Although the legend credits the pious East Indian with the
discovery of tea, there is no evidence extant that India is really
the birthplace of the plant.
Since India has no record of date, or facts, on stone or tablet, or
ever handed down a single incident of song or story--apart from
the legend--as to the origin of tea, one is loath to accept the
claim--if claim they assert--of a people who are not above
practising the black art at every turn of their fancy.
Certain it is that China, first in many things, knew tea as soon as
any nation of the world. The early Chinese were not only more
progressive than other peoples, but linked with their progress
were important researches, and invaluable discoveries, which
the civilized world has long ago recognized. Then, why not add
tea to the list?
At any rate, it is easy to believe that the Chinese were first in
the tea fields, and that undoubtedly the plant was a native of
both China and Japan when it was slumbering on the slopes of
India, unpicked, unsteeped, undrunk, unhonored, and unsung.
A celebrated Buddhist, St. Dengyo Daishai, is credited with
having introduced tea into Japan from China as early as the
fourth century. It is likely that he was the first to teach the
Japanese the use of the herb, for it had long been a favorite
beverage in the mountains of the Celestial Kingdom. The plant,
however, is found in so many parts of Japan that there can be
little doubt but what it is indigenous there as well.
The word TEA is of Chinese origin, being derived from the
Amoy and Swatow reading, Tay, of the same character, which
expresses both the ancient name of tea, T'su, and the more
modern one, Cha. Japanese tea, Chiya--pronounced Ch?.
Tea was not known in China before the Tang dynasty, 618-906
A.D. An infusion of some kind of leaf, however, was used as
early as the Chow dynasty, 1122-255 B.C., as we learn from the
Urh-ya, a glossary of terms used in ancient history and poetry.
This work, which is classified by subjects, has been assigned as
the beginning of the Chow dynasty, but belongs more properly
to the era of Confucius, K'ung Kai, 551-479 B.C.
Although known in Japan for more than a thousand years, tea
only gradually became the national beverage as late as the
In the first half of the eighth century, 729 A.D., there was a
record made of a religious festival, at which the forty-fifth
Mikado---Sublime Gate--Shommei Tenno, entertained the Buddhist
priests with tea, a hitherto unknown beverage from Corea,
which country was for many years the high-road of Chinese
culture to Japan.
After the ninth century, 823 A.D., and for four centuries
thereafter, tea fell into disuse, and almost oblivion, among the
Japanese. The nobility, and Buddhist priests, however, continued
to drink it as a luxury.
During the reign of the eighty-third Emperor, 1199-1210 A.D.,
the cultivation of tea was permanently established in Japan. In
1200, the bonze, Yei-Sei, brought tea seeds from China, which
he planted on the mountains in one of the most northern provinces.
Yei-Sei is also credited with introducing the Chinese custom
of ceremonious tea-drinking. At any rate, he presented tea
seeds to Mei-ki, the abbot of the monastery of To-gano (to
whom the use of tea had been recommended for its stimulating
properties), and instructed him in the mystery of its cultivation,
treatment, and preparation. Mei-ki, who laid out plantations
near Uzi, was successful as a pupil, and even now the tea-growers
of that neighborhood pay tribute to his memory by annually
offering at his shrine the first gathered tea-leaves.
After that period, the use of tea became more and more in
fashion, the monks and their kindred having discovered its
property of keeping them awake during long vigils and nocturnal
Prom this time on the development and progress of the plant are
interwoven with the histories and customs of these countries.