Why Host a Japanese Tea Ceremony at Home?
Many of us live a hectic lifestyle and often work in stressful environments. While we may enjoy the work that we do, at times we need to take a break and find moments of peace.
A Japanese tea ceremony is one way to refocus the mind and to enjoy total relaxation. Study of the effects of Japanese tea ceremony shows that a person will experience a heightened peace of mind while performing such a ceremony. While attending an official ceremony is possible, hosting one in your home will not only give you peace of mind, but also a sense of pride and fulfilment.
You can also help someone in mourning or who is going through a difficult time through the hosting of a special, private tea ceremony. The serene ambience is also a good setting for any time that calls for a sombre celebration.
Hosting a Japanese tea ceremony is a complex ritual, but following a set of basic guidelines is enough to help you get started.
What is a Japanese Tea Ceremony?
Japanese tea ceremony or chanoyu in Japanese means ‘hot water for tea’. It is a relaxed intimacy between the host and guests, based on the etiquette of serving matcha, a powdered green tea. Its aim is the attainment of a spiritual satisfaction and connection from the serving and drinking of matcha green tea.
This unique ritual has been in practice for more than 450 years, and traditionally held in a cha-shitsu tea house which is a detached building from the main house, or a special room within the house. If you intend to host this tea ceremony, you can allocate a space within your room, or use a spare room for this ceremony.
Japanese Tea Ceremony Etiquette
In a tea ceremony, you do not discuss things that can lead to an argument such as office matters or politics. You can talk about the tea equipment or the types of tea to help maintain a peaceful atmosphere, or listen to the sound of hot water pouring into the teacup and the gentle sounds of the bamboo whisk to set your mind at ease.
Other things that you need to know:
• Guests must take off their shoes before entering the tea ceremony room.
• As the host you will seat the guests, and they are to sit quietly until told to do something.
• Use only a closed fist when you perform any of the tea ceremony steps. This also applies to your guests.
• Smoking is not allowed during the tea ceremony.
Supplies Required for a Japanese Tea Ceremony
These are the essential items required for the tea ceremony:
• Matcha: The powdered green tea. Use only the finest ceremonial grade matcha to experience the real sense of a Japanese tea ceremony.
• Chawan: Matcha bowl for whisking matcha powder and water, from which you drink matcha.
• Chasen: The bamboo whisk to mix matcha with hot water.
• Wagashi: A traditional Japanese sweet, served before drinking matcha to offset its ‘bitterness’.
These utensils are optional items:
• Chagama: A cast-iron kettle to boil water for tea.
• Chashaku: A long bamboo spoon for measuring and scooping matcha into the chawan.
• Yuzamashi: A special pot to cool the hot water.
• Fukusa: A square-piece-silk cloth to serve tea and to clean the tea bowl after use. Men will use purple, and women will use orange or red coloured fukusa.
• Kensui: A bowl where the water used to rinse the chawan is emptied into.
Other Optional Accessories
A tea room has floor cushions or tatami for seating, a low table, paintings, calligraphy scrolls and flower arrangements. You can buy and decorate your tea ceremony space with these optional accessories to further enhance the Zen-like ambience.
Additionally, you can place a rice paper shade over your room window to screen it from any ‘busy’ views that may distract you.
Japanese Tea Ceremony Steps: Pre-Event
Decide on the number of guests you want to invite and send the invitations well in advance.
To mentally prepare them for the event, give reasons for this ceremony, and explain the basic Japanese tea ceremony rituals and etiquette.
2. Preparing the Tea Ceremony Space
Decide on the theme (for example a simple, clean and uncluttered area), and decorate the room or space.
3. Tea Ceremony Supplies
Get all your supplies early. If necessary, learn in advance the tea ceremony rituals and how to arrange the flowers. If serving kaiseki (a traditional multi-course meal) is in your program, learn how to cook the particular dishes.
Japanese Tea Ceremony Steps: The Event
1. Welcoming the Guests
Remind your guests to remove their shoes before entering the tea room or space. As a symbolic gesture of purification, the guests are to wash their hands.
They will then take their proper places according to the rules of the tea ceremony. The principal guest is seated before the host, and he or she is also the main person to communicate with the host.
After the host has exchanged greetings, you serve the guests kaiseki or wagashi.
2. Serving Kaiseki or Wagashi
If you are serving meals during this tea ceremony, then this is the time to serve the light repast. If you are not serving meals, then proceed to serve wagashi.
You place a bowl of wagashi between you and the principal guest. Wagashi will be eaten only after you have cleaned the tea utensils.
3. Cleaning the Tea Utensils
These utensils are to be cleaned in front of your guests and done so in a graceful manner.
You then proceed to warm the chawan and chasen with hot water, and discard this water into the Kensui.
You bow and inform your guests that they may now proceed to eat the wagashi.
4. Serving Thick Matcha
The next step is to serve koicha or thick matcha, which is the most important part of the tea ceremony. Scoop two or three spoonfuls of matcha and pour enough hot water to make three and a half mouthfuls for one person, before whipping it into a creamy froth with a chasen.
It is then served to the principal guest who takes two or more sips. He then wipes the edge of the chawan where his or her lips touched with a piece of paper, and passes the chawan to the second guest. This guest then passes it to the third and so on, until all guests have sipped its contents. During this process, the guests will compliment the host on its fine preparation.
After all the guests have consumed the tea, the host washes both the chawan and the chasen. This ends the most formal and important part of the tea ceremony.
5. Serving Thin Matcha
The succeeding and final part of the tea ceremony is to serve usucha or thin matcha. This is prepared with one teaspoon matcha to one cup hot water. The serving of usucha is similar as in the koicha progressive formalities.
6. Cleaning the Tea Utensils
After the usucha service, the host will again clean the tea utensils. Now, the principal guest will request to examine and admire the chawan as a prized possession. He or she then passes it around for other guests to admire.
7. Final Stage of the Ceremony
Once the formalities of the tea ceremony are over, the guests will leave. On the day following the ceremony, each guest will thank the host for their hospitality. This is part of the tea ceremony etiquette.
Relax and Unwind
Tea masters take years to learn the full art of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. As long as you don’t overthink the finer details, you will do fine. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, just relax and enjoy the feeling of slowing down and experiencing life at a slower pace with the soothing magic of Japanese tea.