Matcha is a big deal here in the San’in region, especially in what used to be the Izumo province, and especially in the city of Matsue. It’s too cold here to grown tea, but they certainly get their fill of it.

As many people know, tea practically flows like water in this country, and being offered tea when you visit someone is a pretty standard form of hospitality all throughout Japan. However, in daily life in most places, this means something more along the lines of sencha, or a steeped tea. That said, there are many very fine grades of steeped tea, many of which I am quite a fan of. However, in this region, you frequently find people offering you matcha–it’s as if you just haven’t been offered tea until you’ve been offered matcha (unliked steeped tea, very high grade tea leaves raised specifically for matcha use are ground into a powder and consumed along with the water–as you would expect, it is generally more expensive than steeped tea).

This is not only my observation; Japanese people visiting from other regions have been just as surprised to see matcha where they expected to be served sencha.

It’s very easy to attribute the regional fondness for tea to Lord Matsudaira Fumai-ko, but I have heard a couple of suggestions for why it has remained so popular: the people here had extra money from the iron industry and ginseng industry, and because this region is so isolated from the rest of the country by the Chuugoku mountain range they’re a lot slower to change their ways, and old habits tend to develop more without so much outside influence. That’s not to say there aren’t serious coffee lovers here and the typical selection of vending machines, just that matcha remains a standard part of life (even the toddlers are frequent drinkers).

That said, the Izumo-based culture doesn’t always spread through the entire region. When I was talking about etiquite with a Kansai-area man who works all throughout Shimane, he stressed that the people in Izumo resemble people in Kyoto when it comes to being the most thickly mannered of the already rather indirect Japanese populous. He illustrated as follows:

A person from the Iwami region (western Shimane) goes to visit a friend in the Izumo region (eastern Shimane). The Izumo friend asks, “Do you want another cup of tea?” and the Iwami friend replies, “no thank you, I’ve had enough.” The Izumo friend then prepares another cup of tea, and the Iwami friend is surprised and then forces himself to drink it so as to be polite.

A person from the Izumo region goes to visit a friend in the Iwami region. The Iwami friend asks, “Do you want another cup of tea?” and the Izumo friend replies, “no thank you, I’ve had enough.” The Iwami friend pours no more tea, and the Izumo friend sadly wonders why he isn’t getting another cup of tea but says nothing so as to be polite.

In my personal experience, there have been many, many more cups of matcha than I ever blatantly intended.

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