Japanese Tea Ceremony

Japanese Tea Ceremony

Japanese Tea Ceremony also called Chanoyu (茶の湯, lit. “hot water for tea”) is a traditional form of tea ceremony in Japan where a tea master performs the temae (手前, the art of preparing Matcha tea) to his guests following the principles of the sadō/chadō (茶道, lit. “The Way of Tea”). Japanese Tea gatherings are divided into two groups, informal tea gatherings (chakai, 茶会) and formal tea gatherings (chaji, 茶事), but both forms are deeply influenced by Zen Buddhism with strict rules to be followed.

Chadō is recognized as one of the three most important types of Japanese art of refinement. The two others being the kōdō (incense appreciation) and kadō (flower arrangement).




Green tea has been consumed in China since the fourth century. The first seeds for tea plants were transported from China during the Tang era (China 618-907), when ties and cultural exchanges between the two nations were at their peak.

The first reference of a formal tea drinking ritual may be found in the eighth century. However, it is unlikely that it looked anything like the tea ceremony we know today. A Chinese Buddhist priest also authored a treatise on how to properly prepare tea in the eighth century. The “Cha Ching” book taught the proper temperature of hot water and how to utilize tea cups. This book is claimed to have had a significant effect on the modern tea ceremonial style.

Tea plants have been grown in Japan since the Nara era (710-794) and were mostly eaten as medicinal by priests and noblemen. Tea consumption in China was transitioning from medicinal to beverage during the end of the Tang dynasty, but due to deteriorating ties between the two countries, this transition did not reach Japan until much later. The Japanese were compelled to create and nurture their own tea-related customs and culture.

From the Nara through the Heian periods (794-1192), tea was a scarce and precious product, therefore regulations and formalities were founded on this notion. It is almost clear that the tea ceremony would not have been formed if tea was native to Japan or more easily available.

Kamakura period (1192 – 1333)

In 1187, A Japanese priest named Myoan Eisai visited China to study philosophy and religion. He returned and founded Zen Buddhism, as well as the Rinzai sect’s first temple. He is claimed to be the first to grow tea for religious purposes, as opposed to those who solely planted tea for therapeutic purposes before him.

He was also the first to recommend and teach crushing the tea leaves before to adding boiling water. In his book Ta Kuan Cha Lun (lit. A General View of Tea), Hui Tsung, a Sung emperor, mentioned a bamboo whisk used to stir the tea after it had been poured with hot water. The tea ceremony as we know it today is based on these two techniques.

Unfortunately for him, some monks were hostile to Eisai’s newly adopted religious views, which he had imported, but the Kamakura shogunate, who were among his earliest adherents, assisted him in obtaining protection. Eisai was the first person in Japan to publish a dissertation on tea in 1211. Eisai argued that drinking tea had various health advantages and remedies for lack of appetite, paralysis, beriberi, boils, and disease from polluted water in his book Kissa Yojoki (Tea drinking is excellent for health). According to him, it was a treatment for all diseases, which may have contributed to the Tea Ceremony’s widespread appeal.

13th Century

Tea began to spread outside of the Uji area, where it had been mostly farmed ever since the beginning. However, at this time, demand had grown fast, requiring the establishment of plantations throughout Japan. The samurai class, who adored everything about the Sung period, including the Tea ceremony, embraced it wholeheartedly, causing the ritual preparation of green tea to gain even more popularity.

The Kamakura shogunate collapsed in 1333, resulting in civil warfare across the kingdom. The Gekokujou, a new social class, emerged (parvenus). These lords, whose opulent lifestyles drew a lot of attention from the public, would regularly host Toucha tea parties for their guests. Guests were evaluated on their ability to discern between Honcha (genuine tea) and other teas in this game. Soon after, betting became a part of these games, and victors were awarded large sums of money, adding to the thrill of the game.

Initially, each guest was given 10 cups of tea, but this number increased to twenty, thirty, and finally one hundred. If the celebration had been attended by a large number of people, it would have been difficult to supply each attendee with one hundred cups. Although the exact rules were not followed, the visitors most likely transferred glasses from one to the next. This process of passing the tea bowl around explains why today’s Tea Ceremony only uses one tea bowl.

However, this weird practice of sharing has its origins in the Samurai class, no matter how bizarre it may appear to us now. When the Samurai family gathered for a special occasion, it was customary for the lord to take the first drink of Sake from a big cup and then distribute it around his retainers as a reaffirmation of their tight links.

Muromachi Period (1336 to 1573)

Japanese architecture underwent a change during the Muromachi era, from the formal palace style of the Heian period to a simpler style used by the Samurai. The next transition was from Samurai to Shoin architecture, which incorporated temple aspects. Some Shoin design elements, such as the alcove (Tokonoma), the pair of shelves (Chigaidana) in the side of the alcove, and the side-alcove desk, were adapted for the tea ceremony (Tsuke-shoin). In the Shoin style, Taami mats were utilized to cover the floor.

Japanese architecture underwent a change during the Muromachi era, from the formal palace style of the Heian period to a simpler style utilized by the Samurai. The next transition was from Samurai to Shoin architecture, which incorporated temple aspects. Some Shoin design elements, such as the alcove (Tokonoma), the pair of shelves (Chigaidana) in the side of the alcove, and the side-alcove desk, were adapted for the tea ceremony (Tsuke-shoin). In the Shoin style, Taami mats were utilized to cover the floor.

When people from other classes got interested in the Samurai tea ceremony, they began holding modest tea events in smaller, less opulent chambers that reflected their social rank. As a result, the little chamber known as Kakoi was born.

Murata Shukou

Murata Shukou, a Zen priest, was one of the greatest designers of tiny tearooms. He was eventually dubbed the “Father of the Tea Ceremony” because he created the etiquette and spirit of tea. He became a priest at Shoumyou Temple at the age of eleven and served there until he was twenty. He returned to priesthood at Daitoku-ji Temple ten years later to practice Zen meditation under the guidance of monk and teacher Ikkyuu Soujun.

He was later awarded a certificate signed by the Chinese monk Yuanwu for his excellent mastery of Zen. After that, he spent the remainder of his days at his tea shop in Nara, perfecting the tea ceremony and teaching anybody who was interested. He worked hard to impart the real essence of simple, Zen-inspired tea in all of his pupils.

Shukou also instituted another crucial procedure: he would serve the tea to his visitors himself. He enjoyed the intimate and personal setting of a small room with five to six individuals. The four-and-a-half-mat chamber he developed to create a more serene mood during the tea ceremony was inspired by Zen philosophy, which he had studied at Daitokuji Temple in Kyoto.

Shukou described his own essential notion of Chanoyu art and personal philosophy of aesthetics in a letter to his favorite pupil, Harima no Furuichi. He wrote on the necessity of comprehending the aesthetic features of sober-colored pottery from Bizen and Shigaraki, as well as the concept of refined simplicity, or Kakeru. His letters also reveal that he spent a lot of time researching the best way to combine Chinese and Japanese tea implements.

Tea culture reached its pinnacle during the end of the Muromachi era, and enthusiasts were granted numerous titles to identify their relationship to the art. A professional tea ceremony teacher, such as Shukou, was known as Chanoyusha. A Wabi-suki was a tea master who possessed three distinct qualities: trust in the performance of tea, the ability to act with the decorum of a proper master, and superior practical abilities. Finally, the Meijin possessed not only all of the characteristics of a wabi-suki, but he was also a collector of beautiful Chinese tea accoutrements.


Chadō – The 4 Principles of the The Way of Tea

Sen No Rikyu

The way of tea, or chadō is the concept and the philosophy developed by the most renowned tea master, Sen No Rikyu (1522-1591).

Sen No Rikyu wrote the four main principles of this ritual which are: 

  • Wa for harmony
  • Kei for respect
  • Sei for purity
  • Jaku for serenity

These four principles will help you comprehend the Japanese mindset, as well as the core of Japanese culture, a world where exquisite refinement meets extreme simplicity.

« Tea is nought but this: first you heat the water, then you make the tea. Then you drink it properly. That is all you need to know. – Sen No Rikyu » – Sen No Rikyū

Chadō is both an art and a philosophy, and it is one of many pathways to spiritual satisfaction and calm. Although the tea ceremony is not exactly religious, it is inextricably linked to Zen thought.

Finally, studying chadō opens the door to a world of other possibilities, other art forms that take the human being on a spiritual trip. The tea ceremony, for example, incorporates the arts of flower arranging, pottery, calligraphy, as well as food, architecture, and apparel. The following section of this essay will explain what we’re talking about.

« To quench one’s thirst, one must drink water. To dispel one’s worries, wine is salutary, but to clear the mind, tea is incomparable… » – Lu Yu



The seasons and their impact on the way we experience tea has been an important factor in determining what type of leaves are used for each season. That’s why the year is traditionally divided into two main periods:

  • The sunken hearth (ro ()) season: constituting of the colder months of the year (traditionally November to April),
  • The brazier (furo (風炉)) season: constituting of the warmer months of the year (traditionally May to October).

For each time period there’s a variation within those categories like utensils, accessories etc., which change depending upon whom you’re serving your beverage too.


Types of Japanese Tea Ceremonies

Every action in chado is carried out in a very precise manner, and may be thought of as a method or technique. The actions in chado are referred to as temae. “Doing temae” refers to the act of carrying out these steps during a chaji (tea gathering).

There are many different types of temae, depending on the school, the event, the season, the location, the equipment, and a variety of other considerations. Here’s a quick rundown of the most frequent sorts of temae.

1. Chabako Temae

Chabako Temae (茶箱手前) is called that way because the equipment is withdrawn from and then restored into a chabako (lit. “tea box”). Chabako was created as a quick and easy way to get the essential equipment for preparing tea outside. The tea bowl, tea whisk (kept in a separate container), tea scoop and tea caddy, linen cleaning cloth in a separate container, and a container for little candy-like treats are all included in the chabako’s basic equipment.

To fit within the box, many of the things are smaller than normal. It takes about 35–40 minutes to complete this gathering.

2. Hakobi Temae 

Hakobi temae (運び手前) defines a type of tea ceremony were most of the utensils, except for the hot water kettle, are not already placed in the team room before the guest enters and are brought by the tea host himself as an entire part of the ceremony.

3. Obon Temae

Obon temae (お盆手前) is a straightforward process for creating usucha (thin tea). The tea bowl, tea whisk, tea scoop, chakin, and tea caddy are all set on a tray, and the hot water is boiled in a tetsubin kettle cooked on a brazier. This is frequently the first temae learnt, and it is the simplest to execute, needing little specific equipment and little time. It may be done seated at a table or outside using a thermos pot instead of a tetsubin and portable fire.

4. Ryūrei Style Temae

In Ryūrei Style Temae (立礼), tea is prepared while the host and the guest are at special tables, however the first and last actions are done while standing. There is usually an assistant sitting near the host who helps by moving the host’s seat out of the way if needed and who also serves the tea and sweets to the guests. 


Chashitsu, the Japanese Tea House

japanese tea house chashitsu

Traditionally, Japanese tea ceremonies are usually held in specially built areas or rooms dedicated to the event. While a purpose-built tatami-floored room is preferred, any location where the essential equipment for preparing and serving tea may be laid out and where the host can make the tea in front of the seated guest(s) can be utilized as a tea room. For example, a picnic-style tea gathering, known as nodate (野点), can be hosted outside.

For more formal wabi style of tea events, a room called Chashitsu was specially created consisting of a chamber of 4.5-tatami broad and length in floor space. A traditional chashitsu features a low ceiling, a fire built into the floor, an alcove for hanging scrolls and other ornamental items, and separate entrances for the host and visitors. It also features a mizuya, or adjoining preparation space.

The normal room size is 4.5 mats, however smaller and larger rooms are occasionally utilized. In wabi style tea rooms, the building materials and décor are purposefully plain and rustic. Chashitsu can also refer to tea houses that stand alone. Tea houses, as they are known in English, can have many tea rooms of various sizes and types, dressing and waiting rooms, and other facilities, as well as a roji, or tea garden.


Japanese Matcha Tea

As previously mentioned, matcha tea is a green tea that is crushed between two stones to make a powder, but it is much more than that.

The plants are covered a few weeks before the tea leaves are plucked to shield them from the sun. As the leaves get richer with chlorophyll and amino acids, they become smaller and darker as they are deprived of light. This procedure reduces the tea’s inherent bitterness. These leaves are called tencha after they have been harvested. They are cooked and then gently and delicately crushed to produce matcha, a fine powder.

Matcha tea powder is mixed with hot water to produce a frothy drink that is unlike plain green tea.

Types of Matcha

In Japanese tea ceremony, it exists two main ways to prepare the matcha for tea consumption:

  • Thick Matcha Tea (濃茶koicha)
  • Thin Matcha Tea (薄茶usucha)

Tea leaves used as packing material for koicha leaves in the tea urn (茶壺, chatsubo) were traditionally served as thin tea, while the highest grade tea leaves were use to make thick tea.

Commonly, thin tea is originally served in individual bowls to each guest in, while only one bowl is shared among all guests for the thick tea. This style of sharing a bowl of koicha is known since 1586, and is a method considered to have been invented by Sen no Rikyū.

The preparation and consumption of koicha is the most important part of a chaji, followed by the consumption of usucha. A chakai is a more casual, ending element of a chaji that involves merely the preparation and presentation of thin tea (and related confections).


Japanese Tea Utensils

Japanese Tea Utensils chadogu

Tea ceremony equipment is called chadōgu (茶道具). A wide range of chadōgu are available and different styles can be seen for each event or season, all made from bamboo which has been carefully crafted with care into beautiful items that offer great beauty while using them successfully throughout your experience.

All tools handled during the process will also receive exquisite attention to cleanliness before storing after use so they don’t corrupt the flavor of the tea. 

The following are some of the more important aspects of the tea ceremony:

1. Chakin (茶巾)

The chakin is a little white linen or hemp cloth used to wipe the tea bowl.

2. Chawan (茶碗, tea bowl)

Tea bowls come in a variety of sizes and shapes, and different types of tea are served in distinct styles. In the summer, shallow bowls are used to allow the tea to cool quickly; in the winter, deep bowls are utilized.

Bowls are frequently given names by their designers or owners, as well as by a tea master. Those dating back over 400 years are still in use today, although only for very rare occasions. Hand-thrown bowls are the greatest, and some are incredibly costly. Irregularities and flaws are praised, and they’re frequently displayed as the bowl’s “front.”

Make a delicious cup of tea.

3. Natsume/Chaire (棗/茶入, Tea caddy)

During the tea ceremony, the powdered tea is stored in a tiny covered container called a Natsume. It’s a very important utensil for use in the tea-making method known as temae (手前).

4. Chashaku (茶杓, Tea scoop)

Chashaku tea scoops are usually made of a single piece of bamboo, but they can also be made of ivory or wood. They scoop the tea from the tea caddy into the tea dish. In the most informal version, bamboo tea scoops feature a nodule in the center. Guests are not aware that larger scoops are used to transport tea into the tea caddy at the mizuya (processing area). Various tea cultures employ various styles and colors.

5. Chasen (茶筅, Tea whisk)

This is the tool that is used to combine the powdered tea with hot water. A single piece of bamboo is used to carve tea whisks. There are several kinds. When holding a chakai or chaji, the host should use a new tea whisk because they soon become worn and broken.


Steps to perform a Japanese tea ceremony

To perform a correct Japanese tea ceremony, the tea host must observe Sen No Rikyu’s seven guidelines of The Way of Tea:

  • Make a correct bowl of tea
  • Place the charcoal in such a way that the water boils quickly
  • Arrange the flowers as if they were in a field
  • In the winter, provide warmth; in the summer, provide cooling
  • Prepare ahead of time
  • Prepare yourself in case it rains
  • Treat your visitors with the utmost respect

The tea ceremony might run up to 4 hours in its entirety. Because this is a private rite, the master of ceremonies will never invite more than 5 persons at a time. The steps of a ceremony might vary based on the place, season, or time of day, but they typically follow the same pattern.

First and foremost, it is critical to understand that both the host and the guests are expected to wear kimonos (or at least a sober outfit for the guests). Guests are requested to bring a tiny fan (sensu) and traditional Japanese paper with them (kaishi).

1. Welcome the guests

The host (or tea master) silently welcomes his guests as they enter the garden. He/She then take them along a tiny path to the tea house where visitors are advised to wash their hands and rinse their mouths at a small spring of pure water halfway along the journey to cleanse themselves from the outer world.

2. Invite the guests inside the tea room

Guests await the signal from the host to enter into the Japanese tea room through a low door that requires them to bend in humility and respect for the host; Of course, shoes are left outdoors.

Guests can observe the austere decorating set up by the host before to their arrival once inside. The guests then kneel down on the tatamis after taking the time to inspect the space and enjoy the serenity and harmony that surrounds it. 

Finally, to define their area, they set the closed fan in front of them, parallel to their knees.

3. Serve the Kaiseki and the Wagashi

In the complete version of the ceremony, guest are usually served a light meal called kaiseki (懐石) followed with pastries and sweets (wagashi, 和菓子) as desert.

Pastries are held in place with kaishi paper, a thick piece of Japanese paper.

4. Clean your utensils in front of your guests

Now that everything is set, the tea ceremony can begin.

First, the tea master brings all of the necessary tools for making matcha tea and puts them around him. While the water in the cast iron kettle (kama) heats up, the master cleans the utensils metaphorically with a silk towel (fukusa).

Only the sound of the cutlery may be heard as everyone stay silent. The master uses hot water to rinse the tea bowl (chawan) and the bamboo whisk (chasen).

5. Prepare the matcha tea

The master takes matcha tea powder and places it in the bowl using a bamboo spoon (chashaku). He then adds hot water to the concoction and whips it with the chasen to make a frothy drink.

6. Serve the tea to the first guest

The master will then offer the bowl to the honored guest once the tea is ready. The guest takes the bowl with both hands, greets the second visitor, and respectfully lifts the bowl toward the host. The bowl is an integral part of the ritual as this ceramic piece has both a decorative and a neutral side.

Before drinking, the guest must flip the bowl in his hands so that everyone may view the decorative side and it is a huge mistake to drink from the ornamented side.

After the first guest has taken three drinks, he passes the bowl to the next person in line. The dish is transferred from one hand to another until it is empty.

7. Clean your utensils one more time

The master meticulously cleanses the utensils before handing them out to the visitors one by one. The guests may then appreciate each utensil’s exquisite simplicity and inquire about its origin.

8. Welcome the guests outside and conclude the ceremony

The host takes the visitors outside and silently welcomes them. He finishes by untying the flower arrangement, removing the scroll, and inspecting the area for cleanliness.

At this point, the tea ceremony is concluded.

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