Monday, July 18, 2011

Japanese Tea Ceremony "Sado": An Exquisite Tradition In Japan

When I was in Japan, I had the chance to participate in so many and varied Japanese traditions practiced for thousands of years. All of them with a very important nationalism value for the beautiful and kind Japanese people who I respect, appreciate, and admire so much. One of the traditions I found really interesting and very solemn was the tea ceremony.
The tea ceremony (sado: "the way of the tea") is a ceremonial way of preparing and drinking tea. The custom has been strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism.
Nowadays, the tea ceremony is a relatively popular hobby. Many Japanese, who are interested in their own culture, take tea ceremony lessons. Tea ceremonies are held in traditional Japanese rooms in cultural community centers or private houses.

The ceremony itself consists of many rituals that have to be learned by heart. Almost each hand movement is prescribed. Basically, the tea is first prepared by the host, and then drunk by the guests. The tea is matcha green tea made of powdered tea leaves.

The tea ceremony is a very special event in Japanese culture. The host spends days going over every detail to make sure that the ceremony will be perfect. There are various styles of tea ceremonies and it is recognized that every human encounter is a singular occasion that will never recur again in exactly the same way, and so every aspect of the tea ceremony is savored. The ceremony takes place in a room called the chashitsu. This room is designed and designated only for this ceremony. The room is usually within a teahouse, and is located away from the residence in the garden. 
Chashitsu is the room used for performing the tea ceremony

The Guests' Arrival
When guests arrive (usually four), they are led into a waiting room (machiai) by the host's assistant (the hanto). The hanto offers the guests sayu (hot water that is used in making tea). While in the machiai, the guests choose one person to act as the main guest. The guests are then lead by the hanto into a garden that is sprinkled with water. This area is called roji or dew ground. No flowers grow here. It is in this garden that the guests are to remove the dust of the world. They sit on the koshikake machiai (waiting bench) and wait for the host (teishu).  

Preparing for Guests
Before receiving guests, the teishu fills a stone basin (tsukubai) with fresh water and then purifies his hands and mouth. He proceeds through the middle gate (chumon) to receive his guests. The guests are welcomed only with a bow. No words are spoken. The teishu leads the assistant host, the main guest and then the guests, in that order, through the chumon. The chumon signifies the door between the harsh physical world and the spiritual world that is symbolized by tea. At the stone basin, the guests and host's assistant purify themselves and enter the teahouse through a sliding door that is just three feet high. To enter everyone has to bow, and this signifies that all are equal regardless of status or social position. The last person to enter puts the latch on the door.
Different instruments used for the tea ceremony

Inside the Teahouse
There are no decorations in the teahouse except for an alcove called a tokonoma, in which a scroll painting (kakemono) is hung. This hanging is carefully chosen by the host and reveals the theme of the tea ceremony. In turn, each guest admires the scroll, the kettle (kama) and the hearth. Guests are seated according to their respective positions in the ceremony. Once the host seats himself, greetings are exchanged between the host and the main guest, and then the other guests.
In a tea ceremony in Kanazawa

The Tea Ceremony
In the tea ceremony, water represents yin. The fire in the hearth represents yang. A stoneware jar called the mizusashi holds fresh water and symbolizes purity and only the host touches it. The green tea called matcha is kept in a small ceramic container called a chaire that is covered in a fine silk pouch (shifuku) and is set in front of the mizusashi.
the chasen and green tea powder contained in the chawan

If tea is served during the day a gong sounds, or if it is evening a bell tolls five to seven times to summon the guests back to the teahouse. Everyone purifies their hands and mouths once again, and then re-enters the teahouse to admire the flowers, kettle and hearth before seating themselves.
Wagashi is avery sweet and soft candy usually eaten after drinking the green tea. They come in so many shapes and colors. The yoji is the wooden stick used to eat the wagashi

The host enters carrying the tea bowl (chawan) that holds the tea whisk (chasen), the tea cloth (chakin) and the tea scoop (chashaku). The tea bowl represents the moon (yin) and is placed next to the water jar, which represents the sun (yang). The host goes to the preparation room, and returns with the waste water bowl (kensui), the bamboo water ladle (hishaku) and a green bamboo rest called a futaoki for the kettle lid.
The host purifies the tea container and tea scoop with a fine silk cloth (fukusa).  He fills the tea bowl with hot water and rinses the whisk. He then empties the tea bowl and wipes it with a tea towel called a chakin. At this point the host lifts the tea scoop and tea container and places three scoops of tea per guest into the tea bowl. He ladles enough hot water from the kettle into the tea bowl and uses the whisk to make a thin paste. Additional water is added to the paste until it is the consistency of cream soup, returning any unused water to the kettle. The host passes the tea bowl to the main guest first who bows and accepts it. The main guest admires the bowl by raising and rotating it. He then drinks some of the tea, wipes the rim of the bowl, and passes it to the next guest who does the same thing. 

Enjoying a tea ceremony with my friends of Japan Tent

When all the guests have tasted the tea, the bowl is returned to the host who rinses it, and cleans the tea scoop and tea container. The host offers the cleaned tea scoop and tea container to the guests for examination. Afterwards the group engages in conversation about the objects used in the tea ceremony and the presentation that took place.
Wagashis are so colorful and varied. All of them are definitely delicious

Different utensils used in the tea ceremony

History of Tea in Japan
A.D. 727  Tea was an official gift from the Chinese Tang Court presented to Emperor Shomu of Japan. 
Yr. 794 Tea was planted in the Imperial Garden in Kyoto (then Heian)
Yr. 900 Japanese monks went to study Buddhism in China and brought tea back with them 
Yr.1191 Eisai, a Japanese Buddhist monk went to China.  He returned with tea seeds and started planting tea in Japan.  Eisai also wrote the first Japanese tea book, which later influenced the development of the Japanese Tea Ceremony.
Yr. 1400s  Tea became a popular drink in Japan.
Yr. 1477 The rules of etiquette for what is called Chanoyu, or “hot-water tea”, was created by a Buddhist priest named Murata Shuko.  Shohun Yoshimasa also created the first tearoom in his palace.
Yr. 1584  The first Teahouse, a structure built for the purpose of serving and drinking tea, was developed by Sen-nio Rikyu.

The Japanese tea ceremony, or Cha-no-yu, meaning “hot water for tea”, is more than an elaborate ritual.  It is an interlude in which one leads oneself for the moment to the spirit of beauty, quietude, and politeness toward others.  The ceremony may be practiced anywhere, at home or in a teahouse.
There are 4 principles: harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility (wa, kae, sae, jubuo)
  • Harmony: with other people and with nature.  The tea ceremony is the way of bringing one’s self into harmony with nature.
  • Respects: a harmonious relationship with others. 
  • Purity: clean yourselves through the five senses - sense of hearing when hearing the sound of water(which remind one of the silence outside), sense of sight when see the flowers, sense of touch when touch the utensils, sense of smell when smell the scent of the flowers, sense of taste when drinking tea.
  • Tranquility


  1. Hi,

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  2. Thank you. This was very informative.

  3. I will be using this as a reference; thank you

  4. Thank you so much I watch a lot of anime, and I always seen this but never knew what was going on thank you so much

  5. Gracias, muy Bueno y completo... Thanks, very good...

  6. I am unable to read articles online very often, but I’m glad I did today. This is very well written and your points are well-expressed. Please, don’t ever stop writing.
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