What Is a Japanese Tea Ceremony?
A Japanese matcha tea ceremony (chanoyu, or the way of tea) is a graceful and serene ritual in which green tea is prepared and served with traditional Japanese utensils to the participants. Although other green teas can be found in different parts of the world, matcha is exclusive to Japan.
There are various reasons for the ceremonies, from seasonal shifts, to the first tea of the year, to just the joy of tea itself. The ritual is a bonding experience of hospitality, mindfulness, appreciation, honor, and respect with a focus on the here and now.
The matcha tea ceremony is one of Japan’s most reminiscent symbols and traditions, with a long history that predates modern society. Originally a favorite pastime for ancient Japanese warriors, it was later transformed as an emblem for modern Japanese culture. The origins have evolved over time and can be further explained and understood with the theories outlined below:
1 Zen Theraphy
The Zen theory is based on Buddhist philosophy, and it’s a sitting meditation known as za-zen, in which wisdom is accompanied by compassion. It can be expressed in a way that marries everyday life with nature, other people, and oneself with the understanding of space and time.
The Zen method generally follows a three-step practice:
The adjustment of the mind
The adjustment of breathing
The adjustment of the body
2 Seven-Point Theory of the Japanese Tea Ceremony
In 1898, Sensho Tanaka revolutionized the Japanese tea ceremony by joining ancient traditions with his own ideas of modern practices and public concepts. They can be found in a three-volume publication of Chado Kogi.
Sensho’s concepts and ideas directly relate to how the tea ceremony induces the Zen meditation, how he obtained the manners for the etiquette theory, and the seven main points listed below:
Continuity in motion
Strength of body and limbs
3 Theory of Flower Coordination
The main concept behind the Japanese art of flower arranging is known as ikebana. Ikebana plays a vital role in the theory of flower coordination because it draws attention to the vase in the tearoom while the arrangement of flowers represents humanity, heaven, and earth.
Ikebana and tea ceremonies both work in unison, expressing simplicity and purity while creating an atmosphere of elegant beauty.
Types of Tea Ceremony
In Japanese, the word akatsuki-no-chaji means “dawn ceremony in winter.” The ceremony is held in the morning hours of winter to signify and welcome the dawn into the tearoom. It provides an amazing experience and time to reflect while drinking tea as the morning sun illuminates the tearoom.
Viewers are offered a peaceful and unique perspective on the experience that they find during the ceremony. Additionally, this type of tea ceremony is very lengthy and follows specific procedures and rules that date back to ancient times.
Yuuzari-no-chaji (yuzari-no-chahi) translates as “early-evening tea ceremony held in the warmer months.” During this ceremony, the participant is able to experience the sun as it sets. It provides a relaxing atmosphere in the daylight, but soon changes to a romantic candlelit tearoom.
The Japanese culture believes this experience unifies the people in the tearoom, which makes this a very special ritual.
An Asa-cha gathering is an early-morning summer tea ceremony held in the brisk morning hours during the hot Japanese summertime. It’s an intimate session that provides a communion of Japanese tea preparation with the stillness of meditation.
This type of ceremony can be a challenge in the middle of a hot and humid Japanese summer. On top of drinking hot tea, you have burning coals for the teakettle in the brazier.
Shoburo occurs in May to honor the first use of the portable brazier for the year. May marks the start of the new year of tea.
This is a time when the fire is moved away from the sunken hearth to the brazier, or furo. It’s generally moved to the temaeza’s left side, which is away from the participants. This helps to keep the temperatures lower in the tea hut during the summer. When the Japanese first prepare tea in this manner, they call it Shoburo.
A Shougo-no-chaji is a midday tea ceremony that’s held during both the summer and winter months. It’s also the most formal and standard type of tea ceremony in Japanese culture.
In preparation of the Shougo-no-chaji, the tea-making materials (chadōgu) are handled with extraordinary care. Once the ceremony is over, the tea-making materials must be thoroughly cleaned before they’re stored away. In Japanese culture, this type of ceremony is very important because it represents tranquility, peace, honor, and respect.
The Kuchikiri-no-chaji is a Japanese tea ceremony that’s held in November. It marks and celebrates the breaking of a seal on a new jar of tea. In Japanese culture, tea leaves are harvested in the springtime, placed into a jar, and stored in a cool place such as a basement.
Traditionally, the Japanese would store the jars in the ground on the mountains to keep them cool. When cold weather arrives in November, the jars are retrieved, and the seal is broken to signify the beginning of a new season. The tea is used for the first time. Additionally, this type of tea ceremony is generally accompanied by a meal.
The Nagori-no-chaji tea ceremony occurs in October before the end of autumn. This Japanese ritual honors the last of the year’s tea supply and signifies the remainder of the tea in the jar from the Kuchikiri tea ceremony.
This particular ceremony is held right before the beginning of winter because it marks a symbolic time as the remaining tea is almost gone and so is the current season. In Japanese culture, it helps people to see out what’s left of the warmer months before the cold winter takes effect.
Yobanshi is a variety of Japanese tea ceremonies and is known as the winter-evening tea ceremony. It generally occurs when the sun sets at its earliest between the months of December and February.
This ritual honors and signifies the long winter nights, which are enjoyed inside a candlelit teahouse called a chashitsu. The tea garden outside the teahouse is also beautifully decorated with lanterns and candles, creating an authentic Japanese environment.
A Hatsugama tea ceremony is the boiling of the first kettle of tea. It’s a special and sole occasion when a tea teacher prepares and serves tea for their students. The ceremony also signifies the first tea of the year.
The steps and procedures can be traced back for centuries, and only the best utensils and finest foods are allowed during this ritual. The Hatsugama tea ceremony is generally followed by a full Chaji ceremony that was taught in class. Additionally, the teacher and students wear their best kimonos on this special occasion.
If you’ve ever seen or read about a traditional Japanese matcha tea ceremony before, you may know that essential matcha tea utensils are generally present. Matcha tea utensils are beautiful pieces individually; however, they all have a unique purpose that makes the ritual authentic and complete.
Below are 17 essential matcha tea utensils that everyone who enjoys Japanese culture should have:
Tea Caddy (Cha-ire/Natsume)
The Japanese call the tea caddy natsume, and it’s used in traditional tea ceremonies to store the matcha that will be used. These caddies are handcrafted, decorative, and unique, with a protective lacquer finish. Natsumes are generally made from plastic, paper, wood, and bamboo.
The whisk is used for mixing the matcha powder, air, and water into a frothy beverage that releases essences and aromas in the foam to the surface. The whisk not only helps to dissolve the powder in the water but also allows for proper oxygenation.
Tea Bowl (Chawan)
Matcha tea bowls are typically made from handcrafted pottery, and they’re used for whisking and drinking Japanese green tea. However, they’re not recommended for hot and boiling liquids such as coffee or black tea.
Tea Scoop (Chashaku)
The tea scoop, or chashaku, is generally made from bamboo. It’s a traditional Japanese utensil that’s used for measuring the matcha tea powder and transferring it from the tin to the tea bowl.
Portable Brazier (Furo)
A portable brazier can be used as a smaller kettle and in situations when a fire isn’t available, especially in the spring and summer months. A portable brazier can also be constructed from various materials and placed on a shikigawara, which is a special iron tile that sits on the floor.
Kettle Lit (Futa)
The Japanese futa, or kettle lit, is typically constructed from iron and has handles of various shapes and sizes. It is used to keep the water warm before it’s removed from the kama.
Wastewater Bowl (Kensui)
A kensui is a wastewater bowl that’s made of various materials, such as clay, metal, or thin wood. It’s generally bent to form a small cylindrical shape.
The most common kensui is a bowl shape, and it’s used during each tea ceremony. The Japanese consider using any other type of wastewater bowl to be discourteous, especially when it’s reused in front of a guest.
Iron Pot (Kama/Chanoyugama)
The kama is an iron pot made from cast iron; however, some are made from silver or gold. Its sole purpose is for boiling water only and not the tea itself. The kama lids are known as chanoyugama futa, and they’re usually forged from cast iron at the same time as the kama is to ensure a precise fit.
Drawstring Pouch (Shifuku)
A shifuku is a small drawstring pouch that’s traditionally made from silk, and it’s oftentimes brocaded or patterned. The drawstring pouches are used to store chaire or other tea implements.
Hemp Cloth (Chakin)
A hemp cloth is needed to clean the chawan after a bowl of matcha tea has been served to a guest. The chakin is generally placed on the kama lit during the tea preparation. It’s also used to prevent water from spilling when filling the mizusashi with yakan.
Fire Bowl (Hibachi)
Fire bowls are traditional Japanese heating devices. They are generally handcrafted box-shaped or cylindrical containers with an open top. They are designed with heatproof materials and made to hold burning charcoal during the matcha ceremony.
Silk Cloth (Fukusa)
Silk cloths are generally square in shape and used for the ceremonial cleansing of the natsume and chashaku, as well as to hold the kama’s hot lid.
Lit and Ladle Rest (Futaoki)
The Japanese futaoki, or lit and ladle rest, is made from various materials; however, a traditional futaoki is designed from a bamboo mat. Sometimes, the Japanese will display the futaoki on a small shelf called a tana, but never one that is made from bamboo.
The hishaku is a utensil designed with a dipper and long handle to ladle either cold water from the mizusashi (water jar) or hot water from the kettle during the tea ceremony. It’s made from bamboo, metal, or wood.
Cold-Water Container (Mizusashi)
A mizusashi is a cold-water container that houses freshwater. It’s constructed from metal, wood, or porcelain, and it’s used during the ceremony to wash utensils and vessels.
Water Pitcher (Yakan)
The yakan is a Japanese water pitcher that’s used to replenish the mizusashi when the tea ceremony is over. The Japanese believe it’s very important to return the tearoom to its original state once the ceremony has commenced.
Sunken Hearth (Ro)
A sunken hearth, or ro, can be found on the floor of a traditional Japanese tea hut or tearoom. It is always made of wood that’s filled with sand to keep the wood from igniting. It’s typically used during the fall and winter months and serves as an image of warmth during the tea ceremony.
The most widely used venue for a traditional matcha tea ceremony is in a purpose-built tearoom with a tatami floor; however, other venues are also acceptable forms. A suitable venue can consist of any place where the essential elements of making and serving tea can be performed by the host in the presence of the participants. For example, an outdoor tea gathering called nodate is a great venue for a tea ceremony.
Steps of the Japanese Tea Ceremony
During traditional Japanese tea ceremonies, the teahouse, including the garden outside, is thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. The utensils have been carefully selected by the host, and meals are prepared in advance.
There are certain circumstances and elements that affect the order of each step. The season, time of day, and venue can all modify the step, but the same general steps are typically followed in most cases:
Step 1: The Preparation for the Tea Ceremony
The host will generally prepare weeks in advance for the ceremony. Formal invitations will also be sent out, and the host will prepare their mind, body, and soul for the ceremony. Additionally, the host will prepare the utensils and clean the tearoom, as well as the outside of the tearoom, which may have a garden.
Step 2: The Guest’s Preparation for the Ritual
Before entering the tearoom, guests should prepare themselves by leaving worldly things behind and purifying their souls. Guests should also wash their hands before entering the tearoom to remove the “dirt” from the outside world.
Once the host gives the signal to enter, the guest should bow to the host. This gesture shows respect and appreciation for the host’s efforts.
Step 3: Cleansing of the Tools
The host will bring in the tools to make the matcha and clean them in front of the guests before the actual making of the tea begins. The host will also exhibit the importance of the tools and of showing a graceful posture. It’s considered disrespectful to talk or make any movements during the cleansing of the tools.
Step 4: Preparing the Matcha
Once the tools are cleaned and displayed in front of the guests, the preparation of the matcha begins. The host will generally add three scoops of matcha in the tea bowl for each guest. Next, the hot water is added and whisked until it forms a thin paste, and more hot water is added afterward.
Step 5: Serving the Matcha
Once the matcha is made, the tea bowl is exchanged with the main guest (shokyaku), who generally admires and rotates the bowl before taking a sip. The main guest should wipe the rim of the bowl and present it to the next guest, who repeats the same procedures until the bowl is passed to the last guest. This person, in turn, gives it back to the host.
Step 6: Completion of the Ceremony
After all the guests have received a drink of matcha, the host will clean the utensils. As a sign of respect and admiration for the host, the guests will use a cloth and carefully examine the tools used to make sure they’re properly cleaned. Once this has been completed, the host will gather the utensils as the guests make a final bow and exit the tearoom.
It’s also important to note, the host may prepare either thin matcha (usucha) or a thicker brew (koicha) for a tea ceremony.
Manners and Etiquette
There are certain etiquette rules that should be adhered to when attending a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Although these rules are basic and simple, they’re highly regarded in Japan:
Be on time.
Before entering the tearoom, remove your shoes. The host will provide slippers.
In Japan, the traditional clothing to wear to a tea ceremony is a kimono; however, conservative clothing is also acceptable.
Wait for the host to seat you.
Enter the tearoom on your knees, and don’t step on the center of the mats or touch them with your palms. Use your knuckles instead.
Wipe the rim of the teacup before passing it to the next guest.
Eat what the host has prepared.
Common Expressions at the Tea Ceremony
Due to the fact that a tea ceremony is about appreciation and respect, you should not talk or show any form of expression toward the host. Instead, the main guest (shokyaku) is your vessel for communication, asking questions, showing your signs of appreciation, and relaying messages to the host.
It’s important to look at the items placed in the tearoom and on the walls because the host has carefully placed them there specifically for your group. This is a time for reflection and opening your eyes to the people and things around you. Every expression should be about your appreciation for the host and the tea ceremony itself.
Where to Experience a Japanese Tea Ceremony
Do you want to experience an authentic Japanese tea ceremony? You will need to plan and travel to Japan to places such as Kabukiza, Tokyo, Ginza, Hibiya, Asakusa, and others.
But what if you can’t travel to Japan? You can find a traditional tea ceremony by simply typing “Japanese tea ceremony near me” into your search bar. The results of the closest tea ceremonies will be displayed. You can contact the organization and make your inquiry by email or phone.