Takayama tea whisks Takayama chasen
At the heart of the tea ceremony
A bamboo whisk of light and air
Takayama Chasen are tea whisks produced in Takayama Town, Ikoma City, Nara Prefecture; each one is completely handmade and contributes to taking a phenomenal 90% share of the Japanese tea whisk market. A tea whisk, made of bamboo, is one of the tea ceremony utensils, and used for frothing tea. A bamboo tube measuring about 10 cm is cut and about 6 or 7 cm is finely split and bound with thread. Since first starting to be made in the middle of the Muromachi period (1336-1573), more than 60 types of tea whisks are now crafted, and depending on the purpose or school of tea ceremony, the whisk shape, bamboo type, and thread color will differ. Tea whisks are also used for other purposes than making matcha, the classic powdered green tea. Well-known examples are buku-buku cha (frothy tea) in Okinawa and bote-bote cha (soup-like tea) in Matsue, and for these teas, somewhat larger whisks are used.
Takayama Chasen were first made in the middle of the Muromachi period (1336-1573). According to legend, Murata Juko, known as the founder of wabi-cha (the simple tea ceremony), requested Takayama Minbunojo Nyudo Sosetsu to make him some tea whisks. Unfortunately very little evidence concerning either man exists from those times, but we do know tea whisks (chasen) made by Takayama Minbunojo Nyudo Sosetsu were presented to Emperor Go-Tsuchimikado by Murata Juko. The Emperor was delighted and bestowed the name Takaho, and so the tea whisk came to be known as Takaho Chasen. It is unclear when or who changed the name of Takaho Chasen to Takayama Chasen. In the background of the success of the local Takayama tea whisk industry, we find a plentiful supply of good quality bamboo easily harvested in the mountains near Takayama and a ready market in the nearby cities of Kyoto and Osaka.
General Production Process
- 1. Bamboo Bamboo is cut and seasoned for 1 or 2 years before cutting to size. Three types of bamboo are commonly used: white bamboo, black bamboo, and smoke-stained bamboo. White bamboo has a white surface and is made by processing madake or mousou bamboo. Black bamboo is a type of madake bamboo, and since its stem color is a purplish brown, it is also called shichiku (purple bamboo). Smoke-stained bamboo has a unique texture and preparation method; bamboo used in the roof or ceiling of an old-style Japanese house, sometimes for over 100 or 200 years, will be naturally stained by smoke rising from the sunken fireplace.
- 2. Hegi (Splitting the Bamboo) This is the first process to make the whisk split head. Firstly, the bark of the tine section is peeled; the handle section is not. Then, the tine section is split with a knife; it is rather like cutting a cake, the bamboo is progressively halved to make the base tines. The number of splits varies depending on the bamboo thickness; a minimum of 12 and a maximum of 24. After splitting, the interior pulp is removed to thin the bamboo.
- 3. Kowari (Fine Splitting) The base tines are further split into thinner ones, and they are alternately divided into large and small segments. The number of final tines will be in accordance with the specifications of the final product. As an example, if 80 tines are to be created from 16 splits, each tine is split into 10, giving a total of 160 tines, which will be equally divided into 80 outside tines and 80 inside tines.
- 4. Ajikezuri (Shaving the Tips)
The tine tips are shaped after first being soaked and softened in hot water; they are carefully shaved and thinned from the base, and this is an absolutely crucial stage because it will affect the flavor of the matcha tea.
The tip shape differs depending on the tea ceremony school. For example, the tips of tea whisks used by the Mushakouji Senke school are straight, while those used by the Urasenke school are curved like a fish hook.
- 5. Chamfering One by one, both edges of the outside tines are shaved. If the edges are left unshaved, tea is likely to stick to the tines and the bubbles will not smoothly disappear.
- 6. Shita-ami and Uwa-ami (Binding) The chamfered outside tines are bound with thread once (shita-ami) and then to securely fix the base, bound again (uwa-ami). Most tea whisks are tied with black threads, as stains do not stand out, but some schools including the Sekishu-ryu do use white threads; yellow is used for Buddhist memorial services; and generally red or red and white can be used for celebrations.
- 7. Koshi-narabe (Adjustment) Using a bamboo spatula, the inside tines and the base height and intervals between tines are carefully adjusted.
- 8. Finishing In the final stage, any uneven lengths and intervals between tines and the overall shape are corrected before packing.