Feb 3, 2018
Retro Green Tea Factory with your neighbour Totoro!
On the border of Tokyo, in the lush green of Sayama Hills you can find the historic “House of Kurosuke”. If you are familiar with Ghibli’s classic “My Neighbour Totoro”, you will probably recognize Kurosuke as part of the name of the soot sprites that live in the main character’s house. The four kids and I revisited Sayama Hills today with the sole purpose of visiting the celebrated house, which doubles as the visitor center for the Totoro Forest and Foundation.
We have hiked in the Totoro Forest before, but never got to see the illustrious house, because it is only open a few hours a week. For me personally, it was worth the wait and long journey to visit this precious gem in an idyllic setting. Furthermore, it was a dream come true for my Totoro loving kids. They could hardly believe their eyes when they turned the corner at the entrance and saw him, TOTORO, sitting in clear sight in Kurosuke's house. A surprise finding and bonus for me, is that one of the three buildings on the Kurosuke house’s grounds is a green “Tea Factory”. It operates as a sort of museum or relic of green tea manufacturing during the Showa period.
Totoro Fund / Foundation
Kurosuke’s house is a protected 100 year old house that is part of the Sayama Hills’ Totoro foundation. Sayama Hills is well known as the inspiration of Hayao Miyazaki’s Ghibli classic family movie “Tonari no Totoro” or “My Neighbour Totoro” as it is called in English. Hayao Miyazaki himself donated a large sum of the principal funds used to preserve the verdant green and natural beauty of the Sayama Hills area. It was from these initial donations that the “Totoro Fund” was inaugrated. The Totoro Foundation comprises the various forests and sightseeing spots within the area, including the House of Kurosuke.
House of Kurosuke
The House of Kurosuke is quite separated from the main preservation area. The forests basically runs to the East of Sayama Lake, a manmade reservoir on the border of Saitama and Tokyo. The house is to the North of the forests and it is quite a long trek from the main hiking area and / or the nearest train station. However, where possible, you are best to come on foot as the house is down a narrow lane with only one paid parking area nearby. The parking area is very reasonably priced, a flat rate of 400 yen for one day, but there is only space for approximately 10 cars.
The attraction is free to visit, but it relies on donations and volunteers to keep it running, so Kurosuke’s house is closed more than it is open. The House of Kurosuke is only open to the public between 10 am and 3 pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The Tea Factory on the grounds of Kurosuke’s House is an old factory dating from 1902. It originally operated as a silk farming factory until the silk industry waned, after which it operated as a green tea factory from 1951. Nowadays, it is a workshop and small museum of sorts, showcasing how green tea was produced during the Showa period. They still have all the old equipment. They actually also display some of the old machinery from the silk factory too.
The factory is not a very elaborate or decorative space. In fact it is very small, plain and with basic information, but it is visual. You can see the machinery with a very rudimentary explanation of the tea manufacturing process.
The above chart shows the steps the tea goes through when being processed. In the yellow box is the name of the process and below it the first line of numbers represents time and the second box represents the temperatures used. The tea goes through a number of stages such as hand rolling, rotation and drying.
A different machine was used for a different part of the process. There are about eight machines on display in the small factory. Above is the tea kneading machine which, from my understanding, was used to churn the tea and knead it into shape.
What attracted me most in the Tea Factory is these quaint green tea boxes, which were surprisingly tucked away in a corner with a blue sheet over them. There were about a dozen all with different motifs, but you could only see the front four clearly. I hope the sheet was to protect them and not to hide them as this type of ornate box was made to be appreciated!
Worth a visit for Ghibli fans
The retro green tea factory isn't reason enough to make an out of the way trip to the area. However, with the period house and the old storehouse also on the grounds, it is well worth a visit if you are in the area. One thing to note though is that all the information on site is in Japanese only.
Apart from the "life-size" Totoro in Kurosuke's house and the old storehouse with diorama from the Totoro movie, all buildings have tidbits of information, real life props and replica items from the period and / or from the movie. I would even suggest that IF you are a big Ghibli fan that you make an effort to visit, especially if you plan to hike the Totoro Forests too.
Address: 3 Chome-1169-1 Mikajima, Tokorozawa-shi, Saitama-ken 359-1164
Totoro Foundation Website: http://www.totoro.or.jp/
The House of Kurosuke Webpage: http://www.totoro.or.jp/kurosuke/index.html
Parking information: https://goo.gl/maps/TE2W2KPXJsn
This post is a special tea blog report, part of our Shizuoka Green Tea Guide, and a chance through City-Cost for bloggers in Japan to engage in new “Japan” experiences about which to create posts.
Level 8 LocalGuide with Google. Blogging about life in Japan as an Irish WAHM to 4 kids on insaitama.com.