THE JAPANESE TEA CEREMONY

         In the 9th century, a Buddhist monk from China introduced the drinking of tea to Japan.
According to legend, drinking tea had already been known to China for thousands of years.
         In Japan, tea quickly became popular and Japanese farmers began to raise the tea plant
         Matcha, a new form of tea, was introduced to Japan in the 12th century. Matcha is a
powdered green tea which comes from the same plant as black tea, but is unfermented. Matcha was
first used in religious rituals in Buddhist monasteries.
         By the 13th century, samurai warriors were preparing and drinking this green tea. This started
the tea ceremony.
         Over time the tea ceremony became a form of art to the Japanese. In a way, the tea ceremony
revolved around wabi. Wabi (meaning quiet or sober refinement, or subdued taste) “is characterized
by humility, restraint, simplicity, naturalism, profundity, imperfection, and emphasizing simple,
unadorned objects and architectural space, and celebrating the mellow beauty that time and care
impart to materials” (“introduction: chanoyu, the art of tea” in urasenke Seattle homepage). For the
most part, the tea ceremony still revolves around wabi today.
         By the 16th century, all levels of society were drinking tea, but it did not become just an
every day occurrence. Schools were even started to teach the art of performing the tea ceremony.
         Each of the schools may have developed their own rituals; however, they all have certain
things in common. For instance, the host usually wears a kimono and the guests will either wear a
kimono or subdued formal wear. The ceremony is always preformed in a special tea house or tea
room. The host will serve a small sweet or sweets on special paper called kaishi; guests usually carry
his or her own. The tea bowl, wisk, and tea scoop are then ritually cleansed in the presence of the
guests. The tea is then served.
         When I went to Japan in 2007, I got the chance to be a guest in 2 tea ceremonies.
         The first one, I did through the Nihongo School. A group of about ten of us from school
walked to the house of the ceremony. We all got little fans and kaishi. I am still not sure what the
fans were for, because they stayed closed and behind us most of the time. When the ceremony
started, one by one, starting with our chaperone because she was the guest of honor, we would kneel
down outside the door with our fans in front of us, look into the room, pick up our fans with our
right hand, and scoot ourselves into the room. We stopped just inside the doorway and bowed to the
guest of honor, stood up, walked to the other side of the room, knelt down again, bowed to a banner
with writing on it that was hanging on the wall, we looked at the banner, looked at a flower that was
off to the left, looked at the banner again, bowed to the banner again, stood up and went to sit in our
place in a line down the room from the chaperone. When we sat down we put the fans behind us.
         After we were all in the room and sitting down, the sweets were served. The plate was put in
front of the chaperone. She and the girl beside her bowed and she took one of each kind of sweets
and passed it to the girl beside her. That girl and the kid next to her did the same thing until the plate
went all the way around the room. We ate the sweets while we waited for the tea to steep.
         The hostess made the tea one bowl at a time, when she finished the first bowl; she turned it
twice, and put it out. The chaperone went and got it, and sat back at her place. She put the bowl
between herself and the girl next to her. They both bowed, the chaperone to say “I will go first” and
the girl to say “After you”. The chaperone bowed to the hostess and said “Ittadakimas” (thank you)
then the chaperone picked up the bowl, turned it twice, and drank the tea. When she was finished,
she wiped off the place where her lips had touched, put the bowl out in front of her, bowed looking
at it, and then passed it to the girl next to her.
         The girl set the bowl out in front of her, bowed while looking at it, and waited for her bowl of
tea to be ready which the hostess had been preparing. When it was ready, the hostess turned it twice,
and put it out for the girl to get it. The girl took the empty bowl, went and knelt down in front of the
full bowl and traded them, turning the empty bowl twice, and went back and sat down. She placed
the bowl between herself and the chaperone. They both bowed, this time the girl to say “Would you
like some more?” and the chaperone to say “No thank you”. The girl placed the bowl between
herself and the next kid. They bowed, the girl moved it back in front of herself, bowed, said
“Ittadakimas”, turned it twice, and drank it.
         It went on like that until everyone had had some tea. When we were all done, they asked if
we would like some more. We said no, so we bowed to the hostess and left in almost the same way
we came. One by one, starting with the chaperone, we went to the door, knelt down, and scooted
ourselves out the door, and went back to school.

        The second tea ceremony I participated in was at my Labo farewell party. My host aunt acted
as hostess and my Labo tutor told me what to do and explained some of the meanings behind what
we did.
        The Japanese tea ceremony was one of the best experiences I had while in Japan and I hope
to learn more about it in the future.

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