Nagatani Soen (永谷宗円)
Soen NAGATANI (1681 -1778) was a farmer who lived in Yuyatani Village, Ujitawarago, Yamashiro Province (present Yuyatani, Ujitawara-cho, Tsuzuki-gun, Kyoto Prefecture).
The ancestor of the Nagatani family was a local clan in Nukazuka Village in Ujitawara and moved to Yuyatani in 1592 and while he was engaged in farming, worshipped the Yuyama-sha Shrine.
His original name was Soshichiro Yoshihiro and, when he entered the priesthood, named himself Soen.
He was also called Sannojo and his direct descendants also inherited the name 'Sannojo.'
In Yuyatani, he not only produced tea but also carried out improvements of wet fields and other operations and he was in a position to guide village people.
Traditions Concerning Soen's Achievements
Tea brought from China to Japan was drunk for medical purpose as Eisai, who had been to Southern Song (dynasty of China) and explained the effects of tea in his 'Kissa Yojoki' (Drink Tea and Prolong Life, a Note on Drinking Green Tea for Good Health). Then, tea cultivation spread to various places, but certain chashi (tea growers) obtained permission from the bakufu and monopolized the production of high-quality powdered green tea (steamed and dried before being stone-ground). Ordinary people used 'senjicha' (decoction of tea) which was red in color and tasted poor, which differed from powdered tea which had been loved by rich people. Under the circumstances, Soen studied the method of producing tea for fifteen years and succeeded in making a new type of sencha which was rich in taste and green in color (to be correct, it was 'dashicha,' a type of tea used by making an infusion). This 'aoseisencha seiho' invented by Soen became the mainstream Japanese green tea. Soen visited Edo with the completed tea and consigned the sale of the tea to a tea dealer, Kahei YAMAMOTO and the tea immediately became popular and, since then, 'Uji no sencha' (green tea from Uji) came to represent Japanese tea. Yamamotoyama,' that sold Soen's green tea and earned a lot, donated koban (former Japanese oval gold coin) for twenty-five ryo to the Nagatani family every year until 1875. As Soen did not hesitate to teach the method for producing tea that he invented to neighbors, 'Nagatanishiki sencha' (sencha by Nagatani method) and 'Ujisei sencha' (sencha made in Uji) spread nationwide.
The above-explained achievements by Soen were deeply believed in the region and people involved in the tea business, but thanks to studies in recent years, it became clear that such stories do no pass the bounds of tradition.
First of all, the tea brought from China at the beginning was not 'matcha' but 'senjicha' and 'hikicha.'
Senjicha' means tea obtained by decocting tried tea leave and 'sencha' originally meant this type of tea. The color of water is yellowish and, if poorly preserved, reddish black.
On the other hand, 'hikicha' is prepared by dissolving tea powder, which is produced by grinding dried tea leaves with a mill-stone or a druggist's mortar and we can call it the prototypical form of 'matcha.'
The color of water is greenish. The difference between this tea and the later maccha is that the tea leaves for hikicha were grown in open-air tea plantations, and, in the Warring States Period in Japan, 'oishita chaen' (tea field covered wit shade to harvest good leaves) was invented and through improvement in mill-stone, etc. it was developed to the present maccha. In the past, it was said that ordinary people used senjicha and rich people maccha, but it became clear that ordinary people also used hikicha in the middle ages.
It was said that 'features of the technique invented by Soen' was 'while kamairicha (green tea processed by parching in a caldron) same as in Chine was the mainstream, steaming high quality tea leaves and drying them by crumpling them in 'hoiro' (a tool used for producing tea, etc.).'
Since the middle ages, however, teas were produced with various methods in various places in Japan including the method in which the leaves were steamed or boiled, then dried with sunlight, or using 'hoiro,' while in the early-modern times, the crumpling process was added. Such changes in the tea production methods were made clear through literature and material from the middle ages and early-modern times. Soen was not the first person to introduce a change 'from kamairicha to steaming method' and 'method to dry tea leaves by crumpling' as is said according to the lore on Soen's achievements. Judging from the structure of 'hoiro' which we can imagine from materials, up until the Meiji period, it was impossible to carry out the present method in which tea leaves are dried while continuously kneaded on a hoiro. Up until the Edo period, hoiro was produced by sticking Japanese paper to a frame made with bamboo, and, therefore, it is said that it was impossible to be continuously knead through the use of strong pressure. During the Meiji period, hoiro with iron framework appeared and a technique to dry the leaves on hoiro by kneading them was advanced and various schools were generated.
As describe above, the method for producing tea has been continuously improved and it was not invented by a single person.
In the Edo period, sencha was widely enjoyed by literary men influenced by Chinese culture and we can say that 'aoseisencha seiho' was a peak of manufacturing method for Japanese tea reached in such cultural and economical demands.
Soen's actual achievement was the pioneering of a direct sales route for tea of Ujitawara, which was a 'place of production of Uji tea' to Edo, which was a great consumption place at that time and led to establishment of the foundation of nationwide sales network for tea centering upon a mail order system.
Most people involved in the tea business in Uji, as well as people in the region tend to refuse to accept the results of such research, due to their strong wish to publicly honor Soen's achievements. As far as we cannot find any objective materials at that time on 'Soen's achievement' other than what was recorded later by the Nagatani family or the Yamamoto family (Yamamotoyama), taking mere lore as historical fact should be avoided, even to be used as propaganda for industrial purposes.
Soen and the Nagatani Family Thereafter
In 1778, Soen lived out his natural life at the age of ninety-eight.
One of Soen's descendant established 'Nagatanien' in Tokyo.
In place of where the Nagatani family existed in Yuyatani, Ujitawara-cho, 'Nagatani Soen Seika' (literally, the house where Soen Nagatani was born), has tools for producing tea and has a trace of hoiro, which was built in 1960 and, in 1944, Soen was enshrined as 'Chasomyoujin' (literally, god of tea) in the neighboring Dai-jingu Shrine.