Tea World

Lesson 31

Japanese Tea Tradition

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 In Japan tea is an important part of the food culture. The ceremony of tea is known as Cha-no-yu, which consists of serving green tea to a small group of people in one of those popular teahouses.Japanese Tea Ceremony represents harmony, respect, purity and tranquillity which we must embrace in order to achieve the main purpose of the tea ceremony. This event is unique as every process from the tea equipment to tea preparation until the tea is drunk has a distinctive technique.

 The Japanese Tea Ceremony  is better known, and was influenced by the  Chinese Tea Culture during ancient and medieval times, starting in the 9th century when tea was first introduced to Japan from China.  At a very basic level, tea ceremonies are a formalized way of making tea, in a process which has been refined to yield the best taste.

Although tea took some time to spread from China to Japan, many believe that Japan was where tea met perfection in the art of Cha-no-yu, or the Japanese Tea Ceremony. After arriving in Japan many schools of the tea ceremony began, with influences ranging from monks to samurai warriors. These separate schools existed until the 16th century, when Sen Rikyu, considered the highest tea master, brought together these differing principles and set forth the practice that is still followed many years later. Today the tea ceremony is still practiced by many in Japan and abroad, and survives as an honoured and thriving tradition, rather than an antiquated relic. The essence of the tea ceremony has made it a poignant reflection on life, even in today’s world. Cha-no-yu’s fundamentals lie in the humility of the guests, appreciating the moment’s uniqueness in terms of time and place, season and those present, and the art of simplicity and balance in form, movement and objects. These three fundamentals have found their way outside of the tea room and into many aspects of Japanese life.  For example, you will find it in the simple architecture of houses and buildings in Japan, or in the balance and harmony found in the shapes and textures of a garden or in ikebana style of flower arrangements.

In the tea ceremony, humility and respect are expected of the guests and the host. The door to the sukiya, or tea house, is a low crawl space that requires all who enter to bow and humble themselves before entering the precious space. Once inside, the first thing he or she will see is a simple flower arrangement, and a scroll of artwork or poetic calligraphy. The guest must humble themselves again upon seeing the greatness of such a simple yet beautiful artwork, and also for the flowers that are considered to be great sacrifices, because they are cut from their roots and will soon die. The ephemeral nature of the flower also helps the guest to realize the ephemeral nature of this present time and the experience that he or she is about to share with others.

The unique nature of each tea ceremony is something to be cherished. The ceremony is special because although a person may take part in many ceremonies over his or her lifetime, there will never be a chance to recreate the same experience, with the same group of people, the same setting and utensils, during the same time of day and the same season, or even at the very unique time of their own life and experience. Every detail is to be savored, because it cannot ever be the same. There is special emphasis placed on the seasons, which decides the type of food prepared for the ceremony, the type of utensils especially the chawan, or tea bowl, the flowers and art-work present, as well as the clothing of the tea master and guests.For example, on a hot day in July the tea master might choose a wide shallow tea bowl, which cools the tea quicker, and light sweets made in the shape of peaches. In November, the choice of the bowl would be something with more weight, more substantial kaiseki style food would be prepared, and the colors of the objects in the room would be more somber, with the exception of a few frail boughs of bright red winter berries as the floral arrangement.

With regards to simplicity and balance, every aspect of the tea ceremony supports these ideals. Nothing in the tearoom should be superfluous, loud or garish, in order to not distract from the moment. Simple colors and design in clothing, art and floral arrangements is ideal. The form of the chawan (tea bowl) itself is a simple elegant shape. Every movement in the tea ceremony, whether performed by the host or the guests, is perfected to the most simple and minimal act possible. The tea used for the ceremony is matcha, made from ground green tea leaves, and whisked with hot water to create the purest form of tea- nothing is added, nothing is changed.

The ceremony itself can take hours to complete, and a lifetime to learn. For your overall knowledge, it would be best to discuss just the preparation of the matcha and the utensils used, as this can apply to every day enjoyment of the tea. The equipage needed for preparing matcha are the chawan (tea bowl), chasen (bamboo whisk), chashaku (bamboo tea scoop), furui (matcha powder sifter), hishaku (bamboo ladle), kama (large kettle), and an hearth or heat source. First the matcha powder is sifted in the furui, so that it is the perfect fine consistency; this is usually prepared beforehand in the tea ceremony. The kama is placed over the heat source and allowed to come to a simmering boil. Using the hishaku, one will dip into the kama to draw out water to use to warm the tea bowl. This water is discarded. Then, the matcha is measured into the chawan using 2 or 3 scoops of the chasaku. Another ladle of hot water (about 4 oz.) is drawn from the kama and poured into the bowl. Using the chasen, the tea is whipped into a thick and frothy substance. The tea can then be drunk directly from the bowl.

While tea ceremony is an important aspect of Japanese life, there are many other ways that the Japanese people enjoy tea every day. Recently, Western-style black tea has become popular, especially for breakfasts that include bread or pastries. Chinese teas, especially oolongs are enjoyed at home and in restaurants. And for on-the-go lifestyles, bottled and canned teas are widely enjoyed.

Tea ceremony is a blend of two principles, sabi and wabi. "Wabi" represents the inner, or spiritual, experiences of human lives. Its original meaning indicated quiet or sober refinement, or subdued taste "characterized by humility, restraint, simplicity, naturalism, profundity, imperfection, and asymmetry" and "emphasizes simple, unadorned objects and architectural space, and celebrates the mellow beauty that time and care impart to materials." "Sabi," on the other hand, represents the outer,or material imperfection of life, also the original nature of things. Zen Buddhism has been an influence in the development of the tea ceremony.The elements of the Japanese tea ceremony is the harmony of nature and self cultivation, and enjoying tea in a formal and informal setting. The Japanese tea ceremony developed as a "transformative practice", and began to evolve its own aesthetic in particular that of “sabis”and “wabis” principles. Understanding emptiness was considered the most effective means to spiritual awakening, while embracing imperfection was honoured as a healthy reminder to cherish our unpolished selves, here and now, just as we are- the first step to “satori” or enlightenment.Tea drinking is used as an aid to meditation, for assistance in  fortune telling, for ceremonial purposes and in the expression of the art.

Teaism- the art of Tea

When tea is more than a drink and the tea ceremony is understood and practised to foster harmony in humanity, promote harmony with nature, discipline the mind, quiet the heart, and attain the purity of enlightenment, the art of tea becomes "teaism". The term "chadao" has two words, the first being 'tea' and the second the Chinese loanword tao/dao/ native suffix -ism and could thus be read as 'teaism'. Another, more literal reading of the word is the 'way of tea' .The term can be used to describe tea ceremony as the interests in tea culture and studies and pursued over time with self-cultivation. Teaism is mostly a simplistic mode of aesthetics, but there are subtle insights into ethics, and even metaphysics. Teaism is related to tea mind. A sense of focus and concentration while under the influence of great tasting tea. Teaist is a person who performs or enjoys the art of tea and teaism. In Chinese and Japanese, as well as Korean traditional culture, there are well-developed teaisms.


What is a Teahouse?

In Japanese tradition,a teahouse ordinarily refers to a private structure designed for holding Japanese Tea Ceremonies. This structure and specifically the room in it where the tea ceremony takes place is called  Chashitsu (literally "tea room").The architectural space called chashitsu was created for aesthetic and intellectual fulfillment.

In China, a tea house (chágu?n or cháw?) is traditionally similar to the American cafe.People gather at tea houses to chat, socialize, and enjoy tea, and young people often meet at tea houses for dates. The Guangdong (Cantonese) style tea house is particularly famous outside of China.

A Teahouse

Interior of a Tea room

Tea garden- setting for Japanese Tea ceremony

The tea garden was created during the Muromachi Period  (1333–1573) and Momoyama Period (1573–1600) as a setting for the Japanese Tea Ceremonies or Cha no yu.The style of garden takes its name from the roji,or path to the teahouse, which is supposed to inspire the visitor to meditation to prepare him for the ceremony. There is an outer garden, with a gate and covered arbor where guests wait for the invitation to enter. They then pass through a gate to the inner garden, where they wash their hands and rinse their mouth, as they would before entering a Shinto shrine, before going into the teahouse itself. The path is always kept moist and green, so it will look like a remote mountain path, and there are no bright flowers that might distract the visitor from his meditation. Early tea houses had no windows, but later teahouses have a wall which can be opened for a view of the garden.

A Japanese Tea Garden (for Tea Ceremony)

Afternoon tea of the British also gave way to the creation of tea gardens. Tea gardens were quiet places, created specially for taking in afternoon tea, with beautiful flowers, herbs and quaint outdoor furniture. Today tea gardens are not as popular as they once were, but one can still stumble across many throughout the countryside.

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