Chapter 3

The history of Horii Shichimeien

The story of our tea plantation etched in the company name

Horii Shichimeien is located near the Uji Byodoin Temple, in front of the Agata Shrine, which is known for its strange festival at night.

The company was founded at the dawn of a new era. In Meiji 12 (1879), the second-generation owner Fusakichi Horii submitted a tea named “Matsukaze” at the “1st Tea Manufacturing Competitive Exhibition” held in Yokohama. As that was the first public record of the company’s existence, we designated that year as the year Horii Shichimeien was established as a tea dealer.

Our company name stems from “Okunoyama Tea Garden” that we cultivate with great love and care.

Map of Uji Township and Surrounding Area (Uji City Historical Museum)

There were once seven tea plantations in Uji that were called “Uji Shichimeien” (literally “Seven Tea Plantations in Uji”). It is said that the seven tea plantations were designated by the government during the Muromachi period when Shogun (General) Ashikaga developed a penchant for Uji tea. These outstanding seven tea plantations were also described in a waka (Japanese poem), “Mori Iwai, Umoji Kawashimo Okunoyama Asahi at the foot of mountain, playing the Biwa”, which led to the widespread recognition and reputation of Uji tea.

However, tea plantations on the plains have disappeared one by one due to urbanization in recent times. The only tea plantation that has remained is the Okunoyama Tea Garden on top of the hill, which we at Horii Shichimeien have carefully protected and cultivated since we acquired it in the mid-Meiji period.

Stele "Okunoyama Uji Shichimeien Garden"

This tea plantation that we have continuously cultivated for the past 600 years is the living history of Uji tea. Inheriting the vestiges of six tea plantations that disappeared, our wish is to protect and cultivate the only remaining tea plantation, which is reflected in our company name, “Horii Shichimeien”.

Protecting and cultivating Uji tea together with tea producing areas

Since our founding, we have always worked together with the tea producing areas, of which one example is the “Horii-style tencha dryer” invented by Chojiro Horii, the third-generation owner.

At the beginning of the Meiji period, Uji’s tea industry faced a major crisis; the patronage of the generals and feudal lords had disappeared, and the mechanization of tea production was underway. Yet, most of the matcha, Uji’s specialty, was still manually produced. Chojiro Horii, the third-generation owner, thought about Uji’s future and started to work on mechanizing the production process of tencha, the leaves that are to be ground to make matcha. In Taisho 13 (1924), he finally completed the “Horii-style tencha dryer” after much hard work and painstaking efforts. His dryer allowed the company to produce uniform, high-quality tencha in a short time.

A model of the Horii tencha drying machine
Yamamoto's house (Manufactured in 1926, Horii-style tencha drying machine No. 2)

Chojiro did not monopolize the technique and instead, taught it to other tea producers in the region. The ability to produce a high-quality matcha that is better than the existing products then boosted Uji’s reputation and ushered in a new era. To this day, all the tencha dryers used in Japan now were actually created based on this dryer.

If the tea producing areas do not evolve, we are not able to protect and improve the quality of Uji tea. It is therefore important for us to adopt a two-pronged approach in our work.

The first prong is to handle the entire process ourselves, from growing, manufacturing and processing, to selling the tea. The other prong is to select, process, blend, add the finishing touches, and sell tea purchased from other tea farmers.

In the past, Uji’s tea dealers – like us – owned their own tea plantations and handled everything from production to sales. But as time went by, the division of labor between tea farmers and tea dealers increased, and only a few tea dealers have their own tea plantations now.

At Horii Shichimeien, we are tea growers, tea artisans, and connoisseurs that deliver delicious tea to people. We pride ourselves in delivering something only we can because we are involved in all aspects of Uji tea.

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