Eh? Nani? Kore wa nan desu ka? Why does this anime have a stick floating in the tea?

Konnichiwa! This is Alissa, otaku extraodinaire, here with a guest blog!

As an avid anime fan, and as tea is big in Japan and commonly appears in anime, I often see something like this:

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(Above picture is from the anime Natsume Yuujinchou.)

So of course when this tea blog started, I asked if Lisa or Jill knew anything about it. They didn’t, and so we did some Google research and found a couple sources, such as from japaneseteastory:

A tea stalk floating vertically is called chabashira (lit: tea pillar).  Seeing a chabashira, we feel happy, saying “Engi(luck)ga (is) ii (good).”

So now we knew what it was called, and that it meant good luck, but we weren’t sure what tea it occurred init had certainly never happened at Tea Haus!

But why would anyone care about a detail like this when animating a show?

Well in Japanese anime, every little detail is important to understanding the story. It gives us a clue as to how the story may go. In K: Return of Kings (also known as Project K: Return of Kings) three groups meet to discuss plans, and the tea stalk makes an appearance:

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 2.07.33 PM.png

Noticing which character gets the “good luck stalk” can tell us whose situation will turn out for the better, or if no one gets it, it’ll be a teasing foreshadowor lack of foreshadow. After all, the authors know about the superstition, and can lay all their cards out or maintain an excellent poker face.

Consider how this tradition started, was it because it was unusual? wabisabi-tea encourages us to consider another point of view:

It’s a marketing strategy!!

For a long time ago, there was a tea trader who only had a very good sale for bud of the first-grade tea (the first-picking tea). So the second-grade tea had a big trouble. Not many people bought it. With the fact that, the stem of the growing second-grade had a mix of many characteristic. And then the tea trader bore in mind utilizing that weakness point to make a hit with “upright-floating tea stalk” as a lucky omen .

However, people choosing the simple tea such as a tea pack or the plastic bottle have increased recently and do not have many opportunities to see a tea stem.

It is said that good luck flies when you do not swallow it in secret.

So depending on what the authors may believe, they may use it as a clue, or just to laugh at those of us reading into it. But knowing about this superstition adds to our experience of the storyhowever the author decides to use it.

In most of the anime I have seen, the tea stalk goes unmentioned, though it is clearly not hidden either. However, sometimes a character may comment on it and even bring in some controversy such as in Noragami:

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 4.50.57 PM.png

And this brings us into another reason to care: it lets us in on the joke.

For instance, in Daganropa there is a character named Tenko Chabashira with an interesting character design:

tenko-chabashira--6.13.jpg

Now you might think, “ah, well this is Japan and they do lots of odd character designs and names.” However, usually there’s a reason behind it, a not-so-secret-joke. Now that we know the floating tea stalk is name Chabashira, we understand why this character’s bow resembles leaves. (And maybe understand the character’s personality better. . . ? Who knows.)

So why post about this now?

Well, though I used my newfound knowledge in my hobby, I stopped wondering why it occurredthough I did notice that it was only ever shown in green tea. And then Lisa went to Japan and we found out more about the different processes for the types of tea, including whether the stems were removed or not. So now we knew what tea a vertical tea stalk might appear in.

Interestingly, when I was discussing with my friends which anime they had seen the Chabashira appear in, a couple of them noted that it was more common in older anime.

In Jill’s last post, she uses a source from hojotea, who gives us a possible reason for this:

In fact, the stem was not removed before in Japan. Our parent used to tell us that we have good luck if the stem of tea stands up in our cup of tea. For now, we will never find any stem in our cup.

This explains why it hasn’t occurred in TeaHaus!

The reason that Japan started taking the stalks out was for the uniformity you see in Jill’s previous posts. You see how beautiful the color and texture of the leaves is in the pictures.

Despite this trend, some places decided that the stem adds to the flavor, and that is part of why Asamiya sencha from Shigaraki, Koga city in Shiga prefecture is so unique.

The takeaway?

Tea is everywhere. And stories, in any medium, are important and can expand our knowledge of other cultures and processes. Always remember, there is more to learnabout tea, about stories, and in life.


References used:
1. http://japaneseteastory.blogspot.com/2014/01/a-sign-of-good-luck-chabashira.html
2. https://wabisabi-tea.com/chabashira-lucky-omen-japanese-tea-culture/
3. http://hojotea.com.my/post/


Join Lisa on her tour of Japan’s tea industry:
Pottery and Tea in Shigaraki, Japan
One Japanese Tea Garden, Many Teas
Why Are Matcha and Gyokuro So Expensive?
Touring a Tea Processing Facility in Japan
A Look at Japan’s Tea Industry in Shiga Prefecture
Tea in Early Japan: A Poetic Beginning

Read more by Alissa at her blog, Lettered Madness

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