Chanoyu Japanese Tea Ceremony

Tea ceremony in Japan Copyright © Kimono Tea ceremony Maikoya

What is Tea Ceremony? 

The Japanese tea ceremony is preparing, serving, and drinking tea in a ritualistic and ceremonial way where it is used to promote wellbeing, mindfulness, and harmony. The tea itself is a powdered green tea called matcha.

The purpose of the Japanese tea ceremony is to create bonding between the host and guest and also gain inner peace. The tea ceremony is very important in Japanese culture because it used to be practiced only by the elite zen monks and noble warlords for most of history. 

The tea ceremony is also a very significant cultural activity that combines silence, respect, and symbolic purification altogether. While some Japanese perform tea ceremonies as just a hobby today, most people consider it a form of traditional arts and call it the art of tea.

One may have to spend years practicing these forms to finally reach the point where he/she can perform every single step with very little mental effort. This way of thinking applies to martial arts and other Japanese customs and traditions as well.

Tea Ceremony Steps

The tea ceremony consists of the preparation of the tearoomsweets, and the tea itself. The serving of tea usually comes with casual chatting about seasonal changes. However, in the preparation phase, participants keep silent. That is why the tea ceremony is considered a meditational activity. During the tea ceremonies, the host prepares the tea and serves it to the guests but does not drink it because everything is for the pleasure of the guests. The procedure of Japanese tea ceremony steps is called temae in Japanese.

There are two types of tea ceremonies: chakai (informal tea ceremony) and chaji (formal tea ceremony). Chakai, also known as the typical tea ceremony gathering, only lasts 45 minutes even though the training takes years. Chaji, on the other hand, involves the participation of senior tea masters and the service of traditional kaiseki meals which can last up to 4 hours. Major Japanese tea ceremony schools such as the Urasenke School and Omotesenke School follow slightly different steps and procedures.

Watch Japanese tea ceremony steps in this video

There are different types of tea ceremonies as there are rituals needed for the different seasons. This is the simpler shozumi ceremony steps below, which includes a kaiseki meal. Preparation is taken seriously before the Tea ceremony can begin.

Traditionally, the tea house and surrounded gardens would be cleaned and tidied up. Invitations to guests should be sent weeks in advance. The tea room itself needs special attention; there are no chairs and tables as you are required to sit on the woven tatami mat floor. The doors are traditionally made of paper and cleaning requires that both the mats and doors be replaced. In a full Tea ceremony, special guests would be consulted beforehand on what type of tea and food should be served.

The day beforehand is when the kaiseki meal is prepared. This is a traditional Japanese meal that consists of many small dishes of delicacies that typically consist of rice, vegetables, and soup. These are well known for their high-grade ingredients, careful preparation, and presentation.

Japanese sweets are usually prepared as well to contrast the bitter taste of the tea. More modern or simpler foods are prepared if newcomers are going to be present at the tea ceremony. The hot water is prepared just before the ceremony begins and is placed in the kama or iron pot.

The first step of the ceremony is welcoming guests to the tea room. The host or teishu would open the paper door and would already have all the utensils placed on the tatami mats ready to begin (or would be brought in shortly after).

Certain movements are very important to perform as a practiced host, such as standing in one smooth motion and bowing often during the ceremony. Once everyone is seated, the kaiseki meal is presented to the guests and eaten.

The sweets would be ritually presented to the main guest once the meal is finished. In a full service, a guest’s social ranking would give them special rituals to perform during the ceremony. The main guest or shokyaku would get to accept the sweets. As the tea is about to be prepared, the main guest usually asks the host where the utensils were made and who made them.

As the tea is being prepared, this is now the beginning of the ceremonial steps of the occasion. Traditionally this is all performed in silence. Firstly the tea bowl or chawan is picked up and put down with the tea whisk inside the bowl.

Japanese Tea Ceremony Steps

Purification process Copyright © Kimono Tea ceremony Maikoya

Next, the tea jar or natsume is moved in front of the host. A silk cloth is now folded and is wiped on the tea jar before the jar is placed in front of the cold water. While the host is still holding the silk cloth, the chashaku or tea scoop is now picked up and cleaned. The tea scoop is then put on top of the tea jar.

Now the tea whisk or chasen is put next to the tea jar. A ladle or hishaku is held while the lid of the iron pot of warm water is opened. The ladle is used to take a scoop of hot water and pour it into the tea bowl. The ladle is then put on the iron pot while the host gently cleans the tea bowl and tea whisk using warm water. This water is then discarded into a wastewater bowl. The tea bowl is then cleaned with a hemp cloth.

The tea scoop and tea jar are then picked up. Usually, one and a half scoops of tea or matcha are placed into the tea bowl. The ladle is then picked up again and a full cup of hot water from the kama is poured slowly into the tea bowl. Any leftover hot water is put back into the iron pot.

A sign of a talented host is if the tea is made correctly as it takes years to know how much matcha and hot water is needed. The tea whisk and tea bowl are now picked up as the host quickly whisks the tea powder. A pale green foam is formed and should settle to the center of the bowl.

Now the tea is served to the guests. The host cleans the lip of the bowl once last time and presents it to the main guest. The shokyaku walks forward and drinks the tea first. They are the only guest allowed to make comments about the quality of the tea made. After they have finished, hot water is added and the bowl is cleaned. The host will then make the tea again in a similar fashion until all the guests have had a drink.

After everyone has finished, the shokyaku asks if everyone has completed their tea. The host cleans each utensil separately. The discarded water bowl is hidden as much as possible during this step. Freshwater is added to a kama equal to the amount of hot water taken during the ceremony. Most of the utensils and tea items are then carried away to the preparation area of the tea house.

Finally, the host will kneel next to the door and thank the guests for coming to the tea ceremony.

 

Japanese Tea Ceremony Etiquette

Japanese Tea Ceremony Etiquette Copyright © Kimono Tea Ceremony Maikoya

What is Tea Ceremony Etiquette?

Japanese tea ceremony etiquette is similar to showing basic social manners such as being on time, wearing a clean pair of socks, and keeping quiet during the ceremony. Additionally, participants should not forget to take their shoes off when entering the building, put their cell phones on the manner mode, bow to the host, and abstain from using heavy fragrances. 

Tea Ceremony History

Sen no Rikyu 1522 ~1591 Copyright © Kimono Tea Ceremony Maikoya

It is expected that participants will wear a kimono or at least dress up conservatively. Hiding jewelry and watches would be ideal but not necessary. While everyone must be quiet when the host is purifying the tools, they are supposed to compliment the bowls and seasonal flowers at the end of the tea ceremony. When the host initiates the conversation, the topics should not be about personal matters but relate to the tea ceremony and seasonal changes.

The etiquette and expected manners may also depend on whether the guest is a beginner or not. For instance, advanced practitioners must bring their paper fans and sit on their knees for the whole time, but for first-timers failing to do so would not be considered a social faux pas. Additionally, most Japanese eat traditional sweets in three pieces and drink the tea in 3 sips. However, foreigners do not necessarily have to consider these as strict rules. On the other hand, one simple rule most beginners ignore is making the “slurping sound” after finishing the tea, which indicates the guest has finished drinking tea and enjoyed all of it. 

History of Tea Ceremony

The Japanese tea ceremony has many names in Japanese: chanoyu, sado or ocha, which translates to the “Way of the Tea”.  The “way” stands for the right way or the perfect way that leads to awakening and peace of mind. According to Japanese beliefs, doing something that looks routine is the best path to enlightenment as long as the performer follows the perfect procedures and “forms.”

It has a long history of a thousand years and has ties to the tea traders in China. Japanese monks first brought back tea leaves during the Chinese Tang dynasty (618 AD| 907 AD) and the Japanese Nara Period and only used them in their temples for religious services. A priest called Myona Eisai spread the belief that green tea could be used for medicine and by drinking it regularly you were ensured good health. Back then, tea was used mostly as a medicine and only available to the rulers and the noble families. Later Zen monks used tea leaves to stay awake during late-night prayers.

Samurai in particular followed this practice and spread its popularity. Later, another priest called Murata Shukou, called the father of the tea ceremony, added more significance and rituals by making powdered tea so others could enjoy it. His focus on aesthetics became well known and heavily influences the tea ceremony that we know today.

Ichi Go Ichi E

Tea Ceremony Gathering in the Meiji Period Copyright © Mizuno Tashikata

Sen no Rikyu is a man who lived in the late 1500s and trained many warlords. He is considered the founder of the tea ceremony. He introduced the four main principles of tea ceremony: WA, KE, SEI, and JAKU (harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility). He also popularized the tea ceremony flowers and the WABI SABI style ceremony, which roughly means “simple is the best.” “The way of tea” cannot be understood without reading the principles of Sen no Rikyu. Unfortunately, Sen no Rikyu was punished by execution ordered by the regent, who was his student. The reason is still unknown today.

Over the years Japanese turned a simple tea drinking activity into a ritual where bonding and gaining peace of mind became the main aspects. In medieval times the samurai class used tea ceremonies for forming political alliances. Nowadays, the tea ceremony is practiced as a form of art and a unique cultural tradition. Read detailed history and timeline of tea ceremony here

 

The Meaning of Tea Ceremony: Ichi Go Ichi E

Japanese Tea Ceremony Set Tools Utensils

Japanese Tea Ceremony Set Tools Utensils Copyright © Kimono Tea Ceremony Maikoya

The founder of the tea ceremony Sen no Rikyu stated that the meaning of tea ceremony means being present at the moment and realizing that every moment only occurs once. His philosophy is known as ichi go ichi e : one time – one meeting. This phrase roughly translates as “every moment occurs only once” or “cherish every moment” or “once in a lifetime chance.” 

The tea ceremony is not about the taste. It is all about enjoying the moment and remembering that this moment will never repeat. We have to forget about everything and just focus on drinking tea in harmony. Even when two people meet in the same room and drink from the same cup, it is not the same moment. The tea meeting, which may seem like a simple routine, should be deeply enjoyed as that tea moment will never come back.

Tea Ceremony Vocabulary and Tools

Tea ceremony utensils are only used for the tea ceremony and not for anything else. A more interesting fact is that the same type of tools has been used for more than 600 years, defying all the technological advancements. There is a hierarchy among the tea ceremony utensils. The tea bowl and the tea caddy are the most important ones, while the kensui (wastewater container) and the ash container (haiki) have the lowest level of importance. The high-level utensils are brought to the room first and held by two hands all the time. Read more about the tea ceremony utensils.

Chasen: Tea whisk made from the single piece of bamboo

Chashaku: Tea scoop made from bamboo or ivory

Chawan: Decorated tea bowl. See Fun Facts for more information.

Hishaku: Ladle used to pour water made out of bamboo

Kaiseki: Delicate meal sometimes eaten during a tea ceremony

Kama: Iron pot used for hot water

Matcha: Bitter green tea prepared in a powdered form

Natsume: The decorated tea jar that the green tea comes in

Shokyaku: The main guest or guest of honour at the tea ceremony

Tatami: The type of mat found in a tea house Teishu: The host of the tea ceremony

Japanese Tea Ceremony Room

Japanese Tea Ceremony Room Copyright © Kimono Tea Ceremony Maikoya

A typical tea ceremony room would have an alcove, hand-brushed scroll, seasonal flowers, incense container, folding screens, a square-shaped hearth, a half-door entrance for guests, and the fusuma style separate entrance for the host. However, there are clear rules on how these items are displayed in the tea room and what kind of sitting order the participants follow. For instance, flowers are displayed on the left side of the scroll, and the incense container should be on the right side. The most senior person must sit closest to the alcove.

Tea Ceremony Facts

Japanese Tea House

Japanese Tea House Copyright © Kimono Tea Ceremony Maikoya

There are many interesting and fun facts about Japanese tea ceremonies, the most interesting being the pure gold tea room built for the regent Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the 1500s.

While great preparation is given to the tea utensils, the tea house itself is designed to embody harmony and mindfulness. Careful organization of the artwork, flower arranging, and even interior decorating are all required in a proper tea house.

In a full tea service, the guest should be prepared to bring traditional items with them to the ceremony. These include a small fork to cut the sweets provided, a fan, a traditional paper napkin, and a small decorated cloth. This cloth is important for the shokyaku as the way he or she places this cloth on the ground signals whether the tea given to them was satisfactory or not.

Traditional tea houses have artwork, flowers, pottery, and aesthetics that change with the seasons, time of day, or a particular holiday. The ceremonies done in these tea houses have a theme and this theme is shared with the guests through the calligraphy paintings and artworks on the walls. The main scroll is the main important decoration as it could be painted by Buddhist monks, professional Shodo calligraphers, or tea masters. This should also be displayed through the fresh flowers and decorations inside and outside the tea house.

Readers usually get surprised to find out there are no chairs in tea ceremony rooms. The reason why there are no chairs in a tea house is that the floor is a tatami floor. This floor is made from reeds, straw, or rush grass and was seen as a luxury in ancient Japan. Traditional houses have tatami floors and only certain shoes should walk on its surface. The way the tatami floor is laid is important as it might bring good or bad luck into the house.

The Japanese Tea Ceremony used to be a ‘men only’ event. Up until the end of the 19th century during Edo period (1603-1868 AD), women were not allowed to attend the tea ceremony. During this time only rich nobles such as warlords, samurai, and monks could afford to drink the matcha tea.

Older tea houses have a ‘half height’ door. This has ties to the samurai era when the warriors had to take off their weapons and armor before entering the tea house. This was to promote equality between the guests and the belief that ‘all people are equal in the way of the tea‘.

Something that isn’t equal is the utensils used. There is a ceremonial ‘hierarchy of utensils‘ and is influenced by how expensive and important the item is. This influences how the host carries the utensil, what order they are brought in and out of the tea room, and at what height they are carried. The tea bowl and tea container are the most treasured utensil and are brought in first and carried carefully. The wastewater bowl is the last utensil to be carried in and is only held at waist height.

There is a range of tea bowls that you can choose from if you do host a tea ceremony. There are summer bowls that are shallow to cool the tea, or winter bowls that are deeper. Different tea bowl creators like to use a certain material, thickness or color when they make their wares.

The more expensive bowls are made by hand and any imperfections are prized and put on display during the ceremony.

geisha tea ceremony

Due to novels and movies such as Memoirs of a Geisha, the Japanese tea ceremony has become linked with the grace and sophistication of the geisha. Tourist destinations in Kyoto are known for offering tea ceremonies with a geisha host. During the spring, geishas can be seen preparing sweets or meals for the tea ceremony. Some tea houses let you keep the plate offered to you as a souvenir.

Classes and clubs to learn and perfect the art of the tea ceremony are important if you wish to become a proper lady in Japan. There is even a certification process that celebrates the different levels of mastery of the tea ceremony. This is very important if you attend a special tea school, such as the famous Ura, Omote, or Mushanokoji schools.

Famous Tea Houses in Japan

The most famous teahouse in Japan is Kimono Tea Ceremony Maikoya Kyoto, which has branches in Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo. In this teahouse, visitors can join introductory tea ceremony sessions in English or Japanese every day from 9 AM to 7 PM. 

Other famous tea houses are Tai An (the oldest remaining tea house built by Sen no Rikyu), Ichiriki Chaya (teahouse used by samurais to topple the shogunate), and the Shokin Tei Tea house. 

Readers should note that a tea ceremony usually requires an invitation from the host. Tea shops such as Ippodo and tea cafes such as Hamarikyu Gardens that offer tea tasting are not traditional teahouses. Read more about historic tea houses in Tokyo and tea gardens in Tokyo.

When is Japanese tea ceremony held?

Japanese tea ceremonies are often performed when guests are invited to someone’s tea room to celebrate seasonal changes and special occasions. While the Chinese tea ceremony is usually done during Chinese weddings, the Japanese tea ceremony is held to celebrate the cherry blossom, fall leaves, the tea harvest season, the beginning of the new year, and other occasions. 

It is important to remember that the Japanese tea ceremony is not held everyday as most people drink boiled tea leaves rather than ground matcha tea. Most Japanese also do not have a special tea ceremony room in their houses. That is why tea ceremony is mainly practiced by tea ceremony enthusiasts and the members of tea ceremony circles at schools. 

Occasionally, Buddhist temples hold seasonal tea ceremony gatherings that are popular among local community members and NPOS. While informal tea gathering (chakai) can be participated by beginners, the formal tea ceremony followed by a kaiseki meal (chaji) does not allow amateurs.

What kind of tea is used in tea ceremony?

 

Japanese Tea Ceremony Steps

Tea Preparation Copyright © Kimono Tea Ceremony Maikoya

In the tea ceremony, ground matcha green tea leaves used. The color is green because the tea leaves are not roasted or fermented. There are stone grinders that turn the fresh matcha tea leaves into powdered tea. The most famous tea is grown in Uji, the southern part of Kyoto. During the Edo period, 30 armed horsemen used to escort the first batch of seasonal tea leaves sent to the Shogun in Tokyo from Kyoto.

The growth of matcha leaves usually slows down in April and the leaves are hand-picked in May. Then they are steamed, dried, and stone-ground. The type of green tea used at Maikoya is the above-average grade green tea grown in Kyoto. The difference between low grade and high grade is the level of difficulty to notice when drinking thin tea (usucha). Read more about ceremonial tea

What is the connection between tea ceremony and meditation?

Tea ceremony is mostly about bonding between the host and the guest but it is for sure a meditational activity as the great founder Sen no Rikyu called “jaku” (tranquility) one of the main elements of tea ceremony. Then one may ask why it is different from any other tea drinking activity and why it may lead to mindfulness and the ultimate peace of mind. At MAIKOYA we tell our guests that the answers lay in the basic elements of zen philosophy which are also deeply embedded in the culture of Japan. These are: Transience, Presence, Selflessness, Acceptance of Life as it is. 

Tea ceremony values are explained in this video

The term Zen may be difficult to define, but it can be referred to as mindfulness and the idea that simple actions can lead to the awakening of spirits. There are a lot of similarities between the main principles of the tea ceremony (harmony, respect, tranquility) and the philosophy of zen (mindfulness, nothingness, transience).

Tea ceremony involves following several prescribed steps, so one does not have to think about the next step and gain inner peace while performing this ritualistic activity. That is why the tea ceremony cannot be considered separately from Zen. We should also remember that matcha tea was introduced to Japan by the Zen Monk Eisai, who built the first Zen temple in Japan. Read more about tea ceremony and meditation

Tea Ceremony Bowls

Tea ceremony bowls tend to be the most precious utensils among all the tools. There are many rules on how to hold the tea ceremony bowl and how to place it on the floor. Winter bowls (tsutsu chawan) tend to be deep to keep the tea warm and the summer bowls are shallow to match the season. Cherry blossoms and fall leaves are often reflected on tea bowl decorations. Interestingly, Japanese broken tea bowls are usually not thrown away; they are fixed by using urushi and the cracks are covered by gold powder. This process symbolizes the importance of accepting our scars and celebrating them.  

Japanese Tea Ceremony Bowl

Summer and Winter Tea Bowls Copyright © Kimono Tea Ceremony Maikoya

The most famous Japanese tea bowl is the “raku chawan” made by the Raku family for the past 400 years. What makes Raku chawan unique is that the kiln is prepared and put to rest for 70 years to be used by future generations from the same family. It is hand made without using molds, so each raku chawan is unique and very precious. An average black raku chawan costs more than $1000, and there is usually a couple of years waiting time.

Japanese Tea Ceremony Bowls

Raku Ware Tea Bowls Copyright © Kimono Tea Ceremony Maikoya

 

FAQs

What is the Japanese tea ceremony?

The Japanese tea ceremony is preparing, serving, and drinking tea in a ritualistic and ceremonial way.

Who is served during the tea ceremony?

In the past, it used to only be practiced by elite zen monks, noble warlords, and the aristocracy. Today, anyone who is interested can observe the tea ceremony and participate as guests during events or at specialized establishments like the Kimono Tea Ceremony Maikoya.

How long does a tea ceremony last? / What is the duration of the tea ceremony?

Tea ceremonies can last from 45 minutes for an informal gathering (chakai) up to 4 hours for more formal setups (chaji) where meals are usually served.

Where is the Japanese tea ceremony held?

Typically, these rituals are held in special tea ceremony rooms or tea rooms. These rooms are typically found in tea houses. Tea ceremonies are also held in tea gardens.

When did the Japanese tea ceremony start? Who invented it?

Sen no Rikyu is considered the founder of Japanese tea ceremony, which was originally brought by Chinese Buddhist monks to Japan.

Why is the Japanese tea ceremony important?

The tea ceremony is very important in Japanese Culture because it used to be practiced only by the elite zen monks and noble warlords for most of history. While some Japanese perform tea ceremonies as just a hobby today, most people consider it a form of traditional arts and call it the art of tea.

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References

Okakura, Kakuzo. The book of tea. Jazzybee Verlag, 2012.

Kondo, D. (1985). The way of tea: a symbolic analysis. Man, 287-306.

Sadler, A. L. (2011). Cha-no-yu: the Japanese tea ceremony. Tuttle Publishing.

http://www.urasenke.or.jp/texte/index.html

https://www.omotesenke.jp/english/tobira.html

Tsuitsui Hiroichi. “Usucha”. Japanese online encyclopedia of Japanese Culture (in Japanese).

 

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