Green tea has been a part of Japanese culture since the 13th century. Japanese monks brought tea tree seeds back from China, and quickly introduced tea to the highest circles of Japanese aristocracy, including the Imperial court.
From the start, green tea became popular with the samurai, the warrior class, who quickly rose to the top of Japan’s social hierarchy. At that time, matcha was the favored kind of green tea, and from then on, Sado - the Way of Tea, expressed through the tea ceremony - became an important cornerstone of Japanese culture.
Bushido (the Way of the Warrior) and Sado started a long and common journey, as samurai would practice the tea ceremony to search for peace of mind every time they’d come back from battle. Many samurai lords became famous tea masters.
Why did green tea become so popular with monks and warriors alike? Its inherent qualities made it conductive to meditation. At a more profane level, samurai also found out that green tea helped recover from hangovers. At the time, of course, these positive health effects were based on observation, but today, science shows that indeed, green tea helps the brain and body to relax while keeping a steady level of alertness, and helps upset stomachs, too.
Today, samurai are gone, but Bushido principles are expressed in many forms of Budo (Japanese martial arts), such as kyudo (archery), karate, kendo, judo, iaido or aikido to name only a few.
Everyone at IKKYU practices or used to practice a form or another of Budo, notably aikido. All of us can vouch for the long-term energy and mind-refreshing effects of a cup of good green tea, cold or hot, whether matcha, sencha, shiraore, houjicha — you name it!
It is a tradition in many dojos to come together after practice around a cup of green tea to relax, chat and share views about martial arts, Zazen philosophy, or calligraphy. Not quite like when coming back from a bloody battle, but it certainly helps to stay in the proper mindset.
Even dojos outside Japan emulate this tradition. In 2019, IKKYU was delighted to welcome the members of a Dutch dojo affiliated with a famous aikido school in Fukuoka where three of us practice. They drink green tea after all practice sessions and they wanted to learn more about it, how it is made and what makes it so special. We took them for a one-day tour in Yame, to see the fields, a tea factory and enjoy a tasting of sencha and dento hon gyokuro.
Budo embody the martial techniques of the samurai, whether with a weapon or empty-handed, but also their philosophy. So much in fact that the seven plates of a hakama - the black flowing pants worn by kendoka, iaidoka, aikidoka or kyudoka - represent the seven virtues of Bushido: Gi (justice and integrity), Rei (respect), Yu (heroic courage), Makoto (honesty and sincerity), Jin (benevolence and compassion), Meiyo (honor) and Chungi (loyalty and duty). The state of mind of a warrior is pursued by practitioners during training, such as Zanshin (awareness), Mushin (clear mind) or Fudoshin (emotional balance). Those difficult concepts are typical discussion topics between a sensei and their students during post-training tea time.
Martial artists take great care in choosing their gear, from hakama to dogi and weapons. But like with green tea and the struggle of small tea farmers to continue making great quality in a world of cheap alternatives, it is getting increasingly harder for Japanese craftsmen to survive and create hand-made, high-quality and authentic supplies.
Beyond our personal interest for martial arts and Japanese traditions, IKKYU discovered many common points between our vision for supporting green tea farmers and the work of SEIDO, a Japan-based company, specialized in exporting authentic, Japan-made martial arts equipment. In these difficult times, IKKYU is more than happy to encourage any martial artist among you to give them a look. Some of the best aikidoka of the world shop with them, a true testimony of the skills of the people behind them. SEIDO is happy to offer IKKYU customers a 5% discount with the coupon SEIDOIKKYU, so jump on this chance to give them a try! (coupon valid until August 31, 2020, midnight Japan time).