Japan Tea Ceremony Guide: Dos and Don’ts for First-Timers to Remember
Attending a traditional tea ceremony in Japan is one of the quintessential things you can do here. If you seek to understand what it’s like to have a tea ceremony, in this guide, we break down the basics of a Japanese tea ceremony as well as the etiquette.
A tea ceremony in Japan involves preparing and drinking green tea (“matcha”) in a tearoom (“chashitsu”) with a tatami floor. Alongside green tea, traditional sweet desserts are also part of the ceremony. Two kinds of sweets used are dry sweets (“higashi”) and moist sweets (“omogashi”), which change from season to season in terms of color, texture, and taste.
A tea ceremony typically lasts 4 hours and involves a meal (“chakaiseki”) and two servings of tea (“koicha” and “usucha”). Before the actual tea ceremony, the host sends out an invitation to the ceremony. The selection of tea bowls and utensils also happens in advance. The host orders wagashi sheets and prepares the decor.
Japan’s tea ceremony represents four basic principles of the Japanese culture—harmony (“wa”), respect (“kei”), purity (“sei”), and tranquility (“jaku”). Every movement, every step, and every moment is done with precision.
The traditional tea ceremony in Japan is deeply rooted in Zen philosophy, so it’s still considered a spiritual process that’s aimed at bringing peace and harmony to guests through serving and drinking tea.
If you are new to a tea ceremony, here’s a list of the dos and don’ts you should remember to avoid an embarrassing social blunder:
1. How do you pick up the bowl at a tea ceremony?
The host will present the tea bowl to every guest in turn. The front of the bowl faces you. The proper way to pick up the bowl is through your right hand and put it on your left hand with your palm facing upward.
When the tea is served, bow once and raise the tea bowl to the host. Then, rotate the bowl clockwise so the front of the bowl is not facing you anymore. Take a sip and give the host a compliment on the tea. Wipe the rim of the tea bowl after taking a few sips. The front of the bowl should still face the host when you return it. Bow to express your gratitude.
2. Do you have to wear a kimono for a tea ceremony?
Traditionally, kimono and hakama are worn by women and men. In modern-day tea ceremonies, any clothing is allowed as long as you remain respectful. However, avoid flashy pieces of clothing that reveal too much skin. For men, a button-up shirt or a suit and tie will do, depending on the occasion. Wear socks since you need to take off your shoes upon entering the tearoom.
3. Avoid washing your hands in the tea room.
Clean your hands before going to the tea ceremony. When you are offered a basin to wash your hands, decline politely unless you really need to wash your needs.
4. Wait to be offered.
Do not just eat the sweets when you are not offered. The sweets are placed on the table while waiting for the water for the tea to boil. However, as soon as you are offered, take them. Do not wait for too long after being offered. The same for the tea. Do not drink them when you are not offered.
5. Don’t sit in a seiza style.
Tea ceremonies in Japan last for a few hours. Sitting in a seiza style or even Indian style could tire your legs fast. When you’re not in the tea room, sprawl your legs out to avoid the pain of sitting for hours. Sit only in seiza style when you enter the tea room.
Remember these tips to avoid committing mistakes inside the tea room. But most of all, be respectful towards your host and be appreciative.
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