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The Tale Of Tranquil Tradition: All You Need To Know About The Japanese Tea Ceremony

japanese tea ceremonies

Buckle up, folks. The land where trains can zip you from one town to another at mind-bending speeds offers a sweet escape into the tranquil world of tea. And that’s where we’re headed! Every sip has a story to tell. Every whisk is a whimsical journey rooted in tradition.

Say Kon’nichiwa to the Japanese Tea Ceremony – a ritual with perfect mindful movements and dialogues (and some wonderful matcha) that will transport you to a zen state of mind. This tradition just happens to be one of the many must-do experiences in Japan – do it for yourself on the Japan In A Week trip with Contiki. 

We spoke to Haruki Ogasawara from the Nagomi Tea Ceremony Experience in Kyoto, who spilled the tea about everything you need to know about the intriguing Japanese Tea Ceremony.

What is the Japanese Tea Ceremony? 

To put it simply, it’s a ceremony where a host makes matcha for the guest by following traditional step-by-step actions.

Picture this. You enter the wood-clad Chashitsu (traditional tea room) in a quaint Japanese town. The scent of fresh tatami mats is in the air. The birds are chirping to the rhythm of the soft rustle of the Kimono. A kind-eyed host welcomes you to their tranquil ceremony. You’re watching as a cup of freshly brewed matcha is prepared. The kettle is keenly examined. The tea is carefully scooped. The water is perfectly measured: 60 ml, 80 degrees Celsius. Everything is precise. The tea is then poured into your Chawan (tea bowl). All you need to do is savour the flavour.

If it seems like it’s choreographed, that’s because it is. The Japanese Tea Ceremony, or Chanoyu, has been around since the 12th Century. And has been around ever since. But there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to this custom. 

Japanese tea ceremonies

Image source:Contiki

Tea-riffic Fact 1: The movements in the Japanese Tea Ceremony are choreographed to flow with a Kimono. That’s why most tea ceremonies require you to adapt to a specific dress code.

Why is the Japanese Tea Ceremony done? 

The roots of this ceremony run deeply in spirituality. Harmony, respect, purity, tranquillity, and finally appreciation – these are the values the tea ceremony embodies (and aims to teach the one who experiences it). It’s a way to escape the chaos of the world and bring your mind to focus on the little things in life.

The principles of the Japanese Tea Ceremony have been heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism. It represents a connection between life and art, the sacred and secular, and our planet and inner spirituality. 

Why is it significant in Japanese culture?

Besides being a profound cultural experience, the Japanese Tea Ceremony is a window into the way of life of the Japanese people. It mirrors the aesthetics, craftsmanship, and philosophies that have developed over centuries, and encourages mindful social interaction for deeper connections. 

Tea-riffic Fact 2: The flower arrangements used during the ceremony use only seasonal flowers. Most of the time, only a single blossom is used in order to not be wasteful. 

japanese tea ceremonies

Image source:Contiki

Do people still do the Japanese Tea Ceremony? 

It might seem like an age-old tradition (it is, actually), but it’s far from disappearing into the abyss of time. There’s something significant about being mindful about every movement that feels like a refreshing change from the world of instant gratification that most of us are used to. 

Lucky for us, the ceremony has been keeping up with the times. “The tradition has always been changing. Back in the 17th century, the Samurais started the ceremony. And since the 19th century, ordinary people started doing it too,” says Haruki Ogasawara. The modern Japanese Tea Houses you’ll find in the cities are a testament to the fact that this tradition continues even today (changing with the times, of course).

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How do I get invited?

It’s no surprise that everyone wants to be a part of a Japanese Tea Ceremony. Who wouldn’t? Luckily, there are plenty of ways to do it. Traditionally, the tea ceremony requires an invitation. So, if you happen to make a friend, who happens to be a part of a tea ceremony group – never let them go.

But if not, don’t worry. You’ll find plenty of tea houses that are happy to do a tea ceremony and are open to the public. All you’ll have to do is make a reservation. And if you’re looking to experience the ceremony with an exciting group of 18-35s (with your reservation all done), going on a Contiki trip to Japan is always the best option!

japanese tea ceremonies

Image source:Contiki

Which cities offer the best tea ceremony experiences?

Kyoto: If you want an authentic Japanese tea ceremony experience, Kyoto is the place to go. (Check out Contiki’s Japan trips) It’s often referred to as the heart of Japanese culture, and is specifically known for its tea ceremonies in the historic tea houses – Urasenke and Omotesenke. Experienced masters. Exceptional tea. It doesn’t get more authentic.

Tokyo: It’s the capital for a reason. If you want to experience a contemporary form of the tea ceremony, Tokyo is where the magic happens. You’ll find the streets lined up with modern tea-themed cafes that provide a mix of classic and contemporary experiences.

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Kanazawa: Art museums. Regional handicrafts. Geisha culture. Sounds like the epitome of Japanese tradition because it is. You can enjoy an authentic tea ceremony at tea houses in the Higashi-Chaya district (that’s where the Geishas perform too!)

Kyushu: This island in the south of Japan has a tea culture of its own. Tea houses like Yame in Fukuoka and Ureshino in Saga are well known for their various tea experiences and green tea production too. That’s a new level of fresh tea right there.

Tea-riffic Fact 3: Some Japanese Tea Ceremonies can go on for four hours!

japanese tea ceremonies

Image source:Contiki

Can I learn how to do the Japanese Tea Ceremony? 

Short answer – yes. There are plenty of ways to become a Japanese Tea Ceremony host. Many institutes now offer online courses so you can learn from anywhere in the world (yay!). But you better start sharpening your memory, because there’s a lot to remember. Every movement, dialogue, and expression has already been decided. And there are variations according to the season, type of tea, and utensils. So it’s no surprise it takes about a year to get the basics right. “It’s different for everyone. But it took me around three months,” says Haruki Ogasawara.

The final sip…

“Otemae chodai itashimasu” or “Thank you for the tea”. The bowl is in front of your knees. Your fingertips touch the floor in between your knees and the bowl as you thank the Teishu (Host) for serving you a fresh, mindful cup of tea.

The Japanese Tea Ceremony is a sip of serenity in a world that chases constant change. So if you want to take a well-deserved break, or to seek the extraordinary in the ordinary, take some time out to visit a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony. You’ll probably come out of it with a new-found sense of peace, and un-matcha-able tea standards.

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