茶の湯

The cha no yu, or "tea ceremony," is a famed tradition in Japanese culture in which Japanese green tea, or "cha" is served to a guest according to extremely strict ritual requiring years of practice to master. The ceremony is supposed to reflect Zen philosophy, and strives for the aesthetic of wabi, or "austere beauty."

The Japanese tea ceremony originated in China and was first brought to Japan during the Heian Era, where it was refined in the 16th century by Sen Rikyu (1522-1591), an aesthete in the retinue of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Following Rikyu's death, tea ceremony schools such as Omote Senke, Ura Senke, and Mushanokoji Senke were created by his descendants, each promulgating a slightly different variation of the ritual.


The Conduct of the Tea Ceremony

There are two types of tea ceremony - the long version, which takes about four hours, and the short version, which last for about one hour. In the long version, the host serves the guests a traditional Japanese meal, or kaiseki, usually consisting of miso soup, rice, and seafood, followed by a thick, pasty green tea known as koicha, and finally a light, frothy tea called usucha. In the short tea ceremony, only the usucha is served.

Traditionally, the usucha is made with leaves from a tea plant that is between three and fifteen years old, while the koicha is made with leaves from a twenty- to seventy-year-old plant. In both cases, a special powdered tea of the highest quality, called matcha, is used.

Although the ceremony varies by school, in all cases the ritual is very precisely defined, right down to what angle to lay the utensils, which direction to rotate the bowl and how many times, and what order to do or say each part of the ceremony. At all times, both the host and the guests strive to live up to the Four Principles of the tea ceremony: wa, or harmony between guests, implements, and surroundings, kei, or respect between host and guest and between people and utensils, sei, or cleanliness of both body and spirit, and jaku, or tranquility, which is achieved by perfect adherence to the minutia of the ceremony. Meanwhile, the host endeavors to live up to Seven Standards for the perfect tea ceremony, as propounded by Rikyu:

  1. Make a satisfying bowl of tea.
  2. Lay the charcoal so that the water boils efficiently.
  3. Provide a sense of warmth in the winter and coolness in the summer.
  4. Arrange the flowers as they are in the field.
  5. Have everything ready ahead of time.
  6. Be prepared for rain.
  7. Act with utmost consideration towards your guests.


The Traditional Japanese Tea Room

The tea room traditionally is quite small, only 4.5 tatami mats in size, to reflect austerity and simplicity. The entrance, called the nijiriguchi is very small and low, requiring the guest to crouch down and crawl to enter, reflecting humbleness of spirit.

                   
        Deiriguchi
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#                                       #                   #
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#                                       #     Tokonoma      #
#              Mizuya                   #                   #
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#,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,                    #                   #
#,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,#####################:::::::::::::::::::#
#                   #           ,       ,                   #
#                   #           ,       ,                   #
#                   #    Ro     ,       ,                   #
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#                   #           ,       ,                   #
#                   #,,,,,,,,,,,,       ,                   #
#                   #                   ,                   #
#                   #                   ,                   #
#                   #                   ,                   #
#   Tsuginoma       #               Chashitsu               #
#                   ,                   ,                   #
#                   ,                   ,                   #
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#                   ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,#
#####################,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,#
                          Nijiriguchi              
                                             
                                             
      .,:::,.            .,,:,.         .:,,,,        
     .:.    .           ...  .,         ..  ...        
      ,,   :.            :::,:           .,:,.        
       .::;                                         ,,,, 
                           Tobiishi                 ..., 
                .,::.                 :::,.        :,,,.
       ...     .,.  ,:               ,.  ...          
     .,,.,:    ...  .,               ,.   .:        ...     
      ,.  :     .,::.                .: .,:.      ::::..
      .::,.                            .,,.        .,,; 


Chashitsu - main tea room, where tea is served to the guest
Deiriguchi - rear entrance, used by the host
Mizuya - small room for tea and food preparation
Nijiriguchi - front entrance, used by the guest
Ro - hearth
Tobiishi - stepping stones
Tokonoma - alcove, usually containg a special flower arrangement, known as chabana
Tsuginoma - antechamber


Traditional Tea Utensils

Chakin - tea cloth used to clean the tea bowl before and after use
Chasen - split bamboo tea whisk, for whiping the powdered tea into the water
Chashaku - tea scoop, for transferring the special powdered tea from the natsume to the tea bowl
Chawan - traditional ceramic tea bowl
Furo - brazier
Hishaku - long-handled water ladle
Kama - large ceramic tea kettle
Kensui - water basin
Mizusashi - water jug
Natsume - laquerware container for special powdered green tea


Original ASCII art by yours truly.