Updated: May 10
Have you ever heard about this before?
Japan uses two calendars, the official one (Gregorian) which is the calendar most widely used around the world and the unofficial one. Hachijuu Hachiya (八十八夜) is one of the most important dates for Japanese farmers. It means eighty eight days (it depends where we look at it is also translated into eighty eight nights) after the start of the spring (risshun 立春) following the traditional Japanese calendar and it falls around the 2nd of May (except during leap years then it falls in the 1st of May instead). Around this time the plants and flowers start sprouting and that includes tea leaves. Is worth noting that often times the second u in Hachijuu is omitted in the English language and the word is written down as Hachiju instead. However, the juu (十) means ten (number 10) and its furigana or hiragana is written as じゅうtherefore Hachijuu should be the correct way of translating this word.
The best time for tea harvesting in Japan
Between the two to the three weeks following this date is deemed in Japan as the best time to start harvesting the young and new tea leaves, which will be used to produce the highest grade of sencha. The number eight is considered to be a lucky one due to the fact of being nearly homophonous to the word prosperity in Japanese (繁栄) and homophonous to Hachikō (ハチ公) yes, you got it right, the legendary dog. So eighty eight is considered extra lucky in Japan.
It is believed that by drinking tea buds picked up on the eighty eight day, you will be protected against paralysis and that you will also absorb the energy contained in the new tea leaves which in turn will prevent you from falling sick during the entire year. In some regions around Japan such as Haiki in Nagasaki and Ureshino in Kyushu they usually organize a tea market on that weekend where people can go to and get protected by the market wind. They even have a dedicated tea picking song and a costume too!
So popular this day is that they even have a children's song called Chatsumi (茶摘み) which means tea harvesting o tea picking. In case any of you wants to learn how to play this song I found a sheet music released by the Japanese Ministry of Education available here.
In some areas they organize tea picking events where everyone can take part and get dressed in the traditional tea picking costume. Whereas I haven't had the chance to take part in any tea picking event during the eighty eight day celebrations yet (which I hope I will do in the future) I have picked tea under the rain wearing the traditional Japanese tea picking costume in Shizuoka. At the time I did not know about the Chatsumi song or I would have sung it along. Celebrating the arrival of the spring
Leaving long traditions and beliefs aside, the truth is that the first tea of the year is of the highest importance for tea farmers, tea buyers and of course for the end consumers as a whole. Even people who don't usually drink tea all year long are eager to have a sip or two on the teas harvested after eighty eight days from the start of the spring due to its attributed health benefits. They are a reason to celebrate the end of the long winter, the late frost is gone, the spring arrived, the summer is on its way. Generally speaking there would not be frost in Japan after this day so farmers would be looking forward to harvest their crops. If there was some hard frost after the eighty eight day this would damage the crops irremediably.
The first harvest of the year is called ichibancha (一番茶) it equals to the term first flush used in other tea producing regions. The tea leaves have been hibernating during the winter, accumulating nutrients, awaiting the right moment for them to sprout as soon as the spring begins. The tea leaves harvested at this time are used to produce the highest grade of teas. It is said that ichibancha has three times the amount of theanine than nibancha (二番茶 second harvest) tea leaves do. After the first harvest, there are lots of new whole leaf loose teas available in the stores. The sales of the new teas or shincha pick towards the end of the spring and flags announcing the availability of the new teas can be seen outside the tea retailer's establishments. I personally love these teas and are the ones I usually drink the most. They make me feel great, they make my skin glow. I love their taste very much and I use them for several brews, up to five rounds sometimes, even more depending on the brewing technique chosen. I would like to talk a bit more about the new teas, however, I will leave this topic for a separate post since soon we should receive 2020 new teas or shincha from Japan. Once they arrive, I should be publishing a extensive article dedicated to the Japanese new teas.
Have you ever tasted any teas picked during Hachijuu Hachiya? Leave your comments below!
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