The Japanese tea ceremony has been existent in Japan for many centuries and is regarded as a high form of art. Tea ceremony has many names such as ‘Sado’ and ‘Chanoyu’ both words still translates into one phrase which is the ‘Way of the Tea.’ In order to preserve the traditional art of Chanoyu, notable schools such as the Urasenke and the Omotesenke still continues its age-old legacy of educating the Japanese and foreign people alike to learn the art. Moreover, the delicate movements of both the host and his guests takes a very long time to practice as well as the different styles of the tea ceremony requires a long course of study. However, it is indeed remarkable that despite the fact that tea was a foreign beverage introduced by China through Korea, the Japanese adapted the tea and made it a part of their cultural heritage. As a carte blanche, this paper will examine the ‘Way of the Tea’ through different perspectives namely: tea as an art and ritual; impact of tea consumption in socialization, medicine, system of social control, and ceremony to legalize political authority. At the end of the essay, I will restate my thesis and summarize the prompts based on the readings provided.
Origins of the Japanese Tea Industry: A Literature Review
For over millennia, the Japanese, Koreans, and the Chinese maintained a close contact through trade. Tea was a prime commodity of the Chinese and valuable to the society for its health benefits. The earliest mention of the tea in Japanese historical accounts can be traced back to the correspondence made by the Buddhist monks such as Saicho (767-822) and the famed master Kukai (774-835). Tea was mentioned in their poetries whilst the public correspondence related to tea was made under the rule of the Saga Imperial Family, which dates back to 815 (Farries, 5). The Chajing (The Classic of Tea or The Holy Scripture of Tea) was written by the Chinese scholar Lu Yu in the 760 (Farries, 5; Kakuzo, 12) makes the book the first reference regarding the information about tea and its benefits. Furthermore, formal introduction of the tea as a beverage in Japan began under the rule of the Saga Dynasty and eventually nobles became addicted to tea; whilst in order to sustain the continuous demand, the Chinese also introduced the tea cultivation. One of the important factors for the spread of tea into the Japanese society is the cultural diffusion that occurred between the two nations. It was stated in the book that constant communication between Japan and China were recorded and most of the people who traveled to Japan were Buddhist monks (Farries, 6-10). In a sociological perspective, cultural diffusion occurs when two societies exchanged their own ideas. Since Japan at the time of the Saga clan was still a growing nation, it was not surprising that the Japanese had adopted some customs such as tea drinking and began to incorporate them into their culture until tea consumption became a habit in Japan. Korea was also a product of cultural diffusion like Japan since some of the Chinese immigrants migrated to Korea to build their own kingdom. Although there are quite differences in terms of language and culture, the three countries were unified by tea (Farries, 5).
“The tea ceremony was an improvised drama whose plot was woven about the tea, flowers, and the paintings” –Okakura Kakuzo, The Book of Tea (p. 18)
Tea ceremony centers its focus on the tea itself; to know the preparation of tea, to appreciate the simplicity of the atmosphere as well as the art (e.g. scrolls, flower arrangement, architecture of the room, and the designs of the cup). The influence of Taoism and Zen Buddhism is strong in the practice of tea ceremony and even Kakuzo commented that “tea ceremony was Taoism in disguise” (18). Zen Buddhism believes that aside from the tea’s healing benefits in the physical body, tea is also important in spiritual healing. Both Taoism and Buddhism believed that tea is the elixir that prolongs the life; as Kakuzo reiterated that the wonders of the tea had been known and recorded to various historical references such as To, She, Ch’uan, Ch’ia, and Ming because it “delights the soul and strengthening the will” (Kakuzo, 11).
In tea ceremony, everything has a philosophical relevance from the tatami mat up to the tea room as a whole. Tea drinking according to the Uransenke, invokes a sense of contentment to the host and to the guest as well. The tea room was a haven of the tired souls; and a simple abode for conversations about tea and its benefits. Ikebana also is an additional component of the tea practice. Depending on the flower arrangement, the traditional style called nageire represents the divine arrangement of the universe. The tallest flower symbolizes the heaven; the middle flower represents the Earth, whilst the shorter flower represents the man. The tea ceremony combines all of these features, architecture and interior designing to create simple and yet cozy living. From ordinary beverage, tea became the excuse for worship as Kakuzo noted, for “purity and refinement” (Kakuzo 18) without being decadent. The enjoyment of tea consumption unified the Japanese society despite the social hierarchy. Tea consumption remained a favorite drink of the elite and the common people even today. Archaeologists who study the Japanese history found interesting items related to the history of tea consumption in Japan. Experts believed that tea consumption became also a popular past time among the nobles of the Heian court because there are evidences that the Heian dynasty indeed consumed tea. “Shards of light green porcelain vessels, many of them tea bowls have come to light from the early Heian period from the foundation of the Sufukuji, the temple where Saga imbibed his tea, as well as the Yamashiro provincial headquarters” (Farries, 6). The succeeding centuries of the Japanese government remained tied with China in terms of cultural aspects. Prince Shotoku Taishi often sent representatives to China to study the politics and art. He pioneered the spread of Chinese cultural heritage in the Japan soil. Similarly, Chinese and Korean elites were the often notable consumers of tea. However, in the early 13th century, tea was still a luxury commodity served to the houses of the aristocrats. Prior to the Mongol invasion, Japan experienced political turmoil when warriors battled with each other to obtain finer things in life and tea is one example of that commodity (Farries, 49-50). From the Edo Period, tea was no longer a beverage for the wealthy because common people planted them in fields as their source of livelihood (Farries, 120). Tea became a daily part of the Japanese life and the establishment of tea ceremony further enhanced the appeal of tea to the people. Other accounts taught the scholars about the historical relevance of tea was the fact that the Japanese made a mass market selling tea commodities long before the Europeans came. Despite its humble beginnings, tea became more appealing to the foreigners such as the Dutch and the Portuguese who came to Japan to trade. According to an account written by Luis Frois, a famous Iberian missionary to Japan, he praised the tea for its wonderful effects in the body (Farries, 121). The book mentioned that there is a small portion of his book which detailed his travels in Japan and written in it was the reference for the tea as a wonderful plant which can cure common illnesses such as stomach problems.
“That [tea] is extremely effective as medicine, and is good for the stomach when it is made by grinding a certain plant and putting the powder into the hot water” (Farries, 121).
Furthermore, Joao Rodrigues was a Portuguese Jesuit also noted the process of cultivation of tea by the farmers at Uji. In his journals he noted that the Japanese farmers cultivate the shrub by planting its seeds until grows a sapling; then the farmers will transfer the plant to a better location. He also noted that the usual green tea was different to the wild tea found in the forests. In the early 13th century, a monk named Yosai who popularized the consumption of tea as a medicine. Despite the lack of modern medicine, the tea earned fame worldwide. The spread of East Asian influence regarding tea consumption stretched as far as in the Europe and America. Moving forward, the tea industry also blossomed in the mid-19th century; however, merchants and farmers were having some issues dealing with the high taxes imposed by the Bakufu government; thereby, causing an upheaval between the government and the common people when the Shogunate imposed huge taxes on the tea farmers; this incident is known as The Bunsei Tea Incident of 1824 (Farries, 182). Indeed, it is not surprising that the introduction of tea to the Japanese culture made a lasting effect for it blended perfectly to the Japanese lifestyle. Tea is not complete without the discussion of the art and architecture. Consequently, the tea ceremony was influenced by the simple architectural styles of China and Korea. According to Ito Teiji, the prevailing architectural format for most of the Japanese tea rooms was the Shoin Style. The Shoin style became the most dominant architectural style not only for the tea rooms but also for Japanese homes. Among the common characteristics of the shoin-style arachitecture are as follows: large spacious room, sliding doors divided with fusuma (sliding partitions) covered with gaily shoji wallpapers. The center of the room focuses on the tokonoma (alcove), wherein a scroll with paintings or written calligraphy hangs upon it. As Teiji pointed out, the emergence of the Shoin style reflected the changing tastes of the Japanese people which allowed the different classes to move freely without the rigidity of the old society (Teiji and Novograd, 227). Most houses have a separate room for the tea ceremony; however, only few families maintain the tea ceremony rooms. This is due to the fact that the majority of houses in Japan do not have a separate room for the tea ceremony and this is the reason why only few families practice the way of tea in their homes. Like all the rooms in the house, the room also features the alcove as its focal point along with the ikebana and kakejiku (scroll). Tea ceremony values the simplicity of the living whilst highlighting the appreciation on small things. Going back to its long history, tea was only a plant popularized by the Chinese and then spread throughout the world. However, the way of the tea posits on simple things such as the design of the cup, the serenity and calmness of the room, the taste of the tea, as well as the skill of the master in performing the task. Kakuzo commented that aside from the tea’s medicinal purposes, the tea also symbolizes the “conjoint existence of man and nature” (Kakuzo, 1). In some ways, the tea ceremony is similar to a symbiotic relationship between humans and the nature; nature nurtures the mankind through the plants and animals whilst the humans return their appreciation by enjoying a sample of nature’s benefits.
As a conclusion, despite the fact that tea was a foreign beverage introduced by China through Korea, the Japanese adapted the tea and made it a part of their cultural heritage through social diffusion of Chinese ideas and customs through the traveling Buddhist monks. Throughout the centuries, tea was treated with high regard and a symbol of luxury; a medicine, a social past time of the nobles and also the tea became also became the reason of the social control; thereby enabling people to act with the right manners and conduct as exemplified by the elegance of the ceremony.
Farris. Chapter 1: Origins of a Green Tea Industry. n.d. PDF File
Farris. Chapter 2: Green Tea Finds a New Mass Market. n.d. PDF File.
Kakuzo, Okakura. The Book of Tea. Bedford, MA: Applewood Books, 1906. PDF File.
Teiji, Ito. The Development of Shoin Style Architecture. n.d. PDF File.