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japanese woman who is serving tea at tea ceremony

Tea ceremony, the Japanese Spirit of Omotenashi

Tea ceremony refers to the process of boiling water, preparing tea, and serving it to guests. The Japanese tea ceremony differs from mere drinking tea, but it is a comprehensive art form that integrates a variety of elements, including the space of the tea room and garden, the selection and appreciation of tea utensils, food such as Japanese sweets, and manners for comfortably entertaining guests. In this article, we touch upon the spirit of the Japanese people through tea ceremony.


What is the spirit of tea ceremony as mastered by Rikyu?

Tea ceremony, or cha-no-yu, as it is known in modern times, is said to have been founded on "wabicha" and perfected during the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1603) by Sen no Rikyu, who was from the merchant class.

In contrast to the luxurious tea ceremony that had been popular among samurai, aristocrats, and other upper class people, the wabicha established by Rikyu is a simplified and quiet style that eliminates all waste. In other words, it emphasized the spirit of wabi-sabi, the philosophy of Zen.

The entrance to the tea room, which Rikyu invented, is called "nijiri-guchi," and is unusually narrow and low in the frontage. Therefore, even a samurai of high rank had to enter by placing his sword outside and bowing his head. This was based on Rikyu's belief that there was no difference in status between samurai and merchants, and that everyone who enjoyed the tea ceremony was equal.

quiet japanese tea room for tea ceremony

The "Seven Rules of Rikyu", which Rikyu left to his disciples, contain seven rules for entertaining guests, such as "Draw tea with care so that the guests can drink it easily", and "Prepare an umbrella even if it is not raining.

The spirit of hospitality idealized by Rikyu still lives on in the lives of Japanese people today.


Steps of Tea Ceremony

In tea ceremony, a series of gestures for serving tea is called "temae". There are various rules for tea ceremony etiquette, including how to serve tea, how to drink, how to stand, and how to sit. Although it may sound formal, all of these rules are designed for the enjoyment of tea ceremony.

Although it varies from school to school, the general flow of tea ceremony etiquette is as follows.


The master of the house (the person who prepares the tea and entertains guests) selects tea utensils and purifies them with a hukusa (cloth).

Serving tea

The master prepares the tea. Put 1.5g to 2g of matcha in a tea bowl, pour 60 to 70 mililiters of hot water, and mix it slowly with a bamboo whisk (chasen). The tea is considered to be ready when all the matcha powder is dissolved and fine bubbles form.

Tasting Wagashi (Japanese confectionery)

Wagashi serves to enhance the flavor of the tea and is very much valued for its visual beauty and sense of season. Before drinking tea, guests taste wagashi with kaishi paper or a toothpick.

Receiving Tea (Urasenke Style)

The guest greets the master of the tea ceremony with "otemae choudaisimasu (thank you for making tea)" and makes a deep bow. After placing the tea bowl in the left hand and holding it with the right hand, the guest drinks tea with gratitude. The last sip of tea should be taken in one gulp with a noise.

In tea ceremony, there is a custom of "turning the tea bowl twice" when receiving tea. This is to avoid putting the mouth on the front, the most beautiful, side of the bowl. The master of the tea ceremony serves the tea bowl with the front of the bowl facing the guest. As if in response, the guest turns the tea bowl to face the master. This is an expression of the humble Japanese spirit.


"Chagama" and "Tetsubin", indispensable tools for tea ceremony

The chagama tea kettle is an indispensable tool for the tea ceremony. It is a large iron pot used to boil water for tea. Hot water boiled in a chagama has a mellow taste and is gentle to the palate. For this reason, the chagama has been valued in tea ceremony.

Rikyu once said, "A single chagama is all you need for tea ceremony, it is foolish to have other utensils". It is a special item among many tea ceremony utensils".

However, the chagama is large and heavy, making it difficult to handle as an everyday tool. Tetsubin teapot was therefore made smaller, and a handle and spout were added to make it easier to use. Because of its high practicality, the tetsubin came to be widely used.

Nanbu tetsubin of Nanbu tekki, tea pot that rikyu used

The profound and beautiful appearance of the tetsubin is reminiscent of wabi-sabi. The more you use, the more you can enjoy the changes in its appearance. If you are thinking of taking up tea ceremony, why not start by brewing tea in a tetsubin?


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