The Tea Ceremony in Japan

There have been devotees of tea ever since it was discovered nearly 5000 years ago. The flavor, caffeine, and social aspects of tea drinking have made it a popular drink that has taken on almost a mystical character. This respect for the benefits of tea brought about, over time, the rise of the tea ceremony, which is especially revered in Japan, where people practice sado, the way of tea. The man responsible for creating the tea ceremony as it is experienced today is Sen No Rikkyu. He incorporated powerful strains of Buddhist thought into the ceremony.

Japanese Tea Ceremony

In the Japanese tea ceremony, the orchestrated event takes place in a room called the chashitsu which is located in the tea house, or may be simply two mats placed in relative proximity. The room in which the ceremony is to take place should be relatively austere, with only a few flowers or some calligraphy to contemplate.1 If the ceremony is to be chakai, tea is served with a light snack. If it is to be chaji it means that a full meal will be served with the tea.

The ideal number of guests to serve is four. After a ritual purification by washing hands and rinsing out their mouths with water, these guests are led into the tea room to kneel on one of the mats. Often the door to the tea house is only one meter, or three feet, in height in order to make all those who enter bow. The guests face the tea kettle. They are then allowed time to contemplate the simple decoration of the room and clear their minds of all the cares and worries of the world.

If a meal is to be served it is generally done before the service of tea. The guests eat and then are sometimes ushered out of the room to allow for cleanup and readying the tea implements.

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Depending on the specific ritual, the implements, including a tea bowl, a whisk, and a scoop are ritually cleaned with a cloth and arranged in a prescribed way on the tatami mat. The tea is then prepared. One or two types of tea may be presented. If a light tea (usucha) is to be served, the first guest receives the first bowl, then he or she passes the bowl back to the host, who prepares the bowl for the next guest. Whenever the bowl is handled, it is turned so that the next guest will not drink from the same side of the bowl as a previous guest. A stronger tea, called koicha, might also be presented. This is made by mixing water with the best powdered tea, using a bamboo whisk. This stronger, heavier tea is shared by the host and all the guests from the same bowl with three sips for each guest. Each time the bowl is passed bows are exchanged.

When all the guests have been served, the head guests should ask if he may examine the tea implements. He should politely examine and contemplate each piece and then pass it to the next guest. Because these implements may be valuable artifacts, they should be handled with extreme care and possibly with a cloth.

Tea ceremonies need not be a strictly solemn affair. Small talk is allowed. However, contemplation, calm, and finding a way to commune with our environment are the main goals of the Japanese Tea Ceremony.

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  1. Eastern Tea: Tea Ceremony


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