From China, tea made its way into neighbouring countries along trade routes where it was exchanged for other essential goods such as salt, iron goods, wool and cotton. It also found a home in new lands as Buddhist monks travelled to and from China to study their religion. In the 9th century A.D, the Japanese Buddhist monk Dengyo Daishi planted tea seeds from China in his monastery garden where he lovingly cared for the plants. When the bushes were strong enough to be harvested, he plucked some young shoots and made green tea to serve to the emperor, who was so impressed and delighted that he gave instructions for tea to be planted in five locations in Japan. During the following three hundred years or so, Japan and China did not get along very well and so tea was ignored by the Japanese as a social drink, but in 1191, it was once again introduced by the Buddhist monk Eisai-zenji and this time became well established. The Japanese copied the way the Chinese whisked their powdered green tea into hot water at that time, and then developed the brewing method into a Zen Buddhist ritual that is today the famous Japanese Green Tea Ceremony (Cha-no-yu).
Timeline of the History of Tea in Japan
Two Buddhist monks Saicho and Kukai return to Japan with young tea trees after studying abroad in China. Buddhist monk Dengyo Daishi plants tea in his monastery gardens
Buddhist monk Eisai, who again had studied in China, popularized the idea of drinking tea for good health. Around this time, Japanese farmers begin growing green tea in Uji, Kyoto.
Eisai writes the first Japanese book about tea.
A Buddhist monk, Kohken, plants tea trees in Obuku area in the Ujitawara region of Kyoto.
The production technique of shading the leaves from sunlight with a tana canopy begins. This is the origin of today’s Matcha and Gyokuro.
Late 16th century
Rikyu Sen introduces the tea ceremony.
In Ujitawara, Kyoto, Soen Nagatani develops a new process of steam drying tea leaves. The new process, known as the Uji method, results in a fresh, flavourful tea and replaces the traditional method of roasting and drying the leaves.
In the Ogura area of Uji in Kyoto, Shigejyuro Eguchi perfects the Gyokuro processing method.