When you hear the water splash into the tea bowl,
the dust in your mind is washed away
–Sen no Rikyu
On an island in the eastern hemisphere lies a country with a rich and vibrant culture steeped in history spanning centuries – Japan. Japan has long been known for their heritage and elephants. From Zen and calligraphy to origami and ikebana (flower arrangement). The Japanese tea ceremony (茶道- Chado/ Sado), also known as ‘the way of tea’ is a ritualistic ceremony for the preparation of green tea. Cha(茶) means ‘tea’ and do (道) meaning ‘the way’.
Tea, which was discovered in 2737 BCE in China, found its way to Japan in the 8th century. It started out as a drink of the religious and the upper class and was also used as medicine. Among the upper class, it became a popular custom to show off their tea bowls and display their knowledge about tea to guests.
The tea ceremony that we know was invented by Senno Rikyu (1522-1591) which was when tea spread to the Bushi (the Samurais) and then to the common people. It was inspired by minimalism, Zen teachings and spirituality. Rikyu lived through a time of great social and political upheaval and countless riots and battles between warring states. He sought to obtain peace of mind through tea by taking inspiration from Zen meditation. The ceremony practised in Korea was inspired by the Japanese tea ceremony during imperial times.
The ceremony has varying levels of formality. The guests will be led through the garden and then to wash their hands. The door to the room is usually small to ensure the guests bow in respect. The ceremony takes place in a sparsely decorated room with a maximum of five guests kneeling on cushions.
Rikyu laid out four basic concepts that are to be followed: Wa (harmony), kei (respect), Sei (purity), and Jyaku (tranquillity).
Wa is to create a friendly relationship between the host and the guests.
Kei is to be humble and show respect to other people and to nature.
Sei is to practice cleanliness (purity) inside and outside. While ‘outside’ meant washing one’s hands and rinsing one’s mouth before entering the tearoom, the ‘inside’ signified cleaning and emptying of one’s mind through the act of drinking tea.
Jyaku is to attain calmness in mind to be prepared to face anything anytime. Sen and other developers of the tea ceremony emphasized four qualities: harmony between the guests and the tools used; respect, cleanliness and tranquillity.
In present times
Presently, the tea ceremony is not in common use and is only practised by a few as a hobby. In Japan, there are various places for tourists and visitors to experience this aspect of Japanese culture. The cities of Uji and Kyoto are some of the most well-known for the same.
The tea ceremony is a must to experience for people interested in learning about different cultures but also for tea enthusiasts. This is because the processes of Japanese teas and Indian teas are different. In Japan, the tea leaves are steamed and then processed but in India, the tea leaves are oxidized. The taste of the end product is distinct.
One can experience the tea ceremony online from the comfort of your home. During quarantine, I acquired a burgeoning interest in teas and therefore I want to try a variety of teas. The concept of Jyaku is one that I like because I feel it will help me to cope with academic stress. I really want to experience the Japanese tea ceremony in person.
Contributor: Ananya Sampath
About our Writing Program Student
Ananya Sampath is a 11th Grade student studying at Legacy School, Bangalore. She enjoys reading, playing badminton and dancing in her free time. She is passionate about history and enjoys learning about new cultures and mythologies.