojicha. Right now, Japanese people often want fragrant teas that were picked in April or May. They have a good aroma, so everyone thinks they’re healthy. But, it’s not healthy to just eat healthy things. Hojicha, on the other hand, is generally made from bancha. It’s let to ripen. In the past, Japanese people would put tea in a tea jar and let it mature over the summer, only to drink it after New Year’s. Matured tea is good for the body. It’s healthy to drink matured teas and fermented foods.


That’s why, every day I walk 10.000 steps and I drink hojicha while I do it. It’s healthy and delicious. The teas the market decides to make expensive are also delicious, but you also need to find for yourself what tea you think is tasty. Kabuse (shaded) senchas are good, but so are banchas.


ーWhat do you envision for Wazuka’s future?

Wazuka is in the middle of Kyoto and Nara, so it has a deep history, but once the tunnel through the mountains to Uji is finished, its ties to its surrounding cities will grow even stronger. Wazuka will be directly connected to Uji. So, Wazuka’s future is, while increasing interchange with the region, to demonstrate the goodness of the countryside. From the deep past and from now on, it’s tea from the mountainsides.


ーIs there something you would like to share with our readers in Japan and abroad?

While respecting the differing cultures and histories of the world, I hope everyone can work together to build a flourishing society. Many cultures exist, and it’s not relevant to decide which parts are good or bad. If we can all understand each other, perhaps we can attain happiness. That’s cultural interchange, isn’t it?


War is something that extinguishes human life. The victims will not live twice. The nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were like this, and Ukraine is also like this now. Interchange is needed to prevent this from happening again. From now on, I’d like to put war behind us because everyone is a victim. There’s no way to win; everyone is a victim.


That’s why I would like to expand Wazuka’s interchange with other places.

From left to right: Alex, Wazuka Town Mayor Hori-san, Justin. They stand next to each other taking a commemorative portrait.

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