Origins and history
Tea camellias (shrubs) were introduced to Japan by Chinese
Buddhist monks in the ninth century, and the first place they
flourished was the Uji Mountains beyond Kyoto
in southwest Honshu. This area, along with Shizuoka
to the west of Tokyo, still produces the best tea to this
day. The very same shrubs also bear the oxidised black tea
exported to thirsty Brits, but the secret of green tea's properties
lies in the processing; after picking, the leaves are steamed
for 30 seconds and rolled up into thin threads which unfurl
when dunked in hot water to release their fresh, grassy flavor.
Green tea is a miraculous brew which wards
off infection, calms the nerves and revitalizes the drowsy.
Packed with vitamins and containing miniscule amounts of caffeine
compared with coffee, it is even thought to protect against
arthritis and types of cancer. Green tea is a popular everyday
drink in Japan, but the famous gathering known as the tea
ceremony (chanoyu) involves the serving and
drinking of a particular powdered kind called matcha,
which only arrived in Japan at the end of the twelfth century.
It was a further 200 years before the upper classes began
to hold social gatherings for the purpose of drinking tea
and appreciating Chinese arts in a serene environment.
Zen and the art of
The ceremony, evolved under the influence of Zen Buddhism,
aims to attain a perfect balance between nature and the human
soul. This is done by performing the task of making tea in
a series of graceful movements which, when done by a master,
are a wonder to watch. Because chanoyu, the Japanese tea ceremony,
is closely linked to the appreciation of art, nature and surroundings,
it has had a great deal of influence on architecture, gardening,
ceramics, and flower arranging. Japanese table manners are
also derived from its essential etiquette. There are several
places in Tokyo offering demonstrations.