Though it is not native to the country, the drinking of tea was introduced to Japan in the 9th century CE by a Buddhist monk from China, where it had already been known, according to legend, for thousands of years. Tea soon became widely popular in Japan, and began to be cultivated locally.

The custom of drinking tea, first for medicinal, and then for purely pleasurable reasons, was already widespread throughout China. In the early 9th century, Chinese author Lu Yu wrote the Ch'a Ching, a treatise on tea focussing on its cultivation and preparation. Lu Yu's life had been heavily influenced by Buddhism, particularly the school which would become known in Japan as Zen, and his ideas would have a strong influence in the development of the Japanese tea ceremony.

In the 12th century, a new form of tea, matcha, was introduced. This powdered green tea, which derives from the same plant as black tea but is unfermented, was first used in religious rituals in Buddhist monasteries. By the 13th century, samurai warriors had begun preparing and drinking matcha, and the foundations of the tea ceremony were laid.

Tea ceremony developed as a "transformative practice," and began to evolve its own aesthetic, in particular that of wabi. Wabi (佗, meaning quiet or sober refinement, or subdued taste) "is characterized by humility, restraint, simplicity, naturalism, profundity, imperfection, and asymmetry [emphasizing] simple, unadorned objects and architectural space, and [celebrating] the mellow beauty that time and care impart to materials" ("Introduction: Chanoyu, the Art of Tea" in Urasenke Seattle Homepage).

By the 16th century, tea drinking had spread to all levels of society in Japan. Sen no Rikyu, perhaps the most well-known -- and still revered -- historical figure in tea ceremony, introduced the concept of ichi-go ichi-e, (一期一会, literally "one time, one meeting"), a belief that each meeting should be treasured, for it can never be reproduced. His teachings led to the development of new forms in architecture and gardens, fine and applied arts, and to the full development of sado. The principles he set forward -- harmony, respect, purity, and tranquillity -- are still central to tea ceremony today.
Tea Ceremony - Introduction
Tea Ceremony - Detail

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Japanese Culture