Japanese Tea Ceremony
By Chandana Ranaweera
Japanese tea ceremony, known as chado (the way of tea) or cha no yuu, is a traditional Japanese custom that has a deep history. Today the ceremony is practiced sometimes as a hobby and even as a tourist attraction but the traditional celebrations involve more than just preparing, serving, and receiving tea. One of the main purposes of the tea ceremony is to distance oneself from the fast-paced day-to-day life and enjoy Japanese hospitality while honouring age-old traditions.
History of tea ceremony
Tea was first introduced to Japan in the 8th century and it is believed the tea ceremony customs originated in Japan in the 9th century. According to Buddhist scripts a monk named Eichu upon his return from China brought some tea with him who then personally prepared the tea in a ceremonial way to serve the emperor.
Pleased with the drink the emperor ordered tea to be cultivated in Japan but the interest in tea faded soon after. In 12th century another Buddhist monk named Eisai on his return from China also brought back some tea seeds which eventually produced the best-quality tea in Japan. Eisai introduced tencha – a special way of preparing tea which involved adding hot water into a bowl of powdered green tea and whipping it. Celebrated first as a religious ceremony in Japanese Zen temples the practice was later introduced to laymen by monks Ikkyu, Jo-o, and Rikyu.
The tea ceremony is heavily influenced by Buddhism and Zen philosophy. The ceremony was an integral part of Zen customs because it reflected on unity, togetherness, hospitality, and inner peace. The place and the environment in which the ceremony is held are carefully selected considering these aspects of the ceremony. The Japanese adore natural beauty. Zen temples which are typically built in a natural setting among trees, ponds, and streams are designed in a way that the most of the nature is infused in landscaping. This eventually led to the unique culture of Japanese gardens and the tea ceremony too is heavily connected with these gardens.
Zen gardens are easy on the eye but to enjoy it to the fullest, one must possess unique aesthetic appreciation skills. This is all the same when it comes to enjoying the tea ceremony. In Zen temples the tea ceremony is held in the garden. The chamber where the ceremony is held is usually built under a shady bamboo bush, next to a pond, or on a ground covered with white sand, and is called tokonoma. Paintings of the four seasons in Japan called kakemono are used to decorate the inner walls of the chamber.
In one corner is the hearth where the water is boiled. Apart from the bare essentials needed for the ceremony and a flower decoration in the middles of the chamber, nothing else is kept inside the chamber. A visitor to the temple during tea ceremony is first escorted to the tokonoma to appreciate and enjoy the flower arrangements and the paintings. After the visitor has seated inside the chamber the chief monk of the temple (housewife if the ceremony is held in a household) slowly makes way towards the chamber.
The hot water is taken out of the kettle using a bamboo spoon to make tea. Nothing is rushed and every step of the tea ceremony is performed slowly and precisely. Even the pouring of hot water is done in a manner that doesn’t create s splash or a loud noise. After the tea is served the visitor is offered rice cakes – a type of Japanese sweets. One of the unique aspects of the tea ceremony is that the tea is served one at a time.
If multiple visitors take part in the ceremony they have to wait one after the other until their turn comes. In a tea ceremony held at a Japanese house, the visitors are served first followed by the members of the family. No machinery is used in the tea ceremony and everything is done by hand.
After the tea is served the visitors thank the hosts for their hospitality before making their leave. When holding the tea ceremony in a household the women of the house dress in kimonos, specific to the season during which the ceremony is held. These kimonos are minimalistic in design and are usually decorated with a seasonspecific flower.
A person’s civility is measured by his or her courtesy – the great human qualities, simple lifestyle, and high spirituality. The Japanese aim to reflect on these qualities via the tea ceremony. During feudalistic Japan the tea ceremony created equality among the masses and it is continued to this day. The customs of tea ceremony doesn’t differ from person to person. The emperor and the poor both perform the same rituals and drink out of same type of simple clay cups. (Translated by Sanuj Hathurusinghe)