The Way of the Samurai & The Way of Tea
During my adventures with tea, I have learned of the different types of tea, the various regions where tea is grown and cultivated, and the different ceremonies in serving tea. One topic that I am fascinated with is the legends of tea. I normally associate legends to fantastical animals and epic battles. However, there are many legends surrounding the world’s most popular beverage. Many countries have their own versions of how tea came to be in their country. Even legends regarding a variety of tea. Some of these legends are rooted in the truth, while others read like fairy tales.
China has their own legend of how tea came to be.
According to a Chinese legend, tea was discovered accidentally by emperor Shen-Nung approximately 3,000 years before Christ as follows: The emperor set up camp with his entourage in the shade of a large tree. A fire was made and a pot with boiling water was prepared. The heat of the fire brought some of the leaves of the long branches of the tree to dry out. Suddenly, a fierce wind got up and blew some of the leaves into the pot with boiling water. The water turned golden and a delicious scent appeared. The emperor tried the drink and was delighted by the scent and delicious taste. Being immediately aware of the refreshing and invigorating effect, the emperor let out the sound "T'sa", meaning godlike so that, until today, "cha" is the name for tea in Chinese.
India also shares in interesting origin story.
The Indian legend goes as follows. In the year 500 after Christ, the Fakir Dharma took the vow not to sleep for 7 years. After 5 years of mental immersion it appeared that he could no longer fight the need to sleep. Full of desperation due to knowing he would not be able to keep his vow, he grasped a couple of branches of the tree where he had made his camp. He put a few leaves into his mouth and chewed them. Immediately, Dharma experienced a refreshing and invigorating effect, his tiredness evaporated and he could keep his vow.
The Japanese legend is very similar to the Indian version.
The Japanese also have their own legend with respect to the discovery of tea. The penitent made the pledge of 7 years of meditation. He vowed not to sleep in these 7 years. Despite this vow, he fell asleep on night. When he woke up the next morning, he was so angered by his failure that he cut off his eyelids and threw them to the ground. As soon as the eyelids touched the soil, they grew roots which soon developed into a large bush. When the penitent saw this wonder, he prepared himself a drink out of the leaves. People from all areas came to see this wonder tree and many followed the penitent and prepared a drink from the leaves. The knowledge of the drink's refreshing and invigorating effect was spread everywhere. The delicious taste and scent were reason enough to see this drink as "divine". Until today the Japanese language uses the same character for eyelid and tea.
Read more about these legends at :
Inspired to read more into the history of Japanese tea, I discovered the the Samurai held tea in high regard. Samurais were the driving force and the main patrons of tea ceremonies. At first I thought this was a legend. The Samurai have been closely linked to the military and battles. I became more curious about the relationship between the Samurai and tea ceremonies.
During the rule of Hideyoshi, the Samurai class strengthened. Hoideyoshi made a connection with Master Rikyu, who was one of the greatest tea masters in Japan. Sen no Rikyu is responsible for the foundations of what is known as the modern day tea ceremony. Before his influence tea ceremonies were used to show off one’s wealth when having guest over. Sen no Rikyu used the tea ceremony to put forth ritual, discipline, selflessness, and purification. The tea ceremony went from opulent to minimalist. The tea ceremony is an intricate practice with nuances and idiosyncrasies. The tea ceremony become a representation of Samurai refinement, status, self discipline, concentration and focus. All of which are used in training and battle. Sen no Rikyu dedicated his life to the way of the Samurai and the way of tea. All tea ceremony schools can be traced back to him. The tea ceremony continued to develop after his death.
The strict code of conduct in the way of tea reflects the strict code of conduct in the way of the Samurai. There are many similarities between the way of tea and the way of the Samurai. Both identities were built upon the ideas of Zen Buddhism. In both continuous practice to commit movements to memory. Only the basics were necessary to perform better and more beautiful. One of components of becoming a Samurai is exercise and discipline of the mind and body, which emulates the habits of a the ceremony. The term used by Samurai called “wabi” translates to quiet, sober, refinement characterized by humility and restraint that celebrates the mellow that time and care impart. The tea ceremony is referred to as “Chanoyu.” The way of tea. The ceremony focuses on respecting the act of making and drinking tea. It also incorporates the essential elements of Japanese philosophy: harmony, purity, respect, and tranquility. Samurai had more than fighting knowledge. Samurai were educated, cultured, and skilled in the arts. Samurai could enter a tea house alongside politicians, priests, lords, merchants, and other Samurai confident in their ettiequte skills. Tea houses at the time is our modern day board room. It is a place where many political and confidential meetings took place.
The process of the tea ceremony started way before the tea was even served. Many tea house had tiny doors that the Samurai had to bow to enter. This act showed humility. All Samurai had to leave weapons out front of the tea room showing vulnerability. The Samurai were then seated close together and with others making everyone equal. The only person in charge was the tea master who everyone sat facing. The tea ceremony went beyond entertainment and focused on the medicinal restorative properties of the tea.
Matcha was the tea used in ceremonies at the time. The Samurai learned through the influence of Buddhist monks that meditating through the drinking of Matcha could revitalize them both mentally and physically for battle. Matcha is the most popular tea in Japan and is synonymous with refinement. The tools used to prepare match are durable and elegant. Matcha contains more vitamins and antioxidants than most other teas. Matcha contains ten times the polyphenols and antioxidants as regular green tea, and two times the antioxidants as a cup of red wine. Matcha also boasts nine times more beta-carotene than spinach and 4 times ore than carrots.
After a successful battle, Samurai were rewarded not only with land and status, but ornate utensil to be used in tea ceremonies. According to the San Francisco Asian Museum, “There was a time when a single tea utensil could be valued as highly as the land compromising an entire province. Samurai enlisted the help of local merchants to teach them how to make tea and use their coveted tea utensils.
It is important to note that Samurai were originally servants to Japanese nobles. The term Samurai came from Saburai which means to serve. It is ironic how some Samurai became highly regarded tea masters. For example, Matsudaira Fumai was a Samurai known for extensive tea ceremony knowledge. He research tea ceremonies and collected tea utensils. He ruled over what is now the Shimane prefecture. He studies the Sekishu-ryu style tea ceremony and applied the same principals in ruling over his province. The Shimane prefecture is still known for tea and Japanese confectionary.
Samurai Jack performs a really nice tea ceremony for a monk. Watch it.