Friday, November 28, 2008

Japanese Tea Ceremony: Canadian Casual Style!

Part One: Introduction to the Japanese Tea Ceremony

"Holding a bowl of tea whisked to a fine froth...Such a simple thing: yet filled with a spirit that reaches back more than a thousand years." The Urasenke Tradition of Tea

In order to fully immerse myself in the Civilization Exclusivity question, as well as in the Japanese aesthetic mode, I have researched and hosted a Japanese Tea Ceremony. This entry will reflect my experience and understanding as a Canadian student exploring traditional Japanese art, much as a journal entry would. But before I delve any further into my journey into the world of Teaism (or “the way of Tea”), I would like to put out this disclaimer:

This is a “Casual” or “Informal” tea ceremony exploration, and it has been conducted with some Canadian substitutions for traditional Japanese implements. Below, I will introduce the tools required to host a Tea Ceremony, but as this very helpful link demonstrates, there are several modifications one can make for cost efficiency, as some of the implements are hard to find and expensive to purchase. I will also justify these substitutions by reflecting back on the civilization exclusivity discussion: my Canadian perspective may make it impossible to properly understand or carry out this crucial Japanese custom, and just as I bring Western implements into this traditional Japanese ceremony, so I will carry my Western ideas and preconceptions. As Jennifer L. Anderson states: “Tea ritual is learned behaviour. True, no one enters the tearoom empty-handed. All students and observers of Tea being with culture-specific preconceptions about what they are seeing and doing.” (“Japanese Tea Ritual: Religion in Practice”, 476). Although I may duplicate it to the best of my ability, there will inevitably be a decidedly Canadian skew on this traditional Japanese event.

History of the Tea Ceremony:

I will begin by including a brief History of the Tea Ceremony, courtesy of the article "Japanese Aesthetics, Wabi-Sabi and the Tea Ceremony" from the University of North Texas:

“The tea plant probably originated in the mountainous regions of southern Asia and was later brought to China. Tea was first introduced to Japan along with Buddhism from China in the 6th century, but the Emperor Shomu, who ruled from 724-749, is credited with introducing tea drinking into the country after he had been presented bricks of pressed tea leaves by a Chinese priest. During the Heian period (794-1185), tea was made from steamed and dried tea leaves ground into a powder. This green tea powder, called matcha (mah-chah), is still used today.

In the 15th century, Juro Murata, tea master to Shogun Yoshimasa Ashikaga, integrated many of the concepts of wabi-sabi into the prescribed practices of the tea ceremony, including the dedication of a special room or house for the sole use in the chanoyu. The samurai class, familiar with the austerity of Zen Buddhism and the disciplined and proscribed lifestyle of the warrior, embraced the ceremony of tea. As rules governed every other aspect of life at the time, participants in tea ceremonies were also required to follow certain rules and procedures.

An increased emphasis on Zen Buddhist concepts in the tea ceremony was established by Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591), the most revered Japanese tea master. During the Momoyama period in the second half of the 16th century, Rikyu established a tea ceremony that reflects a simple and quiet taste, the form that is practiced and taught in Japan and throughout the world today. He also designed a simple, separate building to house the ceremony based on a typical Japanese farmer's rustic hut. Rikyu further formalized the tea ceremony's rules of behavior and identified the spirit of chanoyu with four basic Buddhist principles of harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility. These guiding principles signify the highest ideals of the tea ceremony.”

For a detailed history of Chado, and the crucial role women have in maintaining the art, please read Barbara Lynne and Rowland Mori’s case study"The Tea Ceremony: A Transformed Japanese Ritual".

The Ceremony:

There are tons of sources that will teach you how to host a tea ceremony. As Dr. Ogden mentioned in class, the ceremony can be held in a very formal manner, or as I will demonstrate here, very informally. As a newcomer to this art, I kept the ceremony very simple and straightforward.

I was very lucky to have my friend Stephanie as a guest. Stephanie’s mother is a Canadian-born Japanese woman, and Stephanie has grown up with many Japanese influences in her life. She has also travelled on exchange to Japan, where she was billeted by a Japanese family, and she billeted a Japanese student here in Canada. While in Japan, she had the pleasure of participating in a semi-formal tea ceremony. With her knowledge of Japanese culture (albeit from a thoroughly Canadian perspective), I thought she would be a great guest to invite to share in this experience with me.


Below, I have included a list of the implements used during a tea ceremony. Not all tools are used in every ceremony, and others that are not included here may be used. As Dr. Ogden suggests on his blog, the idea of shin-gyo-so (true, moving, grass-like) accounts for the varying levels of complexity and formality that may be found in tea ceremonies across Japan, and indeed across the world. Consequently, the utensils and equipment used may also vary. As I mentioned above, I will bypass some of the true (formal) and moving (semi-formal) tea ceremony procedures in favour of those of the grass-like (informal) steps. In this way, I hope to be to fully immerse myself in the wabi-sabi aesthetic, rather than distract myself with the complexities of the more formal versions.

Chakaiseki - the meal, or food portion of the ceremony

Koicha - thick tea, made with matcha and served first

Usucha - thin tea, also made with matcha, but with more water. Served second.

Matcha - powdered green tea

Higashi - dry sweets, served at the end of the ceremony

Kama - kettle for heating the water

Futaoki - bamboo rest for kettle lid

Kensui - waste water bowl, for any water leftover when making tea

Kakemono - hanging scroll, to be admired by guests and chosen to represent the theme of the ceremony.

Mizusashi - jar for holding fresh water for tea

Chaire - container to hold tea

Shifuku - silk pouch to hold the chaire

Tana - stand for utensils

Chawan - bowl for actually making the tea

Chasen - whisk, used to whisk the matcha tea, which is served rather foamy

Chashaku - bamboo scoop for tea

Hishaku - bamboo water ladle

(list courtesy of "Utensils Used in the Japanese Tea Ceremony" from

Stay tuned for my next post, “Part Two: Tea Ceremony Procedure”.


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