In a land where history is steeped in everyday life, you won’t find a better place to experience cultural traditions. The art of the Japanese tea ceremony, called ‘chado’, ‘sado’, or even ‘chanoyu’, all of which loosely translates to ‘the way of tea’, is an intricate one.
It is one that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. It’s both a spiritual process and a healing experience for the host and the guest.
You may have come across images of tea being served in ryokans to guests before; this is a popular way of experiencing it when visiting Japan. These days, there are varying degrees of complexity in the different ways the Japanese tea ceremony can be conducted.
Many Japanese people still host tea ceremonies as hobbies. You can also seek out to experience the full-on traditional ceremony which will go over the course of a few hours and involve a kaiseki meal and various types of Japanese tea.
Otherwise, as mentioned above, the most popular way would be staying at a traditional Japanese inn which also offers a lighter tea ceremony experience during your stay.
There are actually many intricacies involved in the tea ceremony. Its history also has roots which extend all the way to China. Read on for more fun and interesting information on this old Japanese tradition!
The History Of The Japanese Tea Ceremony
The beginnings of the Japanese tea ceremony can be traced back to the 7th or 8th century. This is when it was believed that tea was first introduced to Japan by China. Initially, it was only prepared and consumed amongst religious figures and the higher ups.
It wasn’t until much later on, between the 13th and 16th century, that tea began to be enjoyed by people of all social classes. In particular, the upper class often chose to drink tea to show off their exquisite tea equipment.
Around the same time, tea masters such as Murato Juko and Sen no Rikyu steeped aesthetic and philosophical concepts into the art of the tea ceremony.
Thus, the beautiful, intricate Japanese tea ceremony that we know of today was born.
A Step By Step Guide To Enjoy A Japanese Tea Ceremony
Firstly, when guests arrive, they are taken through a simple yet beautiful Japanese garden. The garden is deliberately kept basic because it is meant to invoke peace within.
A wash basin is kept outside the tearoom for guests to wash their hands before entering.
Before entering the tearoom, guests must bow to show a sign of respect. Traditionally, the head guest will enter the room first, followed by other guests.
Once seated, the host will begin the preparations for the tea.
Firstly, the tools are lightly cleansed. Purified water is boiled in an iron kettle on a stove which is built into the floor.
Once the water has boiled, a silk cloth called a ‘fukasa’ is taken from the hosts’ kimono sash and used to handle the hot iron pot. Matcha powder and hot water is then added to the tea bowls and whisked thoroughly.
The host will then hand out all the tea bowls. They will always place the tea bowl with the front, most decorated element facing you.
When picking it up as a guest, you should always pick it up using your right hand, before turning it clockwise 90 degrees and placing it on your left hand. Sometimes you will come across people saying 180 degrees; the whole point of this is so that you do not sip on the front decorative part of the tea bowl.
Often a Japanese sweet, called wagashi, is placed in front of each guest alongside the tea bowl. This is meant to be eaten before drinking the tea. If you want to learn more about traditional Japanese sweets, join a wagashi making class in Tokyo.
Once the tea is finished, you bow your head to express gratitude. The host will then clean and clear the utensils of preparation before closing the ceremony and exiting the room.
The Equipments Used in a Japanese Tea Ceremony
We will detail below all the tools that may be used during a Japanese tea ceremony. But before that, here’s a link where you order the actual Matcha tea:
If you are interested to hold a Japanese tea ceremony at home, we added to our online shop 3 great Matcha tea sets with only the essentials.
You can get them here: Matcha tea set >>
This is a small bamboo whisk used to efficiently whisk the matcha green tea and hot water together.
This is a small, intricate tea container which holds the powdered matcha tea.
This is a small bamboo tea ladle that is used to scoop out the matcha tea into the tea bowls. To clean it, simply wipe it.
This is the decorated tea bowl in which the matcha tea is prepared and given to the guests.
A small Japanese sweet that often accompanies the served tea.
This is used to heat up the purified water to make the tea.
If the tearoom does not consist of a stove built into the floor, a furo, or portable brazier, will be used. It is brought into the room to heat up the kettle to make the tea.
This is a silk cloth used to handle the hot kettle. Hosts may also use this to cleanse the tea scoop. It is usually tucked into the obi (sash).
Japanese Tea Ceremony Etiquette (The Dos and Don’ts)
As will all cultural ceremonies, there is definitely some etiquette to try and follow as a sign of respect.
If you can, wear a kimono. This is not only the most traditional way to enjoy a tea ceremony, but it will also heighten your experience. If you cannot source a kimono, dress conservatively at the least. Try not to wear strong perfume as it detracts from the simplicity of the ceremony.
As guests, you are expected to arrive at the ceremony early.
When entering the tea house or ceremony room, you must remove your shoes at the entrance.
If you can, avoid stepping into the middle sections of the tatami mat, and close your fists when touching the mats.
Show appreciation to the host by complimenting their decorative efforts. From the choice of flowers, the placement of the scroll, the tea bowls – everything was chosen and placed with care. However, try not to make small talk with other guests. Conversation should focus solely on the ceremony itself.
If wagashi sweet is offered, finish it entirely before moving onto the tea bowl.
Lastly, before enjoying the pinnacle product of the tea ceremony, remember to turn the tea bowl 90 degrees to avoid sipping on the front, decorative part.
By the way, if you are interested to know the general rules you should try to follow when in Japan, make sure you read this: Japan Etiquette.
Where To Experience A Japanese Tea Ceremony In Japan
Nowadays, you can experience a Japanese tea ceremony all over the country. There are tour guides and booking experiences that allow you to select a time and place to experience the intricate Japanese activity easily and efficiently online.
You can check out here our selection of the best Japanese tea ceremonies in Tokyo!
One of the most popular areas these days to experience a Japanese tea ceremony would definitely be Kyoto. It’s Japan’s capital and it also hosts one of the densest areas of temples, ryokans, and tea houses across Japan. It is also home to the famous Gion district, which is a popular geisha district.
Here are 5 tea ceremony experiences in Kyoto that you can book online:
- Authentic Tea Ceremony by a Master of Urasenke School in Kyoto
- Tea Ceremony, Dance Lesson and Game with Japanese Maiko in Kyoto
We also list another great tea ceremony in our article about the best food tours in Kyoto.
We hope you had fun reading the above interesting and important information. It was written in a way for you to understand the intricacies of the Japanese tea ceremony easily. Hopefully by reading this, you will be able to appreciate the tea ceremony on a whole new level!
A bit like the tea ceremony, the practice of Japanese calligraphy is an interesting traditional activity to discover. Learn more about it here: Shodo Japanese Calligraphy.