Japanese Tea Ceremony

Japanese Tea Ceremony - Living in the Moment | Collette
Image taken from Collette

The Japanese tea ceremony is absolutely something you may want to consider experiencing for yourself. Called sado in Japanese, it literally translates to ‘the way of the tea.’


Image of Sen no Rikyu from the Sakai City Museum

The Japanese tea ceremony dates back to the Kamakura period (1192-1333) and Zen Buddhism. Monks drank tea as a preferred beverage in order to help them stay awake. Tea didn’t gain popularity among the lower classes until the Muromachi period (1333-1573). Sen no Rikyu is the father of the ‘modern’ tea ceremony. He also founded the tea ceremony schools. Each movement within the ceremony is always conducted the same way. It’s a ritual.

The Setting

The tea ceremony can be performed anywhere, but the ideal setting is a tea house or chashitsu. The room is modest in adornments in keeping with Zen Buddhism traditions. The floor is made up of bamboo tatami mats. Central in the room will be a low alcove. There will more than likely be a scroll on the wall and a small arrangements of flowers somewhere in the room.

You will be asked to remove your shoes before entering the room. Tatami can be difficult to clean. You may be offered special slippers to wear inside the building the tea ceremony is being conducted in. I would highly recommend you wear socks or bring them with you on the day of your ceremony. It is frowned upon to go barefoot on tatami.

The Ceremony

In The Japanese Tea Ceremony, Politics Are Served With Every Cup : The Salt  : NPR
Image from NPR

For tourists, the ceremony is not nearly as long as a formal ceremony, which can last a few hours. You host will enter the room dressed in a traditional kimono. You aren’t expected to know the rules and etiquette, but a small bow shows respect to your host. Note that there will not be any furniture in the room. You should expect to sit on your knees on the floor or crossed legged.

They will bring the tea ceremony utensils into the room. Before you consume any tea, you will be offered some Japanese sweets. These are meant to counteract the bitter taste of the tea. The tea your consume, a matcha green tea, is whisked up from power by your host. Traditionally, you will be offered two bowls of tea. One will be thicker than the other, but more likely than not it will be a thin tea.

When the tea is presented to you, the host will place the tea in a small bowl on the floor facing you. Using your right hand, put up the bowl, place it on your left palm. You should then use your right hand to turn the bowl 90 degrees so it is no longer facing you and drink it. Don’t turn it. You don’t need to rush, enjoy the moment. When finished, you can place the bowl back on the tatami mat and bow to your host.

Your host will signal when its almost time to finish the ceremony. You will pick up the tea bowl off the mat to inspect it. Following the inspection, you can turn the bowl 90 degrees again so it is facing your host. You will be asked if you want more tea. If you’ve had enough, decline. If you want more, you will repeat the process. After the ceremony, your host will wash all of the tea ceremony items.

Wrapping UP

That’s pretty much the basics of a Japanese tea ceremony. You don’t have to be in Japan to enjoy one, or, if you want to learn yourself how to perform it, there are some excellent videos on Youtube.

Hope you enjoyed this post! Let me know if you have any further questions.