Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Kissa Yōjōki

On the memorial day of Eisai,
Higashiyama is awash
with the steam and aroma of tea
-- Seisei

portrait of Eisai
Myōan Eisai, 1141–1215

To say there would be no tea in Japan without Eisai might be an overstatement, but there can be no question that the Zen monk was vital to Japanese tea culture and the Way of Tea. Eisai brought tea seeds to Japan in 1191 when he returned from studying Chan (Zen) Buddhism in China. Through his gift of the brown nutlike seeds, tea plantings were established in Chikuzen (Kyushu), Toganō (near Kobe), Kyōto and Uji, and soon tea cultivation flourished in Japan.

Eisai promoted tea as “… miraculous medicine for health and an elixir for long life" in his book Kissa Yōjōki (How to Stay Healthy by Drinking Tea) written after his second trip to China. He popularized tea drinking with the samurai class when he demonstrated to the Shogun the efficacy of tea as a hangover remedy. In 1202, Eisai founded Kennin-ji, Kyōto’s first Zen temple.

He died on July 5, but his memorial service is now held on June 5. He is celebrated as a benefactor of the Way of Tea by the grand tea master of the Urasenke tradition at Kennin-ji.
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