11 Apr 2014

The song of " Chatsumi", or "Picking up tea leaves" goes literally;

Summer is approaching and it is 88th day (*) today.
The fields and hills are covered with young leaves.
Look over, they are picking tea leaves,
with reddish cords and sedge hats on♪

(*) The eighty-eighth day

The eighty-eighth day counted from the beginning of spring, February 3rd, falls on May 2nd by the solar calendar and it suggests the approach of summer. It is believed to be suitable for planting seeds of agricultural crops at this time, without any fear of frosting damages on farm products. Now, an early summer wind blows.

Eighty-eight is written 八十八 in the Chinese characters, which are combined into in a Chinese character for rice. In addition to the above climate conditions, therefore, the eighty-eighth day symbolizes one of the important days in a year for all farmers. On this day, in mountain villages throughout Japan, we have a wide variety of fortune-telling rites, wishing for abundant crop.

Picking tea leaves

Tea

Picking tea leaves starts from the southern part of Japan at first, and moves up north one place after another like the cherry-blossom front. Generally speaking, picking tea leaves beging around this eighty-eighth day and it will be picked four times a year. Tea picked first around this day is exclusively called "ichiban-cha, First-picked-tea" are considered best in the year. Tea in order of picking are called "niban-cha, the -second-picking", "sanban-cha, the-third-picking" and " yon-ban cha, the-forth-picking". Tea trees keep various nutrients inside during the winter and put out new leaves rich in ingredients of good taste and flavor. Therefore, the first-picked-tea is considered best one among all teas picked for the year. Picked tea leaves are processed automatically, including steaming, rubbing and roasting, into Japanese green teas. However, the limited amount of tea leaves for the-first-picked-teas are still picked and processed manually, preserving a traditional way. Of course, it has rarity value and expensive.

Habitual drinking of Japanese teas

Tea trees were introduced here from China by prestigious priests who studied Buddhism and established headquarters of their own sects which have been still one of major ones in Japan. A historiography says that Saicho, a venerable priest (767-822), returned from China to Japan with young tea trees to plant them near Sakamoto. Then, Kukai, another venerable priest (744-835) also returned from China to Japan with the trees and planted them in Nagasaki. In the 12th century, Eisai, the other venerable priest, brought tea seeds which were sowed in Uji. These places are still well-known for one of the major production areas of tea. Please refer to the map of the major production of tea. At the outset, teas were drunk as medicine mainly among the aristocracy and priests for centuries. We still believe its various efficacies and also most of them have been certified by the official research institutes. 

I would like to introduce information of medical efficacy of teas;

  • To prevent teeth decaying and prevent bad breath
  • To prevent food poisoning
  • To prevent cancer
  • To improve the circulation of blood and remove cholesterol from blood vessel
  • To prevent a hangover
  • To act as a diuretic
  • To reduce headache
  • To prevent aging
  • To be essential for beauty and health
  • To be effective for sports and diet
  • To regulate the condition of stomach
  • To refresh physically and spiritually

With the increased production of teas throughout Japan, tea started widely be drunk by people in 17th century, and the habit of having tea has completely instilled into the Japanese daily life. I would like to cite sayings as a few examples herein ;

“Let’s have a tea” when we take a break “ take a cup of tea” before beginning to do something “Let's have tea for ending at closing time” Have tea to finish off drinking” at the end of a drinking party. Furthermore, I would like to introduce sayings associated with tea. Can you find similar expressions in your country?

Make tea muddy;
Avoid main issue or patch things up for the moment.
Boil tea on the navel;
What a hoot!
No tea;
Unreasonable, rash, excessive
Fresh-drawn coarse tea is tasty;
Any girls are beautiful while they are in their prime.
Put in tea and tea;
Put a witty twist on other’s solemn words.
Do tea;
take a short rest,
Getting a tea;
To take a break time to consider something to be useless and neglect it.
Pretending to get drunk with tea;
Somebody pretends to get drunk although he does not take alcohol and take an evasive attitude.
Small cakes for tea;
You can take a small piece of cake for tea easily so it means that it is easy to do so.
Freshly-boiled tea smells fragrant and it hints the graceful mind;
It is important to welcome guests warm-heartedly rather than serving them with fragrant tea.
For Tea, water is a stopper;
It means good water shall be selected for making good tea.
Grinding tea;
Grinding tea leaves to powdered one in a mortar or person doing it. Such persons' business generally were slow. So it means working does not create money.
Say tea;
Say irresponsible things.Talk nonsense. Make a fun of a person Poke fun of
A tea master and illiterate;
He or she pretends to be intelligent. The truth is that most of them are illiterate.
Abstain from tea;
Swear by gods and Buddhas that she or he will never drink tea for some period or a life.
Tea stalk;
It is a sign of good luck to have a tea stalk floating erect in your tea when it is served. Keep it silent and expect good luck on you.
Used tea leaves become manure;
There are nothing useless in the world because even rubbish such as used tea leaves is useful as fertilizer.
Tea watch;
Man to make and serve tea to guests/play a farce ridiculous
Tea eyes;
People who do childish, absurd mischievous things.
Tea belly is temporarily;
Even a cup of tea will assuage hunger for time.
Even a small thing can be helpful as a quick fix.
Tea friend;
A crony, a spouse taken late in life or intimate senior male and female.
Chat over tea;
Have a chat and gossip over tea

Finally, here is a relationship between Japanese tea and Japanese food. Everybody wants to enjoy a variety of tastes of various dishes as many as possible at one time. So we recommend you to have Japanese tea between foods. Taking tea allows for refreshing your mouth and taking away remaining taste. Repetitive drinking tea after eating food makes you to really enjoy food as well as tea. In addition, Japanese tea has a power to prevent food poisoning as I mentioned before. For Japanese cakes, it can be enjoyed visually with light green color of tea and tastefully with bitterness of tea. You can enjoy Japanese cakes representing nature of four seasons along with Japanese tea.  

Now, you may understand why Japanese have respected Japanese teas as medicines and also how much we enjoy it as supplement or refreshment drinks for centuries. Try and enjoy delicate fragrance, color and taste of Ichiban-cha, the first picked tea, symbol of greenery summer, somewhere in Japan in May.  

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