Monday, March 13, 2023

History of tea in Japan

Japan's history of tea begins around the early 9th century. Japan was introduced to tea by Saichō, a returning Buddhist priest residing in China at the time of the discovery. While studying in China, Saichō discovered tea and brought back seeds from Tang China to grow at his monastery.

Over time, other monks followed suit, and soon small tea plantations sprouted up at secluded monasteries. However, Japan's true tea culture only really started when the monk Eisai (1141-1215) brought back tea-tree seeds from a pilgrimage to China.

Eisai’s zen lifestyle and ideas definitely contributed to the ideas of the Japanese tea ceremony, and they are still a key part of this ceremony almost a thousand years later.

At first, the custom of drinking of tea was not associated with the common people. Tea was used as a kind of medicine and in upper social class affairs.

In the early Heian Period, Emperor Saga is said to have encouraged the drinking and cultivation of tea in Japan. Tea drinking was first referred to in Japanese literature in 815 in the Nihon Koki (Later Chronicles of Japan), recording that Eichu invited Emperor Saga to Bonshakuji temple, where he was served tea.

Tea was immediately embraced by Japanese society and resulted in the creation of the intricate Japanese Tea Ceremony, elevating tea to an art form.

The first export of tea from Japan was in 1610 by the Dutch East India Company from Hirado, Nagasaki. The shipment of Japanese tea (pot-roasted tea, such as Ureshino) was sent to Europe.

In 1738, Soen Nagatani created the steaming method for green tea that is still being used to this day, to capture the freshness of the tea leaves. Even in 2018, this method is still widely practiced all around the world.

With the opening of the Yokohama trading port in 1859, tea became a commodity of daily use. Production of tea increased rapidly to about 24 million kg by the closing year of the 19th century.
History of tea in Japan

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