May 2nd in 2023, is “hachijyu-hachiya”, a holiday which marks the 88th night since the beginning of spring called Risshun (i.e., February 2nd or 3rd) according to the Japanese lunar calendar. Traditionally in Japan, many people were involved in farming. The 88th night signified a time when farmers became busy as they started to plant rice and to harvest the fresh tea leaves.
Today, shincha (the new tea of the year) is not always harvested on the 88th night, especially with the variety of tea cultivars. The time of the first harvest also depends on weather conditions, the tea farm, the region, climate change, etc. Still, tea farmers and tea lovers honor the 88th night. In fact, many of the major tea producing regions promote their tea on this day through exciting tea-related events such as hand-picking and hand-rolling.
In Fujieda City, Shizuoka Prefecture, there was a hand tea picking event that was done on a very large tea bush (more like a tree!) that is said to have been planted about 320 years ago. It is about four meters high with a circumference of about 33 meters, perhaps, the oldest tea bush in Japan where tea is still harvested. On the 88th night, members of the hand-rolling preservation society as well as city officials meticulously harvested the new tea buds. 88 is an auspicious number in Japan. That being said, new tea that is harvested on this day is often said to bring good health and longevity. The fresh tea leaves that were harvested from the wise and old tea bush in Fujieda City will be processed into a tea called “Aroma of Longevity” and distributed to the senior facilities in hopes that the elderly will not only enjoy the tea but also live long.
If you’re looking for a cup of tea harvested on the 88th night, you're in luck! There are a few options on Yunomi for preorder (in parenthesis, the location where the tea is coming from is noted):
- Ayumi Farms (Cyittorattu): 2023 Sencha that Laughs with the Mountains (Fujieda, Shizuoka Prefecture)
- Bizenya’s Shourai Blend - Handpicked Sayama Hachijyuhachiya Sencha (Sayama, Saitama Prefecture)
- Kurihara Tea FK022: Hachijyuhachiya Shincha - May 2nd, 2023, Harvested Sencha (Yame, Fukuoka Prefecture)
Going back to *seasonal time, the 88th night also marks a transitional period from spring to summer, as it is a time when the warmer weather begins to stabilize. In general, in Japan, the spring time months of March and April are characterized by a dance between warm and cold days with a high chance of frost. By the 88th night however, even in the colder regions, tea farmers are able to feel a bit more relaxed about unexpected late frosts happening (frost is one of the ways in which tea can be damaged). There is even a saying in Japanese; “88th night’s farewell frost (八十八夜の別れ霜 )" which bids farewell to frost for good! The 88th night isn’t just for farmers however. Today, it is also a time when people start to prepare for the upcoming summer months. One may take out summer clothes, hats, and sandals that were stored away during the colder months. Or, bring out the summer glassware to enjoy refreshing drinks such as cold-brewed sencha and iced Japanese black tea!
In closing, the 88th night is a special day in Japan that holds its roots in the wisdom of our ancestors. While on Yunomi, we have previously written about the 88th night and it has been touched on in some of our blog posts, we hope that you were able to deepen your understanding and appreciation of this day. Lastly, if you have not heard of the children’s song celebrating the tea harvest season, it is a fun one to check out. It is still commonly taught in elementary schools across Japan. This youtube video even has the Japanese lyrics written out in the English alphabet, so you can sing along. Enjoy!
Cha-tsumi (Tea Picking Song) - anonymous
In celebration of the new 2023 shincha season. Cheers!
*A note on seasonal time:
The traditional Japanese calendar marks changes in nature and the passing of seasons with names given to different times of the year. There are 24 major divisions called “sekki” in Japanese, from Risshun (i.e., the beginning of spring) in early February until Daikan (the big/greater cold). The 24 divisions are further split into three for a total of 72 divisions that last approximately five days each. The names were also originally taken from China, but they did not always match up well with the local climate in Japan. Therefore, in Japan, they were eventually rewritten in 1685 to reflect the distinct and subtle micro-seasonal changes that are specific to the country. The 88th night falls under the time of kokuu (穀雨; grain rains) and the micro-season of botan hana saku (牡丹華; time when the peonies bloom).
Featured image: Beautiful new tea leaf, photo by Ryuji Ogata. Ashikita Village, Kumamoto Prefecture at Kajihara Tea Garden.
Have additional questions about the 88th night? Please don't hesitate to post comments and/or questions below. Or directly contact me (Moé Kishida): firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!