The Introduction of Tea
Tea was introduced to Japan sometime during the early Heian period, probably by monks such as Saicho (767-822) and Kukai (774-835) returning from study in China. Tea drinking had become widespread in China by at least the seventh or eight century and was brought to Japan in the wave of cultural borrowing from the continent that spanned the late sixth through early ninth centuries. ... But tea drinking at court declined from the late ninth century, when the Japanese ceased sending missions to China and lost at least some of their enthusiasm for Chinese culture. Although tea continued to be consumed at Buddhist temples and also Shinto shrines, there is no indication that people outside these establishments adopted it as a beverage during the remainder of the Heian period.
Yosai (aka Eisai, 1141-1215), who in Kissa yojo ki analyzes and describes tea’s medicinal efficacy. The kind of tea that Yosai brought to Japan was unfermented, powdered green tea (called matcha in Japanese). During the Song period [960-1279] — mid-Heian times in Japan — the Chinese invented the tea whisk, which they used to dissolve powdered tea in hot water. Later, the Chinese abandoned the whisk and returned to their earlier practice of steeping or infusing tea (i.e. flavoring hot water by placing or dipping tea leaves into it). Most people today, including the Japanese in their everyday lives, drink infused tea, whether fermented (black tea), partially fermented (oolong tea), or unfermented (green tea). But the tea ceremony, chanoyu, which evolved in Japan in the late fourteenth through sixteenth centuries, has always used powdered green tea and the whisk. (SJT, 388)
The tea ceremony was born [in the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century] when rules were adopted to govern the preparation, serving, and drinking of tea, rules that distinguished the “ceremony” of tea drinking from the casual, everyday consumption of the beverage. The inspiration for the tea ceremony’s rules were the monastic rules (J. shingi) that had been compiled in China to govern the daily lives of monks in Zen temples. Zen places great emphasis on mundane, quotidian acts such as scrubbing floors, cleaning latrines, or preparing tea as ways of pointing to or achieving enlightenment, and the procedures for carrying out these acts were described in detail in the shingi brought to Japan by Chinese Zen monks during the Kamakura period. ... Behavior among the participants in the tea ceremony as it evolved in the medieval age was based on the spirit of Buddhism and especially Zen. By the late sixteenth century, when the tea ceremony reached the height of its development, tea masters were wont to say that “tea and Zen have the same flavor” (cha-Zen ichimi). (SJT, 389)
Aesthetic taste in the tea ceremony comes into play in both the construction of the tea room and the selection, handling, and display of utensils and other articles, such as scrolls and flowers, during tea gatherings. In the first form of the tea ceremony, which emerged in the Higashiyama cultural epoch of the late fifteenth century, the tea ceremony employed only “Chinese things” (karamono): objects of art and craft imported from China, including tea bowls and caddies, flower vases, incense burners, Song-style monochrome ink paintings (to be displayed in alcoves, and the portable stands known as daisu that were used to hold utensils. ... While the tea ceremony based on the aesthetics of karamono was maturing during the Higashiyama epoch, a new variation, wabicha, or chanoyu inspired by the wabi aesthetic, began to evolve. The person regarded as the founder of was Murata Shuko (or Juko, d. 1502), who in his “Letter of the Heart” (Kokoro no fumi) wrote: “In pursuing this way of tea, great care should be taken to harmonize Japanese and Chinese tastes.” By Japanese taste, Shuko meant taste for “Japanese things” (wamono), that is, for tea utensils made by Japanese artisans, especially ceramicware, that, in contrast to technically perfect Chinese things, were often crude, rough, and misshapen. These qualities did not reflect the incompetence of Japanese artisans. Rather, they were deliberately sought to satisfy the wabi aesthetic that, during the sixteenth century, was elevated to the highest level of taste in the tea ceremony. (SJT, 390)
yamazato), in which he practiced the subtleties of wabicha with Rikyu. Hideyoshi’s two tea rooms, the rustic and the golden, symbolized the extremes of Momoyama taste, one epitomizing the highest spiritual and aesthetic value of the medieval age and the other heralding what scholars call the early modern age. It was an exciting time in Japanese history, and the tea ceremony and its masters, led by Sen no Rikyu, played central roles in the cultural — and also political — events that determined the direction that the country would take. (SJT, 392-3)
The tea room evolved as a variant of the shoin-style room, which took shape during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and was itself derived from the libraries (shoin) used by monks in Zen temples. The shoin became the prototypical Japanese room, having tatami matting, shoji and fusuma sliding doors, an alcove, asymmetrical shelves, and a low built-in desk. Among the special features that set a tea room apart from the regular shoin is the “crawling-in entrance” (nijiriguchi) and the hearth, a recessed space in the floor designed to accommodate a kettle in winter. (SJT, 389)