The Japanese Tea Ceremony

The Japanese tea ceremony is a highly ritualised procedure for preparing and serving tea. It is steeped in Zen Buddhism and is designed to focus the senses to the present moment. VIDEO

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The Japanese tea ceremony is a highly ritualised procedure for preparing and serving tea. The Japanese name of the tea ceremony is “chado” or “sado.” These are two different pronunciations for the Japanese characters 茶道 which simply mean “the way of tea.”

During the ceremony, Japanese tea (powdered green tea called matcha) is presented to a small number of guests (four is ideal) in the tranquil setting of a tea house which is situated in a tea garden. The Japanese tea ceremony is designed to bring aesthetic enjoyment and peace of mind to the guests.

The tea host or hostess may spend several decades studying the procedures of the Japanese tea ceremony. Part of this study includes acquiring knowledge of arts and crafts such as calligraphy, flower arranging, and poetry as these all play a part in the ceremony.


Tea was first introduced to Japan from China in the 9th century. Its popularity quickly spread and it began to be cultivated in Japan.

In the 12th century a monk called Eisai returned from China with a new type of tea – matcha. This tea is made from un-oxidized tea leaves which are ground into a powder.

Matcha was used in Zen monasteries for religious rituals. The ceremony continued to evolve and become more widespread until finally in the 16th century the tea master Sen no Rikyu formalized many of the procedures and implements of Japanese tea ceremony. The teachings of Rikyu set the foundations for the Japanese tea ceremony.
Rikyu removed all the non-essentials from the tearoom and the ceremonial style. There was to be no object or motion that was superfluous.

Tea was made in a thatch hut using only a simple iron kettle, a plain lacquered container for tea, a tea scoop and whisk whittled from bamboo. A common rice bowl was used for drinking the tea.

The thatched hut contained only a hanging scroll or a vase of flowers for decoration. This sparse setting allowed the tea ceremony participants to focus on the details of ceremony and to become aware of the simple beauty of their surroundings.
This simple setting for tea is based on the concept of wabi. Wabi literally means "desolation," but according to the Zen worldview, the greatest wealth is found in desolation and poverty. If we are unattached to worldly goods we are better able to look inside ourselves and find true spiritual wealth. For this reason, the Japanese tea ceremony is called wabi-cha.

The Modern Ceremony

The Japanese tea ceremony has evolved into three main schools and several lesser-known schools. The three main schools are known collectively as the Sansenke and include the Omotesenke (表千家), the Urasenke (裏千家), and the Mushanokōjisenke.

No matter which school of the Japanese tea ceremony, the basic principals of the ceremony are to prepare and serve tea to a guest or guests. Details vary according to the setting, the utensils, and the procedure.

In essence, however, the purpose of a tea ceremony is the same as that of Zen Buddhism – to live in the present moment and to focus the senses so that one is totally involved in the ceremony and not distracted by mundane thoughts.

Video - The Casual Japanese Tea Ceremony

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