The Japanese tea ceremony (chanoyu) is derived from the influence of the Zen Buddhist masters of the
14th and 15th centuries. In the 1500s, Sen No Rikkyu embraced the ideas of simplicity. He developed a tea
ritual that comprised of no wasted movement and no unneeded objects.
Instead of using expensive imported utensils, Rikkyu made tea in a thatched hut simply using an iron kettle, a plain container for tea, a tea scoop, a whisk made from bamboo, and a common rice bowl for drinking the tea. In a Rikyu-style tearoom, the only decorations were a hanging scroll or a vase of flowers placed in the alcove. The lack of decoration makes participants more aware of details and awakens them to the simple beauty around them.
The host of the tea ceremony may prepare significantly for the event. This involves practicing all steps and hand movements, so that every aspect of the ceremony is perfect, yet simple. The ceremony can be performed at a home, a tea house, outdoors, or a special tea room. The décor for the ceremony is simplistic, including hanging scrolls that are appropriate for the season or feature calligraphy.
A full length formal tea ceremony (chaji) can last up to four hours long. Before the ceremony begins, guests gather in a waiting room (machiai) where they are served hot water that will later be used to make tea. The guests then proceed to an arbor in the garden and wait to be greeted by their host. Next, they will wash their hands and mouths from water in a stone wash basin to purify themselves before entering the tearoom.
The guests enter through a small door or gate to remind them that all are equal. After prescribed greetings, the guests take their seats by kneeling on a tatami (reed mat). The host adds charcoal to the fire and serves a simple meal.
Guests return to the arbor before being called back for the serving of tea. It begins with cleaning and preparation of the tea serving utensils. The host wipes the tea bowl, tea scoop, and tea container as a symbolic purification. This is performed with rhythmic and graceful movements.
The host prepares tea of a thick consistency in silence and one bowl of tea is passed between the guests as a symbolic bonding. The host will more charcoal to the fire, offer sweets, and prepares tea of a thinner consistency.
When the host rinses out the utensils, guests have an opportunity to inspect them respectfully. During this phase, the atmosphere is lightened and casual conversation is engaged. However, talk is still focused on the mood and appreciation of the utensils. After the host gathers the utensils, the guests bow before exiting.
In Japan, many people take classes at dedicated tea schools, colleges, or universities. Mastering the art of Japanese tea ceremonies can take years. Even after acquiring various certificates, students can spend their lifetime in pursuit of perfecting chanoyu.
The traditional Japanese tea ceremony is more than just drinking green tea; it is a spiritual experience that embodies harmony, tranquility, purity, and respect.