*JAPAN: On the origins of TEA

Throughout history, tea, Camellia sinensis, was intimately related to deities, demi gods, and mortals. In Japan, the monastic use of tea as an aid to meditation and was celebrated by linking the plant and its origins to Bodhidharma, Daruma 達摩.

B odhidharma, (Chinese: Ta Mo; Japanese: Daruma 達摩)  was a Buddhist monk who traveled from India to China during the 5th or 6th century. Ferociously ugly, with piercing blue eyes and wild curly hair, the monk is known as the founder of Ch’an Zen Buddhism and of the Shao Lin fighting arts.


Mark Schumacher, writes: “Zen is the term used in Japan, but Daruma’s philosophy arrived first in China, where it flowered and was called Chan Buddhism. Only centuries later does it bloom in Japan, where it is called Zen.

Practically nothing is known about Bodhidharma or his teachings. Early Chinese texts provide scant information, except to say he was a pious monk from Indian who came to China and introduced a form of meditation that involved “gazing at cave walls.

According to the Japanese legends, Daruma’s arms and legs supposedly atrophied, shriveled up, and fell off during his nine-year meditation period facing a cave wall in China. During that time, Japanese legend also credits Bodhidharma with the introduction of green tea, which was used to ward off drowsiness during lengthy zazen sessions.

One of modern Japan’s most popular talismans of good luck. Paint in the left eye when you make your wish. Paint in the right eye when your wish is granted. © Frank Gualtieri

Beginning sometime in the 16th century, red-colored Daruma images became popular talismans to protect children against smallpox (the smallpox god was said to like the color red, and could therefore be pacified by red offerings). By the 18th century, red-colored Daruma dolls (with no arms, legs and blind- no pupils) were also sold to ward off smallpox. Smallpox disappeared after vaccination was introduced to Japan in the Meiji period (1868-1912), but the bright red Daruma dolls remained extremely popular as good-luck charms -today they are one of Japan’s most ubiquitous icons of good fortune.”

Since Daruma dolls appeared without any bodily appendages, they lent themselves easily to phallic symbolism. Says  Bernard Faure:

“Until the Meiji period, phallic representations of Daruma in stone or papier mache were sold. The name Daruma was also a nickname given in the Edo period to prostitutes, perhaps because, like the doll, these specialists of tumble could raise the energy of their customers. Daruma is indeed often represented [in artwork] in comical fashion in the company of a prostitute….or as part of a legitimate couple called Mr. and Mrs. Daruma … these Daruma dolls protected children against illnesses and were supposed to facilitate childbirth, bring good harvest, and more generally bring prosperity to their owners.”

The list of Daruma’s roles is seemingly endless. He also serves, for example, as a talisman for sericulture and is thus connected with silkworms. Additionally, Japan’s medieval Tendai sect claims that Bodhidharma did not return to India but journeyed onward to Japan, where he met Prince Shōtoku Taishi (574 – 622 AD), the first great patron of Buddhism in Japan, and from this association, Daruma is also linked (in Japanese myth) to horses and monkeys.


Read about Bodhidharma in India

How Tea came to Japan

D aruma made the pledge of 7 years of meditation. darumaHe vowed not to sleep in these 7 years. Despite this vow, he fell asleep one night. When he woke up the next morning, he was so angered by his failure, that he cut off his eyelids and threw them to the ground. As soon as the eyelids touched the soil,  immediately there grew roots which soon developed into a large bush. When Daruma saw this wonder, he prepared himself a drink out of the leaves. People came  from all around to see him and many followed the monk and prepared a drink from the leaves. The knowledge of the drink’s refreshing and invigorating effect was spread everywhere. The delicious taste and scent were reason enough to see this drink as “divine”. Until today the Japanese language uses the same character for eyelid and tea  .

Wie der Tee nach Japan kam

D er Büßer Daruma gelobte eine 7 jährige Meditation, er schwor in diesen 7 Jahren nicht zu schlafen. Trotzdem geschah es, dass er eines Nachts einschlief. Als er  am nächsten Morgen erwachte, war er so erzürnt, dass er sich die Augenlider abschnitt und auf die Erde warf. Doch als die Augenlider  den Boden berührten schlugen sie Wurzeln und als bald wuchsen sie zu einem großen Busch. Als Daruma das Wunder sah, bereitete er sich aus den Blättern einen Trank. Leute,  die von dem Wunder gehört hatten, kamen von überall her. Viele taten es dem Büßer nach und bereiteten sich aus den Blättern einen Trank. Die belebende und anregende Wirkung wurde allseits bekann. Der köstliche Geschmack und Duft waren Grund genug diese Pflanze als eine „göttliche“ anzusehen. Bis zum heutigen Tag, ist in der Japanischen Schrift das Schriftzeichen für Augenlid und Tee da, た ta, das Gleiche.

Come il tè arrivò in Giappone

I l peccatore Daruma  aveva preso il voto per sette anni di penitenza, giurando di non dormire in questi sette anni. Malgrado il suo giuramento, capitó che una notte si addormentó. Quando si sveglió il mattino seguente era talmente adirato dal suo fallimento, che si taglió le palpebre e le gettó a terra. Non appena le palpebre toccarono terra crebbero fino a diventare un gran cespuglio. Come Daruma vide il miracolo, si preparò subito una bevanda con le foglie del cespuglio. Cominciarono ad arrivare curiosi che avevano sentito del miracolo e anche loro, come il peccatore, si prepararono una bevanda con le foglie. Presto si diffuse la voce sugli effetti rinfrescanti e stimolanti della bevanda. Il sapore e l’aroma squisiti fecero sí che il cespuglio e le sue foglie venissero considerati divini. Ancora oggi, l’ideogramma giapponese per palpebra e té  だ da, た ta, lo stesso.

Como el té llegó al Japón

E l penitente Daruma hizo promesa de meditar durante 7 años sin dormir.  A pesar de su promesa, una noche se quedó dormido. Cuando se despertó a la mañana siguiente, se enfadó tanto por su incumplimiento que se cortó los párpados y los tiró al suelo. En cuanto sus párpados tocaron el suelo echaron raíces, y pronto se convirtieron en un gran arbusto. Cuando el penitente vio el milagro se preparó una infusión de las hojas.  La gente que se había enterado del milagro llegó de todas las regiones,  muchos imitarono Daruma y se prepararon una bebida de las hojas. ¡El efecto refrescante y estimulante se hizo famoso en todas partes! El sabor y el perfume deliciosos de la infusión fueron motivo suficiente para considerarla un regalo “divino”. En la escritura japonesa, los ideogramas de párpado y de té  だ da, た ta,  son los mismos hasta el día de hoy.

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Works Cited & Multimedia Sources

*Guest Post, translation [de], [es], [it] & introduction by earthstOriez.