Shimada, Home of Sugimoto
Where the Sugimoto Story Begins
In June 2021, I (Kyohei Sugimoto, the U.S. office president) returned to Japan for my visa renewal and spent 2 months at my hometown, Kanaya in the Shizuoka prefecture. Merged into Shimada City in 2005, Kanaya is where the Sugimoto family originated. The Sugimoto headquarters are still located there, I was born there, and my entire life until I was 18 years old was spent there.
Just like other young fellows growing up in the countryside, I dreamt of going to college in the city and ended up going to college in Chiba Prefecture, located next to Tokyo, in 1999. Since then, I haven’t come back to Shimada very often, especially after coming to the U.S. This time I returned with my family, stayed in the small town (we couldn’t travel due to Covid), and re-discovered the beauties of the Shimada city.
Now that I’m back in the U.S., I wanted to reflect on what I learned and introduce the hometown of Sugimoto to our fans.
History of Shimada and Kanaya
There was a famous coastal route called Tokaido that went from Tokyo to Osaka in ancient times and people were constantly traveling between the two major cities. The route was well established in the Edo era with 57 rest stations and rest areas built for travelers. At that time, Shimada was the 23rd station and Kanaya was the 24th.
Shimada and Kanaya are separated by a large river, named the Oi River. At the time the area was under the control of the Tokugawa Shogunate, which forbade the construction of a bridge or ferry system that could cross the river when waters were high. These high waters stranded people on either side of the river. They needed to stay in these stations until the waters lowered and the river could be crossed. This made the area as prosperous as Tokyo, with people constantly moving in and out of the area. The Sugimoto family originated in the Kanaya town on the west side of Oi River.
I was born in Kanaya and spent my life there until I graduated from high school. Tea fields are everywhere in the area, and I could see tea farmers working on fields from my bedroom window. When I was in elementary school, I played with my friends by gathering tea nuts. Yes, tea trees bloom and have nuts in fall. This fact seemed normal to me, but being surrounded by tea fields was nothing special in Kanaya. When I first visited Tokyo, I remember being surprised because there were no tea fields. I was thinking that the entire country was exactly like the town I grew up in.
When spring comes to Shimada, the tea fields change color to bright green, and the city is fragranced by aroma of tea steaming. My father often said “if you smell this, you will live a long life” when I was younger. During the busy springtime harvest, I went to the tea factory and helped my parents, but not very often. For a small kid, the tea factory wasn’t very exciting.
My grandfather, Zenichi Sugimoto, a founder of Sugimoto Tea, was always very nice to me. He remained working in the tea factory until his later years. Every time I visited the factory, he took me to a small neighborhood store and bought me snacks. Watching TV with grandpa and sleeping over at his house were my favorite memory.
When I returned to my childhood home recently, it was with my wife and two kids. This was their first month-long stay in Shimada, so we visited as many places as possible even if we couldn’t travel much due to Covid. While in Shimada, I traced back through my memory and found many of my favorite stores were still there. My life has changed drastically in the past 20 years, but I was glad to see not many things are changing in the Shimada city.
I hope that in the future, Shimada can continue the traditional methods of tea farming and that my family can enjoy the area for many more years to come.