Green tea has been an important part of the culture and everyday life of Japanese people for centuries. It is so revered and honored in Japanese culture that there is an entire day dedicated to celebrating it.
History of Green Tea
Tea was introduced to Japanese culture in the 9th century when it was brought over from China. It was lauded as an “elixir of youth” because of its well-known health benefits. Something many people do not realize is that all tea is derived from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. The differences comes from how the tea leaves are prepared. It is distinguished by the fact that the leaves are steamed to stop the fermentation process.
There are many different types of green tea as well. They are characterized by the amount of sunlight given to the plants, when they were cultivated and how they were processed. The most common, everyday tea that is ubiquitous throughout Japan is sencha. This type of green tea has a bright, yet earthy flavor, and is processed by steaming young, high quality leaves then twisting and drying them. Sohen Nagatani invented this method in the 18th century, and has persisted to modern times.
Other types of green tea, matcha, gyokuro, kukicha and many others, have slightly different methods of processing and vary in quality and taste.
Green Tea in Everyday Life
Green tea is heavily incorporated into most Japanese people’s daily life. It is often consumed several times throughout the day, as the drink of choice first thing in the morning, as well as during and after meals. Most restaurants in Japan will offer free tea along with meals since it is such an essential part of a meal.
Tea is also often served to guests as a symbol of hospitality. Making perfect cup of tea is quite hard. However, once you know how to brew it proper way, it can be easy.
Celebrating Green Tea Day
Green tea is so popular and esteemed in Japan that there is an entire day dedicated to it! Green Tea Day falls on the 88th day after the first day of spring, or Risshun, which in Japan is on February 4th. This means that it generally falls on May 2nd (or May 1st in a leap year).
The reasoning behind this is quite interesting. Tea leaves are vulnerable to morning frost, and the frost can damage the leaves. Thus, it is best to start harvesting the leaves when the weather warms up and there isn’t any morning frost. Traditionally, the 88th day from Risshun is the perfect day for a beginning of the harvesting season. Thus, the 88th day is dedicated for the celebration of tea.
The tea leaves on the 88th day, or hachi-jyu-hachi-ya, are the freshest ones. Hence those leaves are highly regarded as people believed it will bring good luck. There is even a famous Japanese song about “picking green tea leaves” that refers to the 88th day.
Green tea has a rich and full history in Japan, and is very important to understanding Japan and Japanese culture as a whole. And the joyous celebration of it on Green Tea Day shows the reverence that Japan has for this healthy and flavorful beverage.