Takayama tea whisks Takayama chasen
At the heart of the tea ceremony
A bamboo whisk of light and air
What is Takayama tea whisks ?
Takayama Tea Whisks, called Takayama Chasen in Japanese, are tea whisks produced in Takayama Town, Ikoma City, Nara Prefecture. Each tea whisk is completely made by hand and they have a top class share in the total Japanese tea whisk market. The tea whisk, made of bamboo, is one of the tea ceremony utensils, and is used for making tea. The end of a 10 centimeter long bamboo tube is finely split and is bound with thread. Tea whisk production started in the middle of the Muromachi period (1336-1573), and now more than 60 types of tea whisks are made. The shape of the whisk, type of bamboo, and the color of the thread differs depending on the purpose and the school of tea ceremony. Tea whisks are also used for other purposes than making matcha, the classic powdered green tea. Well-known examples are buku-buku cha, which is a frothy tea in Okinawa, and bote-bote cha, which is a 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). It is said that Juko MURATA, known as the founder of simple tea ceremony, wabi-cha, requested Minbunojo Nyudo Sosetsu TAKAYAMA to make him some tea whisks. Unfortunately, as there is very little information about both of them from those times, we are unable to know about the history in detail, but we do know that the tea whisks made by Minbunojo Nyudo Sosetsu TAKAYAMA were presented to Emperor Go-Tsuchimikado by Juko MURATA. 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, but the Chinese character of 'taka' used in the family name and name of the area Takayama was changed to the same Chinese character used in Takaho. In the background of the success of the local Takayama tea whisk industry, we find a plentiful supply of good quality bamboo 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 left for one or two years before cutting to size. Three types of bamboo are commonly used: henon bamboo (white bamboo), black bamboo, and soot-colored bamboo. Henon bamboo have smooth nodes, straight fiber and are easy to handle. White bamboo is produced by boiling the cut out henon bamboo in hot water to remove oil and lye, followed by bleaching naturally under the sun for about a month. Black bamboo is a type of henon bamboo that grows black as years go by. As the color of the trunk is purplish brown, it is also called shichiku (purple bamboo). Soot-colored bamboo is bamboo used in the roof or ceiling of an old-style Japanese house, naturally stained by smoke rising from the sunken fireplace for more than 100 or 200 years, and has a unique texture and appearance.
- 2.Splitting the bamboo This is the first process to make the split end of the whisk. First, the bark of the section to become the split end of the whisk is peeled, leaving the handle section unpeeled. Next, the end section is split with a knife. Like cutting a cake, the bamboo is progressively halved to make the base tines. The number of splits varies depending on the thickness of the bamboo; a minimum of 12 and a maximum of 24. After splitting, the interior pulp is removed to thin the bamboo.
- 3. 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. For 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. Shaving the tips The tips of the tines are shaped after first being soaked and softened in hot water. They are then carefully shaved and thinned from the base. This is a very important process as 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 Both edges of the outside tines are shaved one by one. If the edges are left unshaved, tea is likely to stick to the tines and the bubbles will not smoothly disappear.
- 6. Binding The chamfered outside tines are bound with thread once and then to securely fix the base, bound again. Most tea whisks are tied with black threads, as stains do not stand out, but some schools including the Sekishu-ryu tea school use white threads. Yellow threads are used for Buddhist memorial services and generally red or red and white can be used for celebrations.
- 7. Adjusting Using a bamboo spatula, the inside tines, the base height and intervals between tines are carefully adjusted.
- 8. Finishing In the final stage, the overall shape of the whisk including any uneven lengths and intervals between tines are corrected before packing.
Where to Buy & More Information
Nara Prefectural Shoko Kankokan "Kitemite Nara Shop"
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