Tea is an integral part of Japanese society, thus making the tea ceremony so important. Served in a gesture of hospitality to guests and friends, the art of pouring and making tea is highly appreciated in Japanese culture. There are many different varieties, most notable of which are matcha, genmaicha, hojicha and general Japanese green tea, all available from Atelier Japan. There are different kinds of tea ceremony that vary in length and importance. As Japan is a very honorific society, the tea ceremony is carried out delicately and with particular care to detail, as well as in a hierarchical system that is common of all interactions in Japan.
History of the Tea Ceremony
As is the same for many other countries around the globe, tea was first introduced to Japan by China around the eighth century and was originally consumed for medicinal reasons by the higher classes and priests. However, by the Muromachi Period (1333-1573), tea was popularly used by all people, and soon tea parties came into fashion as a way for richer members of society to show their knowledge of the drink and to present their beautifully crafted and designed bowls. Tea parties then transitioned into a spiritual and refined forum. Widely accepted to be the father of the modern tea ceremony, Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591) is the inspiration for the three main schools of tea ceremony in Japan today, making the process simple and rural. Suransenke is the generic name for these schools, which are Urasenke, the largest school, Omotesenke, the second biggest, and Mushakojisenke. This might be the smallest of the schools, but it is run by actual descendants of Sen no Rikyu himself.
A full formal tea ceremony is a rarer occurrence in modern day Japan, but they do still take place. These ceremonies start with a kaiseki meal, followed by a bowl of thick tea and finish with thin tea. In general, tea ceremonies are much shorter and often just consist of the thin green tea. If you ever visit a temple in Japan, you may experience one of these casual ceremonies, where people are allowed to come and go as they please in an open setting.
In terms of how the ceremony is carried out in movement, the different schools of tea have different procedures. However, what is universally accepted is how one attending these ceremonies should act. If you are a foreigner or tourist, you will not be expected to know every detail or act perfectly, but there are some simple rules that you can follow which will convey respect and understanding to your host. This will also probably cause pleasant surprise that you have taken the time to learn about their culture. Although there often is no strict dress code for guests, it is expected that one should dress modestly and simply, with no jewellery that could damage the equipment and no strong perfume that will overpower the fragrances of the tea and incense.
How it is Laid Out
A traditional tea ceremony venue will be surrounded by a simple yet stunningly presented garden, with stones of varying sizes leading up to the entrance where guests will then wash their hands in a stone basin next to a stone lantern before entering the tatami room where the ceremony will take place. Humility and honour are crucial concepts in Japan, and the entrance to the tatami room will sometimes be low so that the guest has to stoop to enter, showing these two traits. When inside the room, you will notice an alcove, tokonoma, where a scroll or seasonal flowers will be placed, creating an aesthetic for the room. After bowing, the head guest will then proceed to sit nearest to the alcove, with the other guests following to take their places behind them respectively. Once in position, you would bow and carefully take in the meticulously chosen decorations.
Preparation of Tea
The traditional equipment for making the tea consists of a chasen (bamboo whisk), natsume (tea container), chashaku (bamboo scoop for the tea), a sweets container for wagashi (sweets) and a kettle and brazier. There is a precise placement for all of the equipment which has been specifically chosen for each ceremony, this will all be prepared in front of you by the host (teishu, meaning house master), who in proper ceremonies would wear a traditional kimono (called hohmongi).
How to Enjoy
Upon sitting down, you will be given a wagashi (sweet) which should be eaten before drinking the tea to balance out the slightly bitter taste of the green tea. You should then pick up the tea bowl with your right hand, place it on your left palm and then turn it 90 degrees clockwise with your right hand, take three sips and place it back on the tatami mat in front of you. Then, bow and show gratitude. Near to the end of the tea ceremony, you will be given time to look at and admire the tea bowl so carefully chosen by the host and, when you are finished, you should turn the bowl so that it faces the host. These details are very precise, so don’t worry if you don’t remember them all; as long as you act in a polite and respectful manner, your host will be pleased and happy that as a visitor to Japan you have taken time to learn anything at all.
Exquisite Traditional Tea on Atelier Japan
Atelier Japan features stunning authentic teas to purchase, as well as beautifully hand-crafted matcha bowls, made by the ancient firing technique of Raku. Each collection is entirely unique and created from the unceasing hard work of our makers, Marukyu Koyamaen and Rokubeygama. To learn more about how to make the perfect matcha tea, view our latest video guide on the Atelier Japan Facebook page.