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Japanese Tea Ceremonies

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A figure kneeling before a small box of tea and a teal bowl

Tea came to Japan from China. The Japanese made an art out of drinking tea. It wasn't just a drink - it was a spiritual quest!

The Japanese tea ceremony (cha no yu - hot water tea or chadou/sadou - the way of tea) can be very elaborate; there are prescribed ways not only of making and drinking the tea, but also of the whole setting where the ceremony is performed. From the gardens and surroundings of the special teahouse itself, the number of tatami mats that determine the size of the room to the decorations used. Even the way that the tea objects are handled before, during, and after use is important. However, there are differences in ceremonies linked to the Japanese tradition and not all insist on exactly the same rites and routines.

An Example of a Japanese Tea Ceremony

Generally, the host invites a few guests to the ceremony. Both the guests and the host have prescribed ways of behaving during the ceremony.

The following is a description of one variation of a Japanese tea ceremony:

  • When entering the room, the guests kneel one by one and move into the room (the entrance is usually very short, so people sometimes bow when coming in), then move over to admire the one decoration in the room - maybe a scroll, or an ikebana display - before moving to kneel at their designated place on the tatami mat.

  • Once the guests are seated the host brings in the tea implements on a tray, and sets them up before the guests, nearest to the first or 'head' guest.

  • The implements are ritually cleaned with a fukusa silk cloth in front of the guests. This is red when a woman is the host and purple if a man is the host. The way the cloth is used with the various implements is fixed and it takes a lot of practice before the movements are perfected. Each action is slow, the arms are rounded and the movements somewhat circular. One should be at peace.

  • Once this cleaning ritual has been completed, the tea is prepared. The water is boiled in a metal or pottery kettle or pot. When ready, hot water is either poured or scooped with the hishaku into the chawan (tea bowl). The chasen (tea whisk) is checked in the proscribed method before being used to whisk the hot water. The whisked water is then poured out into another bowl, the kensui and the tea bowl is cleaned with a chakin (linen cloth). This is done to cleanse the bowl after each guest has their tea, as well as being part of the ritual cleansing process.

  • The guests are then offered some sweets, using kaishi paper to rest the sweet on.

  • Once cleansed, a small amount of a special powdered green tea called macha is scooped with the chashaku (tea scoop) out of the natsume (tea caddy), into the tea bowl. Hot water is then poured or scooped into the tea bowl. The tea and water are then whisked quickly, making a frothy, light green coloured tea for the first guest.

  • The guest is offered the tea by the host, who turns the tea bowl twice to the right, so the front faces the guest (the front is indicated by the design on the tea bowl). Taking the tea, the guest places the tea bowl on the left and apologises to the next guest for drinking first, then thanks the host for the tea. The tea bowl is picked up with the right hand, rested on the left palm and the bowl is then turned twice in a clockwise direction. One drinks the tea in three sips, slurping on the last. With the fingers, the guest wipes the bowl where the lips touched the rim. The bowl is turned back twice, in an anti-clockwise direction, and is then admired by the guest. The guest admires the way the bowl was made, its designs and even the pattern of the froth on the inside of the bowl. The bowl is then placed in front of the guest and the host is thanked.

  • Taking back the tea bowl, the host goes through the hot water cleansing process again and serves the remaining guests their tea in the same manner.

  • The bowl and whisk are cleansed for a final time, and the other implements wiped with the silk cloth, then everything is returned to its proper place on the tray.

  • The host bows to the guests, who bow in return and thank their host. Then the host watches the guests depart from the tearoom.

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