|Korea's Green Tea Capital
Hwagye-dong Valley, outside of Ssanggye-sa,
with the Tea Festival & Ceremonies held there
지리산 하동군 화계동 녹차터, 녹차제
Looking south from near the entrance of Ssanggye-sa over some large cultivated tea-fields, towards the
entrance of the Hwagye-dong Valley, where the Seomjin River runs past. There are still wild tea- bushes
up on the steep slopes on both sides -- descendents of Korea's original tea planted near the end of the
Shilla Dynasty -- just 20 years ago, most of the small amount of gourmet-quality tea picked / produced
here was from those wild bushes. Today, with a growing fame of and high demand for this exquisite green
tea, many fields like this have been created by small family-run businesses, planted with seeds from their
'wild' ancestors. They run all the way up this very long valley until Chilbul-sa and the Dae-seong-gyegok
[Great Saint Scenic-Valley]; where there was once only rural poverty, there is now a vibrant industry and one
of Korea's best cultural-tourism destinations. Hadong County has a good green tea website, including
information about its annual Green Tea Festival -- one of Korea's best tradition-oriented events.
this modern painting was posted
on a Korean green tea website
labeled as a "Shinseon" [spirit-
immortal]; clearly, it is a unique
conflation of a San-shin icon
with a Dok-seong as main-figure!
|Fuzzy camera-phone shots of the Ceremony for the Tea-Spirit
held on the rainy traditional-solar- calendar date Gok-u of 2006:
|a Samul-nori group gets everyone warmed up along the road
ceremony gets going
|Tea growing on the steep slopes of the Daeseong-gyegok scenic-valley,
above the main Hwagye-dong area
Young tea-spouts ready to be picked for the highest-quality
Ujeon-cha in late April. The actual picking is quite scenic
but very hard work for the local women who do it.
3 modern monuments mark Korea's first tea-field.
An envoy to Tang China of Unified Shilla's King Heung-
deok named Dae-ryeom-gongji (he may have been a
Buddhist monk; in some records he is called Kim Dae-ryoem,
indicating that he was a member of the royal clan) managed
to acquire some very valuable & illegal-to-export tea
seeds in southern China. By sewing them into the seam of his robe he was able to smuggle them back to Korea and present
them to the King in Gyeongju, who ordered him to plant them in an area with appropriate climate (very rare so far north in Asia).
He searched, and then in 828 decided on this site just outside the entrance of the already-prominent Ssanggye-sa Temple, on
the warm and frequently-foggy southern slopes of Jiri-san's sacred Samshin-bong [Three-Spirits Peak]. This story is told in
both the Samguk Sagi [History of the Three Kingdoms by Kim Bushik, 12th Cen] and the Dongguk Yeojiseungnam (Eastern-
Kingdom Survey of Geography, Joseon Dynasty].
This original tea-field was then initially cared for by Jin-gam-daesa, a great Master of Meditation of the early 800s, who also is
credited with establishing Beompae [Korea's Buddhist ritual-music-&-dance]. It and its surrounding children flourished during
the Buddhist-oriented Goryeo Dynasty, as the main source of tea for the many royal and monastic rituals, but were to a large
extent abandoned during the subsequent Neo-Confucian-oriented Joseon era (Confucian rituals are conducted with wine),
forgotten by all except a few Neo-Confucian and Buddhist tea-aficionados such as “Hanjae” Yi Mok and Cho-eui-seonsa.
The tea bushes became wild and spread up into the surrounding slopes, something that has rarely ever happened in China
or Japan. They were "rediscovered" after the Korean War, and this original field was reestablished, with these monuments
honoring its history, in the 1980s. Colorful annual rituals honoring the 'Spirit of Tea' are now held here every April and May.
|Women belonging to a Hadong Tea-Ceremony association prepare green tea
in formal style to offer on the altar to the spirits of land and tea-plants
|a traditional-Korean-style colored-ink painting of the Hwagye Valley by the artist Seon-eung, in 2005 scanned from Cha-in magazine