Sunday, 7 November 2010

virtuous Sencha

Have been on a bit of a Japanese Sencha bender of late, and was doing some reading about the way it's processed. Actually, my first query as I trudged through page after page of what the search engine spit out at me was whether Japan Sencha Fuji was a real tea name or something a tea seller created. Although I really like this tea that has the name Fuji on the package, it seemed like too generic a name. Turns out my assumption was wrong. It's a real tea name.

If you like vegetal, dare I say grassy, Japanese green tea, this is a really nice one.

But another thing I happened upon as the Sencha sites flew by my head, were the Ten Virtues of Tea. I've seen these before and knew that at some point I'd drag them over here to my blog. I'm going to take a few minutes and ponder whether tea does these things for me. First a list of the virtues:

It has the blessing of all deities.
It promotes filial piety.
It drives away evil spirits.
It banishes drowsiness.
It keeps the five internal organs in harmony.
It wards off disease.
It strengthens friendship.
It disciplines body and mind.
It destroys all passions.
It gives a peaceful death.

'All the deities'? Really? All the minor and major ones? This isn't starting well. I can't even fathom the parameters of this one. Whichever deities there are or aren't however, I can definitely accept that they'd give tea their blessing.

What on earth is 'filial piety'? Do I really need to be pious toward my brother? If I even tried this one, it'd make my brother very uncomfortable.

I can without any reservations agree that tea drives away the 'evil spirits'. There. I sorted that one nicely, didn't I?

Tea lessens drowsiness, but 'banishes' it? Maybe this one was lost in translation. It does give one a nice gentle lift, and it often does so in the most opportune moments.

But I'm a little uncomfortable with the 'five internal organs'? I'm no whiz at physiology, but I'm certain that my internal organs number more than five. So which five does tea keep in harmony? This one makes me uncomfortable.

There are tons of websites that promise the health benefits of tea. I'm not going to even try to open that Pandora's Box. I can honestly say that I feel better when I drink tea, but that's the simplest sort of empiricism. I wouldn't be surprised if it does 'ward off disease', but I'm not going to attempt to prove it.

But the next one I like the most. Tea definitely 'strengthens friendship'. Assuming those friends like tea. In my experience, friendship needs a great deal of time. Drinking tea slows me down. I'm sure it improves my ability to be a better friend.

The one about 'disciplines mind and body' is another virtue that I've undeniably experienced. Sometimes when I feel I just cannot continue the task at hand, I pour a cup, take the deepest of breaths, and after a few sips, it's as if the fire of life has been blown back into me. Both mind and body-back on track.

Not quite ready for either my passions to be destroyed or my death to be peaceful. The former might sound better if it were passions tempered instead, while the latter sounds fine as long as it's off in the distance. A 'peaceful death' far, far away.

There are your Ten Virtues of Tea. They were allegedly brought to Japan by Eisai, a Zen monk, when he delivered the original seeds from the Chinese tea plant. I try to imagine greeting Eisai the monk as he arrived in Japan. First the seeds and then the list of virtues. I like to think I'd waste no time at all planting those seeds and tending the plant as virtuously as possibly.


  1. Grassy?
    As for Fuji, to know what it means you need to have the Japanese kanji as the same pronunciation can mean different things depending what kanji are used in its written form.

  2. I agree with you on these virtues. Virtues 7 and 8 seem to be the easiest ones to accept, seeing as they are quite reasonable. Number 6, the one about disease, is somewhat reasonable as well. Tea is certainly good for you, but I don't know how powerful it is when it comes to diseases. All of the others seem to be very flimsy, and I think that most people nowadays would disagree with them. Not all, probably, because there are sure to be those who agree with them, but I have a feeling those people are the exception.

  3. So, if you don't like a particular tea...then you metaphorically attribute to - maybe - Baku the Dream-Eater?


    I've only found two types of senchas I like (of Japanese origin); Kabusecha and guricha. That extra grassy note doesn't always sit well. That said, excellent entry.

  4. 'Filial piety' means respecting your parents (who come just after the gods here). It might put you in mind of the Fifth Commandment. There are always similarities between pietistic lists.

    And I suppose 'it destroys all passions' corresponds to 'thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife.' Bugger. We're none of us super-men.

  5. Really enjoyed this post!

    I googled those five "harmonious" organs, and it looks like they are: liver, lung, heart, spleen, kidney. It's all rather complicated but those seem to be the ones "of interest" in traditional Chinese medicine.

    Since it was Zen monk Eisai who brought tea seeds from China to Japan in the twelfth century, and he was the one who also imported the ten virtues of tea, I'd say those Chinese organs are the ones...

    As to the virtuous effects, I guess "killing the passions", implies that passion is evil, because passion translates into lust for something. Of course we all know, lusting is rather bad. And therefore kind of fun. But fun, and indulgence doesn't go with the virtue of being disciplined in body and mind.

    Well, I'll just keep drinking my tea, and hope that some of those virtues don't go anywhere near me. It's a dangerous gamble, but I love my tea too much to give it up.