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Craftsmen have been making tea whisks in Takayama since the Muromachi period—that’s around 1333-1568. It all started with Murata Juko, founder of the Japanese tea ceremony and buddy to the emperor, asked Sosetsu, the second son of Lord Takayama, to make him a tea whisk. The first tea whisk.

Juko was the one who kicked off the wabi-cha style of tea drinking, which emphasized simplicity, and later became part of the wabi-sabi, an aesthetic view of the world that focuses on acceptance of imperfection.

These whisks, known as ‘chasen’ in Japanese are a necessity for tea ceremony, and for making delicious matcha. Takayama Chasen are registered are one of the Traditional Crafts of Japan, a special designation that denotes its importance and regionality. Takayama is also known for its famous knitting needles. Go figure.

The production method of these bamboo whisks was kept secret and guarded. Basically like modern intellectual property. Eventually, the secret of making them was passed on to sixteen of the family’s retainers and the techniques were passed on.

When I asked the master craftsman about how places like China started mass producing bamboo whisks, I got a slightly obfuscated and half-mumbled answer about how someone from one of the bamboo making families had absconded at some point in history with the ‘how-to’ knowledge. The feeling I got from the man we talked to was basically, ‘We don’t talk about that guy here.’

Fair enough—back to whisk making in Japan.

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