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Explore this Ancient Culture of Japan.
Explore Ancient Japan.

2023 Japanese Tea Ceremony Traditions

Ancient Art of the Japanese Tea Ceremony
Japanese Teahouse |

Ancient Japanese Tea Ceremony Traditions

A traditional Japanese tea ceremony called Chado or the Way of Tea, is one of the most ancient and valued art of Japan, and is at the very core of Japanese traditions. Learn the everything about the ceremonial preparation and presentation of matcha, powdered green tea.

The Way of Tea

The Japanese tea ceremony is one of the ceremonies that have been celebrated in Japan for a very long time. It is also called the Way of Tea. The ceremony is a culture in which ceremonial preparations, presentation of matcha and powdered green tea are involved.

What is Chado?

The Japanese call it chanoyu or sado (chado). They perform in a specific style called (o) temae. Many people across the world don't understand the force behind this ceremony yet. But those who know it well understand its origin from the Zen Buddhism. In rare cases, the sencha (leafy tea) is used. And when sencha is in play, the ceremony becomes senchado and not chado mentioned above.

There are tea gatherings to make the ceremony a possibility. There are informal tea gatherings chakai and the formal ones chaji. The chakai is much simpler, basically just a simple course to show concern. It includes confections, thin tea and in some instances a light meal. The later is much more serious. It usually includes a full course meal (kaiseki) then confections, then thick tea and finally the thin tea.

There are three very important ceremonies in Japan and Chado is among them. The ones are the incense appreciation ceremony, kodo, and the flower engagement ceremony, kado. All these ceremonies mark a very important moment in the lives of many Japanese.

Japanese Tea Ceremony History

The first Japanese to take tea to Japan was a Buddhist monk Eichu who was returning from Chine in the 9th century. This is evident in a document known as the Koki which reveals Eichu prepared the tea himself served sencha. Sencha is a Japanese ungrounded green tea. He serves this tea to Emperor Saga. Saga was on an excursion in Karasaki in 815.

Nobles only did the practice at that time. Anyone else would not be easily found taking part in the ceremonies with chado. In 1816 and an imperial order was placed that allowed the cultivation of tea plantations in the Kinki region in Japan. But that was not long-lived as interest in tea faded completely.

At that time, tea was common in China and had been used for centuries. It was legendary, and many people used it on different occasions. Dancha (the cake/brick tea) was the most common tea in China during the time of Eichu. The tea would be grounded in a mortar and mixed with different herbs and flavoring to make it more effective when taken.

Tea was taken as a medicine in many instances. That was the main reason for taking tea and mixing with other herbs. But it was also taken for pleasure. In the whole of China, the use of tea was common and widely spread. A Chinese writer Lu Yu talked about the cultivation and preparation of tea in his The Classic of Tea in the 9 century.

Another monk, Eisai introduced another style of tea preparation in Japan when he came back from China in the 12th century. The tencha is a simple procedure in which powdered matcha was placed in a bowl. Then it was mixed with hot water and whipped together. Eisai took some tea seeds with him on his journey which was considered to be of very high quality.

The first use case of the powdered green tea was in religious rituals in Buddhist monasteries. The 13th century found tea more popular in the country when Kamakura Shogunate ruled the region. Tea became a status symbol attracting many other luxuries.

The Japanese tea practice started evolving later as a transformative practice. It began evolving as a transforming practice regarding Sabi and wabi principles. The wabi is about the inner or spiritual side of human lives while Sabi is about the outside of humanity.

The chanoyu history mentions Murata Juko as the early developer of tea to be used for spiritual purposes. He encouraged the drinking of tea, ensuring its spread to all levels of society. And to crown by spread was the teachings of Takeno Joo's concept of ichi-go ichi-e. His teaching was the main force behind the development of "way of tea" among other cultural practices.

Many other great tea masters like Sen no Rikyu of the regent Tokoyama Hideyoshi made what we see today possible. He cemented his ideas by hosting the Golden Tea Room and the Grand Kitano Tea Ceremony of 1587. This marked the height of the relationship between tea and politics. After the death of Rikyu, tree schools were opened to continue his culture.

And today, more schools are coming up. They are more active in spreading the Japanese tea ceremony more than ever.

Meaning of Japanese Tea Ceremony

There is a hidden meaning of chado that the outside world can never understand. Very few people outside Japan understand what this ceremony is really about. Even in Japan, many still don't know the hidden secrets of the tea ceremony. There are only a few who have devoted their lives to the discipline, the focus on preparing the matcha tea in ceremonies.

For you to unveil the secrets of the tea, you will have to travel back at least 2000 years back. As seen above, the Japanese tea was originally born in China, yet the Japanese are making the fire burning.

Several things are unknown to many people.

1. It started with the Zen Buddhism

Monks were the first people to bring the tea from China. For the Buddhist, an outward ceremony is only but a revelation of what is stored inside. Buddhism is about spiritualism, so tea and meditation are only part of revealing a given behavior.

2. It works on all the five senses of the brain

The other secret of the tea ceremony is brain science. The tea was structured by the ancient Buddhists to wake people up. It was used to enhance physical and spiritual energy. In other words, the tea ceremony is used to bring up the inner peace and tranquility.

3. It awakens both sides of the brains

When all senses are awakened, the often dormant left brain has plenty of things to do. It handles the ritual itself while the right brain hemisphere attends to the beauty of flowers and the whole room. People see the face of Zen in tea ceremonies when bot sizes of the brain are working.

It is not easy to understand this esoteric practice. It takes years to appreciate what it holds.

Elements of the Japanese Tea Ceremony

The tea utensils used in Chado is called Chadogu. The essential tea utensils are chashaku (tea scoop), sensu (fan), chasen kusenaoshi (whisk shaper), chasen (bamboo whisk) and fukusa (purple silk cloth).

Before you even check think of the chadogu, you must first understand the elements of the tea ceremony, which include:

- Teahouse: The use of traditional Japanese mats in various ways is very important. The way they are placed determines how a person walks in the tea room. The arrangement is a bit different from a normal Japanese room. As much as possible, people must avoid stepping on the mats. There are many imaginary and real lines crisscrossing the room that determine the placement of utensils.

- Hanging scroll: Scrolls play an important role and are selected appropriately according to different factors like season and the theme. These calligraphic scrolls may carry famous sayings from say Buddha.

- Flower arrangement. They use chabana (tea flower) style to arrange flowers in a tea room. There is no use of unnatural or old material. The chabana is arranged in containers called hanaire.

- Meals: They serve kaiseki or cha-kaiseki in a formal tea function. The ingredients are carefully selected for perfection. The dishes are well arranged and garnished. And the courses are served in small servings.

Japanese Tea Ceremony Procedure

Varying procedures are depending on the school, the time of the year and day, and venue. Host and guest, not more than five gather for the noon tea-the formal chaji. On a cooler weather season, guests will arrive a bit early and enter an interior waiting room. When all have arrived, they will be escorted to a bench waiting outdoor in the roji.

Then there is a silent bow between the host and the guests after which they purify themselves in a tsukubai. They must remove their foot wear before proceeding to view the items in the tokonoma. Audible sounds will be a signal for the hosts to enter the room and welcome the quests.

The chaji takes place in the cool months involving charcoal fire to heat the water. The guest is then served meals followed by a break called nakadachi. The guests will be summed by a bell to re-enter and purify themselves again. Thick will be served at this time after preparing the utensils.

The guests bows and raised he bowl to show respect. He will then sip and wipe the rim of the bowl then compliment the host on the same. All visitors will go through the same procedure.

There is a change of mood from a formal to a more casual one when the host rekindles the charcoal. Smoking set, more confessions will follow this, then thin tea. The guests will take the tea then the host will clean the utensils before they proceed to examine the antiques. The host will collect the utensils as guests leave the team room.

What to Wear at a Japanese Tea Ceremony

Many of the movements in a tea ceremony came about because of wearing kimono. Using western clothes is not very common today as many students will practice wearing Kimono. Long sleeves kimono are won for certain movements. Others need straightening of kimono and hakama. There are also silk fukusa cloths that should be folded into obi.

One must always wear a kimono in formal ceremonies. And those who wear them rightly will also have a jittoku. There are different styles of kimono for women.

Green Tea History

The rein of Emperor Shennong in China is the source of green tea. The Tea Classic, a book written by Lu Yu is one of the best places to find the history of green tea. Another book, written by Zen priest Eisai in 1211 shows the effects of green tea on the brain. In simple terms, green tea dates back to the 9th century when Eisai came back from China.

What is Matcha Tea?

It is simply finely grained powder of green tea leaves. It is one of the most important aspects of the Japanese tea ceremony.

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