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Japanese tea ceremony

"The tea ceremony requires years of training and practice . . . yet the whole of this art, as to its detail, signifies no more than the making and serving of a cup of tea. The supremely important matter is that the act be performed in the most perfect, most polite, most graceful, most charming manner possible".

-- Lafcadio Hearn

The Japanese tea ceremony (cha-no-yu, chado, or sado) is a traditional ritual influenced by Zen Buddhism in which powdered green tea, or matcha (抹茶), is ceremonially prepared by a skilled practitioner and served to a small group of guests in a tranquil setting.

Cha-no-yu (茶の湯, literally "hot water for tea"), usually refers to a single ceremony or ritual, while sado or chado (茶道, or "the way of tea") refer to the study or doctrine of tea ceremony.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Components
3 The Tea Ceremony
4 See also
5 Further Reading
6 External links
7 References


Though it is not native to the country, the drinking of tea was introduced to Japan in the 9th century CE by a Buddhist monk from China, where it had already been known, according to legend, for thousands of years. Tea soon became widely popular in Japan, and began to be cultivated locally.

The custom of drinking tea, first for medicinal, and then for purely pleasurable reasons, was already widespread throughout China. In the early 9th century, Chinese author Lu Yu wrote the Ch'a Ching, a treatise on tea focussing on its cultivation and preparation. Lu Yu's life had been heavily influenced by Buddhism, particularly the school which would become known in Japan as Zen, and his ideas would have a strong influence in the development of the Japanese tea ceremony.

In the 12th century, a new form of tea, matcha, was introduced. This powdered green tea, which derives from the same plant as black tea but is unfermented, was first used in religious rituals in Buddhist monasteries. By the 13th century, samurai warriors had begun preparing and drinking matcha, and the foundations of the tea ceremony were laid.

Tea ceremony developed as a "transformative practice," and began to evolve its own aesthetic, in particular that of wabi. Wabi (佗, meaning quiet or sober refinement, or subdued taste) "is characterized by humility, restraint, simplicity, naturalism, profundity, imperfection, and asymmetry [emphasizing] simple, unadorned objects and architectural space, and [celebrating] the mellow beauty that time and care impart to materials" ("Introduction: Chanoyu, the Art of Tea" in Urasenke Seattle Homepage).

By the 16th century, tea drinking had spread to all levels of society in Japan. Sen no Rikyu, perhaps the most well-known -- and still revered -- historical figure in tea ceremony, introduced the concept of ichi-go ichi-e, (一期一会, literally "one time, one meeting"), a belief that each meeting should be treasured, for it can never be reproduced. His teachings led to the development of new forms in architecture and gardens, fine and applied arts, and to the full developmnet of sado. The principles he set forward -- harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility -- are still central to tea ceremony today.


A wide range of supplies is necessary for even the most basic tea gathering. These include, but are not limited to:

The Tea Ceremony

When tea is made with water drawn from the depths of mind Whose bottom is beyond measure, We really have what is called cha-no-yu.

--Toyotomi Hideyoshi

Two main schools, the Omotesenke and Urasenke, have evolved, each with its own prescribed rituals. There are also other, lesser-known schools. Currently, the Urasenke School is the most active and has the largest following. Within each school there are sub-schools, and in each school there are seasonal and temporal variations in the method of preparing and enjoying the tea, and in the types and forms of utensils and tea used.

All the schools, and most of the variations, however, have facets in common. The host, male or female, will usually be wearing a kimono, while guests may wear kimono or subdued formal wear. If the tea is to be served in a separate tea house rather than a tea room, the guests will wait in a garden shelter until summoned by the host. They ritually purify themselves by washing their hands and rinsing their mouths from a small stone basin of water, and proceed through a simple garden along a roji, "dewy path," to the tea house. Guests remove their shoes and enter the tea house through a small door, and proceed to the "tokonoma," or alcove, where they admire the scroll and/or other decorations placed therein and are then seated on the tatami in order of prestige.

Both tea houses and tea rooms are usually small, a typical floor size being 4 1/2 tatami, or woven mats of straw, the traditional Japanese floor covering. The smallest tea room can be a mere two mats, and the size of the largest is determined only by the limits of its owner's resources. Building materials and decorations are deliberately simple and rustic.

Guests may be served a light, simple meal called a "kaiseki" (懐石) or "chakaiseki" (茶懐石), followed by sake, Japanese rice wine. They will then return to the waiting shelter until summoned again by the host.

If no meal is served, the host will proceed directly to the serving of a small sweet or sweets. Sweets are eaten from special paper called kaishi (懐紙); each guest carries his or her own, often in a decorative wallet which is tucked into the front of the kimono.

Each utensil--including the tea bowl (chawan), whisk (chasen), and tea scoop (chashaku)-- is then ritually cleaned in the presence of the guests in a precise order and using prescribed motions. The utensils are placed in a precise arrangement according to the ritual being performed. When the ritual cleaning and preparation of the utensils is complete, the host will place a measured amount of green tea powder in the bowl and add the appropriate amount of hot water, then whisk the tea using using precise, prescribed movements.

Conversation is kept to a minimum throughout. Guests relax and enjoy the atmosphere created by the sounds of the water and fire, the smell of the incense and tea, and the beauty and simplicity of the tea house and its seasonally appropriate decorations.

The bowl is then served to the guest of honour ("shokyaku" 初客, literally the "first guest"), either by the host or an assistant. Bows are exchanged between the host and guest of honour. The guest then bows to the second guest, and raises the bowl in a gesture of respect to the host. The guest rotates the bowl to avoid drinking from its front, takes a sip, murmurs the prescribed phrase, and then takes two or three more sips before wiping the rim, rotating the bowl to its original position, and passing it to the next guest with a bow. The procedure is repeated until all guests have taken tea from the same bowl, and the bowl is returned to the host. In some ceremonies, each guest will drink from an individual bowl, but the order of serving and drinking is the same.

If thick tea, koicha, has been served, the host will sometimes prepare thin tea, or usuicha, which is served in the same manner. In some rituals, however, only koicha or usuicha is served.

After all the guests have taken tea, the host cleans the utensils. The guest of honour will request that the host allow the guests to examine the utensils, and each guest in turn examines and admires each item, including the water scoop, the tea caddy, the tea scoop, the tea whisk, and, most importantly, the tea bowl. The items are treated with extreme care and reverence as they are frequently priceless, irreplaceable handmade antiques, and guests often use a special brocaded cloth to handle them.

The host then collects the utensils, and the guests leave the tea house. The host bows from the door, and the ceremony is over.

A tea ceremony can last between one hour and four to five hours, depending on the type of ceremony performed, and the types of meal and tea served.

Since a tea practitioner must be familiar with the production and types of tea, with kimono, calligraphy, flower arranging, ceramics, incense and a wide range of other disciplines and traditional arts in addition to his or her school's tea practices, the study of tea ceremony takes many years and often lasts a lifetime. Even to participate as a guest in a formal tea ceremony requires knowledge of sado, including the prescribed gestures and phrases expected of guests, and the proper way to take tea and sweets, and general deportment in the tea room.

See also

Further Reading

External links

General Links

Personal Sites

Tea Links

Tea Supplies

Online Discussion and Newsgroups

Omotesenke Sites

Urasenke Sites