The achievements of “Tea Saint OTANI Kahee” are not limited to the tea industry.

I’m going to introduce the life of OTANI Kahee, who devoted himself to the tea industry and Japan, sometimes even investing his own money.

The life of OTANI Kahee, a great businessman of the Meiji period who played an active role on the world stage.

Birth to adolescence

OTANI Kahee was born in 1845 in what is now Matsusaka City, Mie Prefecture. At the age of 19, Kahei started working for the tea trade company,“Iseya” in Yokohama (just south of Tokyo) run by OGURA Tohee.

Kahee was adopted by Iseya as his work was recognized, but he couldn't agree with his adoptive father and separated from him.

After that, Kahee worked for Smith & Baker Company as a tea buyer and head of overseas trading.

Adolescent to mature age

He changed his childhood name from Tokichi to Kahee at the age of 23.

While working for Smith & Baker, he opened “Tomoeya”, his own company in Yokohama.

He would improve the company's performance and increase his influence on the tea industry.

In addition, he also worked to improve the quality of tea when it declined due to the rapid increase in tea exports.

He established the Central Tea Industry Headquarters in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce to oversee the tea industry throughout the country.

He was also active in politics and held prominent positions in the tea and trade industries.

Mature to late life

At the age of 49, he founded Japan Seicha Co., Ltd. and started direct export transactions without going through the foreign trading houses.

After that, he opened branch offices overseas with government support. Around the same time, he became the president of the Yokohama Chamber of Commerce.

At the World Commerce Congress in Philadelphia in 1899, he met with the President of the United States of America as the representative of Japan. He petitioned for the elimination of tariffs on tea and proposed laying a “Transpacific cable”.

He was active in politics and business until his last years, and died in 1933 at the age of 90.

Achievement of OTANI Kahee

A man called “The Tea Saint”

A 19 years old with foresight

When Kahee was 13 years old, the Japan-US Friendship and Trade Treaty was signed.

Japanese green tea has grown to meet the tastes of foreigners, and its export value has increased year by year, becoming the second largest export product after raw silk.

Raised in Ise (Mie Prefecture), a tea production area, Kahei grew up with a sense of its potential.

At the age of 19, Kahei works for “Iseya”, a tea trade company in Yokohama run by a man from his neighboring village.

Kahee was convinced of the “tea's potential” in his teens and decided to be involved in the tea industry. It can be said that Kahee had “foresight”.

A 23-year-old in a big game

Kahee was ordered to buy tea that was in short supply due to a sudden increase in demand, and he went to Osaka.

Just by looking at tea samples, he boldly purchased about 4 tons of tea.It is said that they spent about 10.4 billion yen.

At that time, all the transactions were done in cash, so he had a large safe at the entrance of the hotel where he stayed in.

It is said that so many spectators rushed to see a rare sight.

After earning large money, he opened “Tomoeya”, his own tea company in Yokohama while working for Smith & Baker.

This episode illustrates Kaibei's daring as a businessman.

Further activities

Kahee made a great contribution to the tea industry, education, and bridge building of his hometown, Ise. Thanks to the power of Kahee, many Ise teas were exported overseas, enriching the local economy.

Moreover, Kahee’s activities did not stop even in his later years.

He served as the chairman of the Japan Foreign Trade Association, president of several banks, and was involved in the establishment of Taiwan Railway Company, South Manchuria Railway Company, the Bank of Korea, Joban Life Insurance Company, and Kawamata Electric Company.

He received the Silver Medal with Yellow Ribbon, Order of the Sacred Treasure (the Fifth class), Order of the Sacred Treasure (the Third class), the Medal with Dark Blue Ribbon, and the Order of Leopold I from Belgium.

The variety of his activities and the number of medals he received allow us to see how active Kahee was.

International contribution

At the World Commerce Congress in Philadelphia in 1899, he met with the President of the United States of America as the representative of Japan.

Kahee appealed directly to the President for the elimination of tariffs on Japanese tea carried out from the previous year.

As a result, the tariff was abolished and tea exports increased again.

Furthermore, in order for the Japanese tea industry to compete in the world, it was necessary to have a means of information transmission on overseas situations promptly, so he proposed laying cables under the Pacific Ocean and contributed to the development of infrastructure.

Understanding of new initiatives

When Kahee was the chairman of the Central Chamber of the Tea Industry, a tea farmer was struggling to “variety development of tea” without gaining the understanding of the people around him.

Recognizing the need for “variety development of tea”, Kahee invested his private funds to purchase the land and offered it as a test site to encourage the project.

That tea farmer was SUGIYAMA Hikosaburo, the father of “Yabukita”, which currently accounts for 80% of tea production in Japan.

Kahee who contributed privately to the development of tea varieties that no one understood, can be said to be another father of Yabukita.

More you know the great businessman of the Meiji period, “The Tea Saint OTANI Kahee” who played an active role in Japan and the world, more you find exciting stories of Japanese tea.

January 08, 2023