The Tasty Tea of Sonogi on Kyushu Island

The Tasty Tea of Sonogi on Kyushu Island

Now that I had successfully made it to the University of Nagasaki, I spent my first two weeks there studying, venturing out on trips inside the city only. Then my husband came to visit, so we hired a car and went to explore the countryside. One of my wish list activities was to taste Sonogi tea and learn more about this growing region just outside Nagasaki.

Generally, having spent six weeks in Nagasaki, I think Kyushu is a wonderful yet really underrated tourist destination. Western Kyushu can easily keep you occupied for two weeks and more, from the vibrant city of Fukuoka, to beaches, mountains, the relaxed city of Nagasaki with its beautiful scenery and volcanoes and hot springs galore.

Let’s start right outside Nagasaki, along  beautiful Omura Bay. After visiting the  Knifesmith of Matsubara, we went up into the hills, admiring the verdant greens of thick forest interspersed with carefully groomed tea plantations.

Where is Higashi Sonogi?

Higashi Sonogi is a small town of about 8000 people in Omura Bay in Western Kyushu and also the name of the surrounding area with its tea plantation which are all higher up than the commercial centre of Sonogi right by Omura Bay. It has a regular train connection to Nagasaki (via Isahaya) and Sasebo. The nearest Shinkansen Stations are either Shin-Omura or Shin-Ureshino, both 10-15km way.

Its location between the maritime Omura Bay and hills steeply rising from sea level, paired with the Southern Japanese temperate subtropical climate,  makes this a good climate for growing tea.

Tea of Sonogi
A countryside view of Higashi Sonogi

Tea of Sonogi

Higashi Sonogi is the largest tea growing region of Nagasaki, accounting for just over half the tea produced in Nagasaki region. There are about 300 families farming tea commercially, from fields near the sea side to the slopes and peaks of the surrounding hill side. The proximity to the sea mineral rich sea air makes tea of Sonogi quite special. Pretty much all tea output is green tea, and traditionally, the tea here gets picked, deeply steamed to prevent oxidation, and dried and sorted and, if necessary, blended.

Many tea growers sell their own brand and blends, and a few have formed cooperatives, of which Forthees is probably the best known – or the one with the most active English language marketing.

The tidy rows of a Sonogi tea garden. Note that the top leaves have been picked already

Our visit to Ooyamaseichaen Tea Gardens

With a car, it was quite easy to pick a tea garden and enjoy the scenery as well. From Matsubara, we drove up a tiny winding countryside  road, where the scenery quickly changed from the suburban houses of Omura Bay to tiny hamlets in dense forests, interspersed with orderly tea gardens. We noticed large electric ventilators hovering over the  rows of tea bushes – they are used in winter time to prevent frost damage to the early new leaves in spring time, by pushing the slightly warmer air back down.

Tea of Sonogi
Brief stop with Ooyamaseichaen in the background


After half an hour of pleasant if somewhat windy-road driving and crossing a plateau, we descend into a little valley and finally our maps led us to Ooyamaseichaen, a family tea producer in a small hamlet, They have a lovely spacious shop-with tea house and were really welcoming.

tea of Sonogi
Lovely cosy Ooyamaseichaen tea shop

After ensuring our car was parked safely, we were ushered in a small seating area amid tea bags and decorations and served a small cup of very herby-bitter tasting tea with a sweet. I loved it, my husband quickly poured his portion into my teacup. He loved going out in the countryside and seeing “how people live” and how the tea is produced, but as much as I tried, he is not a green tea drinker.

Then someone came over and gave us a “menu” in Japanese, meaning all the teas that are currently available, their flavour profile and a price list. We were served some more tea, while we could place an order which was then lovingly assembled and packed. But there is absolutely no pressure to buy. This was a situation where I regretted not speaking more Japanese, because it would have been fairly easy there to learn a lot more about tea, and they were no particularly busy on a week day and quite pleased to see visitors.

Producer-packaged Ooyamaseichaen sencha for sale

So, last not least, we toured the area a bit, admired the unfenced tea fields slowly made our way down the valley and towards Ureshino.

Other tea-centred activities

I really wanted to take part in a tour to learn more about how green tea  is produced and these tours do exist, but you have to book ahead usually.

Some tea farmers offer a homestay through the Higashisonogi Municipality and the Tourism Association, but I found them rather difficult to access.

Sorisso Riso is an old rice storage barn turned into cafe, restaurant and coworking space who have many regional projects going, so if you speak Japanese, they may be able to direct you.

Last not least, Okada Shokai is a long established tea shop in the centre of Higashi Sonogi who do offer tastings and tea ceremonies and possibly tours to their production facilities if given appropriate notice.

Sonogi tea garden by the roadside

A very brief chapter on tea types and brewing Japanese tea

The good thing is, if you visit a tea garden, you will invariably be served the current brew, free of charge, to try and -if you like it- buy.

The tea that Japan is known for and that is served on most occasions, is a green tea called sencha. Usually harvested in full sun, its it picked between April and August, with the earlier harvest considered the most aromatic. During the processing the leaves tend to get steamed, rolled, and dried. Brewed at 60-80 degree Celsius, a good sencha can be brewed 2-3 times and contains about 40mg of caffeine which is about average. For comparison, a serving of espresso coffee contains about 200mg caffeine.

Green tea from my local Nagasaki supermarket – not a bad selection

Above is a selection of green Japanese tea I purchased in my local supermarket before visiting Sonogi. If you happen to visit Nagasaki, the supermarket right by the “Atomic Bomb Museum) tram stop sold these.

On the left, a sencha from Saga prefecture sold under the “Ureshino” location of origin. The brewing temperature is 70-80Celsius.

In the middle, a sencha from the remote Goto Islands with some rather confusing brewing instructions but al brewing temperature of 70-80 Celsius too.

Last not least a Forthees tea of Sonogi blended sencha tea.

Types of tea

Much in fashion recent years it matcha. this is powdered green tea made from shaded, young leaves and the proper “ceremonial” matcha is quite pricey and contains between 130 and 270mg of caffeine. Yes, that’s right – thick matcha is more caffeinated than a shot of espresso. Matcha is made from young specially selected shaded leaves that are ground to a fine powder after steaming and drying. Ceremonial matcha is the frothy bright green tea served in beautiful ceremonial bowls, with the highest level of caffeine and antioxidants, while culinary matcha is much cheaper and used to make matcha flavouring in food and matcha -flavoured drinks.

Sonogi ceremonial grade matcha bought as gifts

Another high quality tea is gyokuro, made from fine young leaves that are shaded prior to harvesting. It is pricey and contains more caffeine than sencha.

Some “fun” teas you may come across and which are super cheap in Japan are hojicha, kukicha, genmaicha and bancha.

Kukicha is also called “twig tea” as its made from small twigs of the tea plant rather than leaves. It has a nutty flavour and very little caffeine.

Hojicha is roasted lower-grade sencha or bancha tea leaves which has a flavour a bit closer to Western style “black” tea.

Genmaicha is a mix of tea leaves and roasted brown rice, sometimes mixed with lower grade matcha and also has a nice roasted deep taste and less caffeine than sencha. Last not least, bancha is a green tea made from the larger tea leaves and is considered an “everyday” green tea with less caffeine than sencha. This type is usually served in restaurants for free in Japan as “ocha” .  The

And the healthiest green tea? If you can deal with the caffeine, that would be matcha, as it contains the highest level of antioxidants.

As for preparation, use soft or filtered water and brew higher quality tea at 60-80 Celsius, and the less expensive ones at 80-90 Celsius. Here is a better guide how to brew Japanese tea properly – I admit I am still in the experimental stages of this and I was mostly a genmaicha drinker who brewed at full whack 100Celsius before coming to Japan.

Established tea garden in the front, with some semi-covered tea plants in the background

Where to buy  Sonogi Tea

If you visit the area, there are at least ten tea shops in Higashisonogi town along the major roads. The tea farms themselves, if you seek them out on a drive through the hills, usually have at least a small shop, if not a tea house for tasting.  Also, supermarkets as far as Nagasaki and Fukuoka will have a decent selection of Higashisonogi teas especially from larger or well-known producers. Expect to pay about 500-800 JPY (3-6 Euro) for a decent sized packet (80-100grams) good quality sencha.

The less premium teas like genmaicha, kukicha and hojicha are often sold in larger packets (200-400grams)  by the producers and cost roughly half to a third of a decent sencha – but prices can vary.

The absolute crown, the ceremonial matcha can be had for as little as 500 JPY for 30-40grams, whereas culinary matcha is ridiculously cheap in Japan, about 70-150JPY.  It is not the most common tea to come out of Higashisonogi and not many tea plantations offer it. If you are lucky, you may find it in supermarkets also. I bought some in Nagasaki from Forthees which is a cooperative, for 500 JPY for a small bag of 30grams.

But the good news is that tea of Sonogi is being exported worldwide now. Formerly just sold under “tea from Nagasaki” or “Ureshino Tea”, the newer generation of tea farmers are keen to market Sonogi tea as a premium brand, often green organically, producing high grade sencha and increasingly, high grade matcha tea as well. It might be worth asking in your local tea shop – my “fancy tea shop” where I sometimes buy actually sells tea from Ooyamaseichaen .

I wanted to have some everyday drinking tea for work where I can just boil the kettle and pour it on.

Hojicha and Genmaicha from Ooyamaseichaen

Above are my cheaper everyday teas I purchased at Ooyamaseichaen.  Firstly, a hojicha (roasted bancha grade green tea). I can’t remember the price, but it wasn’t much.  wanted kukicha (twigs tea) but I got confused with the nomenclature.

The larger bag is a big packet of genmaicha, the green tea mixed with roasted rice and a small amount f matcha. I bought a larger pack because I drink genmaicha a lot.

The rest of my Ooyamaseichaen shopping haul

The other two teas of Ooyamaseichaen. The Hojicha from above got in the picutre again. In the middle, a sencha from a relatively low altitude. On the right, a local blend of tamaryokucha (high-grade tea that gets processed as a leaf and for which Ureshino and Sonogi tea are famous), blended with matcha and roasted rice. This one is good for cold brew as well.

How to get to Higashi Sonogi and where to stay

To be honest, it is best to hire a car for any trips outside larger towns and cities in the region of Nagasaki.

I book the majority of hotels using, but it works well for car hire, too!  I booked a car with Nissan Car Rental. A Nissan, of course, small but comfortable for two of us, very easy to drive. The automatic transmission and strict road rules and speed limits made driving in rural Kyushu a no-brainer. You will need an International Driving Permit (IDP)  to hire and drive a car in Japan unless you have a Japanese Licence. Some people said an official translation of your home licence may work, but an IDP is probably cheaper and more versatile.

Safely installed in the car, it’s about a 45-minute drive from Nagasaki, longer if you take scenic routes to visit tea gardens, which I highly recommend. The town of Sonogi has loads of tea shops along the major roads (Routes 34 and 205) but you need to leave the Nagasaki Expressway at Higashisonogi Interchange.

Higashisonogi, being a small farming town, doesn’t have many accommodations, but I found this very pretty traditional residence right by the Omura Bay y called Saitoyukuba.

Since I was  short-term resident of  Nagasaki, I kept my Nagasaki ryokan room and went on a daytrip.  Our modern Ryokan, the “Relaxing Inn Origami”  was located in a nice neighbourhood yet just 10 minutes walk from the car hire place, and had a garage where we could safely park our hire car  for an extra 500 JPY per night.

If you wish to stay near Nagasaki Airport, Enzo Ikeda is an extremely modern Japanese Inn with a very interesting aesthetic and good pricing.

And of you want the traditional Japanese Ryokan experience and not break the bank, try nearby Ureshino Onsen about 10km away. Taishoya offers Japanese style rooms, a private on-site onsen, all for about 130 Euro accommodation only. If you intend to make a flying visit, Ureshino is on the Shinkansen line but no longer on the regular line to Matsubara, so would take a 5-minute Shinkansen ride from the resorts of Takeo or Ureshino to Shin-Omura and transfer to a local service there. Anyway, I recommend spending more time here – Ureshino has the famous healing water and a relaxing smalltown vibe, it’s a short hop to the tea gardens of Higashi-Sonogi and on to Matsubara and a day trip from Ureshino is very feasible even if using public transport.


I made a little Kyushu Map which I keep adding to over time as I will hopefully publish a few more posts. I have not included places in Nagasaki.  Because that’s a project for another day – there are simply too many places to recommend that I had the pleasure of visiting over six weeks as a student-tourist.

The Small Print

I visited Higashi Sonogi in May 2023 on a trip from Nagasaki. As usual, I paid for everything myself, and I was not asked to write about my visit.  No sponsors, no payment. All savings from working my regular and freelance jobs. There are some affiliate accommodation links to in this post, which means I may earn a small commission if you book using these links. Thank you for reading!

Tea of Sonogi Pin


26 thoughts on “The Tasty Tea of Sonogi on Kyushu Island”

  • Such an insightful article! As an avid tea drinker I’d love to visit the tea plantations in Kyushu. I’ve been to Japan three times and I still haven’t visited this area yet!

  • I appreaciate every part of your content, especially the tutorial on how to brew Japanese tea. I have a Japanese friend here in the Philippines and I will follow your guide to surprise her. In this way, I can make her feel like she’s in her home country.

  • I´m such a tea lover and Japan is on the top of my travel bucket list! hiring a car and exploring Nagasaki would be such a must! thanks for the inspiration

  • This looks like a heavenly way to spend an afternoon! Would love to get to Japan some day. We went to a traditional Chinese tea service when we visited mainland China several years ago and it was amazing 🙂

    • Hi Erin, thank you for your comment! If you love tea, Japan is definitely a great country to visit. Try to visit the ROC (Taiwan) on the way as well!

  • I love Japanese tea and this day out looks just my cup of tea 🙂 Im planning a return trip to Japan next year and I’m putting this on the list. I can’t believe I didn’t do this last time, I drank enough of the tea!!

    • Hi Sarah, thank you for your comment! If you are planning to visit Kyushu, definitely put a tea garden on your itinerary! There are tea gardens everywhere, Yame(Fukuoka), Ureshino, Kumamoto – and these are just the ones near Nagasaki. I love the green tea and bought a bunch and now enjoy my souvenir every night!

  • I really loved this Anja! I am used to the tea plantations near Kyoto and far south in Kyushu, but I have never been to Sonogi. It looks incredible!

    Btw, are you staying in Nagasaki for a while and learning Japanese? I bet you will love everything even more as your Japanese improves! I used to promote Japanese Language education for my non-blog work, so if you need tips/links to websites to help you, please just let me know. I am really excited to see more of your Kyushu adventures!

    • HI Josy, thank you for your comment! No, I did not study Japanese, I did a diploma course at the University of Nagasaki. Since I was a late admission, I didn’t even have time to sign up to a proper Japanese course but Duolingo did a good job for basic Japanese. I lost my heart to Nagasaki, though – being in one place for six weeks really changed my travel style!

      • Ah well! I hope you caught the bug to stay in Japan a bit longer. It is such a fun country to stay for a few months/years!

  • I’m an avid tea drinker so I’d love to experience this firsthand. I can just imagine all of the different blends and varieties offered. I’d definitely purchase a lot to take home with me.

    • Hi Lenore, yes, the tea is quite something in Japan. I started off with the relatively fancy supermarket at my tram stop in Nagasaki, from matcha to the more common sencha, and became a total tea drinker. I bought loads (managed to fill my husbands suitcase with food and tea) and then, returning back via Taiwan , bought some more tea there. Tea time every night at my house now. If you love tea, you will go gaga in Japan.

  • I would love to experience this tea tasting tour in Japan. I hope to visit the country one day. Your photography is spectacular.

    • Hi Terri, Japan is one of my favourite countries ever. I am seriously considering applying for a degree course there which gives me two or three trips there a year. Of course, I do not need the degree but I need to return to Nagasaki. I really loved it

  • I’ve visited a tea plantation in Mauritius and did the tea-tasting there. It was quite interesting and I’d love to visit the Japanese one too, when I get to Japan some day.

    • Hi Sara, thank you for commenting! Since I got a water filter, I have gotten more into tea, and I think visiting tea plantations will now be a holiday activity wherever possible!

  • I never realised Japan produced so much tea! But I guess they need to for all the tea ceremonies! How cool you got to visit the region and see the tea growing for yourself.

    • Hi Sharyn, the tea ceremonies are just the tip of the iceberg! I never visited one *hangs head in shame* but green or oolong tea is everywhere, even as a soft drink in the vending machines and convenience stores!

    • Hi Ankrati, thank you for your comment! It wasn’t so well publicised, but one of my class mates even did a organised tour and some tea picking! I certainly drank a lot of the local tea in my six weeks in Nagasaki, its grown quite widely in Kyushu

  • Didnt know about such beautiful tea garden in Nagasaki. Thanks for introducing me to the other side of the city that’s only recall value for many is a disaster. What a beautiful guide to the tea culture of japan

    • Hi Sinjana, thank you for your nice comment! I spent six weeks in Nagasaki and it quickly grew on me as a beautiful small city. There are reminders of the bomb everywhere, yet, like Hiroshima, it’s a thriving cheerful city with moderate tourism

  • I didn’t realise Japan produced so much tea. It looks like a really lovely area. Thanks for an introduction to the tea growing area in Japan and a little bit of Japanese culture.

    • Hi Maryanne, thank you four your comment! I believe the Japanese produce most of their tea for consumption and then export some! Green Japanese tea is ubiquitous, and Kyushu has quite large areas dedicated to tea growing, and is getting some more international recognition. Brewed right with filtered water, the tea really is delicious

  • This is really informative! I’m visiting Japan this fall and while I don’t think I will be able to make it to Nagasaki, I definitely want to have a traditional Japanese tea garden experience.

    • Hi Taylor, thank you for your comment! Kyushu is actually not the most famous tea growing region in Japan, but a worthwhile one! If you are near Kyoto, I highly recommend a visit to Uji, where Japan’s most famous tea comes from. Hope you have a wonderful trip to Japan!

Leave a Reply