As you can see in the image above, we made substitutions for some tools (e.g. metal whisk instead of Chasen, teaspoon instead of Chashaku, Stephanie’s winter-style Japanese teacups instead of Chaire), but we tried to stay true to the traditional function of each tool. This next section will act as a photographic timeline of our tea ceremony.
If no meal is served, the host will proceed directly to the serving of a small sweet or sweets.
Each utensil--including the tea bowl (chawan), whisk (chasen), and tea scoop (chashaku)-- is then ritually cleaned in the presence of the guests in a precise order and using prescribed motions. The utensils are placed in a precise arrangement according to the ritual being performed.
When the ritual cleaning and preparation of the utensils is complete, the host will place a measured amount of green tea powder in the bowl and add the appropriate amount of hot water, then whisk the tea using precise, prescribed movements.
The bowl is then served to the guest of honour ("shokyaku" 初客, literally the "first guest"), either by the host or an assistant. Bows are exchanged between the host and guest of honour.
The guest rotates the bowl to avoid drinking from its front, takes a sip, murmurs the prescribed phrase, and then takes two or three more sips before wiping the rim, rotating the bowl to its original position, and passing it to the next guest with a bow.
Procedure adapted from the steps found at japaneselifestyle.com.
Please watch this video to see the inspiration for our ceremony.
Wabi-sabi and the Tea Ceremony:
“In short, wabi-sabi as an aesthetic of the tea ceremony, represents a beauty of appreciation in the mind.” – Davies & Ikeno, The Japanese Mind
The best way to understand the tea ceremony may be through the concept of wabi-sabi, and perhaps, vice versa. For the Western student, it is a difficult concept to grapple with yet alone articulate, but I will try to synthesize the idea in order to relate it to the tea ceremony. Wabi-sabi is an aesthetic idea that refers to a metaphysic of change: all things are transient and imperfect, and yet are beautiful. As a state of mind, it is an acceptance of the inevitability of change, and the necessity of transience. Wabi-sabi revolves around the simplicity of nature, where beauty is fleeting, and can be coaxed out of ugliness. (Ogden, English 392 Lecture, 09/22/08).
The wabi-sabi aesthetic is noticeable in several aspects of the tea ceremony. These include the process’ harmony and simplicity, which lead to a sense of tranquility and beauty. In the article "Japanese Aesthetics, Wabi-Sabi, and the Tea Ceremony", it is stated that “[t]he tea ceremony is the serving of tea, ritualized over time and rooted in Zen Buddhism. It symbolizes aesthetic simplicity and represents the fundamental Zen principles of harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility.” (3) The connection between this concept and the tea ceremony is summed up beautifully by Tadeo Ando. He states that “[i]n learning tea, we're constantly reminded that every meeting is a once-in-a-lifetime occasion to enjoy good company, beautiful art, and a cup of tea. We never know what might happen tomorrow, or even later today. Stopping whatever it is that's so important (dishes, bill paying, work deadlines) to share conversation and a cup of tea with someone you love-or might love-is an easy opportunity to promote peace. It is from this place of peace, harmony, and fellowship that the true wabi-sabi spirit emerges.”
I really enjoyed this experience, and recommend hosting a tea ceremony to anyone who is inspired by this post. In fact, I would encourage hosting multiple tea ceremonies. I say this because one thing that I now recognize is that my tea ceremony was by no means perfect, and while I would like to attribute this to wabi-sabi, I think it is more likely due to my lack of experience. I am not sure that the tranquility or harmony of the process was truly experienced by either myself or my guest due to our limited understanding of the ceremony’s steps, but I do believe that we followed Ando’s advice, and promoted peace, harmony and fellowship by taking time to enjoy the beauty of the present.
Whether it is the civilization exclusivity issue, or my own relative ineptitude that has lead me to feel that I did not truly understand this process in the ways that I have read about, I am not sure. While I can understand how this tradition could lead to feelings of harmony, purity and tranquility, and on a theoretical level why they would occur, I did not really feel them myself. In fact, the setting and dynamic made me want to socialize and catch up rather than be silent and contemplative. Perhaps, this is due to my experience with the Western equivalent of the tea ceremony – gossiping over a latte at a conveniently noisy corner coffee shop.
For Further Discussion:
In order to stimulate further discussion on this post and its relates ideas, I would like to pose the following question: Do you see the wabi-sabi aesthetic at work in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day? If so, in which passage(s)?
- Anderson, Jennifer L. "Japanese Tea Ritual: Religion in Practice". Man, New Series, 22.3 (1987), 475-498.
- Roger J., Ed.; Ikeno, Osamu, Ed., The Japanese Mind: Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture. North Clarendon: Tuttle Publishing, 2002.
- Ogden, Stephen. English 392:Studies in World Literatures in English. Simon Fraser U, Burnaby, BC. 22 Sept. 2008.
- Rowland Mori, Barbera Lynne. “The Tea Ceremony: A Transformed Japanese Ritual”. Gender and Society 5.1 (1991), 86-97.