Monday, April 13, 2015

Steeped In History: The way of tea in Japanese!

About a year ago, I wrote an overview of Afternoon Tea. This is a very English concept and one that most of us are familiar with. However, there is a tea ritual with entirely different roots. This is the Japanese Tea Ceremony. Also known as the "way of tea", it is referred to as chanoyu or chadō by its Japanese namesake.

Let's get this party started!

The Japanese Tea Ceremony has a long and rich history with strong ties to Zen Buddhism. The entire ritual is spiritual in nature. Eisai, you may recall, is the founder of Zen Buddhism and is credited with bringing the Chinese way of making tea — the mixing of water and powdered tea — to Japan, and adding a religious spin to it. Another influencer is Sen no Rikyū, who added the concepts of harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility to help shape the ceremony. These designers, along with the many different rulers over the changing eras in Japan helped to elevate tea to a whole new level, beyond that of just another drink or an herb used for medicinal purposes. Tea was a spiritual experience.

Traditionally, a chanoyu is held in a chashitsu which is a tea house specially built for this purpose. Nowadays however, the ceremonies can be held at any venue, inside or outside. The chashitsu can vary in design, style, and décor. They are usually surrounded by a garden called a roji which means "dewy ground". Attendees may stroll and admire these gardens during break time or until they are allowed entrance into the chashitsu by their hosts. The exterior landscape, the interior design, all artwork and scrolls, floral arrangements, and even the tea tools, are carefully selected and prepared to enhance the experience of the tea ceremony. Even the time of year or season has an impact on the ritual. 

Secret hideaway!

There are two types of chanoyu: chakai or chaji. A chakai, which means "tea gathering", is an informal gathering. It is a simple get together that includes a serving of some confections and 
usucha which is thin tea. A chaji on the other hand, which means "tea event", is a formal gathering. It is far more substantial and can last up to 4 hours. A cha-kaiseki is served, which is a full multi-course meal that includes sake, which is a Japanese alcoholic beverage, wagashi, which are confections, koicha, which is thick tea, and some usucha. A chaji may include lively discussions on various topics, the playing of musical instruments by the host, flower arranging demonstrations, poetry readings, and even sake drinking contests.

The performance of the host during the whole ceremony is quite mesmerizing. Each gesture is graceful, deliberate, subtle, and delicate. Each movement is called a temae, and there are many. It is an art in itself and one that takes many years of practice to fine tune.

The chadōgu, which is the tea equipment, may come in many different styles and designs as well. They are handled and cleaned with careful consideration. I described some of the wares in my Matcha post. 

Tools of the trade.

The essential tools required for a chanoyu include:

Chakin: Small linen or hemp cloth used for wiping the tea bowl.
Chawan: Tea bowl one drinks the prepared tea from.
Natsume: Tea caddy where the powdered tea is contained in.
Chashaku: Tea scoop used for picking up the powdered tea.
Chasen: Tea whisk used for mixing the powdered tea and water together.

Procedures for a chanoyu can vary from school of practice, season, and whether it is a formal or informal gathering. I’ll tell you what may go on in a tea house next time.

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