Friday, October 31, 2014

Tea: Arriving to Japan

Emperor Saga
Tea is widely drink in East Asia. It traced its roots from the Chinese legendary god, Shennong. But the agent of spreading tea to the neighbors China were Buddhist monks. Japan, in particular, credited a Buddhist monk for the introduction of tea to the archipelago.

The arrival of tea to Japan was said to have happened during the 9th century. Japan under the Heian period saw great influence of Chinese culture. In the late 8th and early 9th century, Buddhism from China had begun to take root in Japan. Japanese monks went to China to study Buddhism and the then returning to Japan to proselytize the religion. The practices they learned from Buddhist monasteries in China would then be done similarly in Japan. Among this practices was tea drinking. It was with Buddhism that tea would spread to Japan.

The story of arrival of tea to Japan began with 805, with the return of two Japanese Buddhist monks in Japan. Saicho was one of the two monks. He went to China in 803 and there he met a fellow Japanese monk, Eichu. Eichu had been longer in China. He stayed and studied Buddhism in the Tang China’s capital, Ch’ang-an for thirty years. There they saw the use of tea to Buddhist monks. The Chinese monks drank tea in order to stay awake during long times of meditation. In 805, both returned to Japan decided to establish a Buddhist monastery, the Sofukuji Temple, close to Lake Biwa. Upon their return, they also brought tea seeds. They planned to continue the practice of tea drinking in their homeland. Hence, they planted the seeds and waited until it became matured. It took five years for the tree to mature and to be utilized. Nevertheless, the long wait was well spent. For the next five years, they had a constant supply of tea leaves to brew and to drink.

Then, in 815, the temple had a very important guests. Emperor Saga, who reigned from 809 to 823, came for a visit to the Sofukuji Temple. The Saicho and Eichu showed great hospitality towards the Emperor. As part of their hospitality, Saicho and Eichu served the Emperor with their tea, brewed from the tea tree that they have. The Emperor did not hesitate to drink the tea in front of him, especially with its natural and fresh aroma. With just one cup of the tea, the Emperor loved it. The Emperor liked it so much that he ordered the planting of tea trees in the provinces near the capital, Heian, Kyoto today. Tea trees were planted in the different provinces such as Omi and Kinai.

The arrival of tea in Japan later developed and became part of their culture. Tea continued to spread after the 9th century. Later on, tea did not just became a drink for monks, but for royalty and for nobles. Soon enough, the famous tea ceremony developed and became part of Japan’s hospitality. Arrival of tea to Japan showed the influence of China to Japanese culture.

See Also:
Discovery of Tea in China
Popularizing Tea in England
Tea in Han Dynasty

Chow, K. & I. Kramer. All the Tea in China. China: China Books and Periodicals, Inc., 1990.

Ishige, N. The History and Culture of Japanese Food. New York: Routledge, 2014.

Soshitsu, S. The Japanese Way of Tea: From Its Origin in China to Sen Rikyu. United States of America: University of Hawaii Press, 1998.

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