True Significance of Japanese Tea Ceremony

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true significance of Japanese tea ceremony
True significance of Japanese tea ceremony

A lot of documentation on Japanese culture compiled by non-native writers almost introduces the Japanese tea ceremony as a traditional way of drinking tea in Japan. In fact, many people confuse Japanese tea ceremony with enjoying Japanese tea, leading to inaccurate comparisons of tea drinking and tea art of Japan. This article will show some basic knowledge of Japanese Tea Ceremony.

Japanese tea ceremony
Japanese tea ceremony

Brief History of Japanese Tea Ceremony

Tea drinking ceremony originated from southern China and ancient the north of Southeast Asia. In the eighth century (Nara period), tea was imported to Japan. However, the number of people know about tea is limited. The reason is that tea drinking is regarded as one of the luxurious forms of royal cuisine.

At the beginning of the 13th century (Kamakura period), a Japanese enlightened monk of Rinzai school named Eisai (1141-1215) brought a type of powdered green tea called matcha from China to Japan.

history of Japanese tea ceremony
History of Japanese tea ceremony

As from the mid-fourteenth century (Muromachi period), drinking tea was widespread throughout Japan. The way of drinking tea of the Japanese is quite similar to the Chinese, mainly drinking tea combined with enjoying the scenery. In the areas of growing tea, the contests of drinking tea are annually held to select the good tea.

The late 15th century, the man named Murata Jukou (1423-1502), the student of the Buddhist priest called Ikyu (1394-1481) of Rinzai school established the first school of enjoying tea for toucha contest called wabicha, which is a school of morality and simplicity.

Japanese tea ceremony
Japanese tea ceremony

Responding to this concept, in the late 16th century (Azuchi Momoyama period), Senno Rikyu (1522-1591) blended tea with the Zen philosophy to form a school of making and drinking tea that is different from the normal way. The tea created by this school is called cha no yuu. The method of making and drinking cha no yuu gradually turns into an art, called sadou. Since then, this art has been improved and popularized and become a feature of the Japanese culture.

The subject of the Japanese Tea Ceremony

Subject of Japanese tea ceremony
Subject of Japanese tea ceremony

In terms of Japanese Tea ceremony, making tea and enjoying tea are two indispensable parts. The most important person of the tea ceremony is the tea maker. What the tea maker does during the process of making tea show his/her mind. This mind will make the tea making more standard and appealing to the participants of this ritual or not. The tea maker play the main role as a subject of the tea ceremony while the tea drinker is only the subordinate subject of a tea ceremony.

The object of the Japanese tea ceremony

In the Japanese tea ceremony, the taste of tea does not play a major role. The only tea used for this ritual is matcha green tea powder, which has the bitter taste and is in powder form. Tea just plays a minor role in the Japanese Tea Ceremony because the bitterness of tea is consistent with Zen philosophy that aimed at keeping off the luxuries, which will help to focus on the thinking of tea drinkers.

The object of the Japanese tea ceremony
The object of the Japanese tea ceremony

The main object of the Japanese tea ceremony is the process of making tea and the act of drinking tea. Both tea makers and tea drinkers do not pay much attention to the taste of tea. Although they are very respectful of this product, the actions of making and drinking tea are their main concern. They completely concentrate on the actions, blend together and are close to the rustic and simple nature that created by themselves in order to keep their mind calm. This calm helps to enhance the main focus on what they are interested in.

Object of Japanese tea ceremony
Object of Japanese tea ceremony

Another main object of the tea ceremony is the tools for making and drinking tea. Different from other luxurious equipment, the instruments for the Japanese Tea Ceremony are quite simple. These tools are made from bamboo, wood and terracotta in simple shapes and decorations as well. This also shows the influence of the philosophy of avoiding the luxury of Zen Buddhism.

Space for Japanese tea ceremony

Japanese tea ceremony is performed in a small space with the layout. The place of tea ceremony is called the tea room (Chashitsu), which is located in the quiet gardens. The Tea room is designed in the Japanese style (Washitsu) and mainly built from wood. The foundation is covered with tatami –  a type of mat. Normally, the entrance to the tea room is narrow and paved with large stones. The way to decorating the outside and the inside of the tea room is also not elaborate. Inside the room usually contains an ink wash painting or a piece of writing in calligraphy hung in the recess accompanied by an ikebana vase.

Japanese tea room
Japanese tea room

Conducting the tea ceremony in this scene with natural material shows that the tea ceremony is in harmony with Zen philosophy.

Conclusion

With the name of sadou that means tea ceremony, the Japanese tea ceremony is always understood in a simple way as “the way of drinking Japanese tea” or “Art of Japanese tea making and drinking.” Because the establishment is based on the Zen philosophy, the Japanese Tea Ceremony is aimed at expressing the Zen Buddhist philosophy.

Japanese tea ceremony - Zen Buddhist philosophy
Japanese tea ceremony – Zen Buddhist philosophy

According to Zen philosophy, man is a small universe and a part of in a huge universe – the natural world. Human life includes many unexplained things; therefore, in order to explain them, people have to make their minds harmonize with nature and not influenced by the surroundings. In conclusion, the true meaning of Japanese tea ceremony is the blend of human and nature through the actions of making and drinking tea.