HistoryTea W. Kandinsky, Dominant Curve, 1936

History of Tea : Japan

* Map of Japan


Chinese Buddhist saint, Bodhidharma, became so overwhelmed by sleep while meditating that he tore off his eyelids and threw them on the ground. They took root and a tea plant grew. This explains both the invigorating effects of tea and the eyelid shape of the leaf.


Chanoyu - tea ceremony
Chaji– a formal full tea presentation with a meal. Involves highly structured gathering rituals, serving of a meal in multiple courses, an intermission in a garden, a solemn thick tea ceremony followed by the less solemn thin tea ceremony.
Chakai– informal tea served with a small meal and sweets

For the Chaji it has a highly structured gathering rituals. Serving of a meal, with multiple courses. Then an intermission in the garden. Solemn thick tea ceremony followed by less solemn thin tea ceremony. This can last anywhere from three to five hours. The guests number for a Chaji is usually no more than five. For chakai it can be any where from one to what the host can supply. They both have the same purpose. Just the difference in "quality", and increased amount of ritualized movement.


Some tea was probably brought to Japan during the height of cultural contact with Tang China. * Kôbô Daishi(Kukai), patriarch of the * Shingon sect of Buddhism, brought tea in the brick form from China to the Japanese court in the early ninth century. The drinking of tea was confined to the court aristocracy and Buddhist ceremonies until the twelfth century.

The first tea seeds were brought to Japan by the returning Buddhist priest * Yeisei Myoan,(1141-1215), founder of * Rinzai Zen , who had seen the value of tea in China in enhancing religious mediation. He planted tea seeds on the grounds of his temple near Kyoto, making medicinal claims that were published in the first Japanese book on tea called Kitcha-Yojoke/Kissa Yojoki, (The Book of Tea Sanitation/Drinking Tea for Health). In this work, Yeisai acclaimed tea a 'divine remedy and a supreme gift of heaven' for preserving human life. Because of this early association, tea in Japan has always been associated with Zen Buddhism. Eisai's interest in tea was shared by his renowned disciple, * Dogen (1200-1253), who is called the founder of the * Soto sect of Zen Buddhism. When Dogen returned from China in 1227 he brought with him many tea utensils, and gave instructions for tea ceremonies in the rules which he drew up for regulating daily life at the * Eiheiji temple founded by him in * Fukui prefecture.

Tea received almost instant imperial sponsorship and spread rapidly from the royal court and monasteries to the other sections of Japanese society. The process of refinement of the procedures to make tea involved a complex interaction of various elements: the ceremonial tea of the temples; the extravagant social teas of the aristocracy; the rise, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, of a newly prosperous and influential merchant class; and the powerful personalities of three men, Murata Shuko, Takeno Jo-o, and Sen Rikyu.


Murato Shuko (1422-1503) lived during the brilliant culture of the Muromachi period (1392-1573). Shuko was from Nara and had probably participated in tea gatherings that included popular amusement such as bathing. Later he came in contact with Noami, an artistic advisor of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa who was versed in the procedures of tea as it was served in Kyoto. After this meeting he moved to Kyoto, entered the Buddhist priesthood, and studied Zen under the direction of the famous Ikkyu (1394-1481), abbot of Daitokuji, from 1474 until the death of the latter. There is evidence that Ikkyu was acquainted to some extent with Chinese as well as Korean tea procedures, and it seems likely that he imparted what he knew to his pupil. Within the Tea of Murata Shuko was the awakening of the concept that tea went beyond entertainment, medicinal value, or temple ceremony; that the preparation and drinking of tea could be an expression of the Zen belief that every act of daily life is a potential act that can lead to enlightenment. This belief manifested itself in the development of a new aesthetic for Tea, an aesthetic which sought beauty in the imperfect and in the simple object of everyday life. Shuko once said that, more than a full moon shining brightly on a clear night, he would prefer to see a moon that was partially hidden by clouds. likewise, Shuko found beauty in Japanese utensils, which had been considered inferior to those from China. In a letter to one of his disciples, he wrote, "It is most important to seek as many admirable traits in Japanese objects as in Chinese."

Murata was the first merchant Tea master to build a small teahut with a four-and-a-half mat room in the city of Kyoto, thereby creating a liminal(marginal) space structurally and geographically differentiated from regular city dwelling and merchant shops. Despite its central location, his hut remained essentially "liminal." Shuko was hearkening back to the Chinese "saint" of Tea Lu Yu (?-804, author of the Cha Ching, the first extant Chinese comprehensive book on Tea) who practiced Tea in a separate environment especially fashioned for Tea and the enjoyment of other noble arts. His motive for building a teahut in the middle of the city was, to offer a ritual explanation, as a way to juxtapose, with minimal distance separating the two, the symbolic ritual world with reality. He was in fact bringing liminality close to the center of society. His ceremony emphasized the spirit and mind, rather than the form of the host. Shuko began another tea tradition with his humble beliefs. It is believed that Yuan Wu, a Chinese sage, gave Shuko a calligraphic scroll(kakemono), which Shuko then hung in his tearoom. This is looked upon as the reason for the scrolls hanging in every tea hut across Japan. Shuko also divided the formal tearoom into four and a half mat areas, which is why tearooms are called kakoi (partition).

Murata Shuko's concept of Tea was to be further developed by Takeno Jo-o (1504-1555), heir to an affluent leather business in the flourishing port city of * Sakai. At twenty-four, he moved to Kyoto and studied tea from two of Shuko's disciples. His interest in such a cultural pursuit is an indication that-like near contemporaries in Renaissance Italy-the wealthy merchants of Japan were interested in acquiring a broad culture. Since Sakai was a center for trade with China, its merchants were in a unique position to collect works of art, including tea utensils, from the continent. Jo-o broadened the practice of Tea. For example, he simplified the four -and-one-half mat tearoom preferred by Shuko by replacing the white-papered walls with unpapered earthen ones, by using lattice work of bamboo instead of fine wood, and by making the tokonoma narrower and framing it with natural wood. Though himself very wealthy, he hated ostentation and preferred an unpretentious setting with simple utensils. He used bowls, pottery, and utensils from Shigaraki, Seto, or Bizen.

Sen Rikyu

Takeno Jo-o's outstanding disciple was Sen Rikyu (1522-1591), who was already accomplished in the art of Tea when at the age of nineteen he became a disciple of Jo-o. Rikyu, born in Sakai, was the eldest son of a wealthy merchant and warehouse owner. His grandfather, Senami, was one of the artistic advisors to Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa but moved to Sakai to seek refuge from the Onin War which ravaged Kyoto. Although Rikyu's family name was Tanaka, he used the name Sen from his grandfather. Rikyu began studying Zen at Nanshuji temple in Sakai under Takeno Jo-o's Zen master, Dairin. The tea masters of Sakai were interested not only in the practice of Tea but in Zen as well. This may help to explain their espousing the aesthetic ideals of simplicity and understatement that contrasted with the ideals of the aristocracy. Almost all of the great tea masters of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries studied Zen at Daitokuji temple, and the tradition continues even today.

Rikyu moved to Kyoto and continued to study Zen under Abbot Kokei at Daitokuji temple. His innovations in the practice of Tea incorporated the essence of his Zen experience. For example, many of his innovations pointed toward doing away with the discriminations which the ordinary mind makes: between man and nature, nobleman and commoner, priest and laity, beautiful and ugly, religious and secular. Thus, in his design of the tea hut and the path that leads to the hut, he sought to heighten awareness of man's oneness with nature. By designing an entrance to the tea hut through which guests had to crawl regardless of rank, he sought to eliminate the social distinctions which separated human beings from each other. By using and finding beauty in coarse, common utensils, he sought to go beyond the usual distinction between beautiful and ugly.

Sen Rikyu was, of course, not a recluse seeking escape from the work in the quiet of the tearoom. In Zen quiet sitting and vigorous action are, after all, two aspects of the same thing; they are not contradictory. Through his association with two great political figures, Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Rikyu was often in the very center of the political struggles of the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1614). Rikyu first became the tea master to Nobunaga, who emerged as the strongest of those competing for power after the fall of the Ashikaga shogunate. Whatever Nobunaga's other interest in tea may have been, he certainly used it extensively for political purposes. Through his connection with Rikyu and other tea masters from Sakai, he was able to win the favor he needed in that city. On occasion he would give celebrated tea utensils he had collected as rewards to those who had served him well. Sometimes he would give authorization for a general to conduct a tea gathering. This was considered an extraordinary honor. Among those given such permission was Hideyoshi.

Hideyoshi, after an important military victory in 1578, received permission from Nobunaga to serve tea. A record of a tea gathering at an earlier date mentions that Hideyoshi served tea to Rikyu. Nobunaga must have recognized Hideyoshi's skill in the tea procedures to allow him to serve tea to Rikyu, for Rikyu was Nobunaga's own tea master. After the death of Nobunaga in 1582, Hideyoshi took the reins of power and appointed Rikyu as his personal tea master. The following year, as part of his effort to win the political support of the people of Sakai, Hideyoshi invited important townsmen to a tea gathering hosted by Rikyu. In 1585, while hosting a tea ceremony at the Imperial Palace, Emperor Ogimachi gave Rikyu the Buddhist title koji, thus establishing his eminence over the other tea practitioners of Japan. Rikyu was also responsible for some of the spread of Japanese culture. His visions impacted ceramics, architecture, design, and especially the world of tea. Rikyu also taught seven principle students, three of which were Christian.

Though Hideyoshi at times definitely enjoyed the flamboyant, he also appreciated the simple, spare style of Tea preferred by Rikyu. Hideyoshi's grand castle in Osaka, a symbol of his new political power, contained not only the famous Golden Tearoom but also a small two-mat hut called Yamazato, "Mountain Village." Both of these tearooms were portable; the latter sometimes was taken with Hideyoshi on military campaigns. The Golden Tearoom was taken to the imperial palace in Kyoto in January, 1586, for a special tea to honor Emperor Ogimachi. Rikyu hosted events that featured not only the Golden Tearoom, but utensils of gold as well.

Tea served in a golden tearoom is often criticized as being in direct contrast to the simple tea of a thatched hut. Such a contrast is particularly disturbing to Western minds which think of opposites as being different and mutually contradictory, instead of as two facets of the same reality. There is no record of Rikyu's actual feelings about the two contrasting styles, but one may surmise that due to his Zen training Rikyu probably recognized that his preference for a Tea of quiet, subdued taste implied a relationship with its opposite. Though Hideyoshi seems to have leaned toward the extravagant, it is clear from records of various tea masters of that time that he was also capable of appreciating and participating in the austere service preferred by Rikyu.

Rikyu and Toyotomi Hideyoshi relationship ended when Rikyu refused to let his daughter become Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s mistress. This infuriated the Shogun. This insult, among many other factors such as Rikyu’s growing popularity, pushed Toyotomi Hideyoshi over the edge. He ordered Rikyu’s death in 1591. Rikyu gathered his closest disciples and performed the tea ceremony one last time before committing suicide.

Schools of tea

After Rikyu's death, his son-in-law, Shoan, inherited the family estate. First, Shoan and Sotan, Rikyu's grandson, worked on the Zangetsutei and Fushinan tea houses in Kyoto, which are now Omotesenke and Urasenke. When Shoan retired, Sotan, succeeded as head of the Sen Family. When Sotan retired he divided the property among three of his sons. The front part of the main estate was given to Sosa, Soshitsu inherited the back part of the property, and a house on Mushanokouji street went to Soshu. From the tea practiced by these three sons, there ar ose the Omotesenke, Urasenke, and Mushanokojisenke schools of Tea, respectively.

Some of Rikyu's disciples also formed their own schools of Tea. Besides these, many other schools branched out in later periods from the Urasenke and Omotesenke schools. Some other notable schools of chanoyu are Sekishu, Yabunouchi, Enshu, Fumai, and Fuhaku.

The various schools of Tea that existed during the Tokugawa era (1615-1868) emphasized and characterized the rigid class structure of the society of that era. There were those which lent themselves to the noble class; others, to the samurai class; and still others, the emerging merchant class. With the collapse of the feudal system, brought about by the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the hereditary successors to the Tea schools lost much of their income.

While looking for new support, the Urasenke grand tea master Ennosai (1872-1924) came to be acquainted with a circle of businessmen. They banded together to give it support. The Urasenke tradition of tea was thus able to continue. The succeeding grand tea master, Tantansai (1893-1964), father of the present grand tea master, became the leader of the Urasenke school of Tea, which has since become the largest in Japan. Today Sen Soshitsu, the fifteenth-generation descendent of Sen Rikyu continues the practice of his ancestors.

It was not until the 1870s that the eleventh generation Urasenke Grand Tea Master, Gengensai Soshitsu, introduced tables and chairs to the tea ceremony for the first time. This ceremony is called ryurei. Ennosai Soshitsu, the thirteenth generation Grand Tea Master, introduced tea courses to the schools, allowing women to participate for the first time in tea history. The present Grand Urasenke Tea Master, Hounsai Soshitsu, has established Urasenke chapters in many nations around the world.

Chado(The Way of Tea)

* Chado (The Way of Tea) experienced its prime during the the 16th century under the influence of the artist Sen Rikyu(1522 - 1591). The tea ceremony provided a venue and practice for recognizing the beauty of ordinary life. The aesthetic character of the ceremony was defined as wabi, or a rustic, simple quality -- a celebration of the humble aspects of life.

The basic idea of Chado can expressed by four Chinese characters
* Reverence (kei) - great respect for all things and beings
*Harmony and peace (wa) - deeply felt, honest sympathy with everything and everybody
*Inner and outer purity (sei) - in thought, deed, and word.
*Quiteness (jaku)

Harmony can be formed among all matters in the world such as people, flowers, tea bowls, and so on. In fact, in a tea gathering, people talk to each other and to every piece of equipment a host uses in silence to form harmony in a tea room. People must respect all matters without their status; that is, people must not discriminate. For example, people use a crawl-through doorway to enter a tea room, so even a person who has a high social status has to lower his or her head to enter in although he usually lower his head. Purifying spirits is very important since the ideal spirit of the ceremony is a sort of religious mind. Then, after people can get the three ideas, harmony, respect, and purity, people can finally embody tranquillity.

The ideal 'WABI' is the ultimate of the tea principles, it could be explained as purity, simplicity, quietness, reducing a deed to its essence. It refers to the search - getting to know the true character of something and experiencing, that this is part of nature as is oneself.

In the "seven secrets" of tea, Rikyu used the tea ceremony as a parable for how life should be lived and how relationships should be kept-- and then used the morals thereby learned to teach what the essence of the study of tea really was:

  1. "Make the tea so that your guest will enjoy it"

    While etiquette and form are important, the person of tea does not forget that the main reason for the tea ceremony is to make and drink tea. The goal of the host therefore should be to make tea that is pleasing to drink, served in a bowl that is pleasing to hold-- all the other "bells and whistles" are secondary.
  2. "Place charcoal so that it will boil water"

    The purpose of the brazier is to heat water to the proper temperature for tea. If there is enough charcoal, there is no need to add more--simply make sure it is placed efficiently. In tea as in life, management of resources for maximum efficiency and minimum effort insures a harmonious, productive life.
  3. "Arrange the flower in a way suited to it"

    In the tearoom, flower arrangements are simple and natural-looking. This teaches two lessons. First, one should learn to enjoy things as they are in nature. Second, one should relate to people (as well as to things) as they are, rather than the way we wish they would be.
  4. "Keep the tea room cool in summer and warm in winter"

    This refers to more than the temperature; it includes the choice and placement of implements, and of the items displayed in the tokonoma. In doing so, one demonstrates harmony with nature, rather than trying to "beat it" or to alter the cycles of life.
  5. "Be ahead of time"

    This accomplishes many good things. By the host and guests being ready ahead of time, both can compose themselves and thereby better relate to each other in the ceremony. In addition, there is no need to fear the possibility of last-minute difficulties that would otherwise make one late. In life, being ahead of time is often preferable to squeezing in as much as possible.
  6. "Prepare an umbrella even if no rain falls"

    The simplest way of defining this would be the Boy Scout motto: "be prepared" for any eventuality. The idea behind this phrase, however, goes much deeper: life is always changing, and the best way to live, therefore, is to expect change and embrace it, rather than always trying to hold on to what is now.
  7. "Attune your hearts to the other guests"

    This final "secret," teaching the desirability of harmonious behavior, applies both to host and guests. This realization hints at another truth of tea: it takes just as much discipline and practice to learn how to receive well as it does to know how to give well.

Tea Ceremony (Cha-no-yu)

The host kneels at the door of the teahouse, while guests wash their hands before entering, leaving shoes and weapons outside. The guests then kneel before the tokonoma, an shelf-like arrangement that serves as a physical center for the ceremony.

The host brings in the simple tea wares and displays everything, and the guests may take leave while the preparations are continued. When the water boils, the guests are called back with a gong and given food and possibly sake.

The powdered tea (it is called macha) is placed in the tea bowl and covered with hot, not boiling, water. After being beaten into a froth with a tea whisk, the drink is passed to the chief guest who imbibes and passes the bowl to the next guest, and so it continues.

In the past, the host may have given away all of the tea wares and tea making implements, except the bowl-which would be kept and then broken to symbolize the end of the ceremony.

Sencha Tea

In the 18th century, a tea seller in Uji, Kyoto, Nagatani Soen adapted the method of steaming, used in making powdered green tea, for making the new tea. He developed a highly original method of elaborately rolling and rubbing the steamed leaves into needle shapes on a drier. This made it possible to brew instantly a fragrant tea with a good flavor in a teapot. The tea is called sencha. It has its own tea ceremony, called sencha-do (literally, the way of sencha tea).

The sencha tea ceremony was advocated by the famous tea-seller Baisa-o(literally, the venerable Tea-seller) and became popular among literary artists called bunjin(literally, "cultured person"), who prized freedom under the hierarchical feudal system of the period. Tea played an important role in fostering communication and friendship among them. As a result, although the sencha tea ceremony became a ritual, it much less formal than cha-no-yu.

Genmaicha Tea

Genmaicha is a distict green tea composed of sencha tea leaves and whole grains of roasted brown rice. When first seen, many are surprised to see fluffy pieces of what appears to be popcorn amongst the brown kernals and green pine-like tea leaves.

According to ancient Japenese legend, during the fifteenth century, a servent named Genmaicha was serving his master, a samuri warrior, some tea when a few grains of rice accidently fell out of his pocket and into the pot. The warrior was so infuriated that his servent had "ruined" a perfectly good cup of tea that he chopped off his head. He decided to drink the "contaminated" cup of tea anyways though, and discovered that he enjoyed the distinct flavor of the tea and rice infusion. In honor of his poor servent, he insisted that this combination of tea and rice be served every morning and named it 'Genmaicha' (as cha is the name of 'tea' in Japanese). Another story claims that Genmaicha was a way for frugal Japanese housewives to stretch their tea with the addition of rice to get the most out of their precious tea leaves.

The fresh vegetative character of the green tea is balanced with the toasted, nutty flavor of the rice. This tea is naturally sweet and refreshing. During the firing of the rice, it is not uncommon for the rice grains to ‘pop’ not unlike popcorn which is why it is often referred to as "popcorn tea". This tea produces a light brownish yellow liquor.


* Sencha teapot in the form of a long-tailed turtle; clam knop Porcelain with underglaze blue, 19th century.

Cha-no-yu became an impetus for stylistic and artistic evolution in YiXing teapot designs. The tea ceremony which forms the basis for Japanese Buddhist "Teaism," serves as a natural expression and discipline of zazen meditation and is viewed as an art. Teapots detailed with themes from nature or sutras were desirable adjuncts to this art, and YiXing pots themselves became prized as creative works. The Japanese began making red clay or shudei teapots; they imported Chinese artists to teach them potting methods, and developed new techniques for creating these delicate wares. The old province of Bizen became an increasingly important center for Japanese ceramics. Raku, rough and dark earthenware, emerged.

* Teapots Section

Hirado refers both to the name of the fiefdom and to the island off Kyushu that was part of the ruler's territory. Close to the Korean peninsula, Hirado was a natural locus for international shipping and trade between Japan, Korea and China. A Korean potter - who married into a Japanese family and took the Japanese name Sannojo - found kaolin, the basic ingredient in porcelain clay, at the village of Mikawachi in the mid-1600s. Sannojo's kilns, established under command of the Hirado daimyo (feudal lord), began producing Hirado Mikawachi wares. While Japanese scholars often technically refer to this material as Mikawachi ware, the popular term in both Japan and the West is Hirado ware. Hirado porcelain was produced initially for the daimyo's exclusive use, then later for commercial distribution. Early Hirado ware was known in Japan for its high quality and fine craftsmanship. The golden age of Hirado porcelain lasted from 1751-1843, during which time the finest porcelain in Japan was produced. When the economic structure of the feudal system began to disintegrate during the early 19th century, daimyo support of the kilns was replaced by export contracts with * the Dutch East India Company. By the 1840s Hirado ware had become an export eagerly sought by sophisticated buyers in the West. Hirado porcelain was featured in the great international expositions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. With the advent of modernism in the early 20th century, however, demand for Hirado fell.

* Tetsubin - cast iron teapots

Tea Garden

The Japanese tea garden plays an integral part in the tea ceremony, and as the ceremony has grown more elaborate through the years, so have the tea gardens. Japanese tea gardens are now comprised of two parts: the soto-roji (outer garden) and the uchi-roji, (inner garden). The outer section (soto roji) consists of a place where guests wait for the master to appear; the inner section contains the tea house itself. Stone lanterns light the pathway, either made of gravel or flat stones, between these two sections.

The garden is a representation of the universe and its elements: fire in the form of a stone or iron lantern, earth in the form of stone, and water, air, plant, and animal life in their true forms. Gardens essentially divide between the dry landscape and the pond garden types. Even in a dry garden there is always some water, notably in dripping basins or suggested by waterfall chains from the down spouts.

The garden contains a wash basin, or Tsukubai. The Tsukubai is surrounded by Yaku-ishi, or (literally "accompanying stones"); one in front used for standing on, one on the right, and one on the left. The basin itself can be any shape, as long as it can be easily used. In fact, broken stone lanterns are often put to use as new wash basins. The tea garden also contains a resting place, for breaks in the tea ceremony. This resting area was not in the original tea gardens. The resting place's principal purpose, is to convey the spirit of wabi, or quiet solitude in nature.

* Japanese Gardens


Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.

* Tea in Japan
* Tea Museum
* TeaHyakka
* Tea Gardens
Tea rooms pictures

Changing LINKS

Last updated : 31-Mar-05