Called chanoyu (hot water for tea) or sado (the way of the tea)in Japan, a tea ceremony is steeped in elaborate traditions and rituals which must be learned from the heart and followed to the letter. It is both an art form and a spiritual cleansing. The ceremony is heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism. The tea is prepared by the host and then served out to the guests, accompanied by small sweets called kashi to balance out the after taste of the bitter tea. The tea is prepared using matcha, which is powdered green tea leaves.
The essentials for a Japanese tea ceremony
The process by which the tea is prepared is called temae using deft hand movements and utensils strictly laid out in the tatami mat. The ceremony starts with the guests being made to wait in the machiai (waiting room), while the host makes the preparations. The guests will then walk through the roji, a garden path, on their way to the chashitsu (tea room) as a way to purify themselves.
As part of the cleansing process, they will also have to wash their mouths and hands in a stonewashed basin. The guests will have to enter the team room through a very low door, which is a symbol of humility. They exchange pleasantries by complimenting on the calligraphy on the scrolls or the utensils to be used. The host adds warmth to the room by adding charcoal to the fire and serves a meal. The guests will then go back to the garden while the tea room is being prepared for the tea brewing ceremony. Once the guests return to the tea room, sweets are served. The tea preparation comes next through a ceremonial cleansing of the utensils.
The host wipes clean the utensils – tea container, scoop, and bowl – using rhythmic motions that calm and relax the guests. The host then scoops out the matcha powder into the tea bowls. Hot water is added and then whisked. The host hands out the bowl to the first guest, then they exchange bows. The guest will complement the aesthetics of the tea bowl and then rotate it before taking a sip.
Before handing it over to the next guest, he or she will wipe the rim of the bowl. The entire process is repeated until the last guest has had his or her turn. After everyone has had the opportunity to have their drink from the tea bowl, the host proceeds to clean it again, together with the scoop and the whisk. The host gathers the utensils used for the ceremony while the guests take their final bows before leaving the tea room.
The meaning of a Japanese tea ceremony
A tea ceremony is not by any means a self-indulgent past time or a way to relax – but rather to live in the moment and not be focused on inanities. The guests’ purpose for going to the ceremony is to be spiritually revived and become one with the universe. The ceremony is designed in such a way that the focus will be the beauty in simple and ordinary things, such as the glow coming from the charcoal fire, the delicateness of the porcelain tea bowl, the beautiful calligraphy displayed in the tokonoma (scroll alcove), or perhaps the daintiness of the chabana (flower arrangement). Making small talk and gossips are discouraged. Exchanging pleasantries about the aesthetic design of the utensils and an appreciation for the tools used during the entire performance are encouraged.
During the entire tea ceremony, these four principles are expected to be learned by the guest: harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility.