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Japanese Tea Culture
Green Tea
- vol 4-2 -
Green tea in Japan is not only appreciated as a daily drink but also in many forms from food to cosmetics and daily goods. Here I would like to introduce the green tea menus and goods commonly enjoyed among Japanese people in daily lives.
< Green Tea Menus in Japan >
Ochazuke: One of the earliest green tea menus is ochazuke or chazuke which is popular among probably the widest generations from small children to grandpas and grandmas. The most common type is to pour sencha on rice making it somewhat soup looking and add some toppings such as nori (dried seaweed) and umeboshi (pickled plum). Ochazuke originated in the Edo Period as a fast way of finishing meals, and today the tendency remains among busy people yet it is also eaten as a menu easy on your stomach or as a finisher.

Ochagohan / Chameshi: Tea and rice can be eaten together by boiling and steaming rice with tealeaves. Chameshi also points to rice which salt and matcha powder are mixed with white rice after the rice is cooked. There are also noodles that have tea kneaded in.

Sweets - Japanese: Traditional Japanese sweets (wagashi) are most times enjoyed drinking tea together, but some of them include tea as ingredients. Common examples include manju (buns with sweet bean paste) and yohkan (bean jelly) and hard candies in matcha flavor. For its rich but undisturbing flavor and fragrance, matcha powder can be mixed into a variety of Japanese sweets and snacks.

Sweets – others: Though green tea is not added sugar when drinking, it can still be enjoyed sweet especially in Western sweets. The thickness of matcha powder in fact gets along well with sugar and milk, and matcha ice cream, cake, flan and chocolate have become favorites for many people and are now available all year round at almost anywhere in the country. Many of the western style cafés offer matcha menus as represented in the (Japanese version of) matcha frappuccino at Starbucks.

Alcoholic drinks: As mentioned a little before, alcoholic green tea drinks are one of the regular drinks enjoyed at Japanese style pubs (izakaya). The common ones in Japan are known as ryokucha-wari or ryokucha-(chu)hai and are a mixture of green tea and Japanese spirits. For people who like sweeter drinks, umeshu (plum wine / ume liquor) with green tea flavor is popular.
< Green Tea Items >
Because green tea has all kinds of benefits that can be appreciated not only from the inside by drinking but applying it from outside and extracting the components, the use varies to a wide selection. Below are some of the representative benefits and uses.
(1) Skin Cleansing and Smoothening Benefits… facewash, soap, skin lotion, bathpowder, etc.
Some of the green tea components have benefits of keeping skin elasticity and moisture, and green tea catechin contains rich amount of vitamin C that helps smoothening and whitening of skin. Catechin has high disinfecting effects. All together, green tea is believed to prevent aging of skin and helps maintaining young and smooth skin.
Because these components dissolve into water easily, outer application is believed to have as much effects as drinking. Thus, green tea is used in bath powders, soap, skin lotion and even dyed fabric for prevention or improving of skin troubles such as allergies.

(2) Relaxation Effects… pillows, incense, bath goods, etc.
From centuries ago, drinking tea was a custom not only to enjoy the taste but to enjoy the time of drinking. In that sense, the tea socializing customs elsewhere may sound close yet the pleasure of teatime in Japan has to do more with relaxation. The relaxation benefits are as explained in the earlier pages and in addition, recently it has been discovered that teanin also has benefits for better sleep. With the help of the late boom of aromatherapy, all kinds of tea relaxation goods are popular in Japan from pillows, eye masks, incense and bath goods.

(3) Disinfecting and Deodorizing Effects… masks, deodorants, shoe insole, textile, etc.
Medicinal properties of green tea include disinfecting and deodorizing effects, which is becoming extremely common and popular in Japanese society alongside that of coal because of it is a natural material and not chemical. Whereas the chemical elements of some of the disinfecting and deodorizing goods have potentials of irritating sensitive skin, green tea has less risk and on the other side, green-tea-dyed materials are said to be the “dream material” for the components of the tea dissolve by skin moisture and thus are applied even more effectively without losing benefits. Deodorant sprays, shoe insoles with green tea extract are commonly seen around, and masks (for nose and mouth) with catechin filter show a great effect against pollen allergy.
So we have seen all kinds of green tea – its history, how it is grown, its kinds, how it is traditionally drank in Japan, the popularity today within and outside of Japan, and how it can be seen outside of the manner of drinking. You can see that it is being appreciated in hundreds of ways.

The expansion of green tea over generations and around the world is generally welcomed by the green tea lovers of Japan, yet some of them grieve the fact that younger people in Japan and (non-Japanese) people who do not have the habit of drinking Japanese tea in its traditional manner do not know how to enjoy it properly, how to appreciate the taste and fragrance.
Similarly, the TV programs and documentaries portray the Japanese tea business’ global expansion as a big challenge – which is not necessarily a mistake – with phrases like, “Will they succeed in spreading authentic tea in the cultures of coffee?” and “Their challenge with pride of Japanese tea begins”.

Making tea with a teapot and drinking it without additional flavors may be what Japanese call the authentic and therefore the right way of drinking green tea. However, once it goes out the Japanese “authenticity” may not be the only “right” way especially when you want it to spread and want more people to know about it. Would adjustment to the destinations’ cultures and lifestyles not be another way of spreading?

Having said that though, it looks as though the green tea boom around the world today is more due to its health benefits rather than the drink itself… as if it is a health drink than an article of taste. I do think that the adjustments and adaptation of the taste is only one of the many ways of spreading, but I also hope that gradually its quality as a drink which the original taste and fragrance are enjoyed as well as a relaxing drink will become more understood.

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Made in Japan Contents
  • Green Tea 1 / 2 / 3 / 4
    Spirited Away (2001)
  • Haruki Murakami
  • Yasunari Kawabata
  • Banana Yoshimoto
  • Yukio Mishima
  • Inazo Nitobe
  • Japanese Tea
  • Bonsai
  • VAIO
  • Canon

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