Japanese Tea culture | Traditional Japanese lifestyle


Japanese Tea forms Our culture and society

Tea is an indispensable part of Japanese culture, especially when discussing food culture. In some countries, the word “tea” refers to black tea, but in Japan, it is more like green tea or bancha, which is traditionally a different kind of tea from black tea. Tea is the drink that sustains Japan. Although preferences vary from individual to individual, it is hard to find someone whose main daily drink is not tea. If you go to a convenience store in Japan, you will probably be surprised at the variety of teas they sell.

One of my American friends asked me, “You’re not a tea sommelier, how can you tell all the different flavors?” It’s true that I can’t guess all the brands, but I can clearly tell the difference in taste and flavor. For example, even in the same category of green tea, the bitterness, aftertaste, flavor and taste are completely different. I grew up in Kyoto, an area with a strong tea culture, so I may be more sensitive to the taste than most Japanese. However, most Japanese people have a sense of taste that allows them to feel the difference between teas, albeit to different degrees. If you have Japanese friends, ask them, “There are so many teas in Japanese convenience stores, do you know the difference in taste?

History and Development of Japanese Tea

Tea itself was introduced to Japan from a place in what is now China. (China was not yet in existence at that time :China established in 1949) Originally, tea leaves were largely used as medicinal herbs in the continent at that time. However, by the time it was offered to Japan as tribute, it was a special drink for the upper class as a luxury item. As it was a gift, it was difficult to obtain in Japan. As a result, it became popular in Japan as a beverage that only the upper class of nobles and aristocrats sipped when socializing. However, as tea leaves were gradually cultivated in Japan and the manufacturing method was established, tea became the main drink of the common people. Nowadays, there are high-grade tea leaves, but ordinary tea leaves have been not expensive. It was only expensive because of its value as an imported product, so as soon as it started to be cultivated in Japan, it became a familiar drink for the common people.

Kamakura period –  (1192-1392)

Eisai wrote the first book on tea in this period, “Tea and Health”, and explained the benefits of tea. In the 10th century, tea began to be cultivated at Takayama Temple in Kyoto. This is believed to be the oldest tea garden. By the end of the Kamakura period (1185-1333), tea had spread to the east and west of Japan. At this time, tea spread to temples and also to the samurai class as a tool for socializing. In addition, “tea fighting,” in which people drank tea to predict its origin, took place.

Muromachi – Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1336-1603)

Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408) gave special patronage to Uji tea, which was passed on to Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598), and the Uji tea brand was formed. At this time, undercover cultivation in which shielding tea leaf from sunlight began in Uji, and high-grade tea leaves for commercial use were grown.

Edo Period (1603-1868)

Chanoyu (tea ceremony) was officially incorporated into the rituals of the Edo shogunate and became an indispensable part of samurai society. On the other hand, records from the Edo period show that tea as a beverage was popular among the general public. The tea that was drunk by the common people was not matcha(green tea), but roasted (boiled) tea leaves that had been processed in a simple way.

Meiji era – early Showa era (1868-)

During this period, collective tea gardens began to form on flat land. The farmers began to inherit the tea gardens instead of aristocrats. The formation of tea plantations influenced the development of distribution, the fostering of middlemen and tea wholesalers, the invention of various machines, and the establishment of related industries centered on the tea industry.

Japanese tea

The History of Tea is the History of Teacups

Japan is a country with many traditional teacup crafts. The reason for this is that the teacup has always been an important part of the tea ceremony along with the tea. In some eras, the teacups were flamboyant and majestic, symbolizing wealth; in other eras, they were dignified and solemn, symbolizing the spirit of Zen. As Japanese people around the nation have enjoyed the culture of tea, distinctive teacups were manufactured in each region and today they remain as traditional crafts.

Today, there are more types of materials such as glass and plastic, but the history of the teacup began with ceramics. Teacups are excellent with tea because they retain heat well. It is true that you can see the color of the tea better with clear glass, and plastic is more durable and less likely to break if dropped, but teacups are definitely more comfortable in the hand. Nowadays, you can enjoy a variety of colors and patterns from a wide range of pottery types, and there are also a lot of products with improved shapes that are easier to hold and more comfortable to use. The history of the teacup will continue to be engraved in the future, as it continues to evolve with the development of technology.

Japanese tea cup
Otani-ware tea & coffee cup

In fact, many of the traditional crafts I introduced before has various teacup line-ups. To begin with, there are very few traditional crafts as ceramics that do not produce teacups. That is how essential the teacup is to the Japanese people, as well as the culture that allows people to choose the teacup that best suits their individual tastes. I’d like to take the time to recommend a few teacups. If they fit your orientation, please check them out.

Japanese tea cup
Tea cup with traditional craftsmanship

Medical effect now focused

Tea is at the center of Japanese people’s lives. We  drink it every day as a matter of course, but various studies have shown that it is also highly effective for our health. Research says that ingredients of tea control blood sugar levels, prevent obesity, and control blood pressure. Even we Japanese are not always aware of its effects on a daily basis. However, it is clear that there are fewer lifestyle-related diseases in Japan than in the rest of the world. There is no doubt that dietary habits have a great impact on this. I feel that tea, as a part of this, can contribute to our health as well as our lives. Wouldn’t you like to incorporate Japanese tea and teacups into your life?

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