Japan has one of the most elaborate tea ceremonies in the world. It involves special utensils, treats, gestures, and an entire philosophy for sharing tea! In today’s post, learn about this philosophy of the Japanese tea ceremony and ways to incorporate some of those practices into your own teatime routines.
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The Japanese tea ceremony or chado focuses on respect, harmony, and simplicity. Before the ceremony begins, the host and the guests prepare their minds and spirits for the ceremony by focusing on harmony and peace, leaving worries behind. The ceremony takes place in a specially built tea house located in a garden. As the guests walk through the garden, they clear their thoughts and appreciate the beauty around them.
When the guests arrive at the tea house, they enter through a very small door, which means that each person bows as they go into the room. The tea house is designed very simply, so the focus is on the ceremony and not on the decorations. Everyone sits on the floor in a seiza or kneeling pose as a sign of respect and equality. No words are spoken except those that are essential to the ceremony.
The host then goes through a series of movements that are carefully chosen for simplicity, beauty, and necessity. The host first carefully cleans each utensil. The bowls and cups used in the tea ceremony are made from natural materials and are often antique and beautiful. The host adds matcha or green tea powder to each cup of tea, then mixes the powder with hot water. After carefully stirring, the host passes the cup around to each guest. The guests bow, lift the cup, rotate it, and drink from a specific spot on the cup as a gesture of respect. Then they wipe the rim of the cup and pass it around the circle to the next guest so each one has a chance to drink and admire the unique design of the cup. They may then share sweets or other food, depending on the season.
After sharing tea, the ceremony wraps up with cleaning each utensil then handing each item around to the guests. The guests handle each item carefully using a cloth so they can admire the objects. The host bows to everyone and leaves first, followed by the guests. The ceremony can last up to four hours, depending on the type of rituals used.
For more information on Japanese tea ceremonies, be sure to check out the book Tea Ceremony by Shozo Sato. You can also look at our previous post on Japanese poetry for suggestions of types of poems to read and write during your Japanese teatime.
Tips for Food
Green teas: Find some matcha and try it for yourself! This Japanese powdered tea has a strong flavor and texture that might not be popular with everyone in the family, so you may want to have some green tea bags on hand for picky drinkers.
Small sweet treats or wagashi: The sweets served in a traditional Japanese ceremony are called wagashi. They are not extremely sweet, but they are incredibly beautiful. These confections are often shaped like flowers, fruit, or objects in nature. If you have a chance to visit your local Asian grocery store, you may be able to find them there. You can also buy wagashi on Amazon. Learn more about the art of making them on this post from Eat Cook Explore.
Other Japanese snacks: If you can’t find wagashi near you, check out the Asian food aisle in your local grocery store. Most Walmart and similar grocery stores will have a supply of Japanese treats. Try Pocky sticks or rice crackers (“senbei”) for a start! You can also order a box of Japanese treats from Amazon.
Pictures of cherry blossoms: In Japanese culture, cherry blossoms are especially prized because they bloom beautifully for a short time. By looking at cherry blossoms, you remember both the beauty and shortness of life.
Practice ikebana or flower arranging: If you’re keen to try your hand at traditional Japanese flower arranging, check out Shozo Sato’s book Ikebana: The Art of Arranging Flowers. For a more basic approach, check out this post from Wonder How To.
Set up your space: While you might not be able to build your own tea house, you can practice a few principles of a Japanese teatime. Set up your teatime around a low table while sitting on pillows on the floor. Sit in “seiza” position (sitting on your feet with legs folded, like in child’s pose in yoga). If you can, set up your teatime by a window or near natural light.
Nature observation: Before you start, take a nature walk to appreciate the simplicity of patterns in nature. Check out the way that branches look against the sky or how the clouds are moving slowly or fast today. You can also look outside from a window if it’s too cold!
Follow patterns: The Japanese tea ceremony is built on tradition and repetition. Of course, your teatime won’t be as scripted as a Japanese one, but you can still pause during your teatime. Take time to reflect beforehand and clear your mind of worries. Bow in respect to each other before your teatime, when you drink your tea, and before you leave. Acknowledge your thankfulness afterwards, too.
Teatime arts and crafts: If you’d like a to add some fun arts and crafts to your teatime, check out the Meditations on Tea coloring book by Okakura Kakuzo. You can also grab some paper and try out origami or Japanese paper folding! Although origami isn’t part of a traditional teatime, you’re still practicing observation, simplicity, and focus. Try some origami techniques from Origami Fun.
Japanese Poetry Books
Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko, translated by Sally Ito
Anthology of Modern Japanese Poetry, by Edith Marcombe Shiffert
One Leaf Rides the Wind, by Celeste Mannis
Grass Sandals: The Travels of Basho, by Dawnine Spivak
Today and Today, by Kobayashi Issa
Wabi Sabi, by Mark Reibstein