July 05, 2020
History of Japanese Tea | Nara and Heian Periods

Green tea has become the national drink for the Japanese, but it was originally introduced from China in the late Nara period (710-794).

In this article I’m going to explain the history of Japanese tea in the Nara and Heian periods.

The introduction of tea

It is said tea was introduced to Japan about 1,200 years ago and when monks who had studied in China such as Saicho, Kukai, and Eichu, brought back solid tea called “Heicha” from China.

The earliest record of tea drinking is found in Nihon Koki, which records that Eichu offered tea to Emperor Saga in 815.

As a result, Emperor Saga decided to have tea grown in areas such as Yamato and Harima in June of the same year and ordered it to be offered every year.

This was the beginning of tea cultivation in Japan.

The tea drunk before the Heian period

As mentioned above, the earliest record of tea drinking can be found in 815, during the Heian period (794-1185), but it is believed the tea was drunk even before that.

This is because there is a material that shows there were already tea utensils in the late Nara period.

In other words, tea had already introduced to Japan through the Japanese envoys to the Tang dynasty at that time.

However, the tea of this period was a drink for the upper classes and was not available to the common people.

What is Heicha (Dancha)?

The type of tea that was drunk in the Nara and Heian periods was called “Heicha (Dancha)”.

Heicha is a kind of tea that is made from steamed tea leaves into powder and solidified like Mochi (rice cake) at the finishing stage.

When Japanese people drank it, they would cut off the necessary amount, roasted it with a fire, then powdered it and put it in hot water to drink.

Later, Dancha, a solid tea made with a mortar to finely grind the tea leaves, was also introduced, but Heicha and Dancha had a disadvantage of having a strong smell.

As a result, Heicha and Dancha did not suit Japanese tastes and gradually faded away.