In December, tea shops in Kyoto start selling a special tea called "Obukucha". It is said if people drink Obukucha at the new year, they will have good health all through the year.
The Obukucha offered by each tea shop differs depending on the shop, but most of them offer one that has a pickled plum and a tied of dried sea kelp are simply added in a cup of green tea. It is believed that a pickled plum protects us from evil and illness and a tied of dried sea kelp is a symbol of happiness.
The history behind this tradition dates back to 951, when a serious epidemic swept through Kyoto, a priest named Kuya founded Rokuharamitsu-ji in Kyoto to pray for recovery from an epidemic and gave a tea with a pickled plum to the people in order to save them. It worked and the situation settled down. The Emperor at that time heard about the story and started to have the tea later on. Since the Emperor had the tea, it came to be called “Obukucha”, which means “the tea drunk by the Emperor”. Nowadays, we call the same, but use different Kanji character, which literally means “Large Happiness”. Rokuharamitsu-ji's main festivals still include Obukucha on January 1-3 and tea is served to the people with a plum and sea kelp at the temple.
Tea is something we drink every day, but Obukucha will bring renewed health and happiness to you and your loved ones. People pay more attention for choosing their own special tea as Obukucha, and drink it for the first cup of the year to take home the happiness the over-1000-year old tradition brings.
Wishing you and yours all the best in the New Year, and always…