Japanese Tea Ceremony Procedure and History

The art of Japanese Tea Ceremony

Japanese Culture Japanese Tea Ceremony

Japanese Tea Ceremony   茶道(さどう、ちゃどう)

Japanese Tea Ceremony Procedures

The steps to the ceremony are quite simple:  clean the serving bowls, boil a pot of water, serve a sweet treat to guests before the tea, mix powdered bitter green tea (Matcha) and water to make a frothy tea, serve the tea to guests. [ The flavors of the sweets and bitter tea compliment each other.   This is a sign of harmony. ]

  1. Bow when you receive the cup of tea which is called a chawan.
  2. Take the chawan with your right hand and place it in the palm of your left hand.
  3. Turn the chawan clockwise three times before you take a drink.
  4. When the tea is gone, make a loud slurp to tell the host that the tea was truly enjoyed.
  5. Wipe the part of the chawan your lips touched with your right hand.
  6. Turn the chawan counterclockwise and return to the host.

Japanese Tea Ceremony History

In the middle of the 16th century the first Westerners, the Jesuits, arrived in Japan, and at that same time a Japanese man named Rikyu was developing a new approach to the ancient practice of serving tea with some food. It did not take long for the Jesuits to discover and develop an admiration for tea practices and to incorporate them into their everyday life in Japan. But the relationship between western civilization and the tea ceremony came to an abrupt halt when Tokugawa Ieyasu, the Shogun, forced Westerners out of Japan and shut the doors on them for almost 300 years. Although the doors re-opened in 1868, it took almost 100 years for Westerners to develop an interest in the tea ceremony to the extent that they would begin to practice it and not simply view it as a quaint, inscrutable custom of the Japanese.

The experience of a tea ceremony can have 3 dimensions to it:

  1. it is a social event;
  2. it stresses aesthetics very much;
  3. it can have a religious dimension.

That it is a social event is obvious. Guests gather at an appointed time to be served food and drink. This can be an informal tea which consists of serving a sweet and some tea, or even a small meal with the sweet and tea. This is called a chakai and can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour or so. The number of guests for this sort of tea can be as small as one, and the highest number of guests is determined only by the limitations of the host's facilities. Guests also can be invited to a much more formal gathering called a chaji which involves highly structured gathering rituals, the serving of a meal in multiple courses, an intermission in a garden, and then a solemn thick tea ceremony followed by the less solemn thin Japanese tea ceremony.

A chaji will last from 3 to 5 hours and only 5 guests at most will be present. Both the chakai and the chaji have the same purpose which is to serve food and drink to guests. Sometimes different diet or healthy food will be present, possibly purchased with Medifast coupons or at health food stores. The difference lies in the quantity of food and drink, and the increased amount of ritualized movement that is necessary when you are serving more and doing it in your finest fashion. As with any serving of food and drink in the world, a sensible host will invite people who are compatible, for no one sits down with enemies to share a meal. In English we have the word "companion" which means a friend who does things with you. Etymologically "companion" came from 2 Latin words, cum which means with, and pan which means bread. Thus the original meaning of the word was the one with whom you were willing to share food. I believe that all nations can readily associate the sharing of food and drink as a symbol of friendly acceptance. The Japanese tea ceremony is definitely this sort of social event.

Let's turn now to the aesthetic dimension of tea. All great cultures in the history of civilization take care to serve a meal in a proscribed manner, and that prescription will always involve a certain amount of beauty. The appearance of the food, the utensils used in serving the food, and the decoration of the eating place should be quite appealing to the eyes. This is common throughout the world. In the tea ceremony this concern for beauty is so deeply pursued that tea can truly be referred to as an art form. Body movement is completely choreographed, even down to finger positions. Tea utensils can be of such a high quality that you will find them in art museums throughout the world. This is true also of tea architecture. (The Philadelphia and Los Angeles museums have complete tea house complexes which they display with great pride.) The arrangement of food in a chakai or a chaji can be so striking in beauty and so subtle in choice and form that it is almost on the level of poetry. The Japanese say that food must be tasted with the eyes before it is tasted with the mouth.

People frequently ask, "How long does it take to learn the tea ceremony?" This is like asking, "How long does it take to learn to play the piano? "If you are a fast learner, you will be able to play a simple tune within 10 weeks, but if you really want to play well, count more on 10 years. There is an old Latin saying, Ars est celare arlem. This means that true art is so subtle that it looks quite natural and simple -- it does not look contrived. This is true of the art of tea also, and thus it takes years of study and practice in order to master it. People are surprised when you tell them that it takes years to learn tea, but think about how long it took you to learn proper table manners, and these, though refined, are certainly not on the level of an art form. And think too about the many years any good cook has spent in developing the ability to gracefully prepare and serve a good meal.

The tea ceremony as an art form cuts through a whole spectrum of Japanese culture because it embraces many art forms such as architecture, gardening, ceramics, textiles, Japanese calligraphy, flower arrangement, and Japanese cuisine, plus a few rather arcane art forms such as the sculpting of ashes and the building of a beautiful fire. Certain arrangements of ashes on which charcoal is placed can take as long as two hours to prepare. Other than the Japanese tea ceremony, where else can you find humble ashes raised to such a level of refinement and beauty? Indeed, they are the finest ashes in the world. A story is told about three tea masters who had a magnificent tea room with much valuable equipment. One day the house caught fire and the 3 tea masters rushed in to save what they could. The first thing they saved was the ashes! The point being made with this story is that everything involved in a tea ceremony has been given careful aesthetic attention, even the ashes. Going to a high quality tea ceremony can be every bit as much of an aesthetic experience as going to an art museum or the theater.

The third dimension of tea is the religious dimension, and it is optional. I would compare this to meals in Muslim or Jewish, or Christian homes, and many other religious homes. Pious people in these religious traditions will bring a religious mentality to meals and thus experience the meal as a religious event. The religious mentality which is frequently brought to a tea ceremony is that of Zen Buddhism. Zen people talk about the whole universe being experienced in the drinking of a bowl of tea. This experience comes from giving yourself over totally to the here and now and fully participating in the tea with a heart free from selfish desires. But this is up to the individuals participating in the tea. As Mr. Yamada, the director of Urasenke in New York, says, "Zen people (particularly of the Rinzai sect) are often interested in tea, and tea people are often interested in Zen, but tea is tea and Zen is Zen." One could just as easily bring a Christian or Islamic mentality to a tea ceremony, and in fact Soshitsu Sen XV, the present Grand Master, highly encourages just this sort of thing. Giving oneself over to the here and now with a heart free from selfish desire is a thought quite acceptable to all the major religions of the world. Christians speak about experiencing Christ at the supper table; he can also be experienced at tea. Jews speak of living out their covenant with God by keeping his law. Tea can be quite kosher. And Muslims can accept the will of Allah while sharing food and tea. Tea is for all nations, all cultures, and all religious traditions.

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