Despite his success as a doctor, TAKABAYASHI Kenzo devoted his life to inventing tea processing machines. I’m going to introduce his eventful life.

About TAKABAYASHI Kenzo "Father of the tea processing machine"

From the world of Medicine to Tea

At the age of 16, Kenzo aspired to become a medical doctor. He studied Chinese medicine and Western surgery, and was successful as a doctor.

However, worrying about the trade imbalance at that time (the Meiji period), he started to run a tea farm, saying “promotion of tea is an urgent task”.

In order to improve the efficiency of tea cultivation and production, which were done entirely by hands at the time, he decided to mechanize the process and began developing tea production machines at his own expense.

Later, he invented and patented “tea roasting machine”, “raw tea leaf steamer” and “tea leaf rubbing machine”.

From adversity to death

Kenzo’s ultimate goal was to automate the entire process. At the age of 54, he quit his job as a doctor and focused on development of the tea processing machine.

“The independent tea processing machine” was finally completed, but it was found to be defective and products manufactured by this machine were returned.

As a result, he faced financial hardship, but he continued to develop without yielding, At the age of 68, he completed “tea leaf rolling machine" and obtained the patent.

After that, he lived in Shizuoka as an auditor for the machine, but passed away in 1899 due to a cerebral hemorrhage.

The achievements of TAKABAYASHI Kenzo

The first civilian to receive a patent

The Japanese patent system started around the same time when Kenzo developed “raw tea leaf steamer”, “tea roasting machine” and “tea leaf rubbing machine” one after another.

Kenzo immediately applied for patents, and each machine obtained a “Patent No. 2,3, and 4”.

The first Japanese patent was for a warship paint invented by an engineer of the Imperial Household Ministry, so Kenzo became the first civilian inventor to obtain a patent in Japan.

In addition, he obtained Patent No. 60 for an improved electric fan, Patent No. 150 for a tea leaf rolling machine, and Patent No. 3301 for a tea leaf roughly rolling machine. Kenzo was a brilliant inventor with six patents.

Setback and failure of the independent tea processing machine

Kenzo quit his job as a doctor and devoted himself to the development of “the independent tea processing machine”. He completed it in 1887.

At first, with the support of the government, briefing sessions were held for tea companies in Japan, and orders flooded in.

However, complaints arose one after another, and even products manufactured by this machine were returned due to defects.

In addition, this is followed by the misfortune of losing his house in a fire.

At the discretion of the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce, he set up a tea factory for research, but the finance of the family was in a difficult situation.

Despite a suffering from a lung disease, Kenzo continued his efforts toward machine development.

Invention of the tea leaf rolling and drying machine

Kenzo is said to be “father of the tea processing machine”.

“Tea tea leaf roughly rolling machine” has greatly changed the working style of the tea industry.

Kenzo's machine is a wonderful invention whose principle and structure are still used in tea making machines all over Japan.

Furthermore, considering that tea was a major export at the time, it was a big invention that could be described as “contributed to the Japanese economy”.

Japanese tea industry | Before and after mechanization

The tea industry before mechanization

At present, fresh leaves picked in tea gardens are as follows: steamer →roughly rolling machine→ rolling machine→ middle rolling machine → fine rolling machine → drying machine. Then they are commercialized.

Before mechanization, this process was done entirely by hands, so each artisan could only produce 3 to 5 kg of tea a day.

As a result, the production of tea continues to be unable to keep up with the increase in tea exports, resulting in a surge in inferior products.

The mechanization of tea production was an urgent task for Japan.

The post-mechanization tea industry

Kenzo's goal of “mechanisation” was to achieve the same quality as hand rolling, while at the same time mass-producing at low cost.

Unfortunately, Kenzo was not able to automate the entire process, but he contributed greatly to the labor saving of the under-rolling work.

The production volume was less than 10,000 tons at the beginning of the Meiji period (1868-1912), but by the end of the Meiji, it exceeded 30,000 tons.

Kenzo aimed to be a machine that faithfully imitated the human handiwork, so the quality of tea did not deteriorate.

As proof of this, a comparison of OISHI Otozo, the best tea-maker in Japan and Kenzo's “tea leaf rolling machine” showed that the machine was superior in both efficiency and quality.

There was an episode that OISHI Otozo himself bought this machine.

The more you know about the life of TAKABAYASHI Kenzo, the more you would appreciate the beauty of “tea leaves”.

January 08, 2023