In our increasingly connected society, it's easy to forget about the makers that exist offline—the artists and creators who spend their days working on traditional crafts and techniques rather than building an e-commerce site or paying for ads.
Under the watchful eye of Mount Fuji in Japan’s Shizuoka Prefecture, the Masuda family has been delicately tending to their organic tea farm for generations.
“With the average age of tea farmers being over 60 and little incentive for a younger generation to take over, the traditional Japanese tea trade is at a critical juncture.”
Before ‘organic’ farming became a trend, the family’s patriarch, Yoshimitsu Masuda, took a stand against the chemical companies, choosing to go through the long process of converting all his tea fields to organic cultivation. Each plant is tended to delicately, and when they find harmful insects on their crop, Yoshimitsu and his family remove them by hand, one-by-one.
The Masudas are seemingly the perfect representation of Japanese tea culture—one of care, dedication, and respect for the land. But unfortunately, in today’s economy, families like the Masudas are struggling to stay afloat.
Despite its vast popularity, 98% of tea grown in Japan stays in the country. And that stat isn’t just hard on the foreign tea drinkers who are missing out on the bulk of the country’s amazing leaves.
The Masudas are one of thousands of Japnese tea farmers who are dealing with the ever-increasing shift towards convenience. In the past few years, the trend has moved away from small tea producers and ornate ceremonies and towards bottled green tea alternatives—often made from sub-par product.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, there were 59,248 tea farmers in 1995. 15 years later, that number dropped by almost half.
With the average age of tea farmers being over 60 and little incentive for a younger generation to take over, the traditional Japanese tea trade is at a critical juncture.
“There’s a major problem here,” explains Suil Hong, the founder of Japanese tea importer Nodoka. “These farmers cannot speak English. They cannot use any technology like Skype or email. They have a great product with a long history, but they just aren’t able to sell it outside of the country.”
Born in Tokyo, Suil spent the last few years travelling between Japan and New York, helping to promote Japanese cultural products to an international audience.
It was on one of these trips home, travelling through his country’s beautiful rural landscapes, where he met the Masudas and a new passion was born.
Suil wanted to bring the Masudas’ tea to the masses.
Giving a voice to the voiceless
Back in America, Suil started a new company, Nodoka, with the mission to help empower smaller Japanese producers to compete in a world dominated by big brands and wholesalers.
But in order to compete with the big boys, Suil knew that he’d have to create his own brand that would stand out and get noticed—one that was simple and memorable, yet captured the authenticity of the products they were selling.
He wanted to evoke images of the traditional tea ceremony and settled on the name Nodoka, which means ‘calm’ and ‘peaceful’ in Japanese. To match this symbolic name, Suil needed to craft the perfect logo that would capture those same feelings quickly and visually.
After searching online for a designer to partner with, he came across Crew and we connected him with Charles, a Montreal-based art director and designer with a background working with food and beverage companies.
Charles had recently been working as the art director for an organic cold-pressed juice company so he was already aware of the challenges Suil might face when developing his brand (higher quality product, higher price point, different segment of the market).
Suil’s brief was open, only saying that the logo should be simple and clean while representing the organic nature of their product.
Charles began with some market research, looking at the traditional, more classic aesthetic of Japanese culture and then moving slowly towards a more contemporary image that utilized bold characters and simple icons.
With the moodboard in place, Charles came to Suil with a number of options for how to represent the brand.
After much deliberation, it was a combination of the three tea leaves encased in a clean, simple circle and the all-caps logotype that stuck with Suil.
The Nodoka brand was born.
Bringing the farmers to market
The story of tea in Japan is the story of two very different cultures: the slow and caring old-world craftspeople, and the fast, always-on consumers.
Yet, despite their vast differences, without the other, each of these cultures will lose something important.
With Nodoka’s new logo and brand, Suil is helping to connect traditional tea farmers like the Masudas with the rest of the world—taking them into the new, connected economy, while helping to preserve their craft.
Want to pick up some delicious, organically farmed green tea from Nodoka? Check out their new site here. And if you’re looking to bring your brand to life, get in touch and we’ll connect you with a designer like Charles.
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