Chances are that if you’ve researched anything Japanese tea-related you’ve come across tea ceremonies – whether it be the classical-looking teacups or participants dressed in traditional Japanese wear. In understanding senchado, let’s review a brief history of tea ceremonies in Japan then move on to a comparison between cha no yu and senchado

The history of tea ceremonies stretches back several hundred years starting with cha no yu or sado (“Way of Tea”). Sado evolved in various respects but it was an elite-driven socio-cultural-spritual-aesthetic event. By the 13th century, for example, it became a kind of luxury where contestants could win various prizes for guessing the best quality tea. In consuming matcha, sado was highly influenced by traditional Chinese culture and formulated a distinct tea ceremony that will be further outlined below.

Senchado (“Way of Sencha”) began with the poet Ingen in the 17th century. While he’s known for founding the the Obaku school of Zen Buddhism, he nonetheless was able to help establish a Chinese-centric tea ceremony. Not long after, it was none other than Baisao who helped cement its popularity. Into the Meiji era, senchado spread as a means for commoners to congregate in admiring hosts’ tea collections. To this day senchado is used in tourist settings and continues to be an element of the Obaku school of Zen Buddhism at Manpuku Temple in Uji, Kyoto. 

The differences between the two ceremonies can’t be that great, can they? It’s true both ceremonies center on tea and a series of practices between host and guest(s) but the differences are notable. 

The steps of senchado approximately follow these steps:

  • Guests will be taken to a specified sitting room. Before the ceremony begins, they may be served a drink. 
  • Guests will make their way to the ceremony room and sit down. 
  • The host will enter and prepare the first batch of gyokuro
  • Tea is accompanied by sweets. 
  • The host will often prepare and serve a second round of gyokuro

Senchado often spans at least a couple of hours, similar to its counterpart sado. However, there are several differences in the presentation and delivery:

  • Sado is conducted, ideally, in a garden. 
  • Many sado ceremonies are held in a tatami room. This room will include decorative elements and an alcove with a scroll or decorative flowers are showcased. 
  • Guests often must sit on their legs on the tatami floor. It’s not always comfortable but a common element. 
  • Be prepared to bow and partake in the ceremony itself. 
  • Like senchado, the host will prepare the tea in front of the guests. A Japanese sweet is served and is supposed to be eaten before consuming the tea. 
  • Unlike senchado, guests must pick up the tea bowl that is placed in front of them with their right hand and place it on their left palm. They then use their right hand to turn it clockwise by 90 degrees and drink the tea in a few sips then place it back down. Bowing and expressing gratitude are expected after finishing the tea. 

Thankfully both forms of tea ceremony are open to tea lovers. There are services throughout Japan that offer varying approaches to these tea ceremonies including kimono-wearing ceremonies or more personalized services. Whether you’re in Kyoto or Tokyo or elsewhere, you can expect to spend approximately 2,500 yen or more to partake in a ceremony service. It’s hard to go wrong with either choice but if you’re a tea lover, it may be best to try both!

Photo “sencha <3” is copyright under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License to the photographer “jazzlah” and is being posted unaltered (source)