Japanese tea ceremonies are an ancient held tradition with a set of unique practices and meaning. The values and respect shown in the tea room can translate and enrich not only our own lives, but the lives of others. Read on to learn more about the importance of showing appreciation in all we do, and the thought that goes into hosting a tea ceremony.
If you have had the opportunity to take part in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, you may have noticed that the intricate attention does not stop at the preparation, but also surrounds every other aspect too, from taste to utensils.
When a guest is invited to such an event, they initially proceed to an alcove where a scroll of calligraphy and an offering of flowers are on display. After admiring and paying respects to the objects, the guest continues to the area where the tea will be prepared and inspects the tea set, bowls, chasen whisk, chashaku spoon and other items. Only after may the guest take seat, where they will remain for the duration of the service.
At specific times during the progression, the first (and most important) guest will inquire about the various utensils employed. They must do this for each and every item, if they forget (even unconsciously), it can be taken as an insult or indication of dissatisfaction. The inquiries express genuine interest and an opportunity to express affinity with the objects themselves and their cultural background. They are also a token of appreciation to the host for having gone through the trouble of carefully selecting the objects for this particular event.
Selecting the Utensils
When planning a tea ceremony, deciding which objects to use is perhaps one of his most important decisions for the host. Consideration must be given to the particular season during which the event is held. Objects must be also considered in relation to each other, as well as their relation to the participants. These objects will play a large part in the overall atmosphere of the event, and set the tone for communication as well as the emotions created. For these reasons, object selection is taken very seriously, and therefore should be noticed and respected.
Making the right implement selection often requires having access to a wide range of them. Often, hosts are knowledgeable of and are a collector of such tea utensils. While tea ceremonies value a sense of simplicity, needing access to such a wide range of utensils sits in contrast to this. A guest to such an occasion may only be presented with the opportunity to observe a particular tea cup or dish once during their lifetime, meaning they should appreciate all the little details in the progression. Guests well-versed in the practice of tea understand this, and it instills in them gratitude for the intentions and efforts of the host.
Ichigo Ichie – Once in a Life-Time Only
This almost spiritual, meditational frame of mind is commonly reflected in the notion of ‘ichigo ichie’, which translates as ‘once in a life-time only’.
It is this aspect of the rite of tea that makes the ceremony more than just about the ‘tea’ itself. Our experience is not limited to what we buy in the store, but embodied in an image that stretches from building a freeing atmosphere, to the actual consumption of the brew, to the final conclusion of the event.
‘Tea’ is a moment in time that allows us to relax, positively interact with other people, and for a moment forget our daily worries. It urges us to be fully aware and present in the current moment, which as a whole is a frame of mind that can be very useful in our contemporary daily lives as well.
Learning from the Values
‘Tea’ refers to the total creation of that special moment in time when it can be consumed in an environment where it can be truly appreciated. It relates to choosing the decor, how the utensils are set up and how emotions are invited. The way we interact with each other in the tea chamber, and the frame of mind we require to do so allows us to discover how to effectively interact with other people in all aspects of life. In addition, a tea occasion is the enactment of an ideal world in which everyone respects and appreciates everyone. To live a life of tea is to extend our awareness of the current moment; the appreciation we display for the objects (and therefore intentions of the host); and the way we respectfully interact with other people as is done in the tea progression, to others in our daily lives.
I believe that the rite of tea is not simply a traditional form of art, but that it maintains a wealth of values that are meaningful to our contemporary selves. In addition, the beverage ‘tea’ is not merely a product suited for consumption, but in fact a means to (re-)discover those values. By bringing tea into your life, you open yourself up to a different, more relaxed, and respectful way of life.