栄西禅師 Buddhist Monk Eisai (1141 – 1215)
– The person who first brought tea seeds to Japan –
The history of Japanese tea cultivation started from Eisai, a Buddhist monk. He was the person who first brought tea seeds to Japan from China in the 12th century. (It is believed that the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, had existed in Japan even before the time of Eisai, but it’s not clear where these plants came from.)
Since the 6th century, many Japanese Buddhists had visited China to study Buddhism philosophy as well as unique Chinese culture. Eisai was the one who visited China twice in 1168 and in 1187 to study Zen, a school of Mahayana Buddhism. When he came back from his second visit, he brought tea seeds back from China and sowed them at Mt. Sefuri (背振山) in what is currently Fukuoka prefecture. He also gave some seeds to the Buddhist monk Myoe (明恵上人) and let him grow tea plants in Kyoto prefecture. This was the beginning of Japanese tea cultivation for the purpose of making tea.
Eisai also contributed the first Japanese book of tea – “Kissa Yojoki (喫茶養生記)” meaning “How to Stay Healthy by Drinking Tea.” In his writing, Eisai enlightened legions of people about the benefits of tea drinking and he dedicated his life to promote this healthy lifestyle to the Japanese public.
Now Japan is world-renowned for being the country with the longest average lifespans. The monk Eisai is the person who established the lasting legacy of Japanese tea culture and likely helped contribute to Japan’s healthy lifestyles.