Summer, 2000 Newsletter - Main Article, page 2 of 2
Eichu (743-816) was a Japanese Buddhist
monk who studied extensively in China. He returned to Japan at the age of sixty three,
having spent roughly thirty years studying Buddhism and Chinese culture. Eichu is generally
credited with being the first to bring tea to Japan3. However, some texts speculate that
tea was known in Japan prior to Eichu's return, and even that tea may have been grown in
Japan prior to this time. Regardless of the exact date, tea was undoubtedly introduced
to Japan by Buddhist priests, and soon became popular among Emperor Saga's court (810-23).
At this time tea was manufactured into small cakes or bricks, known as dancha.
DETAIL OF FIGURE 1
The Japanese (Kanji) character for tea (cha)
appears to the left of the word "Tsja."
The pronunciation of tsja (cha) is similar
to chaw. The symbol is the same in Chinese.
The influence and power of the Buddhists grew rapidly in China.
Soon there were at least 4,000 large monasteries throughout the country. The monasteries
attracted increasing numbers of people, as the monastic life was one way to escape taxation,
forced labor, and military conscription. Feeling threatened by its power, the Emperor
ordered the suppression of Buddhism in 845. Monasteries were disbanded and the monks forced
to lead a secular life. By the end of the ninth century the T'ang dynasty was crumbling.
Japan's interest in China waned. In 894 the Japanese mission to China was cancelled and a
new era emerged as continental influences gave way to more powerful internal forces.
The Japanese central imperial government, modeled after Chinese Confucianism,
was gradually replaced by a feudal estate system. Protecting the interests of the independent
estates required the services of private warriors, from the ranks of which arose a new
aristocracy known as the samurai.
In the next issue of the Upton Tea Quarterly we will see how Zen monks
and the samurai helped formulate a unique form of tea in feudal Japan.
"Upton Tea Imports was founded in 1989 with the objective of providing the North American tea drinker with
the finest teas available. We purchase teas from reputable brokers and estates worldwide, dealing only with
sources who are capable of providing top quality teas. We sell directly to the consumer, thus ensuring the
freshest product and fairest pricing."