Apr 16 2012

What is the Japanese Tea Ceremony?


Continuing our celebration of Japanese Culture for the month of April, the Japanese Tea Ceremony, or Chado (translated, The Way of Tea), perhaps epitomizes the collectively precise, demure, and gracious core of Japanese culture. Based in centuries old tradition and history, the ceremony today is studied at length in various schools which have evolved and been passed down from Tea Masters of centuries ago. Those who study Chado commit to months and years of tutelage and practice under the direction of a Tea Master, enduring hours of learning to sit on mats in kneeling position, rising from the floor and kneeling again, and performing the elements of the ceremony in a graceful, gracious, and welcoming manner.  Months are devoted to learning the names of the tools used during the ceremony, arranging the space in a just so manner after carefully choosing the simple decor, learning to prepare and present the very special Matcha tea along with the traditional sweets that are served with it. The steps of the ceremony are as a carefully choreographed dance or tightly directed stage presentation. In our more casual lifestyle of the 21st century, slowing down to partake of this lovely traditional enjoyment is like taking a weekend vacation to a quiet mountain lake from which one returns refreshed, calmed, and reminded of all the reasons it is so important to occasionally slow down the hectic pace of our lives.

As an invited guest, there are expectations for us when we attend the ceremony, sort of like Emily Post lessons of etiquette. As we arrive at the tea house, we are first struck by the quiet clam of the surroundings outside the tea house. As we leave the noise and bustle of our everyday lives, we stop to notice the quiet trickle of water nearby and the whisper of wind through the pines. Further along we admire the stone basin, perhaps well aged by its moss cover, where we stop to wash our hands, and all the flora surrounding our walkway. As the stone path brings us to the entrance of the tea house and room, we remove our shoes and enter to quietly admire the carefully chosen scroll placed just so, and the simple, seasonal flower arrangement carefully chosen for the day. Our thought and conversation turn only to the here and now, leaving all worries and frustrations at home. Here we are focused only on the present, the graciousness of our host, and the delicious traditional sweets and tea which we are served. Lovely tea bowls have been chosen especially for our enjoyment on this day at this time, and our thoughts and comments turn to the artistic soul which crafted and decorated our beautiful bowl, to the bright green deliciousness of our sips of foamy tea, and to the delightful intent of such an invitation from our gracious host. Although it is expected that guests will know how to behave, just as  civilized Western society is expected to know the rules of Emily Post or Amy Vanderbilt etiquette, the role of the host is to honor the guest by making the tea service as pleasant and comfortable as possible. As we leave the tea room and return to our usual life, we can carry with us the feelings of being in the moment and one with our surroundings. Chado…The Way of Tea.