A Traditional Tea Ceremony in Tokyo

March 29, 2012 by

Local Recommendations, Things To Do, Travel Tips

Japanese Tea Ceremony

Japanese Tea Ceremony

A traditional tea ceremony is a relaxing, meditative and uniquely Japanese experience. If you are thinking of attending a tea ceremony in Tokyo, it is helpful to understand some of the history and protocol associated with this ancient ritual.

What is a tea ceremony?
A tea ceremony is a series of rituals that are performed to make matcha (green tea).  Every aspect of the ceremony is precise and carries great spiritual significance. All the rituals must be learned by heart with every hand movement and piece of equipment, from the bamboo brush used to mix the powdered tea and hot water, to the scoop used to decant the tea, being of the utmost importance. Closely aligned with the practice of Zen Buddhism, tea ceremonies are considered a spiritual practice and a traditional art form and typically take two hours to perform.

Tea was introduced from China in the fourth century and was initially consumed for medicinal purposes before becoming a much-venerated part of Japanese culture. Adopted by Zen Buddhists and becoming popular with the samurai class during the Kamakura era, tea drinking and the tea ceremony, also known as the ‘way of tea,’ eventually became an important ritual throughout Japan and an integral aspect of Japanese culture.

What to expect?
A tea ceremony usually takes place in a purpose built tearoom with a tatami floor. In a traditional ceremony guests would be required to follow certain rules of etiquette but for foreign guests these rules are usually relaxed and you may even be able to sit on a bench or chair rather than sitting on the tatami mats (as is the usual style).

You will usually receive a welcome cup of roasted barley tea upon arrival before washing (purifying) at a stone basin and preparing to enter the inner tearoom and waiting to receive the host (the person who will perform the tea ceremony).  Japanese sweets are presented to the guests but should not be eaten until the host indicates that it is okay to do so.

Guests are then invited to watch silently as the tea making rituals are performed. After the tea has been enjoyed, guests are invited to examine the tea making utensils, which are often antiques and have been made by expert craftsmen.

- Emma McMahon

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