Wishing everyone a wonderful 2017 ahead, a year filled with good fortune, good luck and good health.
Following a traditional custom of Kyoto, I made myself obukucha (大福茶) to welcome the first day of the new year today.
Obukucha is tea containing umeboshi (pickled plum) and a strip of dried kelp tied in a knot.
Depending on the household or tea shop, the type of tea used could be sencha, hojicha or genmaicha. In some variations, gold leaf flakes (金箔) are added as a symbol of prosperity.
I used sencha for this special tea. Shockingly, umeboshi is so hard to be found where I live, so I ended up getting homemade ones from a Japanese friend who owns a ramen shop here.
Obukucha has a rather legendary origin in the Heian period, during the reign of Emperor Murakami (reigned 946-967). An epidemic was sweeping through the ancient capital and a Buddhist monk named Kuya distributed tea to those who were suffering. Some eventually healed after drinking tea.
Upon hearing about the incident, the emperor began to drink tea to usher in the new year with good health.
That seems to be the popular version.
Another variation found in the book “Tea in Japan: Essays on the History of Chanoyu” mentioned that Kuya, upon hearing that the emperor was ill, presented him with a drink of tea and subsequently cured him. The emperor then made it a tradition and recommended that the people drink tea at the start of the year for a year of good health ahead.
These days many tea shops sell beautifully-packaged Obukucha, which would make great gifts for loved ones.
Obukucha is usually drank in the first three days of the new year.