July 05, 2020
History of Japanese Tea | Kamakura and the Period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties

During the Kamakura period (1185-1333), Matcha, which we are familiar with, came to be drunk frequently.

In this article, I’m going to introduce the spread of green tea cultivation in the Kamakura period and the culture of “Tocha” in the period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties (1333-1392).

The beginning of green tea cultivation

Generally, it has been said that the origin of tea cultivation is that Zen monk Eisai (1141- 1215) brought back tea seeds from China and planted them on Mt. Sefuri in Fukuoka Prefecture.

However, actual historical documents show that Emperor Saga had already had tea grown in various places during the Heian period.

 

Popularization of tea in Kyoto and the eastern part of Japan

As mentioned above, Eisai was not the first person to cultivate tea in Japan.

However, he played an important role in “spreading tea to Kyoto and the eastern part of Japan”.

When Eisai built Kennin-ji (Temple) in Kyoto and became its chief priest, he gave tea to a monk called Myoe Shonin.

Myoe Shonin planted it in the precincts of Umeo Kozan-ji (Temple) and cultivated it, and sowed its seeds in Uji, Kyoto.

This is said to be the origin of the famous “Uji tea”.

Eisai also served as the chief priest of Jufuku-ji (Temple) in Kamakura (just south of Tokyo), and it is said that this led to the spread of tea in the eastern part of Japan.

 

 

What is Kissa Yojoki ?

Another great achievement of Eisai was that he wrote the first tea book in Japan, titled Kissa Yojoki (Drinking Tea for Health care).

Kissa Yojoki was originally written as a medical book, and it is a book about the medicinal benefits of tea, tea cultivation methods, and tea drinking methods.

According to the history book Azuma Kagami, the book was presented to the third shogun of the Kamakura Shogunate, MINAMOTO no Sanetomo, with tea when he was suffering from a hangover.

What is Tencha?

In the Nara and Heian periods, solid tea, called “Heicha (Dancha)” was drunk mainly, but in the Kamakura period, “Tencha” became the mainstream tea.

To put it simply, Tencha is a tea which is the raw material of Matcha.

Matcha is made by grinding Tencha with a mortar and making it into fine powders.

At that time, Matcha was used by Zen monks to repel the drowsiness that came during their practice and fix their minds on it.

 

 

What is Tocha?

In the Kamakura period (1185-1333), samurai and nobles began to enjoy green tea as a social occasion.

To entertain guests, they decorated paintings and vases from China and brewed tea using Tang Dynasty tea utensils.

Around 1320, the custom of drinking tea in social gatherings became more amusing and developed into a “Tocha” which is the practice of guessing the place of origin by drinking tea.

In the beginning, Tocha was simply a matter of guessing whether the tea was from “Honcha” brought by Myoe Shonin or from another region.

However, by the beginning of the Northern and Southern Dynasties, it gradually became more radical, bringing in alcohol, and food and gambling.

In the end, Tocha was banned by the law called “Kenmu Code” issued by ASHIKAGA Takauji.