Origin of Japanese Tea
Tea drinking has been an integral part of everyday
life in Japan for nearly a thousand years. But it is still a mystery
where the tea plant came from. Some people believe that the tea plant,
camellia sinensis, was brought from China, whereas others believe that
it was also indigenous to Japan. (*1)
What is certain is that people were already growing tea in Japan as
early as the 9th century. "Nihon Koki" (*2),
written in 815 A.D, mentions the growing of tea plants in the Kinki
and Chugoku regions of Japan. This is the first known record of tea
12th to 16th Centuries
Contribution by Eisai
Regardless of whether the plant originated in Japan, the custom of drinking
tea came from China. In 1214 a Buddhist monk, Eisai (1141 - 1215 A.D.),
returned to Japan after having studied Buddhism in China and wrote the
first book on tea called "Kissa Youseiki".
(*3) The book discusses a variety of subjects
related to tea such as how to make "Tencha" or "Maccha"
(see "Tea Varieties & Facts") and the health benefits
of tea. Eisai's book "Kissa Youseiki" made a significant
contribution to the development of tea drinking in Japan and was the
single most influential piece of work on the subject for many years.
A Favorite Pastime
Initially tea was available only to the elite classes such as, Monks,
the Nobility and Samurais, but it quickly spread to the rest of society.
Books written in the mid- to late- 14th century suggest that tea drinking
was becoming a favorite pastime of ordinary people. There is a historical
record that in 1336, during the late Kamakura period, tea parties among
ordinary people became so popular that Shogun Ashikaga banned such parties
as they often became too loud.
16th to 18th Centuries
Development of the Tea Ceremony
By the 16th century the tea ceremony, believed to
stem from tea-drinking etiquette practiced by Buddhist monks, was becoming
an art form. Masters such as Sen no Rikyu and Murata Juko are known
for establishing and perfecting this art. The tea ceremony is a unique
art of serving a cup of tea to your guest(s) using highly choreographed
movements which reflect the spirit of Zen Buddhism. It was fashionable
among the 16th century Samurai warriors to practice the tea ceremony
and today it is one of the most widely practiced of the traditional
art forms, enjoyed by people from all walks of life.
The 18th to 21st Centuries
Creation of Japanese Teas
Although the techniques for growing and making tea
from the tea plant were initially modeled after those of the Chinese,
over the course of history, the Japanese developed their own methods
of growing and making tea which were distinctly Japanese. There are
Sencha, Hojicha, Bancha, Kukicha and Gyokuro to name a few (see "Tea
Varieties & Facts"). Regarding Sencha and Gyokuro, which were
developed relatively recently in history, we know when, where and by
whom they were first produced. In 1738 a tea producer named Soen Nagatani
(*4) in Uji (on
the outskirts of Kyoto) invented "Sencha" which later became
the most popular of all Japanese teas. "Gyokuro", which is
considered the most luxurious, was developed in 1835 by another tea
producer in Uji, Kahei Yamamoto. These superb creations of Uji producers
played a huge role in the development of Japanese teas. Their sophisticated
techniques were adopted by tea producers throughout Japan. As a result,
the popularity of tea spread to an even greater extent among ordinary
people and tea truly became a part of everyday life.
Tea became a major export product after Japan made
trade agreements with the U.S., Russia, England and France in 1858. In
1859, tea represented 20% of all exports to the West. As the demand
for tea grew, production increased. The main trade partner for green
tea, at that time, was the U.S. To further increase the revenue
from the export business, the Japanese government implemented an act
to produce black tea in Southern Japan in 1875. In 1955 the production
of black tea reached its peak of 8.5 tons. But due to the greater affordability
and the superior quality of black teas produced by countries such as
India and Ceylon, the Japanese black tea business began to phase out
in the late 1950's. Production of black tea is almost non-existent in
Since World War Two
The production of tea, which had plummeted during the war, began to
pick up once again a few years after the war was over. Tea export peaked
in 1954 at 17,000 tons and then fell dramatically to 3,700 tons in 1963.
But domestic consumption, particularly of high quality teas, grew steadily
and Japan currently produces roughly 85,000 tons of tea annually, less
than 10% of which is exported.
*1: It is known that Camellia sinensis was indigenous
to China and India (Assam region).
*2: Japanese historical text.
*3: The main message of "Kissa Yoseiki" is "Live longer
by drinking Tea".
*4: The Nagatani company still exists. It produces tea related food
products instead of tea.
||"Ujicha Daisuki" by Kyoto Tea Association publication
||Japan Tea Instructor Association
||"Ocha no Jiten" by Narumidou Press