Japanese tea drinking culture
Japanese Tea Drinking Culture
Are you a fan of Japanese movies? Try recalling one of the most common scene you're likely to find in almost all Japanese movies. Its the tea drinking scene! Yes, tea happens to be such an intrinsic part of Japanese culture that its understated presence is almost imperative for rendering an authentic feel to Japanese stories and characters.
What does tea symbolize in Japan?
Japan's love for tea spans several centuries, seeping deep into the cultural and historical fabric of the country. In Japan, tea symbolizes peace, harmony, spiritual connection, rejuvenation, change and contentment. Since time immemorial, the Japanese food culture has promoted tea consumption as a means of soul cleansing as well as for curing health problems.
The Japanese have coined a term for tea called "ocha" which refers exclusively to the "green" variety of tea. Interestingly, green tea is the most commonly produced and consumed tea. Some of the most popular places for tea cultivation are Shizuoka, Kagoshima and Uji.
Brief History of Tea in Japan
The history of tea in Japan is as enriching and awe-inspiring as the history of Japan itself. Tea started gaining prominence around 8th century onwards when tea seeds were brought by Buddhist monks from China. Initially, during the Nara Period, tea was a luxurious medical beverage available to priests, noblemen and the samurai class. Eventually, it became accessible to people of all social classes. Refined tea parties marked by Zen-like simplicity and a greater emphasis on etiquette and spirituality became a rage, inspiring generations to carry forward the legacy.
Japanese Tea Ceremony
In Japan, the simple act of serving tea acquires the stature of an art and a spiritual discipline. The Japanese Tea Ceremony, also called Chanoyu or Sado, is one of the most elegant and beautiful cultural rituals whose simplistic aura and artistic appeal fascinates people from all over the world.
The Ceremony is said to have begun in the 16th century and is based on teachings of Zen Buddhism. It emphasizes the importance of "how" rather than "what". The aesthetic presentation, the soulful atmosphere, the gracious demeanor of hosts and guests - all these take precedence over the actual act of drinking tea. What matters most is preparing a bowl of tea from one's heart pouring all attention to predefined movements and etiquette.
Japanese Tea Ceremony Etiquette
Both locals and tourists need to be mindful of the etiquette and conventions dictating the meditative ambience of this ceremony. Broadly speaking, its a chain of elegantly choreographed movements that are more about focus, art and intent than about drinking tea. This helps develop a deep reverence and heart-felt gratitude for the efforts of the host, presence of other guests and the occasion as a whole. Some things to keep in mind:
- Remove shoes before entering the tea room. Slippers shall be provided before the ceremony begins.
- As a mark of respect and thoughtfulness, carry a pair of clean, white socks to change into before entering the host's place.
- Wear traditional attire such as a kimono when attending tea ceremony.
- Carry a fan and use it while exchanging greetings with others. The fan signifies a designated boundary and strives to create a connection between himself and the person he's addressing.
- Scrolls and flowers, which are displayed on the alcove, are absolute necessities in the tea chamber. Before taking their seats, guests should sit in front of the alcove, place down the fan, bow first to the scroll, then to flowers indicating appreciation and respect.
- Initially, a handmade Japanese sweet is served. Etiquette warrants that the sweet is completely eaten before tea being served.
Types of Tea Popular in Japan:
Japan has mastered the art of tea cultivation producing over twenty varieties of tea based on preparation technique. However the focus is on green teas prepared by steaming the leaves shortly after being harvested, preventing oxidization and ensuring natural fragrance and rich green color is retained. Japanese green tea has achieved a legendary status owing to its exceptional flavor and health benefits.
- Matcha (powdered green tea) - Its a specific type of green that is the soul of Japanese tea ceremony. For matcha, only leaves of the highest quality grown under shade which are further dried and milled into a fine powder and then mixed with hot water. Its bright green color and subtly sweet, bitter flavour distinguishes matcha from other varieties.
- Sencha (loose leaf green tea) - Most popular tea variety in Japan, Sencha is prepared from tea leaves growing in full sun, thereby resulting in a darker color and an astringent flavor.
- Hojicha (roasted green tea) - Its prepared by roasting stems and leaves of tea plants harvested late in the season. This explains its characteristic reddish-brown color. The heat generated from roasting contributes to the sweet, slightly caramel-like aroma of hojicha tea.
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