In recent articles (Chanoyu, Temae, and Chadogu and Essential Low-Ranking Chadogu for Ceremony of Tea), I mentioned the traditional green tea ceremony, called “Chanoyu” and “The Way of Tea”.  Since those blogs, many of you have asked that I explain it in a bit more detail. I’m thrilled to do so.

The Japanese tea ceremony is a topic that is very dear to me.  The tea ceremony comes from centuries of tea school teachings and traditions.  Its practice is a deep spiritual journey that begins with a simple principle – the sharing of tea is best when the heart is humble and pure. 

The tea ceremony is a blend of different arts and tea schools over the centuries of Japanese tradition.  It is a tea ceremony for Matcha Green Tea only.  Its simple focus is to spiritually relish each moment with the knowledge that the moment will never come again.

Chanoyu literally means “Hot Water for Tea”

The name of the tea ceremony, Chanoyu, translates to mean, “hot water for tea”.  Can it get any simpler than that? But the tea ceremony is an art form of the spirit; embodied in the preparation, service, and partaking of a simple bowl of tea.  

A tea ceremony is also known as a “tea gathering”.  It describes the process from the preparation to the service of powdered green tea matcha in a beautifully choreographed event.  Its process embodies the practical and refined harmony of arts, architecture, etiquette, and landscape.  

From the simple sharing of a tea bowl, Japanese tea ceremony participants share a transformation into a mutual generosity, self- awareness, and respect for all things of nature.

A Tea Ceremony Embodies Centuries of History

Tea was introduced into Japan in about the sixth century.  Chinese Zen Buddhists introduced tea into Japan. But it wasn’t until the early 12th century that tea became popular in the country. 

A Zen priest named Eisai is credited with introducing the Japanese custom of drinking green tea in a powder form.  He lived between 1141 and 1215 AD and founded the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism during that period.

Eisai had embarked on a pilgrimage to China to study religious writings.  When he returned from China years later, he brought powdered tea and tea seeds to the Rinzai temple.  Those seeds were planted in the Kyoto hills near the temple where he lived.

Powdered green tea was originally used by the temple priests to stay awake during the customary long periods of meditation.  It therefore became a temple staple and a Zen ritual of the temple priests.

Over the Years, Temple Ritual Became a Secular Tradition 

Over the centuries, what was once reserved only for the Zen priests evolved into a secular tradition.  At about the fifteenth century, the tea ceremony became a staple in Japan’s culture. A lineage of tea masters developed the practice of the tea ceremony:

  • Murata Shuko (1422 to 1502 AD) – Shuko was a Zen priest credited for merging the secular tradition of the Chanoyu tea ceremony with the principles of Zen.
  • Takeno Jo-o (1503 to 1555 AD) – Jo-o was a tea master credited for refining the steps of the tea ceremony into an artform.
  • Sen Rikyu (1522 to 1591 AD) – Rikyu is the tea master responsible for developing the Japanese tea ceremony principles that we still practice today.

To be concluded in Chanoyu: History and Philosophy – Part 2

Photo “Chawan” is copyright under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License to the photographer Donna Cleveland and is being posted unaltered (source)