Are you soon planning a wonderful stay in the spectacular country known in the west as Japan? Are you possibly studying Japanese culture in school or maybe just wanting to learn more about the amazing culture that has made such a graceful impression on the rest of the world? If you want to truly understand traditional Japanese culture, there is possibly no more appropriate single activity to experience than a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.
The Japanese tea ceremony, known as “Sado” (pronounced Sah-doe) is a cultural phenomenon that has been featured in countless films about traditional Japan and rightly so. It encompasses much of what is truly important in understanding the classical culture that modern Japan is built on. The ceremony itself is rooted in Zen Buddhism, as are many aspects involved. It is somehow appropriate since Zen, in a way, has its theological origins in a form of Buddhism imported from China and adapted to Japan. It grew into amazingly spectacular new forms and many feel that it is Buddhism at its most refined and pure today. Similarly, green tea used in the tea ceremony was also imported from China and refined for many years in Japan to produce a spectacular strain which is used in powder form in a Japanese tea ceremony. The powder is called “Matcha” and you may have already had it in a Matcha Latte or similar from a popular coffee shop in your area. Matcha flavored chocolate, cake, and similar are also available as are many other treats flavored with the wonderful taste.
Tea ceremony involves more than just tea, it involves the subtle arts of flower arrangement, equally subtle social interactions, and also an intricately choreographed series of ritual movements which are implicit in the presentation of a proper tea ceremony. The atmosphere in a proper ceremony is focused, serene, and full of presence. One should easily hear every drop of water being poured into a tea bowl. The very activity induces natural respect and dignity for all involved and appreciative admiration for the performer of the ceremony. It was traditionally a ritualistic way to level the playing field of worldliness and essentially acted as a small temple in which to remove all social hierarchy and allow the participants to talk openly with the kind of respect and dignity such a ceremony imposes. Weapons were not allowed, so Samurai were expected to leave their swords outside the tea house. The doorway to a traditional tea house is small and one must kneel to enter, which instantly imposes humility and also made it more difficult to enter with any kind of sword at one’s side. Thankfully swords are no longer a concern, so even if your first tea ceremony takes place in a tea house with a larger doorway, you should still be safe from Samurai.
One thing that participants should be aware of is that participants will probably be sitting in a position known as “Seiza” (pronounced Say-ee-Zah) which is essentially sitting on one’s feet with the legs bent and knees together. After everyone is served, it should be more acceptable to relax your sitting position a little more. Also remember to remain quiet until it is apparent that everyone has been served and also your host is a little more social.