The tea ceremony, popularly known as the Way of the Tea, is a traditional socialization activity in Japan that involved a ceremonial preparation and serving of green tea1. Tea ceremonies in Japan are divided into two main categories, depending on the size of the occasion. The first type of ceremony is the chakai, a simple event that involves the uptake of confectionary, thin-tea and sometimes a light meal2.
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The chakai usually lasts less than one hour. The other type of tea ceremony is known as the chaji, and it is a more elaborate and formal function compared to the chakai. It usually involves the serving of a full-course meal, which is then followed by confectionary, thick-tea and thin-tea. Because of their elaborate nature, chajis last a minimum of four hours.
The procedure for the tea ceremony varies depending on the area, the timing and other elements. From this point onwards, the discussion shall analyze the Way of the Tea from the point of view of a chaji, the formal version of the ceremony. A formal chaji basically has one guest and five guests. In the ceremony, guests are should turn up some minutes, or even hours before the appointed time.
They then enter the waiting area, where they hang any items they do not need such as coats. Here, the guests are given the tabi, the acceptable tea ceremony clothes.
During this preparation phase, the guests are served hot water or roasted barley tea. Once they are ready, the guests are then directed to the waiting bench, located outside the area where the ceremony will be held. They sit in this area until the host invites them in for the ceremony.
To summon the guests into the room where the ceremony is to be held, the host nods while facing the guests, who nod back as a sign of accepting the invitation. The guests then move to the purification area, where they wash their hands and rinse their mouths using a special blend of herbs before moving on to the tea house. Prior to entering the room where the ceremony is to be held, the guests have to remove their shoes.
They then take position in order of prestige, and once the last guest has taken his seat, the guest is alerted by a particular sound. The host welcomes the guests before answering a specific question raised by one of the visitors.
Once these formalities are done with, the coal used to heat the water for the tea is laid before the meal is served in a number of courses. After the meal, a small break is allowed and the host uses this interval to sweep the room and replace the scrolls with flowers. As soon as the preparations are over, the guest rings a bell to invite the guests back into the room.
The guests cleanse themselves and assume their original position and a thick tea is served. All the guests take a sip from the bowl containing the thick tea and once everyone has had a taste, thin tea is served together with confectionery. After everyone takes the thin tea, the host declares the ceremony over and he bows to usher out any guest who wants to leave. As they leave, the guests are expected to thank the host for the invitation.
Soshitsu, Sen. “The Urasenke tradition of tea.” Urasenke. Last modified January 1, 2002. http://www.urasenke.or.jp/texte/index.html
1 Sen Soshitsu, “The Urasenke tradition of tea,” Urasenke, last modified January 1, 2002.