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History of Japanese tea

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

It is obvious that the origin of Japanese tea is from China. Shen Nong, a god of agriculture, emperor and herbalist in the ancient legend in China. In the story, he uses a tea for anti-doting against the poisonous effects of some herbs. This book is called “ Shennong Ben Cao Jing” the oldest Chinese medicinal book on agriculture and medicinal plants. And in this book, tea is recognised as a top medicine together with the legendary story of Shen Nong. Researchers believe the text is a compilation of oral traditions written between 200 and 250 AD.

It seems that around 8th century, tea was already imported from China to Japan. At that time, they seemed to drink tea through the method of decoction in Japan. But the official record of the use of tea in Japan is on 22nd April 815 AD. It is found in Nihon Koki, Japanese history book. Buddhist monk Eichu offered tea to the Emperor Saga. At that time, only aristocrats and higher monks enjoyed tea but gradually the records of the use of tea had been disappearing. Then this is the monk who brought tea back on track. This is Eisai, and the founder of Rinzai Sect. He brought the tea seeds from China and introduced the way of Matcha-style tea (like ceremonial tea) to Japan. The monks drunk Matcha to overcome the drowsiness during their meditations. This is “Kissa Yojoki” means “Drink tea and prolong Life”. He wrote this book to promote the health benefits of Japanese tea. There is an official government record that the Great General Yoritomo Minamoto recovered immediately after having tea served by Eisai when he was suffered from hang over.

Around 15th century, Juno Murata started the style of Chado (tea ceremony) which was completed by Rikyu Sen who added the idea of Zen to Chado (tea ceremony). Rikyu Sen was appointed as a tea adviser to the most powerful warlords at the time. But eventually he was ordered to kill himself by one of the warlords after their conflicts of tea spirits. Although his career at the top of the tea world was short, his life has been depicted in many novels and films. Even more than 400years after his tragic death, he still has been one of the most respected men in the tea world.

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