100+ Years Old Businesses Series – Tsuen Tea, Oldest Matcha from Uji

Uji is actually the very first city we visited in Japan. It was recommended by a friend who enjoyed the city a lot. It gave us a wonderful beginning of knowing Japan. We were so impressed by the beautiful and powerful Uji River going through the whole city. Definitely, we loved its famous local specialty - Uji matcha (green tea). Unfortunately we didn't have time to do tea shopping in the area so we would love to return and visit the oldest green tea or matcha shop that we will be introducing today.

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Tsuen tea shop, founded 1160 A.D is located at the same location on the east side of the Uji bridge in the city. 24 generations of the Tsuen family have served green tea to the many travelers, monks, samurai, shoguns, and now tourists that cross this important bridge between Kyoto and Nara.

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According to SamuraiWiki, the shop is particularly famous for its appearance in Yoshikawa Eiji's novel Musashi, a story happened long after the shop was founded.  The shop's founder, Furukawa Unai, was a vassal of Minamoto no Yorimasa, and was said to have excelled at martial arts. In his last years, he retired and was granted by Yorimasa the character "masa" for his name; he took on the name Taikei-an Tsûen Masahisa, and established this teashop. He fought alongside Yorimasa in the 1180 battle of Uji, and died in that battle. A kyôgen play exists telling this story, and from time to time it is performed. His descendants, down through the generations, took on the name Tsûen, and operated this teashop, providing tea to travelers. The seventh generation head of the family had strong close relations with the Zen priest Ikkyû, and became himself a Zen practitioner and hermit; the two (Tsûen and Ikkyû) are said to have been inseparable. When Tsûen died in 1455, Ikkyû came right away, and gifted to the family a piece of calligraphy reading "One cup of tea, one coin, one's time is a bubble"; in other words, one's life lasts only a short while before bursting and disappearing, like a bubble in the foam of a river, a famous and popular metaphor in Japanese culture.

The building which stands today was built in 1672, and has been officially recognized by Kyoto prefecture as a Cultural Property, and surviving example of machiya architecture. Looking at it from the front, the building has deep eaves and a wide entrance, creating a strange feeling. But this is because, at the time, in the Edo period, people believed this allowed for easier entry and exit; the wide pillars are also typical of an old style belonging to the early Edo period. Tea jars spanning several hundred years are lined up outside the shop, along with a wooden statue of the first Tsûen, gifted by Ikkyû.

The shop has a facebook page that sells its products online to the world. Check it out if you cannot make it to the real store.

(photo credit to Tsuen Tea's official website)
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