Japanese Tea Ceremony

Called Chanoyu (tea hot-water), chado or sado (the way of tea) is influenced by Zen Buddhism. Green tea, or matcha, is prepared and served.

If you are invited to chakai (tea meeting) you will be treated to a fairly simple affair that includes confections thin tea and perhaps a light snack. However, you could be invited to chaji (tea function) where you will be treated to a more formal form of hospitality including a full-course meal, confections, thick tea and thin tea. It is best to find out which you are invited to as a chaji can last up to 4 hours.

The foundations for the ceremony were laid by samurai warriors back in the 13th century, but it was Buddhist monks that first used powdered green tea in their religious rituals.

So What Goes on?

The tea ceremony is usually held in either a traditional room or a purpose built structure with a tatami (woven rush mat filled with rice straw or styrofoam) floor covering.  However, it can also take place out of doors in a location chosen for a specific occasion or circumstance by the the host.

Everything about the tea room or house is simple and rustic. Guests wait in a garden shelter until invited in by their host at which point they walk through a simple garden.  Upon arriving at the tea house guests remove their shoes and then enter through a small door to take their place on the floor.

Once the guests are seated the host will build a charcoal fire to heat the water for the tea and the guests will be served a small selection of sweets.  The sweets are eaten from kaishi a special paper which each guest carries.

Next, each item to be used will be ritually cleaned in a precise order.  Each utensil is placed in an exact arrangement according to the tea making procedure being performed. The host will then place a measured amount of green tea into the bowl, add the hot water and whisk the powder using set movements.  When ready the host places the tea out and often an assistant takes it to the guest.

The host and the guest of honour bow to each other. That guest then bows to the second guest and lifts the bowl to the host as a gesture of respect, he or she then rotates the bowl so as not to drink from the front, he takes two or three sips, wipes the rim, rotates the bowl to its original position and passes it to the next guest with a bow.  After each guest has performed the ritual and drunk some tea the bowl is returned to the host. In some ceremonies each guest will receive their own bowl, but the serving and drinking procedure is the same.

If thick tea has been served during the ceremony (usually with a full meal) thin tea will then be served afterwards in the same way, but in a more relaxed atmosphere with light conversation.

At the end of the ceremony the utensils will be cleaned and the guest of honour may request that the guests inspect the utensils. Each item is then carefully put away until next time.

A Little Tidbit

If you wanted to learn the art of the tea ceremony you would probably join a tea circle, a group that meets regularly to practice. Even some schools, colleges and universities have tea clubs.

Tea circles are usually run by tea schools and their students pay a monthly fee to learn the intricate art. The students learn about the various ceremonies, decoration (ie, calligraphy in the scroll alcove), the appropriate flower arrangements and the type of sweets to serve, along with what to wear and how to treat the utensils with respect.

Videos of Japanese Tea Ceremonies

Tea At Koken: A Japanese Tea Ceremony By Joy Mari Sato in the Wet Mountains of Colorado.  Although filmed in Colarado the following video is a good example of  a formal Japanese Tea Ceremony.

For a more casual ceremony try watching this video.

Back to World Tea Ceremonies