The first tea seeds were brought to Japan by Buddhist priest Yeisei, who saw the value of tea in China as enhancing religious mediation. As a result, he is known as the “Father of Tea” in Japan. By the 16th century, tea was so popular in Japan that it was elevated to an art form with the development of the Japanese Tea Ceremony.
A description of this complex formal procedure was written by the journalist-historian Lafcadio Hearn, who shared with the western world that the tea ceremony requires years of training and practice. One must know “the production and types of tea, kimono, calligraphy, flower arranging, ceramics, and incense” used during the ceremony.
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The tea ceremony in Japan became so ingrained in the culture that it also influenced other art forms – for instance the special style of architecture for tea houses. Also, the cultural hostesses of Japan, the Geisha, began to specialize in the presentation of the tea ceremony. It became not just about drinking “Matcha” (or Tea) – it is also about the “Teishu,” (or host) offering hospitality to the “Kyaku” (or guest).
In the middle of the 16th century Westerners arrived in Japan, and it didn’t take long to develop an admiration for the traditional tea practice there. Then the new relationship between Japan and the western world came to an abrupt halt when the Shogun forced Westerners out of the empire.
Japan was not reopened to foreigners until 1868, when once again the world discovered the tea ceremony, eventually influencing tea practices across the globe. In some countries, “All things Japanese” took over in the arts, a movement that was called “Japonism,” and the beautiful and mysterious traditions of Japan were entrenched, remaining to today.