Japanese Tea Ceremony - History

History

The first documented evidence of tea in Japan dates to the 9th century, when it was taken by the Buddhist monk Eichū (永忠) on his return from China. The entry in the Nihon Kōki states that Eichū personally prepared and served sencha (unground Japanese green tea) to Emperor Saga who was on an excursion in Karasaki (in present Shiga Prefecture) in the year 815. By imperial order in the year 816, tea plantations began to be cultivated in the Kinki region of Japan. However, the interest in tea in Japan faded after this.

In China, tea had already been known, according to legend, for more than a thousand years. The form of tea popular in China in Eichū's time was "cake tea" (団茶, dancha?)—tea compressed into a nugget in the same manner as Pu-erh. This then would be ground in a mortar, and the resulting ground tea mixed together with various other herbs and/or flavourings.

The custom of drinking tea, first for medicinal, and then largely also for pleasurable reasons, was already widespread throughout China. In the early 9th century, Chinese author Lu Yu wrote The Classic of Tea, a treatise on tea focusing on its cultivation and preparation. Lu Yu's life had been heavily influenced by Buddhism, particularly the Zen–Chán school. His ideas would have a strong influence in the development of the Japanese tea ceremony.

Around the end of the 12th century, the style of tea preparation called "tencha" (点茶?), in which powdered matcha was placed into a bowl, hot water added, and the tea and hot water whipped together, was introduced to Japan by Eisai, another monk, on his return from China. He also took tea seeds back with him, which eventually produced tea that was of the most superb quality in all of Japan.

This powdered green tea was first used in religious rituals in Buddhist monasteries. By the 13th century, when the Kamakura Shogunate ruled the nation and tea and the luxuries associated with it became a kind of status symbol among the warrior class, and there arose tea-tasting (ja:闘茶, tōcha?) parties wherein contestants could win extravagant prizes for guessing the best quality tea—that grown in Kyoto, deriving from the seeds that Eisai brought from China.

The next major period in Japanese history was the Muromachi Period, pointing to the rise of Kitayama Culture (ja:北山文化, Kitayama bunka?), centered around the gorgeous cultural world of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and his villa in the northern hills of Kyoto (Kinkaku-ji), and later during this period, the rise of Higashiyama Culture, centered around the elegant cultural world of Ashikaga Yoshimasa and his retirement villa in the eastern hills of Kyoto (Ginkaku-ji). This period saw the budding of what is generally regarded as Japanese traditional culture as we know it today.

The Japanese tea ceremony developed as a "transformative practice", and began to evolve its own aesthetic, in particular that of "wabi-sabi". "Wabi" represents the inner, or spiritual, experiences of human lives. Its original meaning indicated quiet or sober refinement, or subdued taste "characterized by humility, restraint, simplicity, naturalism, profundity, imperfection, and asymmetry" and "emphasizes simple, unadorned objects and architectural space, and celebrates the mellow beauty that time and care impart to materials." "Sabi," on the other hand, represents the outer, or material side of life. Originally, it meant "worn," "weathered," or "decayed." Particularly among the nobility, understanding emptiness was considered the most effective means to spiritual awakening, while embracing imperfection was honoured as a healthy reminder to cherish our unpolished selves, here and now, just as we are - the first step to "satori" or enlightenment.

Murata Jukō is known in chanoyu history as an early developer of tea ceremony as a spiritual practice. He studied Zen under the monk Ikkyū, who revitalized Zen in the 15th century, and this is considered to have influenced his concept of chanoyu.

By the 16th century, tea drinking had spread to all levels of society in Japan. Sen no Rikyū and his work Southern Record, perhaps the most well-known—and still revered—historical figure in tea ceremony, followed his master Takeno Jōō's concept of ichi-go ichi-e, a philosophy that each meeting should be treasured, for it can never be reproduced. His teachings perfected many newly developed forms in architecture and gardens, art, and the full development of "the "way of tea". The principles he set forward—harmony (和, wa?), respect (敬, kei?), purity (清, sei?), and tranquility (寂, jaku?)—are still central to tea ceremony.

Many schools of Japanese tea ceremony have evolved through the long history of chadō and are active today.

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