Myouan Eisai : The Father of Japanese Tea

Myouan Eisai : The Father of Japanese Tea

Looking to learn more about the wondrous world of Japanese green tea? Look no further! It’s time for a history lesson, folks… 

Have you ever wondered just how the heck green tea became such a thing in Japan? We can thank Monk Myouan Eisai. While he is most prominently credited for bringing the teachings of Rinzai Zen to Japan, he is also known officially as the “Father of tea”.  He was responsible for bringing tea seeds back from China and cultivating tea culture throughout Japan.

About Eisai:

  • Lived 1141 - 1215.
  • Studied and became ordained under the Tendai (Japanese) school of Buddhism at the age of 14.
  • Founded the Rinzai sect of Buddhism in Japan after studying and bringing it back from China.
  • Brought back tea seeds from China.
  • Planted these seeds on Mount Sefuri (border of Fukuoka and Saga prefectures).
  • Gave tea seeds to Myoue Shounin (明恵上人), a monk from Kousanji temple in Kyoto. Myoue planted the seeds near the temple, thus beginning the growth of tea in the region of Uji (one of the most famous tea producing regions in Japan)

While he was not the first person to bring tea seeds to Japan, it was his written work that cemented his legacy of “Father”...

In 1211, he wrote “Kissa Yojoki” (喫茶養生記) – a text that is the foundation of the Sado (or Chado) translated in English as “The Way of Tea”. It is dedicated to all things tea (growing, preparing, medicating, etc). It was the first of its kind and helped define tea culture in Japan.

  • Published in two volumes and highlighted both the medicinal effects of tea and provided a detailed account of tea cultivation.
  • Helped spread tea culture to lower classes, as tea was reserved only for Monks and nobles at the time.
  • Eisai personally presented Kissa Yojoki to the third shogun of the Kamakura Shogunate along with a cup of tea when he was suffering from a hangover.

Eisai was an ambitious man who is an indispensable part of Japan’s history. 

“Tea is the ultimate mental and medical remedy and has the ability to make one’s life more full and complete”.

--Myoan Eisai, 1211

Fun fact: Did you know that there is a Japanese pharmaceutical company called “Eisai Co., Ltd.”?