Japanese Tea Ceremony

November 17, 2012

A while back I had the opportunity to attend a traditional style tea ceremony. For those of you who don’t know, the Japanese tea ceremony is a formal and ritualized tea preparation service. It has been around in Japan for over a millenium. When the ritual is performed, it usually involves the drinking of a powder form of green tea and the eating of a Japanese style sweet. Everything within a tea ceremony has significance. Intricacies that I can only begin to explain. When the tea is being prepared and served, every single motion is deliberate. When receiving the tea, you bow. Before drinking the tea however, it is customary to eat at least a little of the sweet that you are served: the rest is saved for after the tea is finished. Before drinking the tea, it is also customary to admire the dish that it is being served in. While drinking the tea, it should be consumed in three swallows. The next part I’m not entirely positive on, but either before or after (or both) you should rotate the cup three times in your hand. It is also probably required to be either clockwise or counterclockwise, but I don’t know that either. I have also seen people swirl the tea around and smell it before drinking, like you would a fine wine. I do know that when you are holding the tea cup, your left should be flat with your fingers supporting the cup from the bottom, and your right hand should be wrapped around the cup. The way you are sitting should also be the traditional Japanese style of sitting. You will see in the pictures the proper way of doing this but, if you were to be standing with your knees together, from there all you would have to do would be to bend your knees while keeping them together and sit on your feet like that. It is quite uncomfortable to maintain for long periods of time. However, I thought it was just me, because I would see the Japanese sitting like that for very long periods of time with seemingly no discomfort whatsoever. But that was not the case, they’re just used to it.

Anyway, like I said, there is serious depth and intricacy to a proper tea ceremony, and what I explained here is probably the shallowest explanation. The tea ceremony was originally a Zen Buddhist practice I believe, and the real experience, if you have been properly trained, should induce a state of peace and calm.

My pictures are not that great because I was trying to be as proper as I could be, and not be touristy. So most of my shots were hurried so that I would not disturb the others. I was relieved that there were others snapping away.

Preparing the tea

My confectionary

Serving the tea

After the tea ceremony (and with seriously aching legs) we left to go walking around, not sure what to do now since it was still early and later we were going to be meeting with the ICES and KUFSA group for dinner and drinks.

ICES – Inter-Cultural Exchange Society
KUFSA – Kagawa University Foreign Students Association

We do lots of things with them, as that is pretty much what they were formed to do. So while we were waiting, we decided to take a walk through the park and then go to Starbucks. Japan is lovely in the fall.

After our walk and gathering at Starbucks, we went to where we would eat and had a great time. Afterwards, I had my first Karaoke experience in Japan. It is a completely different animal than what you experience in America, especially after a night of drinking with the Japanese…

Yes, some people did indeed lose some clothing… *sigh*

My night ended on the last train to Yashima with my friend Nara. It had been another great day in Takamatsu!

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9 thoughts on “Japanese Tea Ceremony

  1. Glad you got to experience a tea ceremony.

    Yes, Zen Buddhism has been very influential in the development of the tea ceremony.
    The idea (common in both tea ceremony and zen Buddhism) is that every single gesture matters. Basically the preparation, serving and drinking of the tea has been stripped down to the bare minimum, and every movement and action is performed in such a way that nothing is superfluous. So even if it seems very intricate (and it is in a way) it’s actually very “simple” in the sense that the actions and movement being performed and their sequences are as efficient as possible so no useless movement or action is made. (not sure if I make sense).

    Concerning the rotation of the bowls, there are several “schools” of tea ceremony, so practices may vary, but basically each bowl has a front and a back. The front is the most beautiful side of the bowl (it can be highly subjective which side is the most beautiful, your host decides) and the bowl is always presented to you with the front facing you. However, you must not drink from that side. Hence the need to turn the bowl so that the front is as far as possible from your mouth (possibly on the opposite) and as you don’t want to make “dangerous” movements with the bowl in your hands (it can be centuries old and more expensive than anything else in the house, and it will be hot), it may take several times to turn it completely to the desired position.
    When you’re done drinking and you’re passing the bowl back to your host or to the next guest (depending what type of “drinking” you’re doing) the same must be done so that the front is presented to the person that receives the bowl.

    • I thought you might feel compelled to chime in here; and I’m glad you did. How you explained it made perfect sense to me, and is as I expected but I could not phrase it as well, so thank you!

      • You’re very welcome. 🙂
        I actually don’t know that much about tea ceremony, but those parts I know. 🙂
        A good friend of mine is “obsessed” with tea ceremonies, he even built a chashitsu in his backyard and he’s taught me almost all I know about tea ceremonies. I also got the chance to meet Chujo-sensei from the Chujo Zaidan Foundation (http://chujo-zaidan.or.jp/) who taught me the rest. 🙂

  2. With your post and the additional insight provided by David @ Ogijima we can just begin to grasp the significance of this ancient ceremony. Safe to say we have nothing like it in American culture. The grace and humility you bring to all your experiences in Japan does make this mother’s heart swell 🙂

    • Lol! No Owen, I don’t go shirtless very often here in Japan. It isn’t as accepted here as it is in the U.S. That was a Japanese friend of mine when we went to karaoke. Things got a little crazy! 🙂

    • Very possible! This was a slightly unorthodox style tea ceremony however, it was still a great experience. If you want to get the full experience of the tea ceremony (as well as impress whomever else may be present) I would suggest that you study and retain as many of the subtleties of the tea ceremony as you can, as there are many. Spending time in the seiza-style sitting position wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

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