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The Tea Ceremony - Chanoyu

The Japanese tea ceremony is a more recent development than many may have thought. Although it has its roots in Zen Buddhism - the caffeine in the tea acting as a stimulant to aid meditation - and tea had been brought over from China in the ninth century, it wasn’t until the late sixteenth century that a gifted tea master and garden designer, Sen no Rikyu first set out formal ’rules’ which should be followed.

Unlike the Chinese equivalent, the appreciation of the tea itself is some way down the list of importance during chanoyu. Emphasis here is on etiquette - the host who will have planned everything down to the finest detail will aim to come across as selfless and be concerned only in his guests’ wellbeing while it is their role to act with gracious humility.

Items used in the tea ceremony


If a meal is to be taken as part of the ceremony the progression is as follows

Ritual purification will have been carried out outside the tea house involving rinsing mouth and hands with water from a stone basin.

Entrance to the room itself is via a doorway a mere 36 inches high - the intention being that all who enter have to bow their heads, thus making ’all equal in tea’.

The room is devoid of any decoration except for an alcove called a tokonoma. Hanging in the alcove is a kakemono (scroll painting), carefully selected by the host, which reveals the theme of the ceremony. The Buddhist scripture on the scroll is by a master and is called bokuseki (ink traces - below right). Each guest admires the scroll in turn, then examines the kama (kettle) and hearth (furo for the portable type and ro for the type set into the floor in winter to provide warmth), which were laid just before they were greeted by the host. 
The host seats himself and greetings are exchanged, again strictly in accordance with etiquette.

 The Meal

Each guest is served a meal called chakaiseki. Served on a tray with fresh cedar chopsticks, the meal consists of three courses. 
Sake is served and followed by a three course kaiseki, each highly symbolic reflecting such aspects as a reverence for nature or the abundance of the land and sea. A omogashi (principal sweet) is served to conclude the meal. The host then invites his guests to retire to the garden or waiting room while he prepares for tea.
Once the guests have departed, the host removes the scroll and replaces it with flowers. The room is swept and the utensils for preparing koi cha are arranged. Over thirteen individual items are used. Each is costly and considered an art object.


The Tea Ceremony 

Traditionally, the usa cha is made with leaves from a tea plant that is between three and fifteen years old, while the koi cha is made with leaves from a twenty- to seventy-year-old plant. In both cases, a special powdered tea of the highest quality, called matcha, is used.

In tea ceremony, water represents yin and fire in the hearth yang. The water is held in a jar called the mizusashi. This stoneware jar contains fresh water symbolizing purity, and is touched only by the host. Matcha is kept in a small ceramic container called a chaire which is in turn covered in a shifuku (fine silk pouch) which is set in front of the mizusashi.

Once summoned back to the tea room guests purify hands and mouth once again and re-enter as before. They admire the flowers, kettle and hearth and seat themselves. 
The host enters with the chawan (tea bowl) which holds the chasen (tea whisk - pictured left), chakin (the tea cloth) which is a bleached white linen cloth used to dry the bowl, and the chashaku (tea scoop), a slender bamboo scoop used to dispense the matcha, which rests across it.

Retiring to the preparation room, the host returns with the kensui (waste water bowl), the hishaku (bamboo water ladle) and futaoki (a green bamboo rest for the kettle lid). He then closes the door to the preparation room.
Using a fukusa (fine silk cloth), which represents the spirit of the host, the host purifies the tea container and scoop. Hot water is ladled into the tea bowl, the whisk is rinsed, the tea bowl is emptied and wiped with the chakin.
Lifting the tea scoop and tea container, the host places three scoops of tea per guest into the tea bowl. Hot water is ladled from the kettle into the teabowl andthe mixture whisked into a thick liquid consistent with pea soup. known as koi cha.

The host passes the tea bowl to the main guest who bows in accepting it. The bowl is raised and rotate in the hand to be admired. The guest then drinks some of the tea, wipes the rim of the bowl, and passes the bowl to the next guest who does the same as the main guest.
When the guests have all tasted the tea the bowl is returned to the host who rinses it. The whisk is rinsed and the tea scoop and the tea container cleaned.
The scoop and tea container are offered to the guests for examination. A discussion of the objects, presentation and other appropriate topics takes place.                                                                                                           

 The fire is then rebuilt for usa cha (thin tea). This tea will rinse the palate and symbolically prepares the guests for leaving the spiritual world of tea and re-entering the physical world.

Zabuton (cushions) and teaburi (hand warmers) are offered. To compliment usa cha, higashi (dry sweets) are served. Usa cha and koi cha are made in the same manner, except that less tea powder of a lesser quality is used. The tea bowl is more decorative in style; and guests are individually served a bowl of this forthy brew.
At the conclusion, the guests express their appreciation for the tea and admiration for the art of the host. They leave as the host watches from the door of the teahouse.


The version as outlined above can take up to four hours in total, however a shorter vesion, dispensing with the meal, takes only about one hour.

Although the ceremony varies by school, in all cases the ritual is very precisely defined, right down to what angle to lay the utensils, which direction to rotate the bowl and how many times, and what order to do or say each part of the ceremony. At all times, both the host and the guests strive to live up to the Four Principles of the tea ceremony: wa, or harmony between guests, implements, and surroundings, kei, or respect between host and guest and between people and utensils, sei, or cleanliness of both body and spirit, and jaku, or tranquility, which is achieved by perfect adherence to the minutia of the ceremony. Meanwhile, the host endeavors to live up to Seven Standards for the perfect tea ceremony, as propounded by Rikyu:

1. Make a satisfying bowl of tea.

2. Lay the charcoal so that the water boils.

3. Provide a sense of warmth in the winter and coolness in the summer.

4. Arrange the flowers as they are in the field.

5. Have everything ready ahead of time.

6. Be prepared for rain.

7. Act with utmost consideration towards your guests


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