While Myoe Shonin made great achievements as a Buddhist monk, he also laid the foundation for tea cultivation in Togano, Kyoto. In this article, I’m going to introduce Myoe Shonin.
Priest Myoe Shonin
Myoe Shonin entered the Buddhist priesthood after the death of his parents at an early age. He studied the Kegon sect and the Shingon Misshu sect one after another and was a promising priest.
At the age of 34, he was given land in Togano, Kyoto by the retired Emperor Gotoba, and opened Kozan-ji (Temple).
Myoe Shonin believed that it was more important to follow the precepts of Buddha than to stick to the sect, and he put them into practice..
He was also active in helping vulnerable people such as women who lost relatives in war. He died at the age of 59 after receiving support from many people who were impressed by his efforts.
Myoe Shonin, the founder of tea in Kyoto
Meeting with Eisai
Myoe Shonin, who studied Mahayana Buddhism regardless of sect, visited Eisai to learn Zen.
At that time, Eisai taught Myoe Shonin not only about Zen but also about the “tea” he learned in China.
Eisai conveyed the knowledge he had learned about tea to Myoe Shonin.
Eisai taught him how to utilize tea in Zen practice, its effects, cultivation methods, and suitable land for cultivation and recommended tea drinking.
By the way, at this time, tea was drunk by the method of the tea ceremony. It is a way of drinking tea made by grinding tea powder with a millstone and stirring it with a tea whisk, just like today’s Matcha.
Tea seeds from Eisai
Myoe Shonin returns to Togano, Kyoto, and receives tea seeds in the Chinese jar (Aya-no-kaki-hetachatsubo) from Eisai.
Myoe Shonin started growing tea and he also explained the benefits of tea to the monks who were practicing Buddhism. He actively promoted the tea drinking.
From a single seed to a tea garden
The cultivation of tea in Togano, started by Myoe Shonin, has flourished for about two centuries since then.Togano was a good place to grow tea, so it produced high quality tea. At that time, because of its high quality, Togano’s tea was called “honcha (real tea)”, while the tea from other regions was called “hicha (not real tea)”.
In Kozan-ji (Temple), the “Tea Dedication Ceremony” is held every November, where the first tea of the year is presented to Myoe Shonin in gratitude for his achievements.
From Togano to Uji
Myoe Shonin, who learned about the land and climate suitable for tea cultivation from Eisai, spread tea cultivation to Uji, Kyoto.
As the poem states, he judged Uji to be a suitable place to grow tea due to its cool climate and the presence of a river mist.
His judgment was correct, and later Uji tea became widely known throughout the country as “the best tea in Japan”.
At the temple gate of Manpuku-ji (Temple) in Uji, there is a stone monument which is inscribed with the poem of the following story.
When the people of Uji were given tea trees from Togano and did not know how to plant them, Myoe Shonin taught them to plant tea trees in his footsteps as he rode into the field on horseback.
The Ten Commandments of Tea
Myoe Shonin carved the on the Ten Commandments of Tea side of the teapot.
The vitality of tea, which has strong roots and keeps green throughout the year, protects those who drink it.
Drinking tea can help you stay healthy and free from disease.
Gratitude to parents
The deep taste of tea regulates the mind and fosters a sense of gratitude for parents.
Friendship and harmony
The custom of drinking tea leads to a talk of close relationships and deepens relationships.
The ingredients of tea relieve physical and mental fatigue and also remove any hesitation in the mind.
Practicing true mind discipline
The civility and manners of drinking tea are effective for mental training.
Tea dispels drowsiness.
Disappearance of earthly desires
Drinking tea extinguishes worldly desires.
Harmonizing five organs
Drinking tea helps to improve the condition of your internal organs.
Not distracted by the end of life
Tea drinkers are not distracted by the prospect of death because they are physically and mentally fit.
In this way, we can see that the awakening and calming effects of tea, which are still known today, have been recognized since then.
It is thought that Myoe Shonin himself recognized that the effect of tea influenced the personality of Myoe Shonin, who was loved and respected by many people including the Emperor.