Tea ceremonies have always fascinated me. The British with their high and low social tea times, the Japanese with their stringent tea customs and the Chinese with their incredible tea pots, its all so fascinating. Part of it is the little girl in me that likes the whole tea-set idea and socializing with friends, but as I matured, I think now that I am more jealous of the time that most people take out of their day to focus on something beautiful and peaceful. I thought it would be amazing to step into each culture and find out the “how” and “why” of teatimes across the globe.
Today we journey to Japan where the tea ceremony, called Ocyakai, is a spiritual journey. The host and a few friends gather to reconnect with their inner selves much like you would in meditation, a church service or in yoga. From start to finish this ceremony is orchestrated with art, precision, grace and focus. Before any guests arrive, the hostess will clear the chanoyu, the place where the ceremony is held, of any clutter. Usually this is a separate room designated only for serving tea, but it is sometimes a separate house altogether. There will be a deliberate placement of fresh flowers, arranged in an artistic creation, as well as charcoal and a bed of flat rocks to bring Mother Nature into the room. Organizing the charcoal and ashes alone can take hours to perfect. Scrolls written in gorgeous calligraphy that celebrate Buddhist poetry decorate the tea area as well. The hostess will dress in a Kimono and display all of the utensils needed.
*hishaku, a water ladle
*Mizusashi, a cold water container
*Chawan, a tea bowl
*Chakin, a wiping napkin
*Chasen, a bamboo whisk
*Chashaku, a tea scoop
* Chaki, a tea container
*Kensui, a waste water container
The Japanese study for years in special schools to celebrate the ceremony of tea. Teatime is taken very seriously, one might even say religiously. A tea ceremony is expected to last 1 hour, if food is served, it will last four hours, and there is to be complete silence during the preparation of the tea. The hostess begins by staring into the water ladle to clear her mind of other distractions and to gain focus on her task at hand. The silence is said to build awareness and clarity and should bring full attention to ones state of mind.
“Do not speak-unless it improves on silence.” –Buddhist saying
From which hand touches which utensil, to how many times the bowl is spun…and in which direction, every single step is done as if it has been choreographed and rehearsed for years, mostly because it has been. Guests, who are sitting on their heels and are at full attention, are to make sure that after each sip of tea, the front of the tea bowl faces the host. Most often a green tea called Matcha will be served without any condiments such as lemon, sugar or milk but are usually accompanied by sweet treats. The sweet treats, which are to be eaten with proper finger position, and bitter tea consumed together are a sign of harmony.
The rigorous Japanese ceremony is heavily influenced by the Buddhist Monks who first brought tea to Japan from China around the year 815. They were the first to cultivate it in Japan and the first to see its medicinal benefits. Since that time, the Japanese ceremony of tea has continued as a time for self-examination, a time for bonding with friends and a time for appreciation of aesthetics. Even if we only indulged once a month, this is one ceremony I think we could all benefit from by turning off our minds and fully participating in the given moment.
“Tea…is a religion of the art of life.” ~Okakura