Although Japan is a modern country, there are still many ancient traditions practiced today. A notable one is the Japanese tea ceremony--known as sadō (茶道). This ceremony is a ritual steeped in history. Participants will discover a stylized way of preparing and drinking green tea (matcha), typically in a tea room with a tatami floor. In these modern days, however, the tea ceremony can be held anywhere, even picnic-style outdoors.
One of the main purposes of the tea ceremony is to relax from the fast pace of everyday life. Sadō has been regarded as a sacred and meditative ritual in Japan throughout the ages, highly influenced by Zen Buddhism. Nowadays though, the tea ceremony can be practiced as a hobby. Often ranked as one of the top immersive Japanese cultural experiences, there are a multitude of ways in which you can easily partake in the ceremony, ranging from the very formal and authentic to casual and less formal. Kyoto and nearby Uji, however, are the most popular destinations for tourists to enjoy an authentic tea ceremony.
You are most likely to find matcha being used with the ceremony. The green tea powder was brought to Japan from China in the 12th century by the Zen Buddhist monk, Eisai. Lauded for its caffeine-rich properties, it served as a gentle meditative aid to help prevent monks from drifting off to sleep. Furthermore, it’s known to boost metabolism and improve mental alertness, plus it contains an antioxidant linked to fighting cancer. Some types of matcha can be quite expensive, as it takes about one hour to grind 30 grams of tea leaves.
Step-by-Step Guide to the Japanese Tea Ceremony
Step 1: When arriving at the ceremony venue, be sure to wash your hands. This is to rid yourself of the impurities of the outside world.
Step 2: Avoid stepping on the center of the tatami mats, and sit seiza style on a cushion. The host will clean his or her tools with graceful movements. Purified water is then boiled in an iron kettle on a stove sunken into the floor.
Step 3: A silk cloth (fukusa), is taken from the host’s kimono sash to handle the hot iron pot.
Step 4: Matcha powder and several ladles of hot water are added to a traditional teacup and whisked thoroughly.
Step 5: The ceramic cup of matcha is handed to the first guest, and they are expected to rotate the cup 180° in two turns before taking a sip. Each guest wipes the cup before passing it on. Refrain from drinking from the front of the tea bowl.
Step 6: The guests will be served an array of pretty wagashi sweets, usually filled with sweet azuki bean paste to counteract the bitterness of the tea.
Step 7: After the bowl is handed back to the host, the tools are cleaned and the ceremony is brought to a close.
Basic Rules and Etiquette When Attending the Japanese Tea Ceremony:
1. Be on time.
2. Wear modest clothes and remove any jewelry that may damage the tea equipment.
3. The tea is not meant to be consumed in one big gulp. Rather, enjoy it slowly taking sips from the bowl about three times.
4. We should appreciate the efforts of the host. Find something to compliment or ask a question about the tea ceremony.
Now you're ready to go! There are many places in Japan that offer this unique experience. If you’d like to attend a Japanese tea ceremony, you can check here.
Have you attended a Japanese tea ceremony before? Share your experiences in the comment box below!