Is your tea marine-ey and vegital with a strong mineral note? Than your probably drinking sencha (or stale Chinese green tea). Does it have any small amount of depth or complexity to it at all? Then your probably drinking Gyokuro (or better stale Chinese green tea).
All the (findable) sencha in Japan is machine harvested, machine processed, and machine packed. They may as well advertise “never touched by human hands”. As you can imagine that doesn’t bode well for the quality. The fact that most of the plantations are beside roads and trimmed and picked with diesel powered machines doesn’t help either. Labor and land is far to expensive in japan for the type of eco-gardens of semi-wild tea we enjoyed so much in Korea, or even the small family factory-farms of Taiwan and (some of) China. Tea fields here are perfectly rounded bushes of industrialized agriculture with every town selling to one or two factories. There must be someone out there with a small field hand processing his tea, but we haven’t found him!
Sencha, while not at all new to japan, is a new movement in tea with museums and “ceremonies” now sprouting up throughout japan. It seems that sencha came over to japan from china, obviously much later than powdered tea, and went through the same process of Japanese-ification that all foreign arts here go through.
Sencha uses modified wares from southern china, such as tiny NiLu, tiny teapots (sometimes), and silver or pewter cha tou`s with tiny cups, and they stole much of the pomp and circumstance from chanoyu with modifications; making the tatami rooms large and airy, lightening the mood with landscape calligraphy instead of poetry in the tokonoma, and edging more towards ikebana than cha-bana. Yet much of the ceremonial aspect, cup order, bowing, random cleaning techniques, seems to be modern additions and contrived to lend “something to watch” for the guests. I may be wrong, but I have doubts as too much of the modern practices historical accuracy.
So have I found any Japanese tea I like? Ya, matcha.