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Improving Work Performance Through Liberal Arts: Mindfulness and Refreshment with the Tea Ceremony and Matcha (2)

By: Yoh Otsuka (Senior Fellow & Senior Consultant, Intelligence Group, Nikkei Business Publications)

In a tea ceremony, when the master of the tea house serves matcha to his or her guests, he/she brings the tea utensils into the tea room, where the master wipes and purifies them before serving the tea. When truly taking the time to clean the utensils, one can expect to achieve a state of "mindfulness," or mental concentration. Research on the functionality of matcha tea is progressing, and scientific evidence is mounting for its effects on stress tolerance and refreshment. In this issue, we will examine the possibility of improving work performance by practicing the tea ceremony.

An increasing number of companies are introducing ways to increase "mindfulness" into their training programs in order to improve concentration and work performance. Mindfulness is the practice of focusing one's awareness on the "here and now" through activities such as Zen meditation and unique breathing techniques. This practice can be expected to reduce stress and refresh the mind.

Mindfulness can also be experienced during a tea ceremony, which is closely related to the Zen tradition. One example is a tea ceremony procedure called temae. This is a series of gestures performed by the master of the tea ceremony when serving the beverage. The master brings the utensils into the tea room, lays them out in their proper positions, and takes time to clean and wipe them with woven silk gauze.

There are strict rules for the handling of the utensils. For example, when placing a tea bowl on a tatami mat, the bowl is first held in the right hand, then switched to the left hand, and then placed again in the right hand. The positions of the utensils are also determined in detail, with considerations such as "how many tatami lines from the edge of the tatami mat should this item be placed?" One tatami line is approximately one centimeter in length, so even a deviation by such a small amount is not allowed in a tea ceremony.

As one follows these strict protocols and takes the time to perform the ceremony, one's mind becomes focused, and the ceremony participant enters a state of mindfulness. Tea ceremony practitioners sometimes describe this state using expressions like "nothingness," "a feeling of meditation," or "to be in tune with myself."

According to a study by Nikkei BP, the practice of tea ceremony, which has strict rules regarding procedures and handling of tools, is said to concentrate the mind and lead to a state of mindfulness.

Utensils placed in a tea room at Sadou Kaikan, Tokyo

Matcha's Functionality Revealed

Hard-working businesspeople are constantly under stress. Long hours spent using digital devices and an overload of information can also increase fatigue. At times like these, one may hear tea ceremony practitioners say, "Drinking matcha tea heals me" or "I feel refreshed after drinking matcha tea, which helps me get more done afterwards."

Various studies have been conducted on the bodily and mental effects of matcha's ingredients. Matcha and Health Research, an organization established in 2017, supports research activities by companies and universities and presents the results, with the aim of improving the image of matcha as healthy and providing solutions to improve quality of life through matcha consumption.

According to a report published by Matcha and Health Research in November 2022, matcha contains more theanine and tea catechins per cup than sencha tea. In addition, since matcha tea leaves are powdered and dissolved in hot water for drinking, lutein (a type of carotenoid that is an antioxidant) and vitamin K are more readily available.

In a study funded by Matcha and Health Research, experiments with mice revealed that drinking matcha tea may increase stress tolerance. The good balance of caffeine and theanine in matcha is believed to contribute to the drink's effect on stress tolerance. The study also reported that matcha tea may be linked to the increased strength and mass of muscles.

The "Matcha Effect" Reduces Stress and Improves Cognitive Functioning

ITOEN has been a member of Matcha and Health Research since its second phase (starting in June 2009). Hitoshi Kinugasa, head of the company's central research laboratory, points out, "The image of matcha being good for one's health exists not only in Japan but also overseas. In the United States, the custom of sprinkling matcha powder on foods as superfood is spreading. However, there is less evidence for the health benefits of matcha compared with other forms of green tea." Matcha and Health Research has been collecting scientific evidence on the functionality of matcha with the support of various research institutes. By disseminating the results of the research projects across the world, Kinugasa hopes to further improve the healthy image of matcha.

In addition to the activities of Matcha and Health Research, ITOEN has been conducting joint research with MCBI, a bio-venture company from the University of Tsukuba, and Shimadzu Corporation. In 2019, it was reported that continuous consumption of matcha reduced stress and improved social cognitive functions.

In 2020, the company launched the "ITOEN MATCHA PROJECT" to address the issue of cognitive function using the functionally active ingredients contained in matcha. Attempts have been made to appeal to health-conscious consumers through the development of matcha beverages with cognitive function-related properties. "Oi Ocha MATCHA SHOT" containing theanine and tea catechins and "Oi Ocha with Matcha" containing L-theanine were introduced to the market in October 2023. Functional claims have been made about both drinks.

"Oi Ocha MATCHA SHOT", which contains theanine and tea catechins, was released by ITO EN, which develops matcha drinks related to cognitive function. ITO EN, which promotes the appeal of tea to health-conscious consumers through matcha, has released "Oi Ocha with Matcha," which contains "L-theanine."

"Oi Ocha MATCHA SHOT" and "Oi Ocha with Matcha" are functional food products (ITOEN)

Making it Easy to Drink Matcha

Kinugasa also points out the growing interest in matcha among younger consumers. "Young people these days are familiar with matcha-flavored sweets, so when we show them how to make and drink matcha, they find it delicious. We are also looking at collaborating with those in their teens and twenties to promote matcha, as school tea ceremonies are expanding," says Kinugasa.

Although it may be a hurdle to learn and practice the art of tea ceremony, a good way to start is by making and drinking matcha on a daily basis. To prepare matcha, you will need a tea bowl, a container called a natsume, a chashaku (tea scoop) to scoop the tea, and a chasen (tea whisk). These items are all you need to enjoy matcha at home without excessive concern about how to prepare it.

You can buy all the tools you like, one by one, or if you want to start easily, you can buy a "beginner's set" for a few thousand yen at an online store.

A tea bowl, a container called a Natsume, a chashaku for scooping the tea, and a chasen for whipping the tea are necessary for brewing matcha.

Upper left: Natsume / Upper right: Chasen
Lower left: Tea bowl / Lower right: Chashaku

One business owner has a simple set of tea utensils in his office and occasionally makes his own matcha and serves it to his employees.

By having such a set in the office and drinking it instead of coffee, people may expect to refresh themselves and improve work efficiency.

For further details, please contact:
Nikkei Business Publications, Inc.



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