What is the tea ceremony in Japan?
Japan is a hotspot of mind-blowing traditions and cultural practices that will leave you in awe. It flaunts a deep history that comes with equally deep-rooted traditions. Among the riches of its traditions is the special tea ceremony. This is a crucial cultural engagement or ritual with a lot of meaning within the country's culture. Moreover, it is a symbolic representation of tranquility, harmony, purity, and respect. This practice is held in high regard, and its preparation and execution follow distinct important steps.
Japanese tea ceremony meanings
Locally identified as Sado, Ocha, or Chanoyu, the Japanese tea ceremony is a synchronized ritual of preparing and serving Matcha, a Japanese green tea. The tea is served alongside some traditional Japanese sweets to make up for its bitter taste. However, the whole ceremony is not about drinking tea but rather the aesthetics connected to it.
Among the critical ideas behind the ceremony is the concept of “Sabi” and “Wabi." Wabi symbolizes quiet and sober refinement and is a representation of the spiritual experiences of humanity. On the other side, Sabi stands for the material part of life that often weathers and decays. Consequently, the tea ceremony helps partakers understand the emptiness and imperfections of life as an avenue of spiritual awakening. Visitors can partake of the experience, and it comes in handy to help them catch a glimpse of the rich Japanese culture.
The history of the Japanese tea ceremony
The history of the Japanese tea ceremony can be traced somewhere between the 7th and the 8th century. The long history extends to the reigns of the Chinese Tang dynasty, around 618 AD/907AD, and the Japanese Nara Period. It was first brought to Japan by a monk and was majorly used in the temples for religious engagements. Moreover, it was considered an item of the cream of society; hence only rulers and noble family members could afford it. Myona Eisai, a popular priest, spread the strong belief that the tea had medicinal capabilities if taken regularly.
The tea's use gained popularity over the years, with the Zen monks using it to stay up during late-night prayers while the Samurai followed the ceremony religiously.
However, the spread to the common population is attributed to a tea master called Senrikyu (or “Sen no Rikyu”). He brought to completion the tea ceremony of today by breaking new ground in concepts of “wabi” (remote from society) in the tea ceremony.
The tea ceremony was initially a bonding ritual and an ideal platform to gain peace of mind. Moreover, it was popularly used by the Samurai to establish political alliances. Currently, it is practiced as a unique cultural tradition as well as a form of art.
Japanese tea ceremony set
Like in any other cultural engagement, the right tools are critical to a successful Japanese tea ceremony. Luckily, there are lots of impressive sets that you can adopt for your ceremony. However, no matter the set you choose, it should have the following equipment:
Your set should have this small bamboo whisk to mix your matcha tea with hot water effectively.
This is the container that holds the powdered tea.
This comes in handy to help you scoop the matcha tea into respective tea bowls.
This is the bowl in which the tea is prepared and given out to the partakers.
This is the sweet Japanese sweet that accompanies the bitter tea to make up for its bitterness.
The kettle helps to heat the purified water that is used to make the tea.
A furo is the portable brazier used to heat up the kettle if the room does not have a built-in stove.
This is the silk cloth used to cleanse the tea scoop or handle the hot kettle.
Steps of the Japanese tea ceremony
The Japanese tea ceremony is a choreographed ritual conducted in a list of important steps followed to the letter. These steps include the following:
Before the actual ceremony, the host sends out formal invitations to their preferred guests. These are often sent several weeks before the actual ceremony.
- Room preparation
Room preparation is a critical step of the Japanese tea ceremony. This entails rearranging the room to suit the moment and ensuring that all the necessary tools are readily available. The rooms should also be cleaned accordingly.
- Guests reception
After the invitation, they proceed to sit according to their ranks in society, and the host acknowledges them individually. After the reception, the Japanese sweets are then served.
- Purifying the tools
When all are settled, the ceremony tools are brought into the room and ritually purified accordingly.
- Tea preparation
The host prepares the tea by purifying the tools. After making the tea, the host then passes a bowl to each attending guest. The guests express gratitude by slightly bowing to the host. Each one of them then takes their individual bowl, rotates it twice until its front is the other side, and drinks it all in three to four sips. When finally done, they wipe the rims of their bowls with their right thumbs and forefingers then turn it twice until the front is facing their direction.
The host makes the time of the utmost hospitality.
- Purifying the tools
After each guest has sampled the tea, the host will purify the tools. The guests can then examine them in admiration since they are often priceless antiques.
- Guests exit
After the ceremony is over, the guest will exit the ceremony room as the host bows to each one of them.