We all know that Britons are peculiar when it comes to tea, and I hope my British readers forgive me for saying this out loud, but… who cares? Half of Asia already had a highly developed tea culture at a time when your island was still up for grabs – and half of Europe actually gave it shot! Nevertheless I couldn’t resist giving this abandoned Japanese tea factory a pseudo-early modern British name… in honor of you guys doing something very Japanese at the time: taking a foreign food item and just totally owning it! 🙂
Why did I give that abandoned tea factory a made-up name? Well, mainly because there is no official name known to the best of my knowledge. Japanese people usually call it the equivalent of “Abandoned Tea Factory next to Kowada Station”, which is terribly uncreative and way too descriptive for my taste.
The history of the place is rather interesting, though pretty much none of it is confirmed as Ye Olde Tea Factory is indeed quite an old tea factory. Located just below Kowada Station on a rather steep slope at the banks of the Tenryu River in an area famous for tea plantations, the factory is said to be founded in 1950. Back then it was just another small business in a rather remote area. That changed drastically seven years later, when the Sakuma Dam downstream started operating – the water level of the Tenryu River rose significantly, apparently not only setting some houses under water, but also cutting both the factory and the train station off the road network. Yes, neither the factory nor the train station are accessible by car anymore – a fact I was unaware of one and a half years prior to my successful exploration, when I passed through the area and failed to reach the dam(n) thing. I am not sure if that cut-off was part of the plan, but since construction of the dam began in 1952, the owners of the factory probably weren’t aware of it – and most likely neither were the people living a couple of hundred meters up the river or the people running the restaurant / inn (?) next to the tea factory… all abandoned now, too. Since the trains kept running (south to north: 7 connections per day, north to south 6 connections) and the area was / is beautiful for hiking, people apparently continued to live in the area till the late 1970s / early 1980s. (The nearby Azuki Station was built in 1955 as a result of rerouting the Iida Line, while Kowada Station remained where it was originally established in 1936.) About 30 years ago that part of the Tenryu River bank, including the factory and the soon to be written about building next to it, was finally abandoned and the number of passengers using the Kowada Station dropped to six per day in average – given that I used it to arrive and to depart, I most likely counted as two passengers. You can access the area by hiking and mountain bike, too, but the remaining roads and paths are narrow and worn out, some of them are completely overgrown, others suffer regularly from falling rocks and tree parts; some sections even require climbing ladders! Originally I considered hiking to the next station north or south, but after checking out the remaining infrastructure and the fact that I was exploring solo, I decided not to for safety reasons – just scouting the area I considered dangerous enough…
Exploring Ye Olde Tea Factory was rather easy and relaxing though, despite the fact that the wooden shack probably will collapse during the next bigger earthquake. It was basically three levels carved into a slope and covered by some slabs of wood and corrugated iron… and then stuffed with all kinds of machinery. As you can see in the video, it was a rather small factory, but the heavy metal objects left behind all looked very unfamiliar to me. I am not an expert on tea or industrial machines, and if I wouldn’t have known that it was a tea factory, I probably wouldn’t have guessed it; especially since I didn’t see a single tea plant in the four hours I spent in the area. (Yes, I skipped a train…) Overall a fun day outdoors, though the more than five hours it took me to get there was a major turnoff!
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