The Japanese tea ceremony is a unique Japanese cultural tradition, which began in the 15th century. It has evolved over the centuries, and today there are many different styles and schools of tea in Japan.
Despite the various styles and schools of tea, they all share the same philosophy, which has been shaped by its origins in Zen Buddhism.
The guiding philosophy of the tea ceremony rests on these principles: Wa - Harmony, Kei - Respect, Sei - Purity, and Jaku - Serenity.
One of the key historical figures in the Japanese tea ceremony - Sen no Rikyu, is believed to have emphasized these principles in the development of the tea ceremony.
Sen no Rikyu is credited with having developed all the steps in the tea ceremony and turning it into a ritual, which he passed down onto his students. Sen no Rikyu emphasized the spirituality and the simplicity in the art of drinking green tea.
Today the ceremonial tea is still actively studied by students of all ages. There are tea clubs in high schools, cities and the countryside. Although the ceremony was restricted to only the wealthy in the past, today it is something in which everyone can take part.
The ceremony usually takes place in a traditional Japanese tatami room. A traditional tea room has a raised alcove at the front of the room, which is simply and elegantly decorated with a hanging scroll and a flower arrangement.
The hanging scroll usually has a simple poem written in Japanese calligraphy, which has been carefully chosen by the host to set the mood and atmosphere of the tea ceremony.
There are many steps which the host will carry out during the tea ceremony. The most important thing for the host to do for the guests is to create an atmosphere of tranquility and calm.
Initially the host will greet the waiting guests, by serving them some traditional Japanese sweets. He or she will then bring in the tea and tea utensils to be used in preparing the tea. There are many unique utensils used only in performing the Japanese tea ceremony.
The host will then tell the guests to relax, and enjoy their sweets while the tea is prepared. During this time there are usually no words spoken, and guests simply observe the host preparing the tea.
Once the matcha green tea has been prepared, it is served to guests who are asked how they like the tea. After all the guests have enjoyed and finished drinking the matcha, the host cleans all the utensils and then invites the guests to hold and look at them.
Utensils including the tea container, the tea scoop and bowl are handmade by skilled craftsmen. At this time, the guest can ask the host questions about each utensil (artist, style etc.).
Lastly, the host will take all the utensils and tea out of the room and thank the guests for coming, marking the end of the tea ceremony.
This article was written by Brigita Feltham, owner of Infusious Tea.