- TalesofYui.com – Rare gifts and collectibles from Japan
- NaturaliTea.com – The English language website selling organic Japanese tea produced by the Kinezuka family and its 30 farmer partners. Toshiaki Kinezuka, having developed organic agricultural techniques for nearly 4 decades, is a leading pioneer of organic Japanese sencha green tea and Japanese black tea.
Matcha does not originate in Japan despite its prominent role in Japanese society. Rather, it is China that has been marked as the birthplace of this medicinal beverage. “Legend” has it that Shennong, an ancient Chinese emperor, stumbled upon matcha’s exceptional taste as tea leaves swept through a nearby window and into his broiling pot of water. Shennong not only took pleasure in drinking the tea, but also later went on to study its health stimulating properties.
During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), a new form of the tea became popular. This “powdered” form of the tea was created by grinding dried leaves and packing them into molds. The forms that the tea grindings took after being molded were regarded as “tea cakes”. To make one cup of tea, a portion of the teacake was broken off and mixed into a cup of hot water. It was not until later that this method of preparing tea was abandoned in China.
In the early 8th century, traveling monks brought tealeaves and seeds with them to Japan. Soon a whole new system of growing, cultivating, and preparing tea developed; eventually leading to the creation of what we now all know as matcha. Subsequently, in the 11th century, a Japanese priest by the name of Eisai launched the cultivation of green tea in Japan. In his book, he reveals the secret to a healthy life: “Tea is the ultimate mental and medicinal remedy that has the ability to makes one’s life more full and complete.” The history of matcha has influenced Japan significantly, leading it to be the only tea to be used in traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony, or Sado.
Another extremely influential figure apart from Eisai was a person by the name of Sen no Rikyu. From an early childhood, Rikyu studied the art of tea ceremony under Kitamuki Dochin and later Takeno Joo. During his later years as an adult he became the tea master for Oda Nobunaga (1979), a powerful daimyo (territorial lord) and after his death became the tea master for Nobunaga’s successor, (1582) Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Quickly, the relationship between tea master and daimyo became stronger, in effect providing Rikyu with many opportunities to deeply influence the system of tea ceremony. One of these instances would be Hideyoshi’s tea gathering for Emperor Ogimachi, upon which the Emperor himself gave the tea master the name “Rikyu Koji”.
During his time, Rikyu developed many of the equipment utilized in tea ceremony today such as flower containers, tea scoops, and lid rests made out of bamboo. Fond of simplicity, Rikyu collaborated with Raku Chojiro (tile maker) to create beautifully simple teabowls. Wabi-Sabi, type of philosophy that finds beauty in the very simple was not however, invented by Rikyu but instead was developed and made popular by him. Rikyu’s teachings came to be known as soan-cha (the grass-thatched hermitage style of chanoyu).
His death was unfortunate, as he was ordered by Hideyoshi to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) for reasons that are still unclear. The day of his death, he held the finest tea ceremony as his last act. One guest remained after the others had left to serve as a witness to Rikyu’s death. His last words were a poem:
O sword of eternity!
And through Daruma alike
Thou has cleft thy way
Till this day, Sen no Rikyu has remained an inspiration and figure of great respect among the patrons who study the art and who know its history.