Food & Living

The Art of the Japanese Tea Ceremony

The traditions and art of the Japanese tea ceremony originated in the 1500’s, when Japan imported the Chinese practices of powdered tea and Zen Buddhist beliefs. Each Japanese tea ceremony is to create a spiritual experience. Tea ceremony meetings are meant to be simple, yet special and unique. The art of the Japanese tea ceremony is a timeless tradition. If given the opportunity, should not be missed.

The host for a Japanese tea ceremony can spend years mastering the practice of such traditions. Many aspiring host will attend colleges, classes, or clubs to learn the proper hosting practices for these ceremonies. Once a host has acquired a substantial amount of hands on experience, they can earn a certificate.

Traditional Japanese tea ceremonies are classified into two gatherings, formal and informal. An informal gathering, also known as chakai, includes sweets, thin tea, and possibly a light meal. A formal gathering, known as a chaji, can last up to four hours and will include a full course meal, sweets, thick and thin tea. Japanese tea ceremonies are predominantly held during two seasons, winter and summer. Scrolls will be hung as decorations for the appropriate season and may include well known prophecies.

A Japanese tea ceremony may be held outdoors, in a home, a tea house, or a special tea room. All of which will be decorated simply and rustically. Regardless of where the initial tea ceremony is held, the host will prepare extensively prior to the event. Hand movements and steps will be practiced to perfection, ensuring simplicity and grace in every detail.

Prior to the start of the ceremony, guests may be asked to wait in a room until the host is ready. Once the host is ready, the guests will walk across a misty ground, called a roji. This tradition is significant in ridding them of the soils of the world and preparing for the ceremony. The guests, which may be up to five, will then wash their hands and mouths in a stone basin. This will conclude the purification process.

Once the host is ready to receive her guests, she will invite them through a gate or small door causing them to bow as they enter the tea room. Upon entering, the host will greet each guest with a bow.

The art of the Japanese tea ceremony will continue with the cleansing and preparation of the utensils that will be used for the customarily tea ceremony. The host will cleanse the tea bowl, tea scoop, and tea whisk with graceful and skillful movements. In keeping with tradition the host will commence the preparation of the tea. The construction of the tea consists of the host adding three scopes of a green tea powder, per guest, into the tea bowl. The host will then ladle hot water into the tea bowl and whisk until a thin paste is formed. Hot water will continue to be ladled into the bowl until a liquefied tea is created.

Once finished, the host and first guest will bow. It is customary for the first guest to admire the tea bowl and take the first drink of tea. When the guest has finished, they will wipe the rim and pass it onto the next guest. These movements will continue until all of the guests have drunk from the tea bowl. Once completed, the host will once again clean the instruments. Proceeding the final cleansing, the guests will have the opportunity to inspect the utensils used during the ceremony. The ceremony is completed once the implements are gathered by the host and the guests depart with a farewell bow.

Contrary to American and British tea meetings, the art of the Japanese tea ceremony is to create respect, purity, harmony, and tranquility among the guests. Truly a timeless and beautiful tradition, which we could all benefit from.