In the north of Uji city in Kyōto prefecture lies Ōbaku-san Manpuku-ji (I will refer to the temple as Manpuku-ji), a Chinese-style Zen temple, which is also the main temple of the Ōbaku school of Buddhism in Japan and has a deep connection to senchadō (煎茶道), which is the way of sencha or sencha tea ceremony (the way of steeped tea).
The founder of Ōbaku-san Manpuku-ji
Yinyuan Longqi or in Japanese Ingen Ryūki (traditional Chinese: 隱元隆琦, Japanese: 隠元隆琦, pinyin: Yǐnyuán Lóngqí, 1592–1673), a Chinese Buddhist monk and poet, who was also a tea lover, came to Nagasaki in 1654, where he and his disciples founded the Ōbaku school of Buddhism. Later, in 1661, he became the founder of Ōbaku-san Manpuku-ji in Uji, where he decided to stay in order to teach Buddhism. The name of the temple means “ten thousand-fold happiness Zen temple on the hill of Ōbaku”. The hill is named after Mount Huangbo (pinyin: Huángbò Shān), where Ingen studied Buddhism.
Edo period Japan and China
In this paragraph, I would like to discuss the relationship between Japan and late Ming dynasty (明朝, 1368-1636/1644) and early Qing dynasty (清朝, 1636/1644-1912) China during the early Edo period (江戸時代, 1600-1868). There is a common misunderstanding that during the feudal rule of the Tokugawa, there was a complete seclusion of the country, which is not one hundred percent true. This policy is known as sakoku (鎖国, policy of national seclusion). Interestingly, the term sakoku wasn’t used during the Edo period Japan, but rather created afterwards. Nevertheless, it is a fact, that there were strict regulations – diplomatic contacts were restricted and for Japanese it was prohibited to leave the country, which also meant that no Japanese trade ships were allowed. As mentioned above, it is not true that Japan was completely secluded from the rest of the world. Exceptions were of the kingdom of Ryūkyū (today: Okinawa prefecture) which had contacts to Satsuma (today: prefecture) and Korea, which had contact to Tsushima. As for European countries, the Dutch with their East Indian Company (VOC) were the only Europeans accepted to Japan after 1639, since they promised not to conduct the Christian mission. However, no foreigners were allowed in the country, therefore they had to stay on a man-made island in Nagasaki, called dejima (出島).
And there was also trade with the Chinese, who were less restricted than the Dutch. The Japanese embraced Chinese arts and philosophy during the first half of the Edo period. Furthermore, Confucian philosophy built the foundation of the Tokugawa government. Therefore, despite of the limitations by the Tokugawa rule, Chinese in Japan were not only able to perceive their culture, they were also able to share their culture and knowledge with the Japanese. In Nagasaki, the old settlements of Chinese merchants still exist (and now are a famous sightseeing spot), but also Manpuku-ji proves the fact of how Chinese culture was embraced during that period. That stance toward Chinese culture was the main reason why also Chinese tea culture was also able to spread even though it has strong concurrence by the already established chanoyu (Japanese tea ceremony). In fact, Manpuku-ji became the starting point of sencha and senchadō in Japan.
The spread of sencha
There is another key person to sencha in connection to Manpuku-ji, a young monk, who, in his later years, was known as the old tea seller, Kō Yūgai Baisaō (高遊外売茶翁). Baisaō lived an ascetic life even though he turned his back to Buddhism. And while wandering around Kyōto area, he was offering tea to people passing by, whether they gave him donations or not. This was his view of the true spirit of tea and it also had the side effect that it spread the popularity of sencha. In order to avoid misunderstandings, I have to add that sencha during that time was still not the same as we know it today. The tea making process was not the same, and the tea leaves were simmered inside the hot water, which had an impact on its quality. (And among common people, it also happened that all kinds of ingredients were added to the tea).
The relevance of Manpuku-ji for senchadō today
There are several schools of senchadō, much more than in chanoyu. Most of these schools are under the roof of the All Japan Senchadō Association (一般社団法人 全日本煎茶道連盟, Ippan shadan hōjin zenkoku senchadō renmei) which was founded in 1956 (昭和 31) after the yūkai-chakai (遊会茶会), a yearly senchadō tea gathering at Manpuku-ji (the first gathering was in 1954). This happened in order to help this culture to recover after it had suffered a huge decline after the Second World War. The All Japan Senchadō Association which is also located at the temple still aims to preserve and spread senchadō by hosting tea gatherings.
Nowadays, the temple hosts two big tea gatherings, one in May and another one in October (If you are interested, but cannot read Japanese, copy and paste the names of the tea gatherings in the search function of your browser in order to find the date: 全国煎茶道大会 and 月見の煎茶会). Visitors of the temple are also welcome to enjoy a small tea gatherings on special occasions hosted by various sencha schools (More information is provided on the homepage of the All Japan Senchadō Association – look out for 年間行事 on the left side).
My experience at the temple
I visited Manpuku-ji during the Hotei festival (布袋まつり) in June 2013 when a small senchadō gathering was also held at the tea house Yūsei-ken (有声軒). Besides the tea house, there is a small hall called Baisa-dō (売茶堂) in honor of Baisaō. During the tea gathering, the tea master was very kind to answer my questions and explained the process of preparing the tea and also talked about the history of the temple and senchadō (I did not take any photos during the event out of respect). One thing that I can remember very well were banana trees in the tea garden, since it is quite unique. During the Hotei festival, there were also many booths, where local products were sold.
Unfortunately, I could never attend one of the big tea gatherings in May or October until now. Hopefully, I will get the chance when I visit Japan in the future.
Another face of the temple
Besides tea, Manpuku-ji also offers fucha-ryōri (普茶料理), which is a vegan Chinese style Buddhist cuisine and also Zen meditation experience. (On the homepage of Discover Kyōto, there is more information provided in English.
Jansen, Marius B. China in the Tokugawa World. Harvard University Press, 1992.
Waddell, Norman. Baisao – The Old Tea Seller – Life and Zen Poetry in 18th Century Kyoto. Counterpoint Press. 2010.
飛騨守源朝臣成教「落栗物語」（多治比郁夫、中野三敏校注『新日本古典文学大糸 ― 当代江戸百化物 ― 在津紀事 ― 仮名世説』所収）東京、岩波書店、2000年。
Discover Kyōto “Manpuku-ji” in: Discover Kyōto. https://www.discoverkyoto.com/places-go/manpuku-ji/ (Accessed 2019-03-22).
黄檗宗大本山萬福寺 「萬福寺について」（『 黄檗宗大本山萬福寺』） 。 https://www.obakusan.or.jp/about/ (2019年03月22日確認) 。
一般社団法人全日本煎茶道連盟『 一般社団法人全日本煎茶道連盟 』。 http://www.senchado.com/ (2019年03月22日確認)。
一般社団法人全日本煎茶道連盟 「売茶堂と有声軒 」（『 一般社団法人全日本煎茶道連盟 』）http://www.senchado.com/baisadou/baisado-yuseiken.htm (2019年03月22日確認)。
An English blog entry about Manpuku-ji that I want to share
Tonymariani “Obakusan Mampukuji – Uji-shi, Kyoto” in: Nihon Fan A blog on Japan and the Japanese. (2013-08-01).https://tonymariani.wordpress.com/category/obakusan-mampukuji-temple/ (Accessed 2019-03-22).
(The author of the blog added scans of the temple brochure at the end of the entry and he also shows a detailed pictured description on how to get to the temple from JR Ōbaku station).