Sophie Beavan-Vaughan

London, England

Intern #147

Hello, Sophie here!

Before Obubu

After graduating university in 2020, I found myself rather directionless. A friend asked me to come and work for her business, helping to set up her website and edit the text for it. That’s how I found myself working for a company selling Japanese tea and running Chadō (Japanese tea ceremony) workshops in London. 

I will admit that my relationship with tea got off to a rocky start. Growing up in England, I was always surrounded by tea. If someone came over, the teapot was brought out along with the matching cups and saucers. The rather bitter, black tea that needs lashings of milk and sugar has never really been my cup of tea (pun fully intended). It wasn’t until trying green, jasmine, and oolong tea that I really started to enjoy it. 

Having been to Japan in 2017 and 2018, I was keen to return and explore more of the country. While working in London I was writing descriptions of different types of tea and tea ware, often googling to find more information for out product descriptions. I realised that there was so much about Japanese tea that I didn’t know. Why is matcha shaded? What difference does shading tea make to the flavour? Why is spring harvest tea so much more desirable than tea harvested in other seasons?  Finding out about the Obubu internship, which combined both tea and Japan, was so exciting. I found out about the internship in December 2022, applied in January, and was accepted in February. It was a very short turnaround, but I think that was better for me, as I know I would have psyched myself out had I had longer to prepare! 

During Obubu

I spent a week in Tokyo before travelling down to Kyoto, and coming to Wazuka. Going from the bustling city, full of skyscrapers, to this tiny, farming village, with its rolling hills and sprawling tea fields was such a breath of fresh air! In a rare occurrence for Japan, my train from Kizu to Kamo was delayed, so I ended up missing the bus by a few minutes. I contemplated waiting for the next bus (in an hour), but ended up managing to hail a passing taxi. From the lacey, doily covered interior of the cab, I watched Wazuka go by, and took in this village I would be spending the next three months in. The day of our welcome party coincided with the first day of the spring harvest! We all headed to the factory to eat, as all the machines came to life. It was incredible to see the fresh, green leaves turn into tea, right before our eyes! We were thrown right into it, but what better way to learn than by doing? 

My first day harvesting with Akky-San and Justin

My first day of Akky support, I headed to Somada with Justin. We unclipped and unshaded a few rows of kabuse sencha, and then I watched Akky-san and Justin harvest a row or two, taking the full tea bags from them and putting them by the car, in the shade. Then Akky-san handed the other end of the harvesting machine to me, and told me it was my turn. I was astonished that I would be harvesting on my first day, and was terrified to make a mistake, and ruin the tea! But Akky-san was so friendly and encouraging that soon enough I forgot any fear and just had a blast harvesting tea. Getting to drink the tea that I had helped harvest the next morning was so incredibly satisfying. From there it only seemed to get busier – harvesting, tea tours, Aoimori harvesting and processing, huge group tours, hand picking and rolling events, painting the Hojicha House to prepare for the new interns… You name it, we were doing it! 

(Me and Akky San)
(Me and Marie)
(Jack, Jia En, Me, Sarah and Thomas)

Before I knew it, we were in June, with Jia En and Sarah (our wonderful senpais) leaving and our new Kohais, Yena, Sara, Itsaya and Symphony arriving! A few weeks later Juliette arrived. We were thrown right into the summer harvest, and the weather began to get hot. Really hot! With copious amounts of Pocari Sweat, and Miwako-san’s nifty fan vests, we got right to work, harvesting huge amounts of tencha, and sencha of the summer sun. With the heat also came the wildlife – in the space of around two weeks I saw a snake, lots of lizards, huge moths, so many praying mantises, and the largest spider in existence in the tea fields. Soon enough the summer harvest, and also my time at Obubu was coming to an end. We ended on a high though, a group trip to tokoname where we made pottery and purchased a slightly concerning number of teapots, and black tea making, where Jack, Thomas and I harvested tea from Aoimori, and then processed it into black tea however we wanted.

How many teapots is too many tea pots?

After Obubu

Once I leave Obubu I’ll be spending a few days in Kyoto, before travelling to Kanazawa and Tokyo, each for a week. I’m then off to Malaysia, where I’ll spend 10 days with my Grandfather (serving him plenty of tea I’m sure!). Then it’s back home to London at the end of August. I’m keen to spend more time in Japan – ideally I’d like to live here for a year or two, but how I’ll do that is anyone’s guess. Perhaps teaching English, or something similar. What I do know for sure, is that this is not goodbye Obubu, its see you soon.

And of course I want to give huge thanks and love to all the wonderful people who;ve made my time here so special – Akky-san, Hiro-san, Kayo-san, George, Matsu-san, Miwako-san, Jean, Justin, my senpais Jia En, Sarah, and Gaelle, my fellow interns Jacka and Thomas, my kohais Yena, Sara, Symphony, Itsaya, and Juliette, former intern Marie, and the wonderful volunteers Siw, Paula, and Simone (and not forgetting Sakura-chan)!

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