The Japanese tea ceremony (茶道, chadō, or sadō, or chanoyu – “the way of tea”) is a traditional ritual based on Taoism (Daoism) and influenced by Zen Buddhism in which powdered green tea, or matcha (抹茶), is ceremonially prepared by a skilled practitioner and served to a small group of guests in a tranquil setting.
The pronunciation sadō is preferred by some schools, including Omotesenke and the Mushanokōjisenke, while the pronunciation chadō is preferred by others, including Urasenke.
Cha-no-yu (literally “hot water for tea”) usually refers to either a single ceremony or ritual, while cha-ji or chakai (literally “tea meeting”) refers to a full tea ceremony with kaiseki (a light meal), usucha (thin tea) and koicha (thick tea), lasting approximately four hours.
Read about the History of Chanoyu
Since a tea practitioner must be familiar with the production and types of tea, with kimono, calligraphy, flower arranging, ceramics, incense and a wide range of other disciplines and traditional arts in addition to his or her school’s tea practices, the study of the tea ceremony takes many years and often lasts a lifetime. Even to participate as a guest in a formal tea ceremony requires knowledge of the prescribed gestures and phrases, the proper way to take tea and sweets, and general deportment in the tea room.
||The tea ceremony requires years of training and practice . . . yet the whole of this art, as to its detail, signifies no more than the making and serving of a cup of tea. The supremely important matter is that the act be performed in the most perfect, most polite, most graceful, most charming manner possible.
— Lafcadio Hearn
Drinking of tea was introduced to Japan in the 9th century in the form of the boiled tea (団茶 dancha) by the Buddhist monk Eichu (永忠), who had returned to Japan from China, where it had already been known, according to legend, for more than a thousand years. Tea soon became widely popular in Japan, and began to be cultivated locally.
The custom of drinking tea, first for medicinal, and then for purely pleasurable reasons, was already widespread throughout China. In the early 9th century, Chinese author Lu Yu wrote the Ch’a Ching (the Classic of Tea), a treatise on tea focusing on its cultivation and preparation. Lu Yu’s life had been heavily influenced by Buddhism, particularly the Zen-Chán school. (This form of buddhism is known as Chan in China and Zen in Japan). His ideas would have a strong influence in the development of the Japanese tea ceremony.
In the 12th century, a new form of tea, matcha, was introduced by Eisai, another Japanese monk returning from China. This powdered green tea, which sprouts from the same plant as black tea but is unfermented and ground, was first used in religious rituals in Buddhist monasteries. By the 13th century, samurai warriors had begun preparing and drinking matcha as they adopted Zen Buddhism, and the foundations of the tea ceremony were laid.
Tea ceremony developed as a “transformative practice,” and began to evolve its own aesthetic, in particular that of wabi. Wabi, meaning quiet or sober refinement, or subdued taste, “is characterized by humility, restraint, simplicity, naturalism, profundity, imperfection, and asymmetry [emphasizing] simple, unadorned objects and architectural space, and [celebrating] the mellow beauty that time and care impart to materials” (“Introduction: Chanoyu, the Art of Tea” in Urasenke Seattle Homepage). Ikkyu, who revitalized Zen in the 15th century, had a profound influence on the tea ceremony.
By the 16th century, tea drinking had spread to all levels of society in Japan. Sen no Rikyu, perhaps the most well-known—and still revered—historical figure in tea ceremony, followed his master, Takeno Jōō’s, concept of ichi-go ichi-e, a philosophy that each meeting should be treasured, for it can never be reproduced. His teachings perfected many newly developed forms in Japanese architecture and gardens, fine and applied arts, and the full development of tea ceremony. The principles he set forward – harmony (和 wa), respect (敬 kei), purity (清 sei,), and tranquility (寂 jaku) – are still central to tea ceremony today.
Tea equipment is called dōgu (道具, literally tools). A wide range of dōgu is necessary for even the most basic tea ceremony. A full list of all available tea implements and supplies and their various styles and variations could fill a several-hundred-page book, and thousands of such volumes exist. The following is a brief list of the essential components:
- Chakin (茶巾). The “chakin” is a rectangular, white, linen or hemp cloth used to ritually cleanse the tea bowl. Different styles of chakin are used for thick and thin tea.
- Fukusa (袱紗). The fukusa is a square silk cloth used for the ritual cleansing of the tea scoop and the tea caddy, and to handle hot kettle or pot lids. Fukusa are sometimes used by guests to protect the tea implements whilst examining them. These fukusa are a special style called kobukusa (“old fukusa“) or dashibukusa (“fukusa for serving”). They are thicker, brocaded and patterned, and often more brightly coloured than regular fukusa. Kobukusa are kept in the kaishi wallet or in the breast of the kimono. When not in use, the fukusa is tucked into the obi, or belt of the kimono. Fukusa are most often monochromatic and unpatterned, but variations exist. There are different colours for men (usually purple) and women (orange, red), for people of different ages or skill levels, for different ceremonies and for different schools. Some schools, including the Urasenke, prefer to introduce variants with brocades or patterns, while some prefer to use simpler ones. The size and way of making fukusa was purportedly established by the Rikyu’s second wife, who was also an expert of this way.
- Ladle (hishaku 柄杓). This is a long bamboo ladle with a nodule in the approximate center of the handle. It is used to transfer water to and from the iron pot and the fresh water container in certain ceremonies. Different styles are used for different ceremonies and in different seasons. A larger version is used for the ritual purification undergone by guests before entering the tea room.
- Tana. Tana, literally “shelves,” is a general word that refers to all types of wooden or bamboo furniture used in tea preparation; each type of tana has its own name. Tana vary considerably in size, style, features and materials. They are placed in front of the host in the tea room, and various tea implements are placed on, or stored in, them. They are used in a variety of ways during different tea ceremonies.
- Tea bowl (chawan 茶碗; main article: chawan). Tea bowls are available in a wide range of sizes and styles, and different styles are used for thick and thin tea (see Tea ceremony, below). Shallow bowls, which allow the tea to cool rapidly, are used in summer; deep bowls are used in winter. Bowls are frequently named by their creators or owners, or by a tea master. Bowls over four hundred years old are in use today, but only on unusually special occasions. The best bowls are thrown by hand, and some bowls are extremely valuable. Irregularities and imperfections are prized: they are often featured prominently as the “front” of the bowl.
Broken tea bowls are painstakingly repaired using a mixture of lacquer and other natural ingredients. Powdered gold is added to disguise the dark colour of the lacquer, and is known as kintsugi or “joint with gold,” and additional designs are sometimes created with the mixture. Bowls repaired in this fashion are used mainly in November, when tea practitioners begin using the ro, or hearth, again, as an expression and celebration of the concept of wabi, or humble simplicity.
- Tea caddy (cha-ire 茶入 and natsume 棗; main article: chaki). Tea caddies come in two basic styles, the natsume and the cha-ire, though there is variation in shape, size and colour within the styles.Cha-ire, which are used for koicha, are usually tall and thin (but shapes may vary significantly) and have ivory lids with a gold leaf undersides. Cha-ire are usually ceramic, and are stored in decorative bags called shifuku. Natsume are used for usucha, and are named for their resemblance to the natsume fruit (the jujube). They are short with a flat lid and rounded bottom, and are usually made of lacquered or untreated wood.
- Tea scoop (chashaku 茶杓). Tea scoops are carved from a single piece of bamboo or ivory. Sometimes, they are made of the tree of Japanese apricot, pine, or cherry blossom. Bamboo tea scoops in the most casual style have a nodule in the approximate center. They are used to scoop tea from the tea caddy into the tea bowl. Larger scoops are used to transfer tea into the tea caddy in the mizuya(preparation area), but these are not seen by guests. Different styles and colours are used in various tea traditions.
- Whisk (chasen 茶筅). Tea whisks are carved from a single piece of bamboo. There are thick and thin whisks for thick and thin tea.
Old and damaged whisks are not simply discarded. Once a year around May, they are taken to local temples and ritually burned in a simple ceremony called chasen kuyō, which reflects the reverence with which objects are treated in the tea ceremony.
All the tools for tea ceremony are handled with exquisite care. They are scrupulously cleaned before and after each use and before storing. Some components are handled only with gloved hands.
||When tea is made with water drawn from the depths of mind
Whose bottom is beyond measure,
We really have what is called cha-no-yu.
Two main schools, the Omotesenke (表千家) and Urasenke (裏千家), have evolved, each with its own prescribed rituals. A third school, Mushanokōjisenke, is largely unknown outside Japan. These three main schools are collectively known as the Sansenke. There are various lesser-known schools as well. Currently, the Urasenke School is the most active and has the largest following, particularly outside Japan. Within each school there are sub-schools and branches, and in each school there are seasonal and temporal variations in the method of preparing and enjoying the tea, and in the types and forms of utensils and tea used.
All the schools, and most of the variations, however, have facets in common: at its most basic, the tea ceremony involves the preparation and serving of tea to a guest or guests. The following description applies to both Omotesenke and Urasenke, though there may be slight differences depending on the school and type of ceremony.
The host, male or female, wears a kimono, while guests may wear kimono or subdued formal wear. Tea ceremonies may take place outside (in which case some kind of seating will usually be provided for guests, whether benches or chairs, or even woven straw tatami mats) or inside, either in a tea room or a tea house, but tea ceremonies can be performed nearly anywhere. Generally speaking, the longer and more formal the ceremony, and the more important the guests, the more likely the ceremony will be performed indoors, on tatami.
Both tea houses and tea rooms are usually small, a typical floor size being 4 1/2 tatami, the traditional Japanese floor covering. The smallest tea room can be as little as one-and-a-half mats, and the size of the largest is determined only by the limits of its owner’s resources. Building materials and decorations are deliberately simple and rustic.
If the tea is to be served in a separate tea house rather than a tea room, the guests will wait in a garden shelter until summoned by the host. They ritually purify themselves by washing their hands and rinsing their mouths with water from a small stone basin, and proceed through a simple garden along a roji, or “dewy path,” to the tea house. Guests remove their shoes and enter the tea house through a small door, and proceed to the tokonoma scroll alcove, where they admire the scroll and other decorations placed therein and are then seated seiza-style on the tatami in order of prestige.
Guests may be served a light, simple meal called a “kaiseki” or “chakaiseki,” followed by sake, Japanese rice wine. They will then return to the waiting shelter until summoned again by the host.
If no meal is served, the host will proceed directly to the serving of a small sweet or sweets. Sweets are eaten from special paper called kaishi, which each guest carries, often in a decorative wallet tucked into the breast of the kimono.
Each utensil – including the tea bowl, whisk, and tea scoop – is then ritually cleaned in the presence of the guests in a precise order and using prescribed motions. The utensils are placed in an exact arrangement according to the ritual being performed. When the ritual cleaning and preparation of the utensils is complete, the host will place a measured amount of green tea powder in the bowl and add the appropriate amount of hot water, then whisk the tea using set movements.
Conversation is kept to a minimum throughout. Guests relax and enjoy the atmosphere created by the sounds of the water and fire, the smell of the incense and tea, and the beauty and simplicity of the tea house and its seasonally appropriate decorations.
The bowl is then served to the guest of honour, either by the host or an assistant. Bows are exchanged between the host and guest of honour. The guest then bows to the second guest, and raises the bowl in a gesture of respect to the host. The guest rotates the bowl to avoid drinking from its front, takes a sip, murmurs the prescribed phrase, and then takes two or three more sips before wiping the rim, rotating the bowl to its original position, and passing it to the next guest with a bow. The procedure is repeated until all guests have taken tea from the same bowl, and the bowl is returned to the host. In some ceremonies, each guest will drink from an individual bowl, but the order of serving and drinking is the same.
If thick tea (koicha) has been served, the host will then prepare thin tea, or usucha, which is served in the same manner. In some ceremonies, however, only one or the other type is served.
After all the guests have taken tea, the host cleans the utensils in preparation for putting them away. The guest of honour will request that the host allow the guests to examine some of the utensils, and each guest in turn examines and admires each item, including the water scoop, the tea caddy, the tea scoop, the tea whisk, and, most importantly, the tea bowl. The items are treated with extreme care and reverence as they may be priceless, irreplaceable, handmade antiques, and guests often use a special brocaded cloth to handle them.
The host then collects the utensils, and the guests leave the tea house. The host bows from the door, and the ceremony is over. A tea ceremony can last between one hour and four to five hours, depending on the type of ceremony performed, the number of guests, and the types of meal and tea served.
Types of ceremony
The ceremonies described below are performed in both the Omotesenke and Urasenke styles. Note that for the word temae (roughly, “ceremony” or “procedure”), Omotesenke prefers the Chinese characters点前, while Urasenke prefers 手前.
Chabako demae (Omotesenke: 茶箱点前; Urasenke: 茶箱手前) is so called because the equipment is removed from and then replaced into a special box (chabako, literally tea box).This ceremony is approx 35-40 minutes
Hakobi demae (Omotesenke: 運び点前; Urasenke: 運び手前) is closely related to ryū-rei (see below), but is performed in seiza position. The name comes from the fact that the essential equipment – bowl, natsume, waste water container, fresh water container, scoops, and so on – are carried into and out of the tea room.
In O-bon Temae (Omotesenke: お盆手前, “tray ceremony”; Urasenke: 略盆、略点前 ryaku-bon or ryaku-demae — ryaku: “abbreviated”), the host places a tea bowl, whisk, tea scoop, chakin andnatsume on a special tray; these items are covered by the fukusa. Thin tea is prepared on the tray while kneeling seiza style on the floor. This is usually the first ceremony learned, and is the simplest to perform, requiring neither much specialized equipment nor a lot of time to complete.
In Ryū-rei (立礼, literally standing bow) the tea is prepared at a special table. The guests are seated either at the same table (one guest) or at a separate table. The name refers to the practice of performing the first and last bows standing at the entrance to the tea room. In Ryū-rei there is usually an assistant who sits behind the host and moves the host’s stool out of the way as needed for standing or sitting. The assistant also serves the tea and sweets to the guests.
Tea ceremony and calligraphy
Calligraphy, mainly in the form of hanging scrolls, plays a central role in the tea ceremony. In Japan the formal name for this process of brush strokes is zenga. Scrolls, often written by famous calligraphers or Buddhist monks or painted by well-known artists, are hung in the tokonoma (scroll alcove) of the tea room. They are selected for their appropriateness for the season, time of day, or theme of the particular ceremony. Calligraphic scrolls may feature well-known sayings, particularly those associated with Buddhism, poems, descriptions of famous places, or words or phrases associated with tea ceremony. A typical example might have the characters wa kei sei jaku (和敬清寂, harmony, respect, purity and tranquility). Some contain only a single character; in summer, kaze (“wind”) would be appropriate. Painted scrolls may contain seasonally appropriate images, or images appropriate to the theme of the particular ceremony. Rabbits, for example, might be chosen for a nighttime ceremony because of their association with the moon. Scrolls are sometimes placed in the waiting room as well.
Tea ceremony and flower arranging
Chabana (茶花, literally “tea flowers”) is the simple style of flower arranging used in tea ceremony. Chabana has its roots in ikebana, another traditional style of Japanese flower arranging, which itself has roots in Shinto and Buddhism.
Chabana evolved from a less formal style of ikebana, which was used by early tea masters. The chabana style is now the standard style of arrangement for tea ceremony. Chabana is said, depending upon the source, to have been either developed or championed by Sen no Rikyu.
At its most basic, a chabana arrangement is a simple arrangement of seasonal flowers placed in a container. Chabana arrangements typically comprise few items, and little or no “filler” material. Unlike ikebana (which often uses shallow, wide dishes), tall, narrow vases are frequently used in chabana. Vases are made from natural materials such as bamboo, as well as metal or ceramic, but rarely glass.
Chabana arrangements are so simple that frequently no more than a single blossom is used; this blossom will invariably lean towards or face the guests.
Kaiseki ryōri (懐石料理, literally “breast-stone cuisine”) is the name for the type of food served during tea ceremonies. The name comes from the practice of Zen monks of placing warmed stones in the breast of the robes to stave off hunger during periods of fasting.
Kaiseki cuisine was once strictly vegetarian, but nowadays fish and occasionally meat will feature.
In kaiseki, only fresh seasonal ingredients are used, prepared in ways that aim to enhance their flavour. Exquisite care is taken in selecting ingredients and types of food, and finished dishes are carefully presented on serving ware that is chosen to enhance the appearance and seasonal theme of the meal. Dishes are beautifully arranged and garnished, often with real leaves and flowers, as well as edible garnishes designed to resemble natural plants and animals. The serving ware and garnishes are as much a part of the kaiseki experience as the food; some might argue that the aesthetic experience of seeing the food is more important than the physical experience of eating it, though of course both aspects are important.
Courses are served in small servings in individual dishes, and the meal is eaten while sitting in seiza. Each diner has a small lacquered tray to her- or himself; very important people may be provided their own low, lacquered table or several small tables.
Kaiseki for tea ceremony is sometimes referred to as chakaiseki (cha: “tea”) meaning “tea kaiseki.” Chakaiseki usually includes one or two soups and three different vegetable dishes along with pickles and boiled rice. Sashimi or other fish dishes may occasionally be served, but meat dishes are more rare.
Tea ceremony and kimono
While a kimono used to be mandatory for all participants in a Japanese tea ceremony, this is no longer the case. Still, it is traditional, and on formal occasions most guests will wear a kimono. Since the study of kimono is an essential part of learning tea ceremony, most practitioners will own at least one kimono which they will wear when hosting or participating in a tea ceremony. The kimono used to be mandatory dress for students of tea ceremony, and while this practice continues many teachers do not insist upon it; it is not uncommon for students to wear western clothes for practice. This is primarily born of necessity: since most people cannot afford to own more than one or two kimono it is important that they be kept in good condition. Still, most students will practice in kimono at least some of the time. This is essential to learn the prescribed motions properly.
Many of the movements and components of tea ceremony evolved from the wearing of a kimono. For example, certain movements are designed with long kimono sleeves in mind; certain motions are intended to move sleeves out of the way or to prevent them from becoming dirtied in the process of making, serving or partaking of tea. Other motions are designed to allow for the straightening of the kimono and hakama.
Fukusa (silk cloths) are designed to be folded and tucked into the obi (sash); when no obi is worn, a regular belt must be substituted or the motions cannot be performed properly.
Kaishi (paper) and kobukusa are tucked into the breast of the kimono; fans are tucked into the obi. When Western clothes are worn, the wearer must find other places to keep these objects. The sleeves of the kimono function as pockets, and used kaishi are folded and placed into them.
For tea ceremony, men may wear a combination of kimono and hakama (a long divided or undivided skirt worn over the kimono), but some men wear only kimono. Wearing hakama is not essential for men, but it makes the outfit more formal. Women wear various styles of kimono depending on the season and the event; women generally do not wear hakama for tea ceremony. Lined kimono are worn by both men and women in the winter months, and unlined ones in the summer. For formal occasions men wear montsuki kimono (plain, single colour kimono with three to five family crests on the sleeves and back), often with striped hakama. Both men and women wear white tabi (divided- toe socks).
While men’s kimono tend to be plain and largely unpatterned, some women’s kimono have patterns on only one side; the wearer must determine which side will be facing the guests and dress accordingly.
Tea ceremony and seiza
Seiza is integral to the Japanese tea ceremony. When not seated at tables, both the host and guests sit in seiza style, and seiza is the basic position from which everything begins and ends in a tea ceremony. The host sits seiza to open and close the tea room doors; seiza is the basic position for arranging and cleaning the utensils and preparation of the tea. Even when the host must change positions during parts of the ceremony, these position changes are made in seiza position, and the host returns to sitting seiza when the repositioning is complete. Guests maintain a seiza position during the entire ceremony.
All the bows (there are three basic variations, differing mainly in depth of bow and position of the hands) performed during tea ceremony originate in the seiza position.
Tea ceremony and tatami
Tatami is an integral part of tea ceremony. The main areas of tea rooms and tea houses have tatami floors, and the scroll alcove in tea rooms often has a tatami floor as well.
Tatami are used in various ways in tea ceremony. Their placement, for example, determines how a person walks through the tea room. When walking on tatami it is customary to shuffle. This forces one to slow down, to maintain erect posture and to walk quietly, and helps one to maintain balance as the combination of tabi and tatami makes for a slippery surface; it is also a function of wearing kimono, which restricts stride length. One must avoid walking on the joins between mats; participants step over such joins when walking in the tea room.
The placement of tatami in tea rooms differs slightly from the normal placement in regular rooms, and may also vary by season (where it is possible to rearrange the mats). In a 4 1/2 mat room, the mats are placed in a circular pattern around a centre mat. Purpose-built tea rooms have a sunken hearth in the floor which is used in winter. A special tatami is used which has a cut-out section providing access to the hearth. In summer, the hearth is covered either with a small square of extra tatami, or, more commonly, the hearth tatami is replaced with a full mat, totally hiding the hearth.
It is customary to avoid stepping on this centre mat whenever possible, as well as to avoid placing the hands palm-down on it, as it functions as a kind of table: tea utensils are placed on it for viewing, and prepared bowls of tea are placed on it for serving to the guests. To avoid stepping on it people may walk around it on the other mats, or shuffle on the hands and knees.
Except when walking, when moving about on the tatami one places one’s closed fists on the mats and uses them to pull oneself forward or push backwards while maintaining a seiza position.
There are dozens of real and imaginary lines that crisscross any tearoom. These are used to determine the exact placement of utensils and myriad other details; when performed by skilled practitioners, the placement of utensils will vary infinitesimally from ceremony to ceremony. The lines in tatami mats (行 gyō) are used as one guide for placement, and the joins serve as a demarcation indicating where people should sit.
Tatami provide a more comfortable surface for sitting seiza-style. At certain times of year (primarily during the new year’s festivities) the portions of the tatami where guests sit are covered with a red felt cloth.
Studying tea ceremony
In Japan, those who wish to study tea ceremony typically join what is known in Japanese as a “circle,” which is a generic term for a group that meets regularly to participate in a given activity. There are also tea clubs at many junior high and high schools, colleges and universities.
Most tea circles are run by a local chapter of an established tea school. Classes may be held at community centres, dedicated tea schools, or at private homes. Tea schools often have widely varied groups that all study in the same school but at different times. For example, there may be a women’s group, a group for older or younger students, and so on.
Students normally pay a monthly fee which covers tuition and the use of the school’s (or teacher’s) bowls and other equipment, the tea itself, and the sweets that students serve and eat at every class. Students must provide their own fukusa, fan, paper, and kobukusa, as well as their own wallet in which to place these items. Traditionally students also provided their own kimono and related accessories, though western clothing is very common today. On the other hand, if the teacher is in the higher rank of tradition, especially an iemoto, wearing kimono is still considered essential, especially for women. In some cases, advanced students may be given permission to wear the school’s mark in place of the usual family crests on formal montsuki kimono.
New students typically begin by observing more advanced students as they practice. New students are normally taught mostly by more advanced students; the most advanced students are taught exclusively by the teacher. The first things new students learn are how to correctly open and close sliding doors, how to walk on tatami, how to enter and exit the tea room, how to bow and to whom and when to do so, how to wash, store and care for the various equipment, how to fold the fukusa, how to ritually clean tea equipment, and how to wash and fold chakin. As they master these essential steps, students are also taught how to behave as a guest at tea ceremonies: the correct words to say, how to handle bowls, how to drink tea and eat sweets, how to use paper and sweet-picks, and myriad other details.
As they master the basics, students will be instructed on how to prepare the powdered tea for use, how to fill the tea caddy, and finally, how to measure the tea and water and whisk it to the proper consistency. Once these basic steps have been mastered, students begin to practice the simplest ceremonies, typically beginning with O-bon temae (see above). Only when the first ceremony has been mastered will students move on. Study is through observation and hands on practice; students do not often take notes, and some schools discourage the practice of note-taking.
As they master each ceremony, some schools and teachers present students with certificates at a formal ceremony. According to the school, this certificate may warrant that the student has mastered a given ceremony, or may give the student permission to study a given ceremony. Acquiring such certificates is often very costly; the student typically must not only pay for the preparation of the certificate itself and for participating in the ceremony during which it is bestowed, but is also expected to thank the teacher by presenting him or her with a gift of money. The cost of acquiring certificates increases as the student’s level increases.
Typically, each class ends with the whole group being given brief instruction by the main teacher, usually concerning the contents of the tokonoma (the scroll alcove, which typically features a hanging scroll (usually with calligraphy), a flower arrangement, and occasionally other objects as well) and the sweets that have been served that day. Related topics include incense and kimono, or comments on seasonal variations in equipment or ceremony.