Culture Food

Experience the Elegance of Tea Ceremonies

“Sadou” or “Tea Ceremonies” are one of the most famous aspects of Japanese culture.

While tea itself originated in China, Japan developed its own unique culture of tea during its historical period of isolation. This article introduces how tea is enjoyed in Japan

What is a “Tea Ceremony”?

The Japanese word “Sadou” means providing Matcha green tea to guests in a traditional Japanese style, with a set of ritualistic steps. Matcha is the most commonly used form of tea for Sadou, and is made from tea leaves that have not had much exposure to the sun, and then ground into a powder. The tea ceremony centres around the enjoyment of tea, but also significantly, it provides an exquisite experience of many aspects of Japanese culture in a short time frame. The tea ceremony also values the appreciation of the atmosphere of the tea ceremony room, or garden where the ceremony takes place, the appreciation of the craft of the ornamentation and materials used for drinking and preparing of the tea, as well as the food, which normally consists of “Kaiseki Ryori” (Traditional Japanese food) and “Wagashi” (traditional Japanese sweets).  You can find more informations about Wagashi on this article.

Tea ceremony also has a close relationship with the culture of Zen. One aspect of this is the concept of “Wabisabi”. Wabisabi encompasses an appreciation of imperfection, and acting with a quiet, modest sense of beauty. Wabisabi is very important for the tea ceremony, and can be experienced by enjoying tea in a quiet and soothing environment. By having such a calming experience, it is possible to establish a sense of balance through self-reflection and  contemplation. You can find more informations about Zen on this article.

Another important concept within tea ceremony is the idea of “Ichigo Ichi-e”. This relates to the concept of meeting certain people only once in your life, and appreciating the value of that encounter and treating them with respect.

The history of tea ceremony

"Chanoyunosono", Yokoyama Sonomatsu

It is said that the tea ceremony was brought from China (Tang of the time) in A. D 618 - 907. During the Kamakura period (1185 - 1333), the idea of Zen spread all around Japan, and along with it came the spread of the culture of the Tea Ceremony. After this period, during the Azuchi · Momoyama period (1573-1603), Sen no Rikyu a tea ceremony master and pioneer, developed “Wabi-cha” (a style of Japanese tea) and pioneered the tea ceremony which is said to be the origin of modern ceremonies today. After the death of Sen no Rikyu, three large tea ceremony schools, called “Omotesenke”, “Urasenke” and “Mushanokoujisenke” were established, and known as the three main schools of Japanese tea ceremony, from which other tea ceremony establishments spread.

More informations about Japanese history on our article here!

What are the steps of a typical Japanese tea ceremony?

1) Guests take their places in the tea ceremony room.

2) The traditional Japanese Wagashi sweets will then arrive, before the drinking of the tea, the guests will bow in respect to the tea maker, and also bow to the person to the left of them. Each guest will then say “I gratefully receive” to the person on their left to fully appreciate the receiving of the Wagashi.

3) You then hold up Wagashi bowl, and bow slightly towards the plate while holding it upwards.

4) After placing the Wagashi bowl on the floor, each guest will take the chopsticks from the bowl and place the Wagashi on a “Kaishi” (traditional Japanese paper) and then place the chopsticks back in their original position.

5) The ceremony master then takes the Wagashi bowl which now has the Wagashi on it, and passes it to the first guest on their left.

6) The guest then takes and eats the Wagashi sweets (normally it is common to use a toothpick to pick the sweets as they are normally soft). Once finishing eating the Wagashi, the guest will take the Kaishi paper, fold it, and place in their pocket. Several sweets are passed around to everyone.

7) When the tea bowl is placed in front of each guest, they will bow to it.

8) The guest will then place the tea bowl at the edge of the Tatami mat in front of them, and place it diagonally to the right of them, and bow to the person beside them (it is customary to then say “saki ni choudai itashimasu” - “I gratefully receive this tea” before drinking).

9) Then the first guest will bow to the tea maker and state “O temae choudai itashimasu” (I gratefully receive this tea from the tea maker).

10) The guest will take the tea bowl and place it in the palm of their left hand and support it with their right hand, and bow once more.

11) One will take the tea bowl and then turn the bowl clockwise twice, around 40 to 60 degrees, and then quietly sip the tea, avoiding to drink from the front of the tea cup. When finishing the last drops of tea, it is normally customary to slurp slightly to indicate finishing the tea.

12) After finishing drinking, one will wipe the area where their mouth was in contact with cup, firstly with their finger and then with the piece of Kaishi paper that they placed in their pocket when receiving the Wagashi sweets.

13) The guest will then turn the bowl back twice anticlockwise back to the original position so that the front of the bowl is facing them.

14) The guest will then place the tea bowl in front of the edge of their tatami.

When you first drink matcha, you may be surprised by the strong smell and bitterness of the taste, but it is from this sensation that one can feel the essence of the tea ceremony. We highly recommend that you experience this element of Japanese culture to gain a true feeling of the Japanese spirit!

Also we provide further information about Japanese Tea for beginners, so now is the time to enjoy life with Japanese Tea!

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Koki Miyashita

Author & Editor