Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Matsumoto Sosei, Sensei

Here are some sources of information online about this wonderful teacher and chajin.

National Heritage Fellowship (USA, National Endowment for the Arts) 

Local Hero KCET Public Television (Los Angeles)

Nikkei "Real People"

Los Angeles Times

Japanese American National Museum

Obituary: Sosei Matsumoto

Tea “Beyond” Japan Part 2: Chanoyu in the Diaspora

Tea “Beyond” Japan 
Tea Beyond Japan @ Daibosatsu NY 2009

Part 2: Chanoyu in the Diaspora
Originally published Kyoto Journal #71, 2009

Please also see Part 1: Americans Studying the Traditional Japanese Art of the Tea Ceremony: The Internationalizing of a Traditional Art by the late Barbara Lynn Mori)

I am not your typical or natural tea student: a left-handed, cross-country skiing, Jewish feminist. Studying chanoyu for the past 24 years has been both challenging and intriguing for all those reasons. I have been fortunate to find a great teacher who can teach me. I have been encouraged by her to make the practice my own within her very formal teaching.

In 1987, after having studied Urasenke chado in Los Angeles for almost three years as one of less than a handful of students of non-Japanese heritage of the Distinguished Tea Master Sosei Matsumoto, sensei, I was invited to apply to the Midorikai program for non-Japanese people at Konnichian in Kyoto for the first of three short-courses (i.e. part-time); the others being in 1989 and 1991. Now 24 years into the practice, I’m anxious to write the next “chapter” about American tea practitioners of chado. It will chronicle how tea “beyond” Japan has been manifest in the “diaspora” through the individual and collective efforts of those of us who have embraced the premise and practice of chado. Here is a taste.


While Urasenke has the largest number of non-Japanese tea student ranks, other schools have gaijin and nihonjin (people of Japanese nationalities) students, teachers and practitioners, including Omotesenke and Mushanokojisenke (who with Urasenke, constitute the largest and primary progeny of Sen no Rikyu, the root teacher of tea practice established in the mid-16th century). There are many other formal tea schools, including but not limited to Edosenke, Dainippon Chado Gakkai, Enshuryu, Sohenryu and Yabunouchiryu, among others (See Wikipedia for an interesting extensive list.)  with branches wherever people of Japanese heritage live. Periodically, their top teachers are sent forth from the headquarters to us in the hinterlands to teach, and expat devotees make pilgrimages to take refresher courses, participate in annual and special events, etc. back in Japan.

American chajin are encouraged to go to Japan to study in advanced courses, but these programs are conducted in Japanese language only. Annually for Urasenke, there is a conference, in Japanese language with translation, that is held in Hawaii. It is attended by many folks who wish direct connection with the grand tea master and other top members of the family.

Urasenke, has a Seinen-bu “youth group” system which encourages visits from Japanese counterparts. In Los Angeles, the “youth” group, which includes folks up to 45(!) years of age, hosted a group from Kanazawa.. The entourage, headed by the 10th generation grand master of the Ohi pottery family Chozaemon, participated in a large, beautiful public event at the Huntington Gardens’ Japanese House. They brought wonderful utensils and even water from a famous well. On another occasion, that of the start of the Pan-Pacific Yacht Race, another official Urasenke group was hosted at the famous Marina del Rey with festive public tea demonstrations and a kencha offertory tea ritual held for the sailors’ safety on the high seas. 

These unquestionably lovely events have been held on Japanese terms. The question of the integrity and sustainability of a universality of chado practice – one outside Japan – needs to be explored on if it is to be proven truly universal in spirit.

 [Note: Since that time, the Huntington's Japanese Garden has been redesigned, the Japanese House restored and Seifu-an, Arbor of Pure Breeze) a Japanese Tea House has been added.]

Always a Guest ...

When I first was a guest student at Midorikai in 1987, I was quite lost, like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, in my own wonderland of tea. I had no benefit of any life-sustaining proficiency in Japanese language and discovered that use of tea ceremony conversation in “secular” settings was not productive or even appropriate. I can’t read kanji, and in fact, when I reported for the first day’s class, kimono and new tabi socks in a bulging furoshiki carrying cloth, it was to the wrong school’s headquarters! Once set on the right path, it became perfectly clear to me that to get the most out of the experience the best strategy was to err on the side of formality by focusing on acquiring the skills of a good guest. Was it audacious to think that I, a foreigner, could be the host sometimes as well?

It was easy to develop a sense of privilege as a “foreigner” in this environment, both as one who was visiting at the behest of the Grand Tea Master and the other, as one whose place in the full, orthodox chajin hierarchy was most likely always going to be off the radar screen if only Japanese standards were applied.

That sense of being a “foreigner” in tea upon returning to the USA, continued, inappropriately I felt, especially as I was drawn deeper into the study and practice. it seems most appropriate to practice in a vernacular that enables me to access more of the spirit from which a bowl of tea can be made. I found that I wasn’t alone. There are lots of folks who are into tea in and “beyond” Japan. How to find them?

Urasenke’s Resources for Foreigners

The Urasenke International Association Kokusaibu (headquarters in Kyoto) has employed several graduates as teachers editors and administrators of the Midorikai program. They have been, for the most part North American bilingual males, many of whom had begun their tea studies in Japan around the time of the Vietnam War. Despite their excellent proficiency and loyalties to their teachers / employer, they have never been admitted to the formal ranks of gyotei and mizuya teachers, the official ranks of men whose families historically are patronized to serve at the discretion of the grand masters’ family, I hope they will find a way to share some of their experiences with us by composing their own memoirs when the time is appropriate (1). 

The long-lived Midorikai students were then, and it seems remain, a mix of free-spirited and deeply serious 20–30-year-old college graduates from the Americans, Middle East, other parts of Asia, the Soviet Union, Australia / New Zealand, South America and Europe. All were extremely helpful to me when I was visiting. 

As then Hounsai Oiemoto, now the retired Grand Master Daisosho Genshitsu Sen, Urasenke XV had hoped, a number of Midorikai graduates became the vanguard of Kyoto-supported Urasenke Foundation branches or who work in liaison offices 21-cities world-wide; others are teaching chanoyu independently throughout the USA and in their homelands (2). But, sadly, the vast majority have not institutionalized their practice with the same vigor. This has been a disappointment to the family enterprise, and, in light of the bursting of Japan’s economic bubble, a realignment of the program took place.

Another critical change has been the cessation in 1999 of publication of the scholarly and useful Chanoyu Quarterly, a journal with translations of other works and new articles in English which was excellently managed by editor Gretchen K. Mittwer through 88 volumes (3). In 2008, now six years since the ascendance of Zabosai Oiemoto, as Sen Soshitsu XVI, there is are several fine English language publications of use to non-Japanese literate practitioners, including A Chanoyu Vocabulary: Practical Terms for the Way of Tea, Urasenke Chado Textbook and English for Use in the Way of Tea (with kana references that are handy for us who do not read but who do understand the audible conversations, vocabulary, etc.), all of which may be found online. While there is a two-volume beginner “guide” to studying Urasenke Chanoyu sourced from Chanoyu Quarterly, and a few other general publications authored by members of his family, unfortunately, most of the other, more technical books -- especially the "Green Books" and contemporary periodicals - Tanko, Nagome, titles on flower arrangements, cooking, and others of a more general nature -- issued by Urasenke’s Tankosha publishing arm are not translated from Japanese. 

While one cannot learn tea from a book (or even the Japanese language videos now offered), it leaves those of us who continue to study without language proficiency at a loss. This is all the more reason to find other tea folks with whom to create a critical mass of like-minded community.


"we" Chajins @ Sunrise Springs NM, 2000
In 2000 a group of Midorikai alumni, other Urasenke students and a few active tea practitioners from Omotesenke, some 30 women and men mostly Americans with 10 – 30 years chado experience -- decided it was time to get together. The group had no structured or formal “we;” its impetus was a reaction to various urges of dedication: to tea practice, to Urasenke, to each other as long-distance acquaintances. The “reunion” was unofficial, neither sanctioned nor supported by the Kokusaibu. It was decidedly “informal” within an otherwise very formal world. (In a most perfect world, I was to have asked my sensei for permission to attend.) We connected without pretense, purely on our own terms, to assess our collective resources, expressed in our own vernacular, to witness the spirit of tea, as we expressed it, “beyond Japan.” 

While it was a bold, perhaps radical undertaking contrasted to the be-true-to-your-school path that is the hallmark of most institutions in Japan, at no time was there any will to discount lineage or to create a new way of tea for 21st Century outside Japan. We sought to strengthen our individual experiences of chanoyu by finding others who were entrusted with other pieces of the “puzzle”.

The first one was held at Sunrise Springs, a retreat center in Santa Fe New Mexico, with four other biannual gatherings at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center (north of San Francisco) and Daibosatsu Zen Center (New York State) since then. Anyone who had a chado practice that wanted to come and contribute was and continues to be welcome. Most Japanese-native tea folks have no idea what to make of it. It falls outside their realm of activity. In 2009 another gathering, “Friends of Tea” will be held at Daibosatsu, June 10 - 14.(4)

At the first gathering, after the initial excitement of the social “reunion” of folks who hadn’t seen each other since Kyoto, we decided to figure out what we wanted to accomplish during the few days together. In addition to the residential facilities, there was tea room, utensils and lots of tea. Tea gatherings were held at-will, available 24/7, as long as host found a guest. This included the most informal styles of chabako, a picnic box style of tea procedure, which was employed daily before sunrise on the dock of the small pond on the land.

The Way to Sunrise Springs: Coffee Shop Temae
When we convened as a group, discussions were deeply serious and became an unofficial manifesto on what chado in its most seriously practiced form could mean “beyond” Japan, the role of a chajin tea person in the larger pan-national world and how we viewed our relationships with Japan. We had earnest discussions about how those of us, without formal employment by or other relationship to Urasenke, expressed our commitments to the school; some want to “give back in some way of thanks for the life-changing experience,” others want to declare a certain independence, and still others, isolated by not actively studying with a teacher, feel they have become like ronin, samurai without a lord. 


Some live near Japanese “towns” in their communities with access to utensils, tea, sweets and spaces to support the practice. Others, considering themselves “outlaw” practitioners, relied on the internet and mail order to stock up. Many of us developed crafts skills to create our own utensils or had commissioned works by domestic artisans. We discussed what we needed to keep our practice alive outside Japan, including making the charcoal, forging iron kettles and even growing tea! 

All in attendance seemed to embrace the concept of Daisosho’s mission in spirit, that there can be found “Peace in a bowl of Tea” wherever it can be shared by like-minded individuals. We have had no desire to create new ritual forms, but to find a way to witness each other’s chado, watching how our processes vary from each other, and to try to find ways that they can work together. Seeking ways to incorporate locally accessible resources, whether wood to build a tea room or foodstuffs for a new recipe for a kaiseki dish, it was tea presented in the spirit of sustainability!

At the final session of the first gathering, a tea ritual, we honored the teachers among us who were actively pursuing their vocation and memorialized those pioneers – our own tea ancestors -- who were not with us.

The next gatherings had more structured topical workshops and lectures, and incorporated the now signature elements of impromptu tea-making and, at the conclusion, a temae tea service performed in tandem by Urasenke and Omotesenke hosts, to seal our collective effort in time and space. Topics of discussion included philosophical foundation of chanoyu, poetry, historic writings, kaiseki tea meals preparation, and hand-made tearooms and gardens. There were practicum sessions on calligraphy, crafting tea utensils and sweets, surviving the physicality of sitting seiza, and talks by resident scholars. We’ve also welcomed craftspeople who make utensils – most notably ceramicists – who want to find new patrons for their handwork. During the gatherings at the zen centers, we were invited by the sangha to join them in meditation and service. In turn, we invited them for tea. The spirit of living with tea 24/7 was energizing.

Very few Japanese nationals have joined in; those who did have told us they are encouraged by our independent spirit of chado, something they are not necessary at liberty to find at home. Most of my Japan-born tea colleagues in Los Angeles just can’t understand what we could possibly do in that setting. My dear teacher finds them “interesting”. Folks from Europe see our model as a useful example to assemble a critical mass of practitioners across national boundaries. 

These events have also inspired another pan-school gathering, the autumn Daichakai at Hakone Gardens in Saratoga California. Established by the late Omotesenke teacher Stuart Lenox with support of teachers and students in Northern California from a variety of traditions – Urasenke, Omotesenke, Mushanokojisenke, Yabonouchi, Dai Nippon Chado Gakkai, Edosenke and others -- the annual day-long multiple-venue event is staged throughout locations in the garden that support both formal (thick) and less formal (thin) procedures, with guests (kimono preferred) accommodated on chairs and tatami, inside tea rooms and outside in the garden. John Larissou's comments about the first one remains interesting.

The “virtual” chado community has several forms. “wakeiseijaku” is an English language online group at Yahoo.com that is a network of chado practitioners, with input from people of various traditions / lineages and experiences. Since this article was written, Facebook pages (official and unofficial), blogs and other web-based sites have also been added by various individuals and schools' headquarters and branches. Additionally some of the commercial purveyors of tea, sweets, dogu and other items of necessity are being translated. There are archives, including photos and some recipes, diagrams for making tea related utensils and structures.

1 For another “backstage” look at the Urasenke tea world and the practice of chado, see An Introduction to Japanese Tea Ritual by anthropologist / tea instructor Jennifer L. Anderson, State University of New York, 1991

2 It should be pointed out that all teachers of Urasenke chado are not employed by the school, family or business. Most teachers are “free-lancers” who have been granted licenses to teach from the Kyoto headquarters. Midorikai alumni are among them, as well as some having been hired to run Urasenke Foundation schools. Urasenke International Liaison offices and Foundation Branches can be found Asia: Kyoto (headquarters), Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Tianjin; Australia: Sidney, Brisbane; Europe: London, Rome, Paris, Dusseldorf, Mevzhaussen, Amstellaan; The Americas: New York, Hawaii, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC / McLean, Virginia, Vancouver, Mexico City, Sao Paulo. For more information: http://www.urasenke.or.jp/texte/world/agency.html

4 A fully volunteer-developed opportunity that has no online presence at this time, the programs have included okashi making, chashaku carving, making shifuku, discussions on the roji, tea garden and architecture, poetry and tea philosophy and many opportunities to make tea, practice zazen with the residents. A past gathering remains online http://www.friendsintea.org/.

I welcome anyone who has experience in chado to contact me to strengthen our community and celebrate this wonderful practice. lwdeutsch@earthlink.net

Tea "Beyond" Japan Part 1: Getting In the Way of Tea

Tea "Beyond" Japan   Part 1: Getting in the Way of Tea

Book Review

Americans Studying the Traditional Japanese Art of the Tea Ceremony: The Internationalizing of a Traditional Art by Barbara Mori, (Mellen Research University Press, San Francisco, 1992)
(Originally Published in Kyoto Journal, Issue #71, 2009)

It is said it takes a minimum of 10 years to begin to master (small “m”) any of the formal Japanese cultural arts, from tea ceremony to scroll mounting, karate to flower arrangement. This little black book, originally published as a dissertation but easily read and enjoyed for its balance of detail and insight, is the ultimate back-stage pass to the often frenetic world of Midorikai, the Japanese tea ceremony school for foreigners established in 1973 in Kyoto at the farsighted Sen Family’s back-lot branch, Urasenke. It is a good introduction to the history and practice of chanoyu for the uninitiated and for anyone who would seek a window on formal training in the cultural arts of Japan.

The author, Asian sociologist Professor Barbara Mori, was a student from 1983 – 1985 at the intercultural peacemaker project founded in 1973[1] by now Retired Grand Master (Daisosho) Genshitsu, then Hounsai, Dr. Sen Soshitsu, XV, as a gift to the world. Like a well-schooled teishu (tea host), Mori offers a deeply-dipped scoop on the post-graduate residential training program through which hundreds of well intentioned gaijin-cum-chajin passed for nearly three decades. Given the carefully managed relationships within this tightly regulated cultural matrix, to her credit she is relatively unabashed and, from my experience as a visitor to the program on three occasions after that, quite accurate.
At the time of writing, the Midorikai (literally “green” group) was a three-year residency program at the Konnichian compound along the Horikawa Avenue in the north-central area of Kyoto, the historic home of the Sen families since their famous ancestor, Rikyu in the 16th century. Students were college graduates at minimum, often in Japanese studies, and some were studying on scholarships provided by Dr. Sen to institutions with which he had established direct academic relationships. Others, who were studying with teachers abroad, were fortunate enough to be invited join the full-time students in lectures, on outings and to participate in the training exercises for short periods of time. The experience was unparalleled in its exposure to the very heart of the “high” part of Japanese culture at levels very few Japanese themselves ever experience. In total over 400 people from 30 countries have participated in the program.

It has been Daishoso’s hope that once adept in the history and practice of creating chanoyu, literally the tea’s hot water, his deshi, students with a formal relationship to a teacher, would carry their knowledge and enthusiasm as teachers back to their home countries and establish chanoyu training centers throughout the world. They would promote his vision of  “Peace through a bowl of Tea”. The Midorikai program has continued with modification by his son, now Grand Master Zabosai, Sen Soshitsu XVI, to this day.

Daishoso’s plan in action incorporated strict adherence to the Japanese way of learning and doing, and embraced, in appropriate measures, the diverse cultural distinctions that could complement the signature Japanese tea aesthetic. It would be safe to say that men and women from every country with which Japan has political relations have passed through the nijiri-guchi (the small guest entrance to the tea room) of Midorikai. Americans have numbered significantly high among attendees and a handful of foreigners have served as teachers and administrators at the Kokusaibu (foreign office) in Kyoto for years, placing them among the rank of highly accomplished chajin.

Mori's book is their story. She quotes them anonymously, revealing problems coping with daily life in Japan and the school’s rigorous standards, their deflated mystiques about the exotic nature of Japanese culture and tea ceremony, and their struggles living along the dictates of a foreign social standard. Many didn’t speak or read Japanese when they arrived and had to rely on English, which was the second language of the program. Formally and informally students were expected to know and behave in accord with their place in the hierarchy of the sempai – kohai (upper / under class(wo)men), and even higher, to teachers and the school’s staff and the Sen family.

To learn chanoyu, one needs to know much more than how to boil water for powdered tea, to select and handle a utensil, to know the name of a historic fabric pattern, to prepare and serve seasonal kaiseki meals, to build a fire or hang a scroll. Chanoyu is a physical, aesthetic, psychological and social experience, one that requires a person to rely on innate instincts and academic prowess. Perhaps the most strenuous physical part is sitting on the floor on one’s heels in seiza for long periods of time. Emotionally, one’s ego can be challenged. Mori reports burnout on more than one occasion.

In addition to study about tea, Midorikai students had lectures and field trips about other cultural areas that have an effect on or are affected by tea, such as Kabuki, Noh theatre, architecture, Japanese history and Zen Buddhism (including zazen meditation practice), to name a few. Midorikai students on occasion were privileged to be counted in the Grand Master’s official entourage when he was invited to make a offertory tea for dignitaries and in historic places, such as Kinkakuji and Tenryuji temples. At the same time, students are responsible for cleaning classrooms and tearooms, organizing and presenting tea demonstrations for public events, maintaining student utensils and class records.

All of this experience is considered essential for the development of character which will produce a person who engages in chado, the Way of Tea in all aspects of her life. According to the Midorikai rules, one is expected to cultivate and inculcate the principles of “Wa (harmony), Kei (respect), Sei (purity) and Jaku (tranquilly) a part of our everyday lives. ... We must try to find out for ourselves the true meaning of self-discipline which involves a steady, determined effort to learn the Way.” [2] It is these same four principles that are to be present in a tea ceremony.

Mori’s keen observational skills enabled her to detail the impact on students of the rigors of the school’s 24/7 tea boot-camp educational style over a full spectrum of experiences, in class and out, often crossing boundaries of private space / time. According to the Urasenke website[3], “Tea to one student may be the ideal means to learn about the Japanese mind and culture, while to another the Way of Tea is a means to attain inner peace and outer harmony. Once accepted into the Midorikai program, however, students must try to fit into the social and mental climate of the strict demands of the traditional training program at Urasenke.”

Under these circumstances, however, students are hardly ever extra-curricular. Kyoto is a very small place, and, while it looks like even the buildings are indifferent if not actually asleep, nothing is so completely covert as to fly beneath the well entrenched radar of the tea establishment. One cannot step out of line without news of an indiscretion getting back to the school and having an impact on one’s standing.

“Urasenke is a kind of Byzantine court, filled with intrigue, a kind of monopoly pyramid,” commented a non-Japanese male teacher to Mori. “Errors in this system are never forgotten, and tag after you,” she reports another non-Japanese male teacher  reflecting on the career ups and downs of some of the Japanese teachers.

Urasenke configures several types of instructional programs at its headquarters, Midorikai being only for foreigners. A parallel program, Gakuen, is conducted for Japanese nationals. Mori reports one informant, a non-Japanese male student, saying, “Here at Urasenke foreigners are treated in a sort of special way. They are invited to many functions held at Konnichian at the main center of Urasenke with Oiemoto, whereas the Gakuensei (Japanese students), as far as I can see, don’t have a lot of privileges.” Another, a Japanese-American third-year student, told her, “Foreigners are not considered part of the system. On the other hand, I don’t believe non-Japanese are given the benefit of the doubt as far as learning the more advanced forms of tea appreciation.” Midorikai students who do not speak Japanese will be oblivious to the nuances of this fact. What can be understood directly from English (or through the mediation of a bilingual colleague) is a wealth of knowledge.

Midorikai rules acknowledge and Mori concludes that its up to each student to find a way to adapt to the structure of daily routine, from living in the school dorms to cleaning the school tea rooms, from dressing in kimono to studying for the next day’s practicum. Whether taking responsibility for a public event or the breakage of a class utensil, the individual becomes responsible for and to the group, and the group to the school patrons. For some these lessons are more difficult to learn than yet another way to clean a tea scoop!

Each Midorikai student has his or her own stories to tell. They all reveal the boldness and generosity of the Urasenke experiment to expose foreigners to the most intimate of experiences of Japan. Mori’s work is part one of a story that has evolved to this day. A new class of students comes in each year and the efforts of those who have graduated and are promoting “Peace through a bowl of Tea” have been manifest “beyond” Japan with great success.

To see how Midorikai fits into the Urasenke system, you may view the Urasenke English language newsletter http://www.teeseminar.de/archive/newsletters/Urasenke-Newsletter_110.pdf

[1] The first class for foreign students was established at Urasenke in Kyoto in 1970
[2] “Midorikai Rules and General Information” (61st Year of the rule of Emperor Hirohito)
[3] www.urasenke.or.jp

Much Ado About Matcha: Appreciating the Taste of Powdered Green Tea

Much Ado About Matcha:
Appreciating the Taste of
Powdered Green Tea

by Lauren W. Deutsch, Sochi

(Originally published in Kyoto Journal, #71 2009)

You’ve seen her about town, demurely coifed and impeccably dressed in a shimmering kimono of a refreshing hue of green upon which seasonal grasses and a single flower bud blossom onto her obi. Perhaps you know her by her stage names, poetic impressions conjured up by her esteemed patrons, among which she counts many of Kyoto’s elite – the current grand masters of traditional hospitality and those for over 16 generations before. She is invited to be present in complex rituals that honor the most noble of Japan’s warriors. Her renown is jealously guarded as one would a fine songbird of rare voice. A sweet confidence marks her beguiling gestures. Even after one chance meeting, one is left with an impression that is deep and full.

She is, of course, “Matcha-sama” – Japan’s beloved emerald empress of high traditional culture, the national muse whose substance is the finest powdered camellia sinensis. Even in Kyoto, the undisputed center of the Japanese tea world, wherever she goes, she is in a class by herself. Her reputation is impeccable, albeit “Old School”; she is outnumbered by the likes of upstart “Punky Poky Bobacha-chan” and “Frappalattechino-chan”.

If you think that chanoyu, the Japanese tea ritual, is primarily about enjoying the flavor of matcha ... I have a bridge to sell you! Let’s call it the ultimate Japanese “urban myth”. Making matcha – mixing of hot water and a tiny bit of carefully selected, hand-picked young green tea leaves in powdered form – is merely the premise for a refined social gathering. Unlike oenophiles who can wax poetic about the taste factors of their beloved wine, chado practitioners, folks who make the Way of Tea their Way of Life, are hard pressed to discuss the distinct taste characteristics of dozens of comparably prepared teas from each other of the same grade.

So what’s the fuss about a tea ceremony? Why are there so many different products marketed if there’s no discrimination? Why has making and sharing a bowl of matcha been one of the prime markers of Japanese culture for over half a millennium? Does one have to study 10+ years and make thousands of bowls of tea to get a handle on the taste? Maybe. Maybe not.

The Taste of a Bowl of Emptiness

Tea is not a game and not an art.
One taste of tea refreshes and purifies
And gives enlightenment to the universal law.
                              –Murata Shukô (1423-1502)

Tea – enjoyed in powdered leaf form – was imported to Japan from China along with Rinzai Zen Buddhism by Yosai in about 1192 A.D. and was first planted at Kozanji Temple in Toga-no-o in the northwestern region of Kyoto. Other temples began to plant tea for their own consumption, as did the imperial palace in the early 9th century.1

Tea was popular among the monastic set for its medicinal effect; its high level of caffeine kept them clearheaded and awake during long periods of sitting zazen meditation. In China, back then, tea was relegated to the “bitter” category of the Five Element Theory2 of Traditional Oriental Medicine, thus good for the heart. (Only recently has the West adopted pungency as the official fifth taste sensation. Umami as its known is a signature Japanese flavor projecting a broth-like, pungent “heartiness” sensation associated with fermented and aged foods. More about umani to come!)

Priest Myô-ei Shonin went to the trouble to delineate “10 Virtues of Tea”3, but none were about the taste.

Tea ...
Has the blessing of all the Deities.
Promotes filial piety.
Drives away the Devil.
Banishes drowsiness.
Keeps the Five Viscera in harmony.
Wards off disease.
Strengthens friendships.
Disciplines body and mind.
Destroys the passions.
Gives a peaceful death.

Rather than also bring back methods of cultivation of the plant, they told us how to cultivate the mind: there is ... no ... discrimination ... no ... nose, tongue, body ... smell, taste ...” in emptiness. It may be a good recipe for enlightenment, but not for gourmands. Murata Shukô (1423 – 1502), renowned among his peers for dozing on the zafu meditation cushion, one day finally woke up, jumped up, declaring, “Chazen ichi mi" – “Tea and Zen are the same taste!” and exchanged the dark, smoky zendo for a life of tea drinking in the secular world. He got points from his iconoclastic teacher priest Ikkyu, also a proponent of chanoyu.

Tea, the medicine and the Chinese-inspired ways to prepare it ritually, began to make its way out of the monastery into the Buddhist-influenced secular world of warlords and merchants, particularly through Takeno Jô (1502-1555), and his famed student Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591). Shoguns from the late Ashigakas through the Toyotomis, especially the egomaniacal Shogun Hideyoshi Toyotomi, became patrons of chajin tea practitioners and the latter became formal members of their courtly retinue. Tea utensils trumped the plant in value, and these objects often were coveted more highly than real estate as spoils of war victories. There are tomes written about the crafting and collecting of Chinese tea caddies and Korean tea bowls, as well as the rise of domestic craft production in ceramics, metal, fine fabric, lacquered wood, bamboo and other materials for the performance of the ritual.

Elaborate tea gatherings were refined compositions of hospitality that demonstrated the host’s skills in incorporating fleeting seasonal elements into ichi go ichi e ... “One time. One meeting.” The practice became a living embodiment of the cultivation of wa, kei, sei and jaku, harmony, respect, purity and tranquility. Everything about tea – the architecture, landscaping, culinary histories and more – has been fair game for meticulously-researched connoisseurship ... except the taste of tea itself. While never completely disassociated from temple life, the preparation of chanoyu morphed into chado as a secular vocation, now 16 generations long, of folks with impeccable taste, and hundreds of thousands of their followers.

The Earth’s Gifts: A Matcha Primer

Like wine and perhaps even more like beer, creating fine matcha has everything to do with rootstock / plant, the soil and its geographic placement, weather, techniques of growing, manufacturing and storage, all of which will impact its taste. Here are some hints about such variables as encountered in tea production today.

   § Location. Location. Location.

Fine matcha is usually associated with the town of Uji in the southern end of Kyoto, near Byodo-in Temple. With a deep bow to the history and tea commerce, today it’s a lovely tourist town full of little tea shops situated along the river that shares its name, once considered a source of potable water excellent for chanoyu. Outside the “downtown” are the tea plantations and processing and storage facilities. Matcha that bears the distinction as “Ujicha” may have been grown in Kyoto, Nara, Shiga and Mie Prefectures and “finished” in Uji. Ujicha is most associated with the more conservative, formal tea schools that were patronized by the elite chado families and Shogunate, such as Ippodo (founded in 1717), Kanbayashi (1500), Koyamaen (late 1600s), and relative newcomer Ryuonen (1875).

On the other hand, Aiya Saijoen, founded in 1888, obtains its tea leaves from 850 year-old family farms in Nishiio,Aichi Prefecture. These tea plants enjoy a terrior benefiting from being near three rivers and the soil is characteristically less “heavy” with minerals than that of Uji. Yet, to all but the most experienced tea tasters, terror influence is imperceptible, unlike, for example, the impact of limestone in the soil nourishing a fine pinot noir, for example. While Nishio claims to have hosted the largest tea ceremony4, Shizuoka Prefecture, which hosts a large international tea exposition5, boasts being the largest tea-growing region in Japan, having been producing for over 650 years.

§  Vintage
The tea growing cycle goes from spring through fall. Unlike wine and fermented teas which improve with age, and like beer which is best enjoyed fresh, matcha is usually consumed over a single year’s time. Its taste declines with age and improper storage and handling.

§  Root Stock and Soil
According to Atsushi Yasui-san of Hibiki-an6, gokoh, samidori, and komakage varietals of camellia sinensis are best suited for producing gyokuro, the finest grade of tea from which the youngest (top) “two flags and a spine” (two leaves and a bud) are hand-selected to be dried, sorted and finely ground into matcha. Koicha, matcha prepared in “thick” concentration of powdered leaf to water, is from root stock of about 200 years of age; usucha, “thinly” prepared matcha, comes from younger plants. Good drainage is critical as well, so tea plantations tend to be on slopes.

High quality gyokuro tea trees need to be fertilized (fish meal, bean meal) about three times as much as other teas, such as those for sencha. The soil’s nitrogen content (whether natural or increased through fertilization) impacts the amount of L-theanine, an amino acid that is source of the “sweetness or its deliciousness” umami taste. “Perhaps what gives tea its is the way that L-theanine stimulates the taste-buds.”7 Pesticides are hardly ever used, even on “non-organic” products.

Organic production is of great current interest. All matcha was originally organically produced. Today, Japan strictly regulates its production of agricultural products labeled as such. With modern fertilizers, there can be “super” matchas, ones especially high in nitrogen in which the taste more “grassy”. The organic teas are less sweet, according to Shiro Nobunaga, former sales director of Shizuoka tea producer Aiya America, Inc.8 There are ways to challenge nature to produce a more broadly pleasing product, balancing bitterness and sweetness in the most pleasing proportions.

§       Weather
The history of weather – most notably rainfall (about 1,500 mm / year) and high day and night temperature contract (with high expectancy of mist) – will affect the quantity of tea available. Nobunaga noted that in 2007 and 2008 the volume was less due to rainfall issues, but the quality was maintained.

Finished in Darkness and Hand-Picked
For the last 20 – 30 days prior to picking, mid April to May – traditionally 88 days after the festivities of setsubun a late-winter holiday, the fields of gyokuro plants destined for matcha are covered with progressively applied shades made of reed, rice straw or fiber to a height of about seven feet9, one layer per week for three to four weeks depending upon weather. According to Mr. Nobunaga, "When you shade the tencha fields, the leaves try to collect more sunlight, thus becoming wider, thinner and softer. This is why when you hand pick these top, young shoots, you get the most resilient green color and also it becomes the finest in particle size when you grind them with the granite wheels. The finer the matcha in particle size, more smooth and creamy the taste and texture (not grainy like the lower grades).”

This unique growing method forces the plant to produce more chlorophyll as it strains to absorb whatever light there is. It also reduces the tendency of L-theanine from turning into catechin, a component of tannin that is connected with shibui, astringency. Both L-theanine and tannin have calming properties, yet matcha has the capacity to stimulate. More L-theanine, an antioxidant, more umami flavor. Modern science has recognized L-theanine to be effective in the treatment of high blood pressure, cancer, heart disease and other ailments. (Remember, the Chinese medicinal system relates the taste of “bitter” with the major organ of the “heart”.)

As noted, tea for matcha is always picked carefully by hand during May, about 88 days after setsubun, the festival marking winter’s end. Like the grape crush, the entire field is picked through until all the leaves appropriate for matcha are picked. There is no second or late harvest. The leaves undergo a variety of manufacturing processes that steam (arrest oxidation and maintain color, flavor and aroma), dry (air and heat) and cut them. The leaves are separated from the stems and veins, with the remaining 10 percent of the plant called tencha. Finally, it is graded by size through a number of winnowing activities and allocated to be suitable for koicha or usucha. Tea for matcha is not rolled like sencha and other infusing teas. Tea for matcha is never rolled, as is common in the processing of gyokuro.

Tea “sommeliers”, as Nobunaga-san calls them, are in charge of carefully blending the tencha plants grown in different types of soil according to “secret formulas” to create blends that are consistent over time, expertly recognizable and which are assigned various product names. No one that I spoke with indicated there being any premium attached to drinking the product of a single tea plant type, or as in the wine world, where vertical (vintage) comparisons are much discussed among connoisseurs and the quality plus quantity of which impact the price.

§  Grinding
The first grinding occurs in November. Today, as in Rikyu’s time, the tencha is still ground between two horizontal granite stone mill wheels, the only contemporary change is that the wheels are turned by machine at a speed (55 rpm) equal to that of human power. It is estimated that it takes an hour of grinding to produce one ounce of matcha. Not all the tencha is ground at once. Mr. Nobunaga explains that Aiya stores its tencha in refrigerated facilities and grinds it throughout the year based upon the market’s demand. In the “old days”, grinding was done by the tea master prior to serving it.

As would be expected, even in the best storage, fresh tencha destined for matcha will decrease in intensity through the course of the year. For this reason, the chanoyu preparation techniques, especially koicha, will take into account the intensity of flavor; the temperature of the hot water will be allowed to drop before being added to matcha in the late spring through early fall when the strength of the sensitive leaf has diminished. Matcha is usually sifted about three times to render it as fine powder without clumps just prior to placing it in a ceremonial container.

The First Tea Gathering of the Year

In the most formal of settings, such as those observed by the elite chajin families, their empty chatsubo ceramic tea jar is delivered to the chashi tea producer who puts small bags (75 gms) of appropriate variety of koicha (finest grade for the formal, thick presentation) into the jar and fills the rest with tsumi-cha (tea leaves) for the informal, usucha (thin preparation). He puts on the lid, seals it and marks it with his hanko stamp. The chatsubo is placed back into its box to which is affixed a list of its contents by the chamei poetic name of the tea. The jar is returned with a gift of thanks to the owner and arrives with much anticipation and fanfare.

The arrival and opening of the chatsubo is the commencement of first private chaji tea gathering of the new year, coinciding with the opening of the tea room’s ro sunken hearth. In Chado: A Tea Master’s Almanac10, Sasaki Sanmi, a journalist and Urasenke household intimate, says that it is a lifetime’s greatest honor to be invited to witness the kuchi-kiri breaking of the seal of the chatsubo and tasting the first chanoyu. The opening of chatsubo tea container is done in the presence of guests, who admire the container and wrappings. The chaseki tea ceremony meal is then served and eaten in silence so that the sound of the milling wheels grinding the new tea may be heard. Only then will the temae ritual presentation begin, first with kencha ritual offering of thick tea to the ancestors, Buddha, etc., followed by a single bowl of koicha shared among several guests, followed by individual bowls of usucha, thinly prepared tea.

Much Ado About Matcha

Concerns (or lack thereof) by the general population about the agricultural and manufacturing processes of tea are no different than any food these days, but, because of the tea ceremony, there has been much ado about matcha that rivals, and arguably, exceeds, that of the West’s obsession with wine. To that end, our dear Matcha-sama might be considered the ultimate “guest” of a chaji formal tea gathering, with the humans merely there to extend the welcome and adore her. But, at the conclusion of the hours-long event, we will know very little about her, save her name.

What’s in a Name?

The finest matchas, both as koicha and usucha, are given chamei tea names, often awarded together in pairs, by a renown tea master or temple. Rather than hint at the taste, they serve merely as marketing ploys. These identifications function much the same as names of perfume: Channel’s #4 or #5, for example. Without our having prior experience of comparisons, as it regards the taste, these names don’t help any more than Shukô’s describing the taste of tea as “Zen”. Tea students are taught the names of their affiliated school’s preferences and are encouraged to purchase these products. The tea’s chamei, however, will be taken into consideration when planning a tea gathering’s poetic framework (including the sentiment of the scroll displayed in the tokonoma, the poetic name of other utensils, etc.).

Particular blends that bear chamei may be produced over several years and even through several generations of tea masters, such as the following list of currently available teas11 demonstrates:

Gonomi  (Favored By)
Matcha Grade
Kaichi no Mukashi
Resourceful Knowledge
Hounsai, Urasenke XV
Marukyu Koyamaen


Shoka no Mukashi
Pine Flower
Zabosai, Urasenke XVI
Marukyu Koyamaen
Rei Un no Mukashi
Cloudy Peaks
Futessai, Mushanokojisenke X
Gion Tsujirien
Myofu no Mukashi
Mysterious Wind
Jimyosai, Omotesenke XIV
Marukyu Koyamaen
Iori no Tomo
Friends of the Hearth
Tantansai, Urasenke XIV
Gion Tsujiri


Purple Cloud
Tantansai, Urasenke XIV
Happy Cloud
Hounsai, Urasenke XV
Marukyu Koyama-en
Seijo no Shiro
Pure Peace
Zabosai, Urasenke XVI
Marukyu Koyamaen
Michi no Shiro
The Path
Futessai, Mushanokojisenke X
Auspicious Breeze
Futessai, Mushanokojisenke X
Marukyu Koyama-en
Jimyosai, Omotesenke XIV
Gion Tsujiri
[Note: Tantansai, Hounsai and Zabosai, are grandfather, father and son, Urasenke Oiemoto Sen Soshitsu XIV, XV and XVI, respectively.]

Other names may reference an auspicious occasion, specific poetic reference, etc.
Special Occasion
Matcha Grade
Kento no Mukashi
Building Kyoto
Created to celebrate Kyoto's 1200th anniversary.
Gion Tsujirien
Kinjo no Mukashi
Above the Brocade / Maple leaves of autumn
Pun on the phrase to offer something to someone above your status level
Godsend from Heaven
Exceptionally high quality
Marukyu Koyamaen
Chigi no Shiro
A Thousand Trees
Reference to the trees that are planted every 20 years for the rebuilding of Ise Jima, considered the spiritual birth place of Japan’s islands and the country’s most revered Shinto shrine
Marukyu Koyamaen
*Toma no Shiro

Rustic Bamboo Sudare Screen
Enshuryu lineage refers to apoem about the sunset on a beach -'as I look around there are no maple leaves, no cherry blossoms just a sudare screen hut in the autumn sunset'

To make matters even more confusing, a single tea blend may be given several names, by each of several different grand tea masters. Examples from Ippodo are:

Hounsai, Urasenke XV
Jimyosai, Omotesenke XIV
Seiun  =
Wakamatsu no Mukashi
Ikuyo no Mukashi  =
Kimmo no Mukashi

In addition, special matchas are often created in limited “editions” and quantities for special events, such as Ippodo’s Shin Shun Wakamatsu-no-mukashi koicha, and Shin Shun Seiun usucha were available only from December 2007 until mid January 2008, as long as supplies lasted.

Names often have distinguishing terms that identify koicha from usucha. Mukashi, in the former, refers to “tradition” or “classic,” and hints at the older root stock, are selected to create the highest quality koicha. In the case of usucha, the word shiro, literally “white”, is nuanced to conjure up a sense of freshness or renewal, a characteristic value of Japanese Shinto, as in the reference noted above to Chigi no Shiro.

Chinese poet Wang Yu-Ch'eng (王禹, 954-1001 from Chuyeh in the Shandong province. eulogised tea as "flooding his soul like a direct appeal, that its delicate bitterness reminded him of the aftertaste of a good counsel."12

Tea Tasting “Contests”

According to Murai Yasuhiko13, “The occurrence of tasting “contests”, recorded as early as the Kamakura period (1192–1333), were known as tôcha, emerged as a result of the great expansion of tea cultivation. In contract to the Chinese practice of judging tea by its quality, the concomitant spread of tea drinking in this age, the tôcha of Japan were competitions aimed at distinguishing among teas according to the regions where they were grown”, usually comparing Toga-no-o and to others, similar to that of the popular incense contests.

As tea culture grew increasingly more popular among the secular classes and distanced from the internal discipline of the temples, things got wildly out of hand with heavy wagering and extravagances, associated with entertainment, crossing social boundaries. Shukô admonished against turning the ritual preparation of tea into a “game” around the same time that a growing profession of tea master was emerging, as was noted earlier. Tasting “rules” were incorporated into cha-kabuki, more formal, conservative tea gatherings

Omotesenke’s VII Grand Master Joshinsai Tennen, 1705-1751) and his older brother, Urasenke VIII Oiemoto Yugensai Itto (1719-1771), adopted into the family to continue the lineage, created “contests” for tea tasting pastimes within the context of the Zen teachings of Daitokuji’s Priest Mugaku Soen. Still practiced today as one of the training exercises of tea students, chakabuki is a formal exercise to help develop one’s sensitivities to discriminate one tea from another14, but still not to describe the taste per se.

Cha-kabuki procedure is done in a large tea room among at least four guests, a host and a recorder. The challenge is to distinguish the identities of three koichas in a blind tasting after having sampled two of them with their chamei, poetic names revealed. The third, unknown tea, is literally called kyaku, guest. While there may have been verbal discussions afterwards as to why one taster was confident in his/her selections, the written records simply record their guesses. there are no hints as to indication of specific flavors that contributed to the choice.

Yasui-san of Hibiki-an, an Uji tea company, advises that, “There were certainly the flavor distinctions not only vertically but horizontally on matcha a long time ago. The vertical distinctions just depend on the quality. Today, there is almost only vertical distinction on matcha,” as opposed to sencha and gyokuro types. “Therefore, today, it is not easy to enjoy "matcha chakabuki".

On Our Own

After all this, we’re back where we started. What is the taste of matcha? How can we distinguish the difference from one product to another? Does it really matter?

A survey of English language matcha websites – retailers / wholesalers and producers produce a consensus that better quality = better taste = higher price. The higher priced matcha have a more complex, smoother, rounded flavor and a gentle, natural sweetness, but that’s about it for descriptors. Bitterness, the original medicinal quality associated with the health of the heart – is completely missing. The difference in flavor among the blends of matcha is more subtle than with steeped teas. Compared to sencha, matcha is weak in astringency and strong “mellowness”, due to its being shaded during the final weeks of growth.

Koicha can be made thin with very satisfactory results, but usucha is not usually prepared in koicha concentration as it is a bit more bitter. Tea shop owners have suggested that a “beginner”, whether formally a student of chado or someone who just wants to drink matcha, should try the lesser expensive grades first, perhaps feeling that the most subtle taste notes (?) would be lost and money wasted.

The chakabuki section of Urasenke’s multivolume encyclopedia of temae (AKA the “green” books -- Japanese language, only) the first taste of koicha should be with the tip of the tongue, noticing the burst of flavor and then one must recollect the impression it leaves in the hara, the depth of center of one’s being, two fingers below the navel. A similar sentiment was expressed by the late (as in deceased) “Tea Man” in his online blog15, who suggested developing a personal set of parameters, an alphabetic collection of constant points of reference which, when combined, create a glossary and, ultimately, new a composition narrating an experience, “as though tea talks to one as it allows itself to be drunk.”

Everyone says it’s subjective, but why go to the trouble if there’s no distinction? Flavor it is well known, is a factor of many variables not yet discussed. The “Tea Man” website (no longer operating)15 waxes poetic about influence of “nose”, volatile aromas, vs the nonvolatile, action in the taste bud department.

Even without the fanfare and fuss of the kuchi-kiri, opening up a new tin of matcha, is a sheer delight: The “whoosh” of breaking the aluminum seal bursts forth with the sweet aroma of young mowed grass, perhaps full meadow sparkling with a freshness of summer rain. In the winter, when the tearoom air is driest from the heat of the ro sunken hearth and the ko incense is heavier, the tea is relatively fresher and brighter in taste than in the summer, full of humidity and a breath of sandalwood incense mixes with the fresh air of the open window. This is why no perfume (or scented anything) should be worn when drinking matcha.

Matcha is definitely the flavor of the earth’s green bounty ... but which one? The answer remains elusive! No matter what grade of matcha one buys, the deeper / brighter the hue, the fresher the tea. When it starts to take on a brownish trait, it is no longer fresh. To insure that tea remains fresh, it should be stored away from heat, light and dampness, about 59 degrees Fahrenheit. Matcha should be stored in the freezer until it is time to open it, then taken out and left to rest for 24 hours until any possibility of moisture will settle before it is opened. What is open should be enjoyed within a month at the longest. The color, flavor and aroma diminish almost immediately upon exposure to light and oxygen.

Ingredient-grade matcha is also being marketed by producers who export, in the hope of getting a piece of the popular matcha colored / flavored products being sold as having additional nutritional benefit. The forthright producers will label their product accordingly. Because one eats the tencha leaf, there is significantly more value than if tea is steeped. Like all foodstuffs, however, the fresher the product and the finer the grade, the better it will be. The quality of this lesser grade is not suited for even an usucha experience.

I once purchased a tin of matcha from a Japanese market, sitting on the shelf next to several types of leaf tea. (It clearly hadn’t been well stored – in the freezer), and the price reflected a “bargain”. I used it for practicing temae, one of the many chanoyu procedures, on a night of the full moon and ended up doing a calligraphy of tsuki moon rather than drinking it. This is not to say that higher grades of matcha couldn’t be used as an ingredient, but if the taste is insignificant, there’s no point to the added expense.

Other Variables Influence Taste

Water: If you’re going to experiment with a variety of matchas or to enjoy one to its fullest, there are a number of variables related to the water that can significantly impact the taste. After all, the beverage is nothing but providing the yu hot water for the cha tea. Water temperature determines whether you taste more of one over the other16. Soft water (i.e. with less mineral content) is best to use for making matcha or any tea, to reduce the influence of mineral / metallic impressions overpowering the tea taste itself. Tea lore informs us that it is best to draw water (fresh from a sacred well, of course, in the wee hours of the morning. There is even a water “tasting” opportunity within some of the tea procedures. There is a method of preparing usucha using a muzusashi freshwater container that is a tsurube, wooden well bucket draped with shimenawa with gohei a rice straw rope and white paper cuttings. This indicates to the guest that the host has gone to trouble to secure special water about which she or he might inquire.

Water Temperature: The kama iron kettle used to heat the water – its will also impact the taste of the water and thus the tea. Even the speed in which the water has reached its boil will make a difference. Using sumi charcoal during the tea ritual (with its replenishment mid-way) will have the water boiling at just the right speed and thus temperature: emitting the sound called matsukaze “wind in the pines” at just the right moments. Electricity, however, is consistent and creates large bubbles and too rapid a boil. If the water is too hot, the bitterness will be more apparent than the sweetness. Water should be brought to a boil and then simmered for about five minutes to about 75-95 C before adding it to matcha. Over-boiled water is depleted of oxygen and creates a “flat” taste.17

Shape of Drinking Vessel: Taking another lead from wine, the shape of the tea bowl may have something to do with the experience of taste. The Riedel glass company has designed wine glasses that are shaped to deliver a specific varietal of wine (e.g. pinot noir vs. merlot) into one’s mouth to land at the appropriate place on the tongue where the taste receptors are most sensitive to that particular nuance. In the winter, tea bowls tend to be taller while in summer, wider. One reason given is that the beverage stays warmer in the winter, but in effect, the diameter of the lip affects the embouchure, the shape of the mouth.

Condition of the Palate: Unlike wine, however, matcha is not best enjoyed with food. It is served after kaiseki the special multi-course meal created for chaji formal tea gathering. The final “course” is a “moist sweet”. Afterwards the guests take a break, leaving the tea room. Upon return, they are served a bowl of koicha prepared to the consistency of melted ice cream, and, whether another break is provided or not, they enjoy a “dry” sweet and a bowl of usucha, one per guest.


In these days of Green Tea Mousse Pocky, jars of iced decaffeinated matcha spiked with lemon grass and pomegranate essence, and bobba-ed chai lattes in fat-straw pinioned take-out cups and Tea Ceremony kits sold next to Zen Garden kits in gift shop windows under hot spotlights ... the effort made to find fine matcha and to take care in its preparation, will reward you with a wonderful benchmark with which to expand your experience and make up your own mind.

Perhaps the author of The Book of Tea, Okakura Kakuzo (aka. Tenshin), the aesthete who is credited with bringing the deepest sentiment of chado to America at the turn of the 20th century, said it best writing The Book of Tea: “There is a subtle charm in the taste of tea which makes it irresistible and capable of idealisation.”12 The fact that tea, especially matcha, like any muse, has captured the imagination of an entire culture through time and space is reason enough to explore its storied past and its availability in our time from any vantage. I pukku sashiagemasu!



1 Varley, Paul and Kamakura, Isao (eds.) Tea in Japan: Essays on the History of Chanoyu.(University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1989)
3 Sadler, A.L., Cha-no-yu: The Japanese Tea Ceremony (Tuttle Publishing, Boston, 1962, p. 94)
4 According to Guinness Book of Records, the largest simultaneous tea party consisted of 14,718 people drinking matcha during a single Japanese tea ceremony was arranged by the City of Nishio and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Nishio on October 8, 2006. This is definitely a far cry from the 1.5 mat tea hut of Rikyu’s fame.
8 www.aiya-america.com is the North America outpost for the Japan-based corporation.
9 Urasenke Midorikai student Eric Dean has posted on his blog website a great video tour of Koyamaen tea production, from the plants to the grinding and other information: www.ericdean.org
10 For a full description of the kuchi-kiri see Sanmi, Sasaki, Chado The Way of Tea: A Japanese Tea Master’s Almanac, Shaun McCabe and Iwasaki Satoko translators. (Tuttle, 2002, Boston). p. 551-2. In all its 742 pages, however, there is a significant lack of any reference to how matcha actually tastes! See Kyoto Journal 54 (2003) for a review of this otherwise remarkable book of seasons by this article’s author.
11 Translated by the wonderful folks at www.teatoys.com. Other sources of fine matcha via the web include  www.teadogu.com and www.matchaandmore.com
12 Kakuzo, Okzakura (Tenshin), The Book of Tea
13“The Development of Chanoyu” in Tea in Japan, ibid
14 Urasenke International Association, translators. Tankosha Editorial Department, eds. (Tankosha Publishing Company, Ltd., Kyoto 2007). Similar exercises were developed to develop a sensitivity of distinction for ko incense.
15 www.teatalk.com. He passed away in 2001, but the site is maintained by the “Tea Lady” in his memory. No longer operational
16 www.sugimotousa.com/?q=brew