What is a Tea Ceremony

If you’ve ever seen a video of a tea ceremony, or you’ve attended one yourself, you may have wondered why there are such strict rules in place simply for drinking tea.
It is true that when one first begins to learn Chado, there are a surprising number of rules

I learned ado from a master myself, and was taught that it isn’t the rules which express the true nature of Chado, it is the learning of the rules which acts as a step to in understanding the nature of Chado.

Chado is one type of aesthetic practice born from the thoughts of Zen Buddhism. By my understanding, the way of thinking which forms the basis of Zen is that one can achieve happiness by focusing on the things which are here now, and on the present state. Chado is a method of welcoming a guest, wherein the host concentrates on offering hospitality to the guest, and entertains them within the tearoom through a variety of practices in order to offer them the perfect experience to enjoy. Chado is the evolved form of these entertainments.

With Chado itself split into various schools such as the Ura Senke and the Omote Senke, and there is no one true form of the art.
This is quite natural. Depending on the guests being invited, and the relationship between the host and the guests, the ideal form is always changing. In a school of Chado, students are taught numerous such patterns depending on the season, and the status of the guests.

One of the motivations many people have for learning Chado is to learn these perfect forms, allowing them to refine their own theory of hospitality. This sort of hospitality is referred to as “motenashi” in Japan, and while it is sometimes viewed as the same as Western hospitality, true motenashi is a value born from intangible pieces of the culture including Chado.

Here I would like to introduce some basic guidelines for behavior in case one were to be invited to a tea ceremony, perhaps by a Japanese friend.

What should one wear to a tea ceremony / tea room?

Traditionally, participants would wear kimono, but there is no modern day rule which dictates that one must wear a kimono to enter a tea room.
Here I’ll introduce some guidelines for men and women attending tea ceremonies.

When selecting clothing, it’s important to ensure that your clothes won’t make you the center of attention. The host will prepare to receive their guests by placing flowers in the tea room, preparing tea implements for the ceremony, and placing decorations. It’s important to consider that if you were to stand out more than these decorations it would be rude towards your host.

Clothing for Men

For men, suits are ideal. Many also choose to follow these next guidelines as well.

- Wear a suit made from solid colored cloth
- Wear a necktie made from solid colored cloth
Of course, wearing a collard shirt with a blazer is also acceptable. Don’t wear florescent colors, and try to stick with solid colored cloth.

Clothing for Women

Women should try to wear long skirts and elegant clothing. The following 5 points should be observed as well.

- Pants should be avoided
- Excessively high heels, boots, and sandals should be avoided
- Flashy manicures should be avoided
- When wear stockings or tights, white socks should also be worn over them
- Hair should be pulled back

While there are more guidelines for women than for men, it is important to respect the atmosphere and sanitary nature of the tea room.

Both men and women should comply with the following guidelines.

No accessories should be worn.

The tea room is a clean space, away from the secular world. Special care must be taken not to disrupt this atmosphere.
In order to avoid damaging the tea room or the tea ceremony implements, the following types of metal accessories should be avoided.

Men: Watches, wedding rings, etc.
Women: Necklaces, bracelets, rings, hair accessories, etc.

In the case of watches, they may indicate that the wearer is worried about the time being taken, and should therefore be taken off to avoid misunderstanding. As the guest enters the tea room, they entrust themselves to the host and enjoy their time together, and removing the watch fits with this state of mind.

In what order, and in what manner, should participants sit?

In a tea ceremony, the person of the highest status (the shokyaku) should sit closest to the host, who is the center of the ceremony.

The ranks then follow with jikyaku and sankyaku. (the final person is known as the otsume)

Normally, in a formal tea ceremony, the shokyaku and the otsume are chosen in advance by the host, who will let them known beforehand.

Those who are participating in a tea ceremony for the first time should avoid being the shokyaku or the otsume. This is because they have a slightly more extensive role.
The shokyaku is the only person who interacts directly with the host, and the otsume is also known as the person without a seat, as the spend their time helping the host ensure the ceremony moves smoothly.

Proper manners and methods for eating wagashi sweets

Wagashi are intended to complement the flavor of the Matcha. They are eaten before the Matcha is drunk.

Tea sweets are broken into two categories.
- Omogashi: Manju, kinton, mochi and other unbaked confections
- Higashi: Senbei, aragan, toffee, and other dry confections

For strong tea omogashi are offered, and for lighter tea higashi are offered.
At tea ceremonies where only lighter tea is offered, omogashi may also be offered.
When the host offers sweets, saying “okashi o dozo,” guests should bow before taking them.

When taking a sweet, they will then turn to the jikyaku and say “osaki ni,” before taking them.
Daifuku and higashi should be eaten with the hands, and unbaked confections or yokan are eaten with a kuromoji (similar to a toothpick).
Larger items should be torn with the hand or split with the kuromoji instead of being bitten into.
Sweets should be completely finished before the tea is brought out.

What is the correct way to drink tea?

While it also depends on the particular school, I will introduce the Ura Sekia method for drinking tea.

- How to Drink Tea (In the Ura Seika Style) -
The tea bowl should be taken with the right hand, and place in front of oneself.

Saying “Otemae, choudai shimasu” (thank you for making this tea), the guest picks up the tea bowl.

Placing the teacup on top of the left hand, the tea bowl is turned twice in a clockwise direction.

The Matcha is drunk in 3 to 4 times, and the last sip is slurped slightly to indicate that the guest has finished. (this is called ikikiri)

When the guest has finished drinking they’ll use their finger to wipe the bowl, and then wipe their finger with the kaishi paper.

The bowl is then turned twice counter clockwise before being placed down again.

The bowl is placed outside of the border of the tatami, and the entire shape of the bowl is admired before it’s placed back into its original spot.

It does take some time to grow used to the process, but with time, it becomes one smooth flow.

In Closing

Truthfully, it would be extremely difficult to get all of these steps correctly when first participating in a tea ceremony. However, the most important thing is the guest be intent on enjoying the hospitality of the host as much as possible. I recommend that newcomers focus on respecting the host, and fully enjoying their time together more than on following the above rules. If you have any questions such as “What is that flower on display?” or, “”What’s written on that wall hanging?” you should go ahead and ask the host. By enjoying the conversation in this manner, you’ll gain a better understanding of the meaning of the tea ceremony, and both you and the host will be able to enjoy your time. I believe that this is the meaning of the tea ceremony, and also the basis of Japanese culture.

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