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Summer, 2000 Newsletter - Main Article, page 1 of 2
  "Tea as a Philosophy of Life"
Part I: Tea Comes to Japan


   One can approach a study of Japan from several aspects. In today's technological world it is tempting to define Japan in terms of transistors and trade imbalances. However, the most fascinating era in Japan's history is arguably that which preceeded Commodore Perry's visit to Japan, which ultimately opened Japan to Western trade in 1859 after two hundred years of isolation.

   Between 1641 and 1859, trade with Japan was limited to the port city of Nagasaki, and only Dutch and Chinese ships were allowed access to her ports. The perception of Japan by the Western world was formed by the recorded observations of scientists and scholars accompanying the trading ships of The Dutch East India Company during that time. This was also the era in which the West was discovering tea, and Japanese tea was of special interest since the very style of preparation and consumption of tea in Japan seemed especially curious to foreigners. Curiosity soon led to fascination and, for a few, to an obsession with Cha-no-yu (the Japanese Tea Ceremony).

An early botanic drawing of a Japanese tea plant, produced by a Dutch botanist accompanying a Dutch East India Company trading ship (circa 1700).

FIGURE 1

(from Upton Tea Imports' collection)

   The history of tea in Japan is in many ways a complete history of Japanese culture. In tracing the development of Cha-no-yu we can readily identify some of the most significant events that shaped Japanese traditions and tastes. In fact, Professor A. L. Sadler definitively states that "... Cha-no-yu may be considered an epitome of Japanese civilization...".

   Going back to the seventh century we find Japan eagerly exploring the cultural wealth of China which was flourishing under the T'ang dynasty (618-907 A.D.). Feared, respected, and admired, China was far ahead of the rest of Asia in many ways. Civil order, based on Confucianism, provided a few centuries of stability and growth. Major achievements in technology, philosophy, and the arts were countless. The dominant religion was Buddhism, and Buddhist monasteries were centers of aesthetic and spiritual enlightenment.

   Buddhism had already made its way to Japan via Korea by the middle of the sixth century. Japanese monks regularly accompanied the scholars and artists that went to China to study. Tea had been in use in China for well over a thousand years. It was widely used by Chinese Buddhist monks as an aid to meditation and as a Taoist based elixir of life. By the late eighth century (about 772 A.D.) Lu YŁ had completed his scholarly work Ch'a Ching (The Canon of Tea). This work, which codified the manufacture, preparation, and drinking of tea, became a standard text of Buddhist study in China and Japan. It is significant that Lu YŁ was raised in a Ch'an (Zen) Buddhist monastery, thus strengthening the association of Zen Buddhism and Tea. The earliest seeds of Cha-no-yu can be found in Lu YŁ's Ch'a Ching.

   Page 2 of this article
 Related Information:
   This current newsletter's homepage
   Part II: Tea and the Samurai
   Part III: Tea Becomes a Way
   Part IV: Advent of Thatched Hut Tea
   Part V: The Perfection of Cha-no-yu
   Show me more topics

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