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Japanese Tea Ceremony

In Japan, serving tea has been elevated to a style of ceremony that takes years to perfect. The Japanese tea ceremony dates back hundreds of years. Over the years, the tea ceremony has come to include four principles that are still at the heart of the ceremony today. Harmony, respect, purity and tranquility are all essential parts of the customary and elaborate tea ceremony performed today both in Japan and around the world.

Elements of the Tea Ceremony

The tea ceremony is an ritualized serving of matcha, or powdered green tea, to guests. There are three primary schools when it comes to the ceremony, each with their own rituals and elements. The most common ceremonies are the Omotesenke and Urasenke, with the Urasenke being performed most often, particularly outside of Japan.

The ceremony is formal, so the attire of the host and guests should be formal as well. The host or hostess should be garbed in an authentic kimono and guests should be wearing a kimono or formal wear. Guests to a tea ceremony must be knowledgeable about the rituals and customs the ceremony includes as to participate properly.

Tea Ceremony Locations

The location of a tea ceremony varies. The ceremony might be held outside or inside. In an outside ceremony seating is provided for guests and the ceremony often is drawn out. The more important the guests, the more likely the ceremony will be held inside. Tea ceremonies can be held inside a tea room or a full tea house. A tea room will be part of an existing home or building while a tea house is a separate structure often designed with well-tended gardens.

In a ceremony held in a tea house, the guests wait in the garden until called into the house by the host. Upon entering the house, guests purify themselves by washing their hands and rinsing their mouths. Shoes are removed and guests are seating in order of importance.

The Ceremony

Once guests are seated, the host builds a charcoal fire in a prescribed way to heat the water to make the tea. A meal may be served or if no meal, light sweets are enjoyed by guests. When the tea is prepared, the guest may come forward to take the bowl or the bowl will be brought to the most prestigious guest. Conversation is minimal as the guests should be enjoying the stillness and the sounds and smells of incense and the tea as well as the simplistic decorations of the house.

The host and guest will bow before the guest rotates the bowl slightly to avoid drinking from the front and takes a sip. He bows, raises the bowl as a sign of respect and speaks a prescribed message. The guest takes a few more sips, wipes the rim clean, rotates the bowl back to the original position and passes it to the next guest.

Each guest repeats the procedure until the bowl is returned to the host. Ordinarily a thick tea is served formally followed by a thin tea. The thin tea is served in the same fashion, but the atmosphere is decidedly more casual.

Following the tea, the host will clean the utensils used to create the tea in a customary way. The guest of honor will ask the host if he was view the utensils. The items used in the ceremony are passed around the guests who praise them lavishly and items are handled with a piece of brocade cloth. The guests are extremely careful as many ceremonious items are priceless antiques.

Finally, the items are replaced and guests leave the house. The host bows at the door and the ceremony is complete. A full ceremony complete with meal and many guests can take up to four hours.