Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Sunday, February 13, 2022

The History of the Japanese Tea Ceremony

We haven't had an article about tea in ages. Below is an excerpt that appeared at Japanese History and Culture regarding the history of the Japanese Tea Ceremony. The full post may be read here. Enjoy.

History of the Japanese Tea Ceremony

Drinking of green tea was known in China from the fourth century. Tea plants didn’t grow in Japan until the first seeds were brought from China during the Tang dynasty (China 618-907), when relations and cultural exchanges between the two countries reached a peak.

In the eighth century the first mention of a formal ceremony involving the drinking of tea is found. However, at this time, it probably didn’t look much like the tea ceremony we know these days. Also, during the eighth century a Chinese Buddhist priest wrote a book on the proper method of preparing tea. The book was called “Cha Ching” and taught the correct temperature of hot water and the use of tea vessels. It is said that today’s style of the tea ceremony evolved largely through the influence of this book.

During the Nara period (Japan 710-794) tea plants were grown in Japan and mainly consumed by priests and noblemen as medicine. Toward the end of the Tang dynasty in China, the drinking of tea was going through a transformation from medicine to beverage, but due to deteriorating relations between the two countries this transformation did not reach Japan till much later. The Japanese were forced to mold and cultivate their own traditions and culture around the tea. Tea was a rare and valuable commodity from the Nara period to the Heian period (794-1192) so rules and formalities were based on this concept. Had tea been native to Japan or more readily available, it is almost certain that the tea ceremony would not have been created.

Kamakura period in Japan.

In 1187 Myoan Eisai, a Japanese priest, traveled to China to study philosophy and religion. When he came back, he became the founder of Zen Buddhism and build the first temple of the Rinzai sect. It is said that he was the first one to cultivate tea for religious purposes, unlike others before him who grew tea for medicinal use only. He was also the first to suggest and teach the grinding of tea leaves before adding hot water. A Sung emperor named Hui Tsung, referred to a bamboo whisk used to whisk the tea after hot water was poured over it in his book Ta Kuan Cha Lun (A General View of Tea). These two methods formed the basis for the tea ceremony as we know it today.

Some hostility was created among monks who didn’t like Eisai’s newly introduced religious ideas which he had imported, but the Kamakura shogunate, who were among his first converts, helped him succeed in enlisting protection. In 1211, Eisai was the first to write a treatise on tea in Japan. In his treatise, Kissa Yojoki (Tea drinking is good for health) Eisai suggested that the drinking of tea had certain health benefits and cures for; loss of appetite, paralysis, beriberi, boils and sickness from tainted water. According to him it was a cure for all disorders, so this perhaps was the main reason that the Tea Ceremony gained such popularity.


No comments: