Friday, November 28, 2008

Japanese Tea Ceremony: Canadian Casual Style!

Part Two: Tea Ceremony Procedure 

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.



Guests are seated seiza style on the tatami in order of prestige.


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.

Conversation is kept to a minimum throughout. Guests relax and enjoy the atmosphere created by the sounds of the water and fire, the smell of the incense and tea, and the beauty and simplicity of the tea house and its seasonally appropriate decorations.

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.


After all the guests have taken tea, the host cleans the utensils. The guest of honour will request that the host allow the guests to examine the utensils, and each guest in turn examines and admires each item, including the water scoop, the tea caddy, the tea scoop, the tea whisk, and, most importantly, the tea bowl. The items are treated with extreme care and reverence as they are frequently priceless, irreplaceable handmade antiques, and guests often use a special brocaded cloth to handle them.

The host then collects the utensils, and the guests leave the tea house. The host bows from the door, and the ceremony is over. A tea ceremony can last between one hour and four to five hours, depending on the type of ceremony performed, and the types of meal and tea served.


Procedure adapted from the steps found at 

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)? 

Happy Brewing!




  • 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.

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skram said...

As a way to stimulate thought on the topic of wabi-sabi as an influence in Remains of the Day, I would like to reflect on a few examples that we touched upon in class. The first is Dr.Ogden’s connection of the English hermit figure to wabiness. If wabi allows one to reject materiality and follow the way of nature, the lone hermit may act as a key example. When Stevens first encounters the tramp, he states that “[f]or a moment, I took him for a vagrant, but then I saw he was just some local fellow enjoying fresh air and summer sunshine…”(25). This figure is associated directly with nature, and his corresponding wisdom and advice may be attributed to the clarity derived from rejecting material dependency.

This example is also interesting in relation to civilization exclusivity, as the English hermit trope and the Japanese wabi ascetic comingle in a text written by a Japanese-born English writer. Perhaps this character represents a moment of harmony between the two civilizations, where Japanese and the English readers can appropriate a recognizable cultural figure.

The kind of asceticism and simplicity connected to wabiness may also be found in Stevens’ father’s lodgings. His room is described as being a barren “prison cell” (64), but it also has a view of the rising sun. Its barren walls and starkness may be attributed to Stevens’ father’s rejection of materialism in favour of oneness with nature. He rejects the opulence of the material world in order to find quiet contentment and an opportunity for contemplation through nature.

In contrast, there are moments in the text where sabi is forfeited in favour of a more Western idea of imperfection. Stevens’ attitude toward the deterioration of his capabilities is an example of this claim. Throughout the text, he seems to show a significant amount of anxiety over small errors on the part of his staff. Something as simple as a piece of unpolished silver foretells his impending decrepitude. Rather than viewing imperfection as a source of beauty, Stevens agonizes over any breach of order as an indication of his own impending ineptness.

These examples seem to present wabi-sabi and its internal divisions in conflicting ways. Some aspects of the text suggest that this aesthetic, as well as wabi and sabi individually, play a significant role in establishing the novel’s tone and theme. However, at other times the English narrative and perspective overpower this Japanese mode. This may reflect the amalgamation of Ishiguro’s upbringing, as he infuses the novel with a decidedly conflicted perspective.


skram said...

Wow, Angela, this is great! I especially like how you related wabi-sabi to the whole process with its "simplicity and elegance as ideals of beauty."
I think it's important to recognize that we are taking this journey through certain elements of Japanese culture and/or tradition and that we might not always get it "right" or "perfect." This doesn't mean that we value it any less, just that we're working with what we have and are trying to be as specific and knowledgable as possible. With this said, I love how you included the link to the YouTube video where the casual tea ceremony is explained... thanks!


skram said...

I really enjoyed your use of pictures to give a visual to what you were teaching us :)