Japanese tea ceremony

The Japanese Tea Ceremony. Harmony , reverence, purity and calm. These are the four elements that represent the incarnation of the Tea Ceremony in Japan. Nature and art blend harmoniously in the tea room and its peaceful garden.


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  • 1 Story
  • 2 Aspects and forms of ritual
  • 3 The typical tea ceremony
  • 4 The fifteen steps of the ceremony
  • 5 Sources


Japan is a country of deep-rooted traditional customs and very ceremonious for many of its traditions. Among them we can find the tea ceremony, which in Japanese is called “chanoyu”.

Although whenever you talk about tea, the typical English tea comes to mind, and its famous time at five in the afternoon to drink it, in Japan the tea ceremony is a widespread social custom. This ceremony has a very particular aesthetic that makes it different from any other, and even in Japan itself, depending on the area where we are, we can find differences when it comes to participating in this ceremony.

The varieties of tea that are known are many, but the most widely used in Japan is powdered green tea (known as “matcha”). It is a tea of ​​great refreshing power, which gives us an infusion of jade color, with a mild flavor and a certain astringent power.

Historically, Japan introduced tea around the 8th century, originating from China, where it was consumed back in the years 25 to 220, mainly by the Han Chinese Dynasty, which made China a Confucian state. But he also prospered and achieved great intellectual, artistic, and literary achievements; Many arts revived and flourished during the Han dynasty, as well as other parts of the economy such as agriculture, commerce, etc.

The current form of consumption “matcha” (in powder form), did not appear in China until the end of the 12th century, then governed by the Sung Dynasty, highly focused on promoting all kinds of artistic manifestations. In fact, he founded an important painting academy. Japan imports this type of tea to use as a beverage in its tea ritual. Certain medicinal and healing properties are also attributed to tea.

Although tea consumption was initially limited to a minority group of consumers, the habit of drinking tea quickly spread among the rest of the population, mainly among the Zen priests and the higher classes. Its consumption began to become general, reaching our days, where the consumption of “matcha” is totally extended throughout the Japanese territory.

Such was the rise of tea, that as a result of this a game known as “tocha” was born. The game consisted of tasting different varieties of tea, and the players tried to discover the type of tea and its origin. The varieties of tea served used to come from different regions, to make the game more difficult. If it was correct, it was used to give some type of prize to the winner.

The spread of tea consumption and the “tocha” game helped to spread the popularity of tea, and the number of plantations began to grow. One of the most famous is tea from the Uji district near Kyoto, where they say the best tea in Japan was (and is) produced.

From the popular game, it became a much more exclusive game practiced in social gatherings, where tea tastings were held in sophisticated settings while talking about cultural themes, visiting exhibitions or showing off works of art in some gallery or private house. It was popular to hold a party and play “tocha” in the studios (shoin) of famous renowned artists. This more sophisticated game exchanged the prizes for the social recognition of the winners, who were seen as experts in the field, with the consequent liking for the admired winners.

The first rules to keep in mind in the tea ceremony arise from the influence of the warriors (“samurais”) in the society. Being the ruling class back then in Japan, they begin to impose certain rules and procedures when participating in the tea ceremony. The military custom of obedience begins to appear in some civil ceremonies. This was the beginning of the norms of behavior and performance of the current “chanoyu”.

But like any ceremony, over time it undergoes variations and adaptations, and it is at the end of the 15th century, when a great connoisseur of the tea ceremony called Murata Juko, modifies the rules of the traditional “chanoyu” trying to offer a more ceremony sensitive according to the Japanese character and with some influence from Zen Buddhism. This new ritual was known as “wabicha”, and was a “simplification” of the previously traditional “chanoyu” ceremony. The “wabicha” was intended to be a simple ceremony but at the same time charged with a broad spiritual content.

During the Momoyama period, a period of transition between Medieval Japan and Modern Japan, which marks its beginning with the fall of the Ashikaga clan, this new tea ceremony, “wabicha”, takes off and Sen-no Rikyu establishes it like the “official” tea ceremony. This variant of “chanoyu” continues in force for so many years that it is currently practiced almost in a general way.

This ceremony, like many others, in which its spiritual character prevails (let us not forget its origins linked to Zen philosophy) are difficult to express and understand in words. You have to practice it to feel it. It is not an empty ceremony, nor a refined way of drinking tea, but, expressed in a few words, it is a way of purifying the soul, through its union with nature.

The “chanoyu”, like other Japanese ceremonies, is the symbol of the instinctive effort of the Japanese to achieve the recognition of true beauty, which resides in simplicity and simplicity. The true spirit of “chanoyu” could be summed up with terms such as calm, naturalness or grace or with the phrase: “aestheticism of austere simplicity and refined poverty”.

At first, it may seem that the “chanoyu” rules of etiquette are complicated and difficult, but this is not the case. They are strict but not complicated. In fact, all its movements are calculated to achieve the greatest economy of body effort and are smooth and delicate. When the ceremony is performed by an expert teacher, the movements are a gift to the eye.

In the artistic life of the Japanese, the “chanoyu” ceremony has played a very important role since, due to its aesthetic characteristics, it implies an appreciation of the venue in which it is celebrated, of the garden adjacent to it, of the utensils with which it is prepared and tea and decoration are served, which usually consists of a print hanging on the wall and a shawl or floral motif specially designed for this ceremony. The development of architecture, gardening, ceramics and floral arts has been largely due to the influence of the tea ceremony. The spirit of “chanoyu” has shaped the basis of these traditional forms of Japanese culture. since “chanoyu” represents the beauty of studied simplicity and harmony with nature .

The tea ceremony has crossed the borders of this ritual to leave its influence on the education and manners of the Japanese. What is more, the development of the forms of daily courtesy of the majority of Japanese is mainly due to the formalities observed in the “chanoyu” ceremony. The tea ceremony serves as the basis for a good education. In keeping with this fact, it is common practice among young people to receive lessons in this art before getting married, in order to cultivate the refined style and the grace of its own movements.

The death of Sen-no Rikyu, does not leave his teachings in oblivion, but was spread among the following generations of disciples and followers. In the time of his grandchildren, there were already the three schools that have lasted to this day: the Omotesenke, the Urasenke and the Mushakojisenke. The most widespread of these, however, is the Urasenke, which has the most supporters. The current head of this school is Soshitsu Sen, the fifteenth descendant of the founder.

The heirs of Rikyu in turn founded various schools, including the Enshu, created by Kobori Enshu; the Sekishu, whose founder was Katagiri Sekishu; and the Sohen, the work of Yamada Sohen. The differences between the various schools lie in the details of the ceremonies, but all of them retain the essence and spirit of the norms instituted by the teacher. As in any area of ​​Japanese society, respect for the elderly is an indisputable fact. The essence of respect. This essence has been transmitted from parents to children until today and one of the common elements is respect for the figure of the founder.

Aspects and forms of ritual

Ceremony demonstration

The cult of tea, commonly called the “tea ceremony” in Japan, is an aesthetic pastime consisting of serving and drinking green tea.

Coming from Japan, the cult of tea has played an important role in the artistic life of the Japanese people for more than four hundred years, since it has its origin in the Middle Ages as a form of ethical aesthetics born under the influence of Zen Buddhism.

In fact, an image of the Japanese who finds the virtues of peace, harmony, courtesy and beauty in the simplest things in life can be glimpsed in the ideal of the tea ceremony.

The chanoyu or “tea ceremony” brings together the presence of religion, literature and philosophy, as well as art and crafts.

There are certain aspects of the main forms of the chanoyu ritual that a Westerner may not understand. For example: there is a difference between usucha (sparkling green tea) and koicha (pasty and dense tea); the etiquette that the host should observe when serving tea and what the guests to the ceremony should do; the show of the tea rooms and gardens; the different utensils used, etc. The list of Japanese words associated with chanoyu is long and exhaustive and we will not bore you by showing it.

The typical tea ceremony

There are many ways to perform the tea ceremony, depending on the school to which the person in charge belongs. The methods vary equally according to the occasions and the time of the year. However, there is a basic similarity in the essential elements.

  1. Materials and equipment A. The sukiya or tea houseIt is customary to carry out the ceremony in a specially dedicated house, which is called sukiya. It consists of a ceremonial hall, proper (cha-shitsu), a room for the preparatios (mizu-ya), a waiting room (yoritsuki) and an access road (roji) flanked by a garden, which ends at the door from the tea house. This building is usually located in a wooded area.
  2. UtensilsThe main utensils are the cha-wan (teapot), the cha-ire (tea pot), the cha-sen (a special bamboo stirrer) and the cha-shaku (a bamboo serving spoon). These utensils hurt to be valuable artistic objects.
  3. Clothes and ornamentsFor clothes, light colors are preferred. When it comes to formal ceremonies, the men wear plain-colored silk kimonos, with family blazons and traditional white tabi (socks). The women, for their part, also wear kimonos emblazoned with traditional air and white tabi. Guests should bring a small folding fan and a few kaishi (small paper napkins) each.
  4. The ceremony itself:The normal tea ceremony consists of the following phases: a) a light meal, called kaiseki; b) naka-dachi, or intermediate pause; c) enjoy-iri, which is the main phase in which a thick type of tea is served and f) usucha, the final phase, in which clear tea is served. The entire ceremony lasts about four hours, although many times it is limited to the last phase or usucha, which lasts about an hour.
  5. First phaseThe guests, numbering five, gather in the waiting room. The ringmaster appears and leads them, down the garden path to the ceremonial hall. On one side of the path there is a stone container with fresh water, in which the guests wash their hands and rinse their mouths. The entrance to the ceremony room is very low, which means that the guests have to enter on all fours, as a gesture of humility. In the room there is a fixed masonry oven or a portable brazier to heat the water. Each guest kneels before the chapel or tokonoma and bows respectfully. Next, with your folding fan placed in front of you, admire the picture or painting hanging on the wall of the tokonoma. Then do the same operations before the stove or brazier. Once all the guests have finished admiring these items, they sit down; the main guest is placed closer than the others to the master of ceremonies. Once he and the guests have exchanged the usual courtesies, the kaiseki is served, which ends with some sweets as a dessert.
  6. NakadachiWhen prompted by the ringmaster, the guests will return to a designated bench, placed in the inner garden surrounding the teahouse.
  7. Goza-iriThe host blows a metal gong, located near the ceremonial hall, indicating the beginning of the main phase of the rite. Custom establishes that the gong be sounded five or seven times. After repeating the purifying ablutions in the fresh water container, the guests re-enter the room. An assistant removes the reed blinds that cover the windows on the outside, in order to give more light to the interior. The print or painting has disappeared and, instead, a container with artfully arranged flowers is seen in the tokonoma.

The ceramic containers for water and tea are already in place. Next, the master of ceremonies enters, holding the kettle in his hands, with the bamboo stirrer inside and the bamboo ladle on top. Guests admire the floral ornament and teapot, just as they did earlier with the print and the brazier, at the beginning of the first phase. The teacher retires to the preparation room and soon returns with the container for the excess water, the spoon and the holder for the teapot or the spoon. Next, clean the tea pot and scoop with a special cloth called fukusa and rinse the stirrer in the tea bowl, after pouring hot water from the pot into the tea pot. Then,

The ringmaster lifts the ladle and tea container and places the matcha (three tablespoons per guest) in the bowl; Next, fill the ladle with hot water, which you take from the container placed on the fire, pour a third of the water into the bowl and return the rest to the container. Then shake the mixture with the bamboo stirrer, until it looks and feels similar to a thick pea soup. This mixture is called koicha. The matcha used for the swindling of the ceremony is made from the young leaves of plants that are over twenty years old (up to a maximum of seventy or more years). The ringmaster places the bowl in its correct place near the brazier or stove and the main guest slides to his knees to pick up the bowl.

This guest bows to the others and places the bowl in the palm of his left hand, while holding it on one side with the right. Take a sip, praise its flavor, and take two or more sips. Then he cleans the part of the edge that he touched with his lips, using one of the paper napkins (kaishi), and passes the bowl to the next guest who repeats the operations of the main guest. The bowl then passes successively to the other guests until they have all drunk their share of the tea. Once the last guest has finished, he returns the bowl to the main guest, who hands it to the ringmaster.

  1. UsuchaIt differs from koicha only in that the matcha used is made from the young leaves of plants that are between three and fifteen years old. The green mixture obtained in this way has a foamy consistency.

The fifteen steps of the ceremony

Tea preparation

Just as France has a high culture in terms of wines and Germany or Belgium have it in a beer issue, the Japanese traditionally pour themselves over tea. They don’t know how to live without it, so the ritual they do in the tea ceremony is really complex. It is a whole tradition connected with the spiritual culture of Japan and, although times have changed, they are still being carried out to the letter.

Tea Ceremony Tea in Japan acquires a relevance that few have. For this reason, they are devoted to performing an extensive tea ceremony that consists of the following steps. The protocol imposed by the most traditional Japanese royalty follows the following procedures:

  1. Tea service principles are introduced, based on Zen harmony.
  2. It is served following a purity line, which starts from the water to the elements used.
  3. A large number of utensils are used, with a total of about twelve.
  4. First the guest of honor enters the room, he will serve as a guide for the rest of the guests.
  5. The guardian exchanges words of affection and greetings with the main guest.
  6. The guardian himself offers the essential elements to the guests, such as some cakes.
  7. Everyone in the room should look formal, well dressed, without strident colors. Generally, white or black kimonos are used, depending on the occasion and the sex of the person in question.
  8. The host arrives in the room with the remaining items, such as water and tea leaves. Begin to prepare the utensils and officiate the purification.
  9. The homeowner puts the water into the kettle, making sure it is at the right temperature.
  10. Then place the tea leaves and let it rest for the indicated time, depending on the variety.
  11. Next, start serving the tea in the respective cups.
  12. Then, the assistant will begin to distribute the cups among the guests, but not before making a gesture of greeting.
  13. Once everyone has their respective cup and the helper has left the room, they will start drinking it.
  14. They will also start eating some cakes that have been served.
  15. After drinking the second round, the plates will cover the cups and the host will remove them


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