Introduction to the Arts
November 24, 2009
The tea ceremony is a special event in Japanese culture. I experienced the gathering of a tea ceremony at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco as a viewer of a cultural performance. Through the research process, I came across additional information that helped me understand both the ritual and historical aspects of that sacred ceremony. The ever-changing form of the tea ceremony is alive in Japanese culture to this day.
Description and Contextual Interpretation:
The Ritual Aspects of the Japanese Tea Ceremony The details are kept to make sure that the ceremony will be perfectly preformed. There are various styles of tea ceremonies and it is recognized that every tea ceremony is a special occasion that will never recur again in exactly the same way, and so every aspect of the tea ceremony is savored.1 The ceremony takes place in a tearoom called the chashitsu. This room is designed and designated only for this ceremony. The room is usually within a teahouse and is located away from the residence in the garden or sometimes even as an individual building on a mountaintop. The guests enter the tearoom through a sliding door that is just three feet high. To enter everyone has to bow, and this signifies that all are equal regardless of status or social position. The last person to enter puts the latch on the door. The first thing that the guest will acknowledge when entering the room are the fragrance of the incense and the way the tea utensils are arranged.2 The tea utensils include not only the preparation tools but also the items used to decorate the room. This combination creates the placid serene atmosphere necessary for the tea gathering. There are no extreme decorations in the tearoom except for an alcove called a tokonoma, in which a scroll painting (kakemono) is hung. Sometimes a simple but elegant seasonal flower arrangement is set in that space as well. The scroll is carefully chosen by the host and reveals the theme of the tea ceremony. In turn, each guest admires the scroll, the kettle (kama) and the hearth. Guests are seated according to their respective positions in the ceremony. Once the host seats himself, greetings are exchanged between the host and the main guest, and then the other guests.
In the tea ceremony, water represents yin.3 The fire in the hearth represents yang.4 A stoneware jar called the mizusashi holds fresh water and symbolizes purity and only the host touches it. The green tea called matcha is kept in a small ceramic container, covered in a fine silk pouch (shifuku) and set in front of the mizusashi.5 The host enters carrying the tea bowl (chawan) that holds the tea whisk (chasen), the tea cloth (chakin) and the tea scoop (chashaku). The tea bowl represents the moon (yin) and is placed next to the water jar, which represents the sun (yang). The host goes to the preparation room, and returns with the wastewater bowl (kensui), the bamboo water ladle (hishaku) and a green bamboo rest called a futaoki for the kettle lid. 6 The host purifies the tea container and tea scoop with a fine silk cloth (fukusa). He fills the tea bowl with hot water and rinses the whisk. He then empties the tea bowl and wipes it with a tea towel called a chakin. At this point the host lifts the tea scoop and tea container and places three scoops of tea per guest into the tea bowl. He ladles enough hot water from the kettle into the tea bowl and uses the whisk to make a thin paste. Additional water is added to the paste until it is the consistency of cream soup, returning any unused water to the kettle. The host passes the tea bowl to the main guest, who bows and accepts it. The main guest admires the bowl by raising and rotating it. He then drinks some of the tea, wipes the rim of the bowl, and passes it to the next guest who does the same thing.7 When all the guests have tasted the tea, the