Experience The Japanese Tea Ceremony One Sip at a Time April 06, 2017 00:00

Experience Japanese Tea Ceremony One Sip at a Time

Green Tea in Japan

The philosophy and culture surrounding Japanese tea ceremony, also called Sado, help to induce relaxation and feelings of calmness within the participants. In recent years, more and more venues have started to host tea ceremonies in order to make the events accessible to more visitors to Japan. For example, hotels, tea shops, and even local farmers have begun to host events targeted at foreigners visiting Japan.

A Touch of History

The drinking of green tea originated in China many thousands of years ago. Some believe the custom began around 2737 BC when leaves accidentally fell into the boiled water of a Chinese emperor. Gingerly sipping the brew, the emperor was surprised by the pleasant taste.

Fast forward to the 12th century, Zen monk Eisai brought the custom of drinking tea from China to Japan. At this time, the Chinese were already drinking matcha at zen ceremonies. This matcha struck Eisai’s interest because of the way the powder would dissolve into the water. It was unlike anything he had seen before. Zen philosophy focuses on training one’s mind to maintain order. Tea ceremony is just one of many ways to practice a zen lifestyle.

The Ceremony

In Japanese, tea ceremony is called “cha no yu” which may be translated literally as “hot water for tea.” Similarly, “Chado” or “sado” means “the way of tea.” The difference being that sado requires one to devote their time and energy into the focused study of tea.

Humility and respect are practiced at all times during the ceremony. Many tea houses even have unusually low doors which require all who enter to bow and humble themselves before entering the tea room. The inside of a traditional tea houses tend to be decorated both simply but elegantly. For example, one may find a flower arrangement, poetic calligraphy, or simple painting upon entering the room. The idea of humility is once again reinforced through the simplicity of these beautiful works of art.

Some people also consider the sacrifice of the flowers as they've been cut from their root for ephemeral enjoyment. This particular work of art encourages us to live within each moment as these experiences may never again be recreated. One may participate in tea ceremony many times but each time will prove to be slightly different from the last. This unique time should be treasured as time is limited and valuable. The conditions, such as season, place, participating individuals, and utensils, of each ceremony are always changing. 

Embracing change, tea ceremony works to alter as the seasons pass. As the year grows older, types of food served, utensils used, and the artwork will be replaced to create a different atmosphere every time. Even the tea cups will vary by season. For example, in August the tea master may use a shallow cup in order to cool the tea faster while preferring deeper cups as the weather cools. Desserts tend to be seasonably inspired as well, often using timely fruits such as persimmon in the autumn and peaches in summer. All of these factors work to create a serene connection between the host, the guest, and the tea being offered.

by Victoria Garafola

The Procedure

Preparation for the ritual is actually quite simple. One thing that should be noted is that there are set movements and locations for all utensils. The exact movements and preparations will vary depending on the season but, for the most part, there are two main preparation styles. One style is carried out during the winter, while the other is performed during summer. The main difference is that the kettle is placed on a brazier during the summer and in a sunken hearth during the winter.

The preparation for a traditional tea ceremony actually begins several weeks before the event takes place. Formal invitations are sent, the gardens are groomed, utensils are selected, and the tatami room is prepared. When the guests finally arrive, they are expected to pass through small door into the room as a sign of respect and humility. After the guests have arrived and settled in, the host will begin to clean the tools. This is done gracefully with careful movements. The tools are then set done in precise locations while the host begins to prepare the matcha.

At the point, the host will use a bamboo scoop, called a chashaku, to place approximately three scoops of matcha into each tea bowl. After, hot water is added and the host uses a tea whisk, called a chasen, to mix the matcha into a paste. More hot water is added again after the mixing. Once the matcha is prepared, the host will pass the first bowl to a guest. The guest should be sure to admire the bowl and presentation before taking a sip. Often, the guest will sip the matcha, wipe the rim, and pass the bowl to the next guest. This process will continue until the bowl is finally passed back to the host.

The last step involves ritualistic cleaning of the bowl and tools. Once the tools have been cleaned, it iis customary for the guests to inspect them throughly as a sign of appreciation. Guests should be sure to use the provided cloth when touching the tools. Gingerly pick up each tool and admire the craftsmanship and cleanliness.

Modern Modifications

While traditional tea ceremony has a long history, modern tea shops are offering contemporary adaptations to the culture. One unique example is the work of Nozomi Tanida, a young promoter that wanted to introduce the art of tea ceremony to everyday people like office workers. His website is called “Tea Ceremony in the Office”  (http://www.910ryu.com/) and was inspired by the samurai that first participated in tea ceremony during the Rikyu Era. He says that during these times, exhausted samurai would find moments of peace in the are of tea ceremony. Similarly, salary men and office ladies are much like modern samurai, working in a stressful environment, fighting to win an economic war. These modern warriors deserve the moments of serenity tea ceremony can offer.

Today, several companies have gotten together to offer break room tea ceremonies to their employees. These makeshift ceremony shrug off much of the pretension associated with formal ceremonies while keeping the focus on the mind and relaxation. Tanida says, “Working each day in the tumultuous battlefield of modern business, business people need their time to partake tea and refresh their spirit, too!”