Tea is immensely important to Japanese culture. It is not only a cultural staple, it encompasses philosophy and even aesthetics. A Japanese tea ceremony is a unique experience usually reserve for very important individuals. It demands perfect executions, while using the utmost respect, always orientating even the utensils, so the person viewing the ceremony will have an unparalleled aesthetic experience.
Tea ceremonies usually change depending on the season, the time of day and if the tea container is new or close to being depleted. The Japanese tea known as matcha is usually combined with small confections known as wagashi. These small sweet bites counterbalance the bitterness of the tea and are made with paste of azuki bean which is sweet.
When tea was brought from China to Japan it was exclusively reserved for monks to drink during important times. To perform a tea ceremony, you must train with a master tea maker for an extended period of time. Due to its religious origins, many of the concepts that surround the ceremony are steeped in Zen Buddhism. The core concepts of the tea ceremony are tranquility, harmony, respect, purity and harmony. At the same time it’s a unintentional memento mori, using weathered traditional materials and surroundings to emphasize that the material world (sabi) is ephemeral.
The ceremony is by design configured to assess and excite all senses and even engage the viewers’ and the host’s spiritually. The tactile sense is assessed when the tea cup is given to the guest, the smell is a result of the matcha being steeped and the ceremonial movements create a unique soundscape which is heard in the space. Interestingly neuroscientists find that both viewing and performing the ceremony activates both sides of the brain, further deepening the experience. The biggest and most significant aspect of a tea ceremony is the internal to external aspect of the process. The inner/spiritual world to the external/physical world, as is usually indicative with Zen Buddhism.
Where to Experience a Tea Ceremony
Many hotels offer their guest a special tea ceremony but a reservation must be made and the ceremony is only performed at specific times. For example at the Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo Tea Ceremonies are performed on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 11.00am until 5.00pm, and the reservations need to be made at least 7 days before the ceremony is performed.