The Way of Tea : Part Two

Japanese house

The Way of Tea is a two part blog series on the Japanese tea ceremony.

We hope you enjoyed part one of your sneak peek into the world of the Japanese tea ceremony. In today’s blog, we’ll be delving even further, and discussing how the ceremony itself unfolds. The ceremony varies according to many factors including; the day, the time, and the venue. The ceremony that we’ll be discussing today occurs during the sunken hearth section of the year (winter), and would occur in a purpose built teahouse.


Fig 1. A waiting bench for guests

The guests arrive at the teahouse and enter a little waiting room where they leave their belongings, and put on special traditional Japanese socks, known as tabi (You can find out more about tabi here). Guests are served a cup of barley or Kombu tea, and are led to an outdoor bench to await their hosts.
The host arrives, and the guests and host silently bow to one another. The guests will then cleanse their hands and mouths in a stone basin, which is known as a tsukubai.

Entering the tearoom

Japanese tea implements
Fig 2. Japanese tea equipment

Before entering the tearoom, guests take off their shoes and enter through a small door, known as a nijiri-guchi. When in the tearoom, guests view the tea tools and equipment, and are seated in order of prestige. When all guests are seated, the door is closed loudly. The noise summons the host, who welcomes each guest and answers any questions they may have about the ceremony or the equipment.

The meal

Traditional Japanese tea room
Fig 3. Traditional Japanese tea room

A charcoal fire is set up in the hearth, and guests are served a meal of many courses accompanied with sake. After this meal, guests eat a ‘wagashi’ sweet. Following this, there is an intermission called ‘nakadachi’, in which the guests return to the waiting room. Whilst they wait, the host cleans the tea room, sets a flower arrangement, and opens the shutters within the room,

Drinking the tea

Japanese tea equipment
Fig 4. Japanese tea equipment

A bell or gong is sounded, which summons the guests to return to the tearoom. The host will ritually cleanse each of the utensils and arrange them in a specific manner. The host will then prepare the tea and bow to the first guest, who will return the movement. The guest will then bow to the next guest, and take a small tip of tea. The guest will compliment the quality of the tea, wipe the rim, and pass the bowl on. Each guest will repeat these motions until all have drunk tea, the equipment is cleaned, and the host will leave the tearoom.

After the tea

Bowl of tea
Fig 5. Matcha tea

The fire is rekindled, which symbolises a switch from the formal to the casual. The host returns to the tea room with confectionary and thin tea, and a smoking set. The guests can have casual discussions and socialise during this portion of the ceremony. Once the thin tea is drunk, the host re-cleanses the equipment, and allows the guests to examine each piece. The host will gather the equipment and tidy it away. They will then bow from the door, signalling that the ceremony has reached it’s conclusion.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this sneak peek into the beautiful chanoyu ceremony. Have you ever been to a traditional Japanese tea ceremony? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.