"Sado", the tea ceremony

"Sado", also known as "chanoyu", is the traditional, ritualized preparation and serving of powdered green tea by a host for the enjoyment of his or her appreciative guests. In "sado" there are various prescribed ways of preparing the tea, accepting and drinking the tea, sitting, bowing, standing and walking that make up the etiquette of the tea ceremony. This etiquette was established for the host to show hospitality to the guest and provide them with delicious tea, and for the guest to receive this hospitality and enjoy the tea.
The tea ceremony is not merely a matter of the host serving the guest some tea and the guest drinking it; it can be seen as a comprehensive art form blending the spiritual elements and thought behind the interaction of host and guest, and the aesthetic elements designed to enhance this, such as the tea room and garden, the way the tearoom is arranged, the selection and appreciation of the tea utensils, the food served and the etiquette governing its procedures.
Moreover, the tea ceremony's philosophy of hospitality towards guests has parallels in modern-day Japanese hospitality. In the tea ceremony, it is important to experience the spirit of hospitality as well as to enjoy the tea.

The history of the tea ceremony

Introduced from China, in the Kamakura period (1185—1333) tea-drinking spread along with Zen Buddhism throughout Japan through Japanese Buddhist priest Eisai, who brought both the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism and the custom of tea from China to Japan. Although Chinese made tea accessories and informal tea gatherings using them were in vogue during the Muromachi period (1392—1491), Juko Murata (1423—1502) developed the "wabi-cha" style of tea gathering which employed Japanese tea utensils called "wamono", and incorporated a spiritual element into the interaction between host and guest. Reverence for tearooms, teahouses and utensils that were showy and extravagant also gradually shifted to reverence for simple designs and objects with spiritual value.

Thereafter tea ceremony master Joo Takeno (1502—1555) followed Juko Murata as a proponent of "wabi-cha", and his pupil Sen no Rikyu (1522—1591) perfected the principles of "wabi-cha" in the Azuchi Momoyama period (1573—1603). Sen no Rikyu's philosophy is said to be the cornerstone of modern-day "sado" and "chanoyu".

To date, many different schools of Japanese tea ceremony have evolved which still enjoy wide popularity today, including the so-called "san-Senke" ( three Sen houses/families) of Omotesenke, Urasenke and Mushakojisenke developed by Sen no Rikyu's descendants.

Before attending a tea ceremony

  • Guests should remove watches and accessories such as rings before entering the tearoom, so as not to damage the tea container and utensils.
  • Guests should change into white socks and traditional split-toe "tabi" socks.
  • Guests should bring with them "kaishi" paper sheets and traditional "kuromoji" wooden picks used for eating the sweets.

The Tokyo Grand Tea Ceremony is designed for beginners, so you may attend a tea ceremony without preparing or bringing anything.

When entering the tea room

When you enter the tea room, do not step on the fabric borders of the tatami mat flooring or on the threshold of the fusuma sliding doors.
Where you sit is very important in the tea ceremony.
In the tearoom, the place nearest the tokonoma (*1) is the seat of honor, and the place furthest from it is the one with least prestige. So the person sitting nearest the tokonoma is the "shokyaku"(*2), or principal guest. As the guest of honor, the "shokyaku" is required to be knowledgeable about the tea ceremony and converse with the host, or "teishu" (*3). Advanced knowledge is necessary for understanding and holding conversation about the design and concept of the tearoom, the tea container, etc.

Seated next to the "shokyaku" is the "jikyaku". Although the "jikyaku" does not need as much knowledge of the tea ceremony as the "shokyaku", he or she is the second most important guest. After the "jikyaku" comes the "sankyaku" and the "yonkyaku". Guests lower than "sankyaku" do not talk to the host, so this is an easy position for beginners. In addition the person seated furthest from the tokonoma is called the "makkyaku, the etiquette for whom sometimes differs from that of other guests, so is considered unsuitable for beginners.

  • *1 An alcove in a traditional Japanese room build slightly higher than the floor, where scrolls are hung and flowers and ornaments displayed.
  • *2 The most important guest in the ceremony.
  • *3 The person who provides the welcome and assumes the role of host is called the "teishu".
  • *4 The second important guest in the ceremony.
  • *5 The guest seats furthest from the tokonoma.

How to accept tea and sweets

When wagashi Japanese sweets are served, you say: "Osakini (Excuse me for eating before you)" to the next guest, put a sweet to the "kaishi" paper in front of you, pick up the paper with the sweet on it, and cut it into suitably-sized pieces.
Sweets should be eaten all before the drinking of the tea.
When tea is served, you say: "Osakini (Excuse me for drinking before you)" to the next guest, take the tea bowl in your right hand and place it on the palm of your left hand. With the front of the bowl towards you, rotate it twice to avoid drinking from the front, and then drink all the tea in a few sips.
When you have finished drinking, use the thumb and index finger of your right hand to lightly trace the part of the tea bowl rim from which you drank, and then wipe your finger with a "kaishi" paper.
Return the front of the bowl to its original position by turning the tea bowl twice in the opposite direction to when you drank it, and put the tea bowl down in front of you with your right hand.
After looking at the tea bowl in appreciation, return it with its front towards the "teishu".