We talked a little about tea and Japan when we had a discussion about the role of tea in the Buddhist religion. This is because the spread of Zen Buddhism from China to Japan in the 7th and 8th centuries precipitated the spread of tea drinking along with it because the two practices and ideas were inseparable by then. Thus, the infusion of tea culture into the country of Japan began with this fateful spread of culture into the sea-steeped culture.
Originally, the drink began, as it did in most places, as a medicinal liquid available to priests and noblemen in small amounts. Within a couple of centuries, though, it began to filter into the culture properly and gained momentum as a cultural hallmark. In the 1100’s, Eisai, who we have previously discussed, founded the sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism, as well as founded the original customs that are performed in the famous tea ceremonies of Japan today, although they have perhaps undergone refinement since then. It was also during this time that cultivation of tea in Japan began to get serious.
A couple of centuries later in the Muromachi period in Japan, tea gained popularity with all social classes and became part of everyday life for most people and it fostered social gatherings among many to appreciate and discover tea with friends. Smaller parties with a more spiritual tone arose too, which further established the tea ceremonies into popular culture in Japan. I will write a separate post about tea ceremonies and traditions soon; for now I just want to discuss cultural significance of tea in Japan.
A time has passed, tea has become the most consumed drink in Japan, and is permanent and prominent fixture in the food culture of the country. The most well-known cultivation areas for tea in Japan are Uji, Shizuoka, and Kagoshima, and many types of green tea are processed and refined in the country that are popular globally. There are some black teas and other additions commonly added by Japanese tea makers. For more information about the individual types of tea you might find in Japan, visit this site.
In the meantime, I think I’ll just enjoy a nice cup of Sencha Green tea.