In Japanese culture, being invited to a tea ceremony is a mark of respect and a great honour. Although tea ceremonies have been around in the East for hundreds of years, the Japanese take this ritual very seriously. Want to know how it’s done? Read on…
There are strict rules to a Japanese tea ceremony and they include just about all of the main art forms from calligraphy to flower arranging, it’s that special. The main type of ceremony is called Chanoyu and the rituals begin once you arrive at the teahouse (called a Chashitsu).
Firstly, you’ll be asked to spend some tine in the garden, observing the plants. These gardens can be very different to a traditional Japanese garden, often featuring no flowering plants, just greenery, rock gardens and usually some form of water feature. The path leading from the entrance will wind its way through the garden so that by the time you arrive at the teahouse, you already feel a little more relaxed
and mentally present.
It is only then will you be invited inside by the tea master. The entrance to the teahouse is usually lowered, so regardless of your social status, it’s necessary to bow your head as you enter. You’ll be given a drink of water and invited to wash your hands.
Guests sit – or often kneel – at low tables of around four people. The host will prepare the tea using green tea leaves or powdered tea and traditional equipment such as bamboo whisks. It is common for the guest of honour to ask where the tea came from, who made the utensils. This isn’t considered rude, in fact it shows great respect for the tea and your host. The host will wash and prepare all the utensils in front of theguests, artfully arranging them according to the fengshui of the room.
Before you drink your tea, you may be offered sweets. Not in the common, western candy style, but usually from thin layers of rice paper, bean curd and other natural ingredients. The guest of honour will signal when it is acceptable to take a sweet and you should do so only after they have. This time is used by the host to warm both the tea pot and the tea. In some, more formal settings, the tea ceremony may include a seven course meal, sake and resting breaks – this can take up to four hours.
The tea for all guests is all made in the one bowl. Initially it is given, with a bow, to the guest of honour who takes a sips, rotates the bowl around as he passes it to another guest. Guests should take the tea with their left hand and carefully take notice of the positioning of hands, utensils and the other guests. The bowl is placed next to you and turned so you never drink from the side that was facing you. It’s picked up and drunk with the right hand. Once all the guests have drank from the bowl, they are invited to look and inspect the equipment used to make the tea. An additional bowl of tea is then made in the same way.
Sometimes guests have their own individual bowls, in this case it’s important to drink all of the contents. Again, you should place the bowl to the left of you and turn it 180 degrees. This shows great respect to your host – the side they presented to you was the best, but you are inferior and not worthy and so you drink from the opposite side.