Chanoyu, the Japanese tea ceremony 茶の湯
Credit: Motoki Tonn
Entrance to the tea house
Chanoyu, the Japanese tea ceremony
Originally introduced from China, the Japanese tea ceremony can trace its roots back to the philosophy of Zen Buddhism. The Japanese tea ceremony gives us insight into both the art and philosophy of Japan. Find out more about the history and how you experience a tea ceremony during your trip.
What is the Japanese "Way of Tea"?
It's a way of thinking based on the Japanese principle: Ichigo ichie (一 期 一 会, "Live every day as though it were your last") which means to live in the present. In this case, it means enjoying a cup of tea, giving it the attention and respect it deserves.
The aesthetic of the tea ceremony is based on the concepts of wabi, elegant simplicity, and sabi, the passing of time, and its subsequent deterioration. A tea ceremony is not religious but influenced by Zen philosophy. Careful gestures express respect through elegance.
- Find out more: The philosophy of wabi-sabi
History of the Tea Ceremony
Tea was introduced to Japan in the sixth century when it was imported from China. It is said to have been adopted by the Japanese in the Kyoto area at Byodoin Temple in Uji. From the twelfth century, tea consumption developed in line with Zen philosophy into a ceremony where powdered green tea (matcha) is shared between friends.
It was a popular practice among the samurai, who used tea ceremony as an exercise in discipline and calm, in keeping with their warrior mentality. In the Sengoku period (1477 - 1573), it was not uncommon for the daimyo to meet in small rooms to share a cup of tea, giving them opportunities to plot and forge secret alliances.
The tea ceremony was codified in the sixteenth century by the famous tea master and advisor of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, Sen no Rikyu. He is behind the two main schools of tea, Urasenke and Omotesenke. Today, the tea ceremony is still taught in schools and considered a beneficial exercise, although mainly practiced by women.
What utensils are used during a tea ceremony?
A variety of utensils are used in the ceremony: the chasen (bamboo whisk), the chashaku (bamboo spoon), the natsume (teapot) and obviously the chawan (tea bowl), these are true works of art, of which the most famous pieces are priceless treasures. Kyoto is the center of production of tea bowls.
The bowls are characterized by controlled imperfections that make them unique and valuable. If you buy one, rather than choosing the most perfect or expensive bowl, follow your heart and choose a bowl with character that appeals to you.
How to experience a tea ceremony?
Visitors to Japan can easily participate in demonstrations in some tea houses and Japanese gardens with tea rooms. The tea rooms are usually small, for more intimacy, and often back onto a garden. There is a fireplace, and a otokonoma, an alcove containing a painted scroll and a flower specially chosen for the ceremony, depending on the season and the guest.
The type of tea ceremony most often practiced is called usucha. After eating a traditional sweet wagashi, the guest will be offered a bowl of smooth and frothy green tea, which they should cup in both hands to drink. The taste is bitter and few people appreciate it at first, but it is warm and comforting, conveying the preparer's feelings.
Chanoyu remains a monument of Japanese culture, valuing serenity, hospitality, and that little something that touches the sublime.
Enjoy tea ceremony at the Bonsai Museum with Voyagin.