Our journey for exploring tea cultures and traditions in different countries of the world started with China, and today we’ll talk about Japan.
Tea is the most commonly drunk beverage in Japan and an important part of Japanese food culture. Various types of tea are widely available and consumed at any point of the day. Tea is a part of everyday life in Japan and is readily available in high end restaurants, convenience stores and even on-street vending machines. Its cultural significance is perhaps best demonstrated during Japanese tea ceremonies, which can occur in both informal and formal settings.
History of Tea in Japan
Tea was introduced to Japan in the 8th century from China and was drunk as a medicinal beverage mainly amongst priests and the upper class. It was not until the Muromachi Period (1333-1573) that the beverage gained popularity among people of all social classes. Among the affluent members of society, tea drinking parties became popular.
At about the same time, a more refined version of tea parties developed with Zen-inspired simplicity and a greater emphasis on etiquette and spirituality. These gatherings were attended by only a few people in a small room where the host served the guests tea, allowing greater intimacy. It is from these gatherings that the tea ceremony has its origins.
Japanese Tea Ceremony
The Japanese tea ceremony is an artistic pastime unique to Japan that features the serving and drinking of green tea. Beyond just serving and receiving tea, one of the main purposes of the tea ceremony is for the guests to enjoy the hospitality of the host in an atmosphere distinct from the fast pace of everyday life.
A full, formal tea ceremony is a multi-hour event that starts with a kaiseki course meal, is followed by a bowl of thick tea and ends with a bowl of thin tea. However, most tea ceremonies these days are much abbreviated events that are limited to the enjoyment of a bowl of thin tea.
Having witnessed or taken part in the Japanese Tea Ceremony only once, one will come to understand that in Japan, serving tea is an art and a spiritual discipline. As an art, The Tea Ceremony is an occasion to appreciate the simplicity of the tea room’s design, the feel of the Chawan in the hand, the company of friends, and simply a moment of purity.
Popular teas in Japan
Green tea is the most common type of tea in Japan, and when someone mentions “tea” (お茶, ocha) without specifying the type, it is green tea to which is referred. Matcha (powdered green tea), Konacha (residual green tea), Hojicha (roasted green tea), Oolongcha, Kocha (black tea), Jasmine-cha are some of the most popular types of tea in Japan.