While SEN-no-Rikyu is called the founder of Wabicha, Baisao (Koyugai) is known as the founder of Sencha (steeped green tea). In this article, I’m going to introduce the life of Baisao, who spread Sencha and greatly influenced the cultural people of his time.

About Baisao

Koyugai (1675-1763), also known as Baisao, was born to a doctor of the Hasuike domain (present Saga Prefecture). He became a monk, “Gekkai Gensho” (his Zen priest name) under Kerin Osho of the Obaku sect Ryushin-ji (Temple).

Baisao, who had practiced asceticism for nearly 50 years, was disappointed by the corrupt Buddhist world and left the priesthood to live in Kyoto.

Baisao opened his own tea house, the “Chatei Tsusentei” and also did something like the “mobile selling” to go to scenic places and sell tea.

Many cultural figures attracted to him by his personality began to gather around him, and from this point on he began to be affectionately called “Baisao” (it means old tea seller).

After that, he gave up his name as a priest, changed his name to “Koyugai” and continued selling tea, but as he grew older and his physical strength declined, he stopped selling tea, and died at the age of 89.

Baisao as seen in the episode

Origin of “Koyugai”

Baisao had the name “Gekkai Gensho” as a monk.One day, when he was asked about his current lifestyle, he replied “I live like this” , but they mistakenly understood “He live a very elegant life.”.

It is said that Baisao was amused by this and called himself “Koyugai”, which means “elegant” in Japanese.

Getting people to know the benefits of tea is the first thing

The signboard of Tsusentei (teahouse) said, “The cost of tea ranges from 2,000 koban (more than 100 million yen today) to half a penny (about 30 yen today). Just give me as much as you want to. You can drink it for free. We cannot make it any cheaper.”

From these words, we can see Baisao’s attitude that the first priority is to let people drink tea and to let people know the benefits of tea.

Promoting a new style of Sencha

Promoting new style of Sencha, Baisao did not like the tea ceremony at that time, which had become only a formality connected with power. He idealized the style of Lu Yu and Lutong of the Tang Dynasty.

The style of sencha by Baisao, which removes unnecessary manners and things and simply enjoys tea, spread to the common people.

Baisao, admired by the most advanced intellectuals

Although Edo (Tokyo) have been the center of Japan, Kyoto was still the most advanced city of culture.

It was there Baisao became very popular with the cultural crowd.

Baisao's high level of education, his style of living freely with conviction, and his witty way of speaking fascinated people.

Inspired by this way of life and thought, some of the leaders still make their names today, such as ITO Jakuchu, YOSA Buson, WATANABE Kazan, MATSUDAIRA Sadanobu and TANOMURA Chikuden.

Burning his own tea ceremony utensils

When Baisao became too old, to sell tea, he burned his precious tea utensils by himself.

It was from his love for the tea utensils that he spent together on the path of poverty. Baisao wrote about his feelings. “It was you (tea set) who supported me because I was poor and had no one to rely on. However, I cannot use you anymore. If I were to die and you were to be humiliated by vulgar hands, you would resent me. For this reason, I would cremate you.”

This is an episode that conveys his deep love for tea utensils, but it was a big loss that “Baisao's style of tea” did not remain in the future due to the burning of tea utensils.

Baisao's goal of “tea”

He chose to leave the floating world of Buddhism and achieve spiritual heights while living on his own.

Baisao’s means of living was the sale of tea. The tea he chose to sell was not “Matcha” but “Sencha” because he was rebellious against the tasteless world of Chanoyu. I think Baisao aimed to turn the place of selling tea into a “Salon”.

In fact, Baisao was surrounded by people of all walks of life from the common man to the cultured. There was a lot of discussion and interaction between people who enjoyed the tea and also improved each other.

Considering that some of these people are famous painters and literary men, Baisao's plan may have been successful.

The joy and essence of life Baisao pursued can be found in the time chatting and enjoying a cup of tea with those close to him away from the chores of daily life.

January 08, 2023