Everything you need to know about Japanese Tea Ceremony, A Harmonious Ritual
Everything you need to know about Japanese Tea Ceremony, A Harmonious Ritual

Are you a tea lover? Do you like matcha? Do you know that the Japanese not only love drinking tea but there are also activities around tea? Japanese tea ceremony, or, sadō/chadō (茶道), is an important cultural activity in Japan. It is a ceremonial preparation and presentation of a Japanese powdered green tea—matcha (抹茶).

The tea ceremony is essentially a process of searching for peace in your mind, and it is a crucial thing to learn the history and practice of the Japanese tea ceremony to become a Japanese cultural expert. Let us get things started and explore the fascination of the tea ceremony together. 

Origin of Tea Ceremony

Origin of Tea Ceremony

No doubt that tea is the most important element of the tea ceremony. Green tea was first brought to Japan from China, where there was documentation of tea in the 4th century. The introduction of the tea ceremony in Japan can be dated back to the 8th century. 

As you may have expected, the ceremony in the 8th century is very different from the ceremony today. The tea ceremony nowadays originated from Zen-Buddhism. One of the key influencers is a Chinese author called Lu Yu. During the Tang dynasty, Lu Yu wrote a book called The Classic of Tea (茶经). This work is the first monograph on tea available in the world. 

By the end of the 12th century, a Budahist priest, Myōan Eisai/Yōsai (明菴栄西), who was known for founding the Japanese line of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, first introduced the concept of tencha (点茶). Basically, tencha means mixing powdered matcha with hot water. This is the prototype of today’s tea ceremony, despite it being first used as a religious ritual. It is worth noting that at the time, tea was prepared for priests and upper class only. 

It was not until the Muromachi period that tea became an everyday beverage that started to become accessible to everyone. 

There are two historical figures that significantly influenced the development of tea ceremonies: Murata Jukō (村田珠光), the founder of the Japanese tea ceremony, and Sen no Rikyū (千利休), who is generally considered the most influential person of the Japanese tea ceremony. For Jukō, the most important values in his tea ceremony include: 1. kin, reverence; 2. kei, respect; 3. sei, purity, and 4. jaku, tranquility (pp. 30 in Jennifer Anderson’s An Introduction to Japanese Tea Ritual). As for Rikyū, he is a figure that has often been portrayed in popular culture. There are movies and games about him, calling him the tea master. His four central values are similar to Jukō but slightly modified: harmony (和, wa), respect (敬, kei), purity (清, sei), and tranquility (寂, jaku). 

Tea Ceremony Equipment 

Tea Ceremony Equipment 

The term for equipment for a tea ceremony is called chadōgu (茶道具). Although the exact utensils that will be used during a tea ceremony vary, there are some most essential elements, including: 

  1. Chawan (茶碗) (tea bowl): chawan originally came from China, and it was first introduced to Japan by the tea master, Rikyū. He designed the first ever bowl that was specifically used for the Japanese tea ceremony. 
  2. Cha-ire (茶入) (tea caddy): cha-ire is used to prepare thick tea. 
  3. Chakin (茶巾) (hemp cloth): chakin is used by the host of the ceremony to clean the chawan after the guests have enjoyed the tea prepared. Thick and thin tea require different types of chakin to clean. 
  4. Chasen (茶筅) (whisk): the material for chasen is natural bamboo. Around 90% of chasen in Japan come from Takayama town in Nara prefecture. 
  5. Chashaku (茶杓) (tea scoop): the tea scoop or chashaku is made from a single strip of bamboo. It is used to place the powdered matcha into the chawan.
  6. Kama (釜) (Kettle): kama is usually round-shaped and is used to bowl water for making tea. 

The tea ceremony is not just about taste but also an aesthetic performance. Every placement of the equipment is from the guests’ angle, instead of the host’s. 

Team Ceremony Procedure 

Team Ceremony Procedure 

As I have mentioned above, there are different schools that follow different protocols. A formal tea ceremony is a refined practice that takes up to hours. 

Briefly speaking, there are several steps that you will find in almost any ceremony that you attend. 

  1. the tatami room in which the ceremony will take place is properly cleaned and prepared by the host after sending the invitation to the guests. Note that an invitation is a must because only guests with the formal invitation can attend a tea ceremony. The choice of the invitation also represents the host’s aesthetic value. As for the room, it will be decorated in accordance with the season and time of the day. 
  2. the guest enters the tearoom on the date they have arranged. The guests have to sit in a specific order, as there is the main guest, or, Shokyaku, who communicates with the host on behalf of other guests and who will formally acknowledge and appreciate the effort of the host. 
  3. the host ritually cleans the tools after all guests are properly seated. 
  4. the host prepares a thick matcha tea. 
  5. a thin matcha tea is prepared. 
  6. the host cleans the tools used. 
  7. the guests express their appreciation and gratitude to the host and departures. 

The procedure of a tea ceremony can be quite different depending on whether it is hosted during the summer or winter season. 

Experience the Japanese Tea Ceremony Personally 

Team Ceremony

Yes, the tea ceremony is not excluded from foreigners; as a tourist or newcomer in Japan, you have the opportunity to attend a tea ceremony of your choice. Many organisations in Japan offer varying tea ceremonies, and you can choose which one to go for depending on their different focuses and degrees of formality. You don’t have to worry about the potential language barrier if you don’t speak Japanese, as there are several organisations offering tea ceremonies in English. This is a link to one of the most popular destinations: https://mai-ko.com/culture/tea-ceremony/.

The tea ceremonies offered there are relatively shortened from a very formal one; it is nevertheless a good experience for starters. If you are not in Japan but still love to experience a tea ceremony, you can book one online. Although you won’t be able to taste the tea, you can still learn the history and concepts of an authentic Japanese tea ceremony and possibly practise it on your own. 

What to expect when attending a tea ceremony? 

Experience the Japanese Tea Ceremony Personally 

As you may expect, different tea ceremonies from different schools and organisations have varying rules. But don’t worry – you are not expected to be an expert and know it all like a tourist. After all, you are there to experience and learn. It is nevertheless important to bear some points in mind to show your respect for this ritual. First, a tea ceremony is a formal event, meaning that you should dress accordingly. You don’t need to wear anything too fancy, but you are expected to wear something plain and modest. You should not wear strong perfumes that may distract the ceremony. Second, you need to bow before entering the tatami room where the tea ceremony takes place. And when you enter the room, you need to bend over to show your humility. Ideally, you will sit in a seiza position. Third, before you enjoy the tea, you will be served with a Japanese sweet. You are expected to eat sweets before enjoying your tea. After you finish your tea, you are expected to bow again to the host to express your gratitude. 

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As a big tea lover, I hope this article has sparked your interest in the tea ceremony. Let me know if you have already attended a tea ceremony and your thoughts about it. And if you haven’t experienced it, I would certainly recommend you to check out one. Many of my friends were surprised after going to a tea ceremony. Attending a tea ceremony is a truly peaceful experience that clearly contrasts the busy, modern everyday life. You will see that the purpose of a tea ceremony is not simply about enjoying tea; you will get a sense of the very basis of the Japanese’s life philosophy and aesthetics. The hope of many hosts is besides receiving and enjoying tea, that their guests can find harmony and tranquility during and after the tea ceremony.  

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