Japanese Tea: history of Darma


I am sensible, that some will think it superfluous and needless to write the Natural History of Tea, after that prolix and accurate description of this Plant, which hath been given by Dr. William ten Rhyne, my much honoured friend, and worthy predecessor in the same station in Japan; and which was publish’d by the learned Dr. Breynius in the Appendix to his Century of Exotic Plants (printed at Dantzick in 1678.)

But as that inquisitive Gentleman did not stay so long in the Country as myself; and besides, leading a much more retired Life, did not meet with the same opportunities of enquiring into all the particulars relating to this plant, ’tis no wonder that he omitted several circumstances, which I thought too material not to be communicated to the publick, and therefore, chose rather to repeat what hath been already said by him, to add what he hath omitted, and thus at once to give a full and compleat account of so remarkable a Plant /…/

The Tea, which is by the Japanese call’d Tsjaa, hath, as yet, no character of its own, in the learned language of the country, and approved of by the universities; I mean one of those, which, at once give some idea of the very nature of the things express’d by them.

Mean while various other characters have been given to it; some of which merely express the sound of the word, others allude to the virtues and description of the Plant. Of the latter kind is that, which represents the eyebrows of Darma, an eminent Saint among the Heathens. It will not be improper here to insert the history of this man, not only as it is pleasant and singular in its kind, but chiefly as it serves to ascertain the time, when, according to the Japanese this Plant first came in use.

Its denomination.
Darma was the third son of Kasiuwo, an Indian king. He was a holy and religious person, as it were a Pope in the Indies, and the eight and twentieth successor on the holy See of Siaka, the Founder of the Eastern Paganism? who was an Indian himself, and a Negro, born one thousand twenty-eight years before our Saviour’s nativity.

About the year of Christ 519. this Darma came into China: His design was to bring the inhabitants of that populous Empire to the knowledge of God, and to preach his Gospel and Religion to them, as the true and only one that would lead them to Salvation. Nor was it only with his doctrine, that he endeavour’d to make himself useful to Men, and acceptable unto God. He went still farther, and strove for Divine Grace, by leading an austere and exemplary life, exposing himself to all the injuries of the weather, chastizing and mortifying his body, and subduing the passions of his mind: He lived only upon vegetables, and thought this to be the highest degree of Holiness, to pass days and nights in an uninterrupted Satori, that is, a contemplation of the Divine Being.

To deny all manner of rest and relaxation to the body, and to consecrate the mind entirely, and without intermission, to God, was what he took to be the sincerest repentance, and most eminent degree of perfection humane nature could attain to.

After a continued waking of many years, he at last grew so weary of his fatigues and fasting, that he fell asleep. Awaking the next morning, and with sorrow remembring, that he had broke through his vow, he resolved to take to a sincere repentance; and, in the first place, lest the like accident should happen to him hereafter, he cut off both his eyebrows, as the instruments and ministers of his crime, and threw them upon the ground.

Returning the next day to the place, where he had done this execution, he observed that, by a wonderful change, each Eyebrow was become a Shrub, and that very one, which is now call’d Tea, whose virtues and use were then as yet unknown to the world, no more than the Plant itself. Darma eating of the leaves of this Plant (whether fresh, or boil’d in water, is not known) found, with surprize, an uncommon joy and gladness to fill his breast, and his mind endowed with new strength and vigour to pursue his divine meditations.

This uncommon event, and the excellent virtues of the leaves of Tea, he forthwith discover’d to the multitudes of his disciples, together with the way of using them. After this manner it was, as the Japanese pretend, that this singular Plant, which for its great virtues can never be sufficiently commended, came first in use. And hence likewise it is, that since as yet it hath no settled character in the language of the learned, some have thought fit to express it by the Eyebrows of Darma.

I have added the picture of this illustrious Saint, (Fig. 139) who is held in great veneration among the Heathen Nations in these Eastern parts of the world, with a reed under his feet, on which he is said to have travell’d over seas and rivers. Thus much concerning the name of this Plant.

Read more:
Japanese Tea: history of Darma
Japanese Tea: manner of cultivating the Tea in Japan
Japanese Tea: gathering of the tea leaves
Japanese Tea: chief different sorts of tea
Japanese Tea: tea for the Emperor’s court
Japanese Tea: use of the tea

Source: Engelbert Kaempfer: The History of Japan, London 1727
Photo: Ukiyo-e print, internet


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