The Japanese tea ceremony, also called the Way of Tea, is a Japanese cultural activity involving the ceremonial preparation and presentation of matcha, powdered green tea. In Japanese, it is called chanoyu or chadō. The manner in which it is performed, or the art of its performance, is called temae. Zen Buddhism was a primary influence in the development of the tea ceremony.
Tea gatherings are classified as chakai or chaji. Chakai is a relatively simple course of hospitality that includes the service of confections, thin tea, and perhaps a light meal. Chaji is a more formal gathering, usually with a full-course meal, followed by confections, thick tea, and thin tea. A chaji may last up to four hours.
Tea ceremony developed as a “transformative practice”, and began to evolve its own aesthetic, in particular that of wabi. Wabi, meaning quiet or sober refinement, or subdued taste, “is characterized by humility, restraint, simplicity, naturalism, profundity, imperfection, and asymmetry [emphasizing] simple, unadorned objects and architectural space, and [celebrating] the mellow beauty that time and care impart to materials.” Murata Jukō is known in chanoyu history as the early developer of this, and therefore is generally counted as the founder of the Japanese “way of tea”. He studied Zen under the monk Ikkyū, who revitalized Zen in the 15th century, and this is considered to have influenced his concept of chanoyu
By the 16th century, tea drinking had spread to all levels of society in Japan. Sen no Rikyu, perhaps the most well-known—and still revered—historical figure in tea ceremony, followed his master, Takeno Jōō’s, concept of ichi-go ichi-e, a philosophy that each meeting should be treasured, for it can never be reproduced. His teachings perfected many newly developed forms in Japanese architecture and gardens, fine and applied arts, and the full development of chadō, “the “way of tea”. The principles he set forward—harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility—are still central to tea ceremony.
Many schools of Japanese tea ceremony have evolved through the long history of chadō and are active today.
Almost any place where implements for the making and serving of the tea can be set out, and where the host can make the tea in the presence of the seated guest(s), can be used as a venue for tea. For instance, a tea gathering can be held outdoors, in the open air. This is known as nodate. On the other hand, a tatami-floored room with adjacent mizuya space for the host to conduct preparations of the various items to be used is required for a full chaji.
Tea rooms that are designed specifically for use for the wabi style of tea developed by Sen no Rikyū are usually small, typically 4.5 tatami. Rooms larger than 4.5 mats may be used for tea as well, particularly with larger numbers of guests, though they are often general-purpose rooms not exclusively used for tea ceremony. Building materials and decorations are deliberately simple and rustic in wabi style tea rooms. Sometimes chashitsu are in free-standing buildings known in English as tea houses.
Seasonality and the changing of the seasons are important in tea ceremony. Traditionally the year is divided by tea practitioners into two main seasons: the sunken hearth season, constituting the colder months (traditionally November to April), and the brazier season, constituting the warmer months (traditionally May to October). For each season, there are variations in the temae performed and utensils and other equipment used. Ideally, the configuration of the tatami in a 4.5 mat room changes with the season as well.
Koicha and usucha
There are two main ways of preparing matcha for tea ceremony: thick and thin with the best quality tea leaves used in preparing thick tea. Historically, the tea leaves used as packing material for the koicha leaves in the tea urn would be served as thin tea. Japanese historical documents about tea ceremony which differentiate between usucha and koicha first appear in the Tenmon era (1532-55). The first documented appearance of the term koicha is in 1575.
As the terms imply, koicha is a thick blend of matcha and hot water which uses about three times as much tea to the equivalent amount of water than usucha. To prepare usucha, matcha and hot water are whipped using the tea whisk, while koicha is kneaded with the whisk to smoothly blend the large amount of powdered tea with the water.
Thin tea is served to each guest in an individual bowl, while one bowl of thick tea is shared among several guests. This style of sharing a bowl of koicha first appears in historical documents in 1586, and is a method considered to have been invented by Sen no Rikyū.
The most important part of a chaji is the preparation and drinking of koicha, which is followed by thin tea. A chakai may involve only the preparation and serving of thin tea (and accompanying confections), representing the more relaxed, finishing portion of a chaji.
Tea equipment is called chadōgu. A wide range of chadōgu is available and different styles and motifs are used for different events and in different seasons. All the tools for tea ceremony are handled with exquisite care. They are scrupulously cleaned before and after each use and before storing, and some are handled only with gloved hands.
The following are a few of the essential components:
Chakin: The “chakin” is a small rectangular white linen or hemp cloth mainly used to wipe the tea bowl
Tea bowl: Tea bowls are available in a wide range of sizes and styles, and different styles are used for thick and thin tea. Shallow bowls, which allow the tea to cool rapidly, are used in summer; deep bowls are used in winter. Bowls are frequently named by their creators or owners, or by a tea master. Bowls over four hundred years old are in use today, but only on unusually special occasions. The best bowls are thrown by hand, and some bowls are extremely valuable. Irregularities and imperfections are prized: they are often featured prominently as the “front” of the bowl.
Tea caddy: The small lidded container in which the powdered tea is placed for use in the tea-making procedure.
Tea scoop: Tea scoops generally are carved from a single piece of bamboo, although they may also be made of ivory or wood. They are used to scoop tea from the tea caddy into the tea bowl. Bamboo tea scoops in the most casual style have a nodule in the approximate center. Larger scoops are used to transfer tea into the tea caddy in the mizuya (preparation area), but these are not seen by guests. Different styles and colours are used in various tea traditions.
Tea whisk: This is the implement used to mix the powdered tea with the hot water. Tea whisks are carved from a single piece of bamboo. There are various types. Tea whisks quickly become worn and damaged with use, and the host should use a new one when holding a chakai or chaji.
Usual sequence of a chaji
If the gathering is held at a tea house having a waiting bench along the roji, the guests will wait at the bench until summoned by the host. They ritually purify themselves by washing their hands and rinsing their mouths with water from a small stone basin, and proceed along the roji to the tea house. Guests remove their footwear and enter the tea house through a small door, and proceed to view the items placed in the tokonoma scroll alcove and any tea equipment placed ready in the room, and are then seated seiza-style on the tatami in order of prestige.
If a charcoal fire is being used to heat the water, the host will lay the fire in the presence of the guests. Following the laying of the fire, guests are served a meal in several courses accompanied by sake, followed by a small sweet eaten from special paper called kaishi, which each guest carries, often in a decorative wallet or tucked into the breast of the kimono.They will then return to the waiting shelter until summoned again by the host.
The host ritually cleanses each utensil——including the tea bowl, whisk, and tea scoop——in the presence of the guests in a precise order and using prescribed motions. The utensils are placed in an exact arrangement according to the particular temae procedure being performed. When the preparation of the utensils is complete, the host prepares thick tea using set movements. When the tea is ready it will either be served to the first guest by an assistant or the guest will retrieve the bowl from the host.
Bows are exchanged between the host and the guest receiving the tea. The guest then bows to the second guest, and raises the bowl in a gesture of respect to the host. The guest rotates the bowl to avoid drinking from its front, takes a sip, and compliments the host on the tea. After taking a few sips, the guest wipes clean the rim of the bowl and passes it to the second guest. The procedure is repeated until all guests have taken tea from the same bowl; each guest has an opportunity to admire the bowl before it is returned to the host, who then cleanses the equipment and leaves the tea room.
If a charcoal fire is being used, the host will then rekindle the fire and add more charcoal. This signifies a change from the more formal portion of the gathering to the more casual portion, and the host will return to the tea room to bring in a smoking set and more confections, usually higashi, to accompany the thin tea, and possibly cushions for the guests’ comfort.
The host will then proceed with the preparation of an individual bowl of thin tea to be served to each guest. While in earlier portions of the gathering conversation is limited to a few formal comments exchanged between the first guest and the host, in the usucha portion, after a similar ritual exchange, the guests may engage in casual conversation.
After all the guests have taken tea, the host cleans the utensils in preparation for putting them away. The guest of honour will request that the host allow the guests to examine some of the utensils, and each guest in turn examines each item, including the tea caddy and the tea scoop. The items are treated with extreme care and reverence as they may be priceless, irreplaceable, handmade antiques, and guests often use a special brocaded cloth to handle them.
The host then collects the utensils, and the guests leave the tea house. The host bows from the door, and the ceremony is over. A tea ceremony can last up to four hours, depending on the type of ceremony performed, the number of guests, and the types of meal and tea served.
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