The Boston Green Tea Party

Other Eyes and Ears Vol.2 ~ Intercultural insight through common words

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In world history classes Japanese learn about the Boston Chakai Jiken, which was an iconic event during the American Revolution.

It is called this, we were taught, because rebels boarded British ships anchored in Boston Harbor and dumped boxes of the East India Company’s cargo of tea into the harbor in protest at the high taxes that were part of the British government’s colonial policies.

Be that as it may, the question arises as to why a tea ceremony, or chakai, would be held at such a time of crisis.

A little bit of research, however, will reveal that the phrase ‘chakai jiken’ is a mistranslation.

If you say the word ‘party’ to a Japanese it will be interpreted first of all to mean ‘a social gathering’, when in fact ‘party’ can also mean a political party, as in the Republican GOP (Grand Old Party) or Democratic Party.

‘Party’ can also mean ‘to revel’.

If you know this then you can understand that calling it a ‘Cha Jiken’, or ‘Tea Incident’, is more appropriate.

Hence the Tea Party, the conservative movement named after the Boston Tea Party that was in the news during the American presidential elections, would be a ‘Tea’ ‘Political Party’.

Given that the Boston ‘Tea Incident’ resulted from a trade conflict with the British, it is generally assumed that the tea in question must have been black, but in fact it was green tea.

Black tea is produced from green tea by oxidizing the tealeaves.

Experimental production of black tea began in 1839 in Assam, India, so the Boston Tea Party, which occurred in 1773, couldn’t have involved black tea.

As for the origins of tea itself, there are records of tea drinking from the mythological ages in China, and descriptions of it in the Japanese national history text Nihon Kōki (815).

Asia was the ancient cradle of tea, but now this drink is found all over the world.

It is known as cha, shai, cay or jha in places where it was disseminated by overland routes—such as China and the Middle East—or te, tea, thé and thee in Western Europe where it arrived by sea.

The story of tea is indeed a deeply fascinating tale of a product that has been global since ancient times.

Incidentally, Okakura Tenshin, the Japanese scholar who asserted that “Asia is one” and was head of the Asian art division at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, wrote a book in English, published in 1906, called The Book of Tea.

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