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8 Interesting Facts About Japanese Tea Ceremony

Nilufer tea is an organic herbal tea that originates from Japan. A popular destination for tourists worldwide, Japan is located in Eastern Asia and renowned for its exquisite food and cuisine, gorgeous scenery (cherry blossoms!!!) and fascinating culture. Speaking of culture, tea is an important factor in Japanese culture, and so is their traditional tea ceremony. Not a lot of people know the inner workings of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony so if you would like to learn something new today; you’ve come to the right place!

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Japanese Tea Ceremony (The Way of Tea/ Chanoyu / Sado)

The ceremony is a ritual of preparing and presenting matcha – powdered Japanese green tea – along with traditional Japanese sweets to balance with the bitter taste of the tea. It is an integral part of Japanese culture and it has been for centuries. It is a quiet celebration performed with grace and beauty, and emphasis is placed on pouring all one's attention into the predefined movements because the aesthetics of the ceremony are very important. The host of the ceremony always hold guest in a high regard, as demonstrated from their graceful and thoughtful gestures. Even the tea utensils are placed in a strategic position that allows the guests to have a good vantage point, especially the main guests (Shokyaku).

Tea ceremony procedure

A full ceremony consists of starts with a kaiseki course meal, is followed by a bowl of thick tea and ends with a bowl of thin tea. However, most tea ceremonies these days are limited to the enjoyment of a bowl of thin tea. Before the ceremony begins, guests gather in a special room known as a machiai. Guests will walk across a dew-covered ground which is a ritual to symbolise the removal of dust from one’s feet and the world. To further purify themselves for the ceremony, guests are required to wash their hands and mouths using clean water from a stone basin. Once these purification rites finish, the host greets each guest with a silent bow as they enter the tea ceremony site. Depending on how formal the ceremony is, small sweets or even a three-course meal may now be served prior to the tea being poured. Next, the host will prepare the utensils for the pouring, ensuring that each utensil is completely clean and flawless. The required equipment consists of the tea whisk, the container for the tea powder, tea scoop, tea bowl, sweet container, tea brazier and a kettle. Each equipment has a specific circumstance and position. (Arrangement is vital in the ceremony)

Guest etiquette

A small ceremony usually consists of 4-5 guests and each are ranked in order of importance. The first and main guest is the Shokyaku and all guests have specific duties to perform based on their rank. The Shokyaku is the one that asks questions and always in a polite manner. Usually when a guest wishes to move a bowl, both hands must be used because it is politer. The Shokyaku is in charge of leading the rest of the guests, he always apologises and bows for drinking first and will pick up the Chawan and place it in front of his knees, bow to the Teishu and say: "Otemae chodai itashimasu".

Tea ceremony expressions

Traditional ceremonies are conducted in Japanese regardless of the native languages of the guests. The Shokyaku and the host should know the important expressions required of the ceremony so they can communicate with each other. During the tea ceremony, there are few words exchanged, and only essential questions are asked. Both the host and the guests refrain from talking about topics unrelated to the tea ceremony to make the gathering more formal and special. Here are a few examples of common expressions:

  • Host: "Okashi wo dozo" (These are the sweets / Please have some sweets)
  • Host: "Ippuku sashi agemasu" (I would like to serve you a bowl of tea)
  • Guest: "Otemae chodai itashimasu" (Thank you for making tea)
  • Guest: "Osakini shitsureishimasu"(Pardon me for going ahead of you)
  • Guest: "Mo ippuku ikaga desuka" (would you like to drink (one)more?)
  • Host: "O-fukukagen wa ikaga de gozaimasuka" (How is the tea?)

Why is this ceremony important?

The traditional Japanese tea ceremony is a living symbol of peace, harmony and happiness. It promotes social interaction and interpersonal bonding, and provides an occasion for everyone to relax and enjoy themselves away from the worries of the outside world.

It is also a means for guests to gain a greater appreciation for traditional Japanese matcha.

Image cred: pixabay

Difference between matcha powder tea and loose green tea leaves

The tea used in tea ceremonies are match powder teas and these are high quality tea that contains up to 15 times more nutrients than loose leaf green tea. Matcha powder is ground tea leaves so you get the benefits of the whole tea leaf’s nutrients and vitamins. In comparison, in regular brewed green tea leaves, its nutrients and vitamins are left behind in the tea leaf because they are not consumed and thrown away.

Dress Code for the tea ceremony

For all formal and traditional ceremonies, you must wear a formal kimono for the ceremony unless the host tells you otherwise. The reason for this is because many of the movements in the ceremony are choreographed to adapt to the kimono. Some examples of such movements include the rituals for straightening the kimono, and tucking silk cloths and fans into the breast of a kimono. Kimono colors also differ with gender; men wear more subdued and mute colors while women wear brighter colors.

Tea room decorations

The tea room adopts a minimalistic style and keeps everything simple and basic. At its core, there must be a tatami flooring (as per tradition), flower arrangement (chabana) and sometimes a hanging scroll (kakejiku). A chabana arrangement is a simple arrangement of seasonal flowers placed in a container. They typically comprise few items, they are so simple that most of the time no more than a single blossom is used; this blossom will invariably lean towards or face the guests.


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