Uji saicha shi (宇治採茶使)

Uji saicha shi was a procession that carried Uji tea leaves, one of the specialties of Uji City, Kyoto, in a chatsubo (tea jar) to be presented to the Tokugawa Shogunate Family. It is commonly referred to as ochatsubo dochu (procession).

History

It started in 1613 when the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) dispatched Uji saicha shi to order the presentation of Uji tea leaves to the bakufu. During Genna era (1615-1623), tsukaiban (a person responsible for inspecting and patrolling a battle field) were appointed as envoys to carry the tea leaves. The system was institutionalized in 1632 during the Iemitsu TOKUGAWA era and it was continued until 1866 at the end of the Edo period.

The last chatsubo was sent to Edo, without a procession, in 1867.
At this time, Yoshinobu TOKUGAWA was staying at the Nijo-jo Castle in Kyoto
Shunseki SUZUKI, the former chief officer in charge of tea ceremonies and tea utensils within the Edo bakufu, came to Uji and asked shukutsugi ninsoku (couriers who relayed packages from one messenger to another) to carry the necessary number of tea leave packed chatsubo to Edo.

In 1994, as one of the events of the 1200-year anniversary of Heian's founding, ochatsubo dochu was reenacted by volunteers on foot from Kyoto to Tokyo. In Tsuru City, where they used to have chatsubo gura (storage for tea jars), the procession is reenacted annually.

Procedure

It used to be held from the end of April through early May. The kachigashira (a chief of foot soldiers in the Edo period) took responsibility of carrying the tea jar in rotation. The number of the staff in the procession, such as chadogashira (a head of tea ceremony for the Tokugawa Shogunate family) or chadoshu (tea server) and security officials to guard the tea jar, had swollen up to more than 1000 people until Yoshimune TOKUGAWA issued new laws regulating expenditures. The Kanbayashi family that served as daikan (magistrate) in Uji took on all the responsibility of the procession for generations.

The procession made its way down the Tokai-do Road at the start of its journey and returned following the Nakasen-do Road and Koshu-kaido Road with more than 100 tea jars exclusively belonging to Shogunate Family packed with powdered green tea. The procession that passed through Koshu-kaido Road stopped at Yamura, Kai Province (present day Tsuru City), and stored the tea jars in the chatsubo gura at Katsuyama-jo Castle. This was in order for the tea leaves to mature by being exposed to the cold wind from Mt. Fuji, before they were carried to Edo.

As the tea leaves were for the Shogun to drink and to offer to the Tokugawa family's sobyo (mausoleum containing the remains of their ancestors), the ochatsubo dochu procession was immensely authoritative. The procession was regarded the same as sekkanke (the families of regents and chief advisors to the Imperial Family) and monzeki (temples whose head priest is a member of the Imperial family), and even the lords of Tokugawa gosanke (three privileged branches of the Tokugawa family) had to get off their palanquin, their vassals dismount from their horses, to make way for the ochatsubo dochu procession.

Elaborate michi bushin (road improvement) was ordered in advance for the roads that the precession would follow, and even during the farming season rice planting was prohibited. Children going in and out of houses, kite flying, putting stones on roofs and even smoke from cooking fires was not allowed. Even funeral processions were prohibited. Common people who lived by the roads who were afraid of the authoritative procession shut their doors and kept inside as the procession passed by. The people along the road were quite afraid of this situation. They slammed their doors and kept inside as the procession approached. Also, if they happened to encounter the procession on the road, they could do nothing but kneel down on the ground and let the procession pass. Even today, the scenes of the chatsubo procession are clearly expressed in an old children's song called "zuizui zukkorobashi."