Sunday, June 5, 2011

Hot Tea

Last week, shipment of tea was banned from four prefectures near the failed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant due to high levels of radiation:
The government banned on Thursday the shipment of green tea leaves grown in four prefectures in eastern Japan after samples were found contaminated with radioactive cesium above the permitted level.

The shipment ban covers tea leaves, including dried leaves in a processing stage, harvested in parts of Tochigi, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures and all of Ibaraki Prefecture, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said.
-- Mainichi Daily News (Mainichi Japan) June 3, 2011
Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has mandated testing of all tea throughout Japan. Shizuoka declares it's tea to have acceptable radiation limits, and websites for tea producers in the Kyoto/Uji regions (1) (2) also state that their tea is safe. While these and other tea-producing regions of Japan may not share the fate of those in the banned areas, it is certain that this ban will increase radiation fears as well as create a tea shortage and higher prices.

Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo

"Carefully look at nature, including insects. It's a way of life."
-- From Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo

What sounded like a Saturday monster movie matinee turned out to be a charming and thoughtful examination of the relationship of insects and Japanese people and culture. A must-see for lovers of Asian culture and insects alike:
"Like a detective story, the film untangles the web of influences behind Japan’s captivation with insects. It opens in modern-day Tokyo where a single beetle recently sold for $90,000 then slips back to the early 1800s, to the first cricket-selling business and the development of haiku and other forms of insect literature and art. Through history and adventure, Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo travels all the way back in time to stories of the fabled first emperor who named Japan the 'Isle of the Dragonflies.'"
 Visit the website and view the trailer here:

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.