Tocha (a tea competition) (闘茶)

The term "Tocha" refers to a tea competition where participants taste different kinds of tea to compete in discerning them, which was popular in the medieval period. It is also called kaicha (another name of tocha), incha shobu (tea competition), cha-yoriai (a meeting of samurai where they played tocha, igo, and other kinds of game), chato shobu (tea competition), or kocha (a kind of tea competition) in Japan, while it is also known as meicha (a Chinese name of the tea competition), meito (a Chinese name of the tea competition), etc. in China.

It is believed that tocha originated in theTang dynasty period in China, which was developed in the Sung dynast period. After the introduction of tocha into Japan, the Japanese as well as the Chinese established their own style respectively.


It was in the Kamakura period that tea drinking became popular in Japan. People began to cultivate tea trees in various regions in the late Kamakura period. But tea differed in quality from region to region. Toganoo Tea produced in Toganoo in the suburbs of Kyoto was classified as the finest tea. It was particularly called honcha (literally, "real tea"), which was distinguished from hicha (tea other than honcha) produced in other places. The first tocha was held as a game to differentiate between honcha and hicha. It was written in the section of July 6, 1332 in ''Kogon Tenno Shinki" (The Diary of Emperor Kogon) that the Emperor held an 'incha shobu' with court officials (courtiers). It was also written in "Taiheiki" (The Record of the Great Peace) that Doyo SASAKI held a Hyakufuku-cha (Hundred Cups of Tea) (a kind of tocha) to compete for enormous prizes. Because tocha was regarded as 'gun in itsuyu' (drinking in a group and living an easy life), its popularity was ethically criticized. Its popularity was also criticized in Nijo-gawara Rakushu (an anonymous poem with satire and criticism in it, put up in Nijo-gawara) because tocha was involved with gambling for money and goods. The criticism was so fierce that Cha-yoriai (Tocha) Kinshi-rei (Ban on Cha-yoriai (Tocha)) was imposed by the "Kenmu Code."

There are several ways to hold a tocha. It was originally a simple competition where participants chose between honcha or hicha. But the quality of the tea produced in Uji City was later improved. Because Uji Tea as well as Toganoo Tea came to be classified as honcha, the procedure of tocha became complicated. Shishu Jippuku-cha (tea competition, with ten cups of tea of four kinds of leaf) was most popular in the golden age of tocha from the period of the Northern and Southern Courts to the early Muromachi period. Four kinds including three kinds of tea called shucha (literally, "tea of a kind") and one kind of tea called kyakucha (literally, "guest tea") are used in this tocha. First, a cup for each of three kinds of shucha is made, which makes three cups, and each of them is named 'Ichi-no-cha' (Tea No.1), 'Ni-no-cha' (Tea No.2), or 'San-no-cha' (Tea No.3). Each participant tastes each tea to check the flavor and aroma. Second, ten tea bags including three bags each of three kinds of shucha, which makes nine bags, and one bag of the kyakucha, which was not offered for tasting, are prepared. Ten cups of tea are made from these bags to be offered in random order to the participants. The participants must discern ten cups of 'Ichi-no-cha,' 'Ni-no-cha,' and 'San-no-cha,' which they already tasted, or kyakucha. The participant who most excels in the number of correct answers wins the competition. This procedure is repeated several times in some cases. In the above-mentioned 'Hyakufuku-cha' (also known as 'Hyakushu-cha' (literally, "Hundred Kinds of Tea")) of Doyo SASAKI, the competition was held ten times (ten cups of tea multiplied by ten makes a hundred cups of tea). Such a large-scale tocha was held through the night in some cases. In addition, there were other kinds of tocha such as 'Four Cups of Tea of Two Kinds of Tea Leaf', 'Shiki-cha' (Tea of Four Seasons), 'Tsuri-cha' (literally, "Classification of Tea"), 'Rokushoku-cha' (Tea of Six Colors), 'Keizu-cha' (Tea of Genealogical Chart), 'Genji-cha' (Tea of Genji), etc.

But tocha began to decline in the middle of the fifteenth century when the culture was changing into Higashiyama Bunka (Culture of the Eastern Mountain). As wabicha (literally, "poverty tea style"; known as the tea ceremony) was established by Juko MURATA, Joo TAKENO, and SEN no Rikyu, tocha, which was regarded as a luxurious entertainment or gambling at the time, came to be excluded from Japanese tea ceremony. But tocha remained popular among kabuki mono (eccentric people who attracted public attention with their eye-catching clothes, peculiar hairstyle, and weird behavior over the Sengoku period (period of warring states) and the early Edo period) in the form of Kabuki-cha (Tea of Kabuki) (also known as Cha-kabuki (Tea Kabuki)). Furthermore, some followers of wabicha began to discover new merits of tocha, which was regarded by them as part of training to tell the difference of tea. Tocha was mentioned as 'Cha kafuki' in ''Senke Shichiji Shiki" (Seven-Event Style of House of Sen) which was written in the seventeenth century. Tocha, which came to be regarded as part of Japanese tea ceremony, became incorporated into it.