Japanese Tea Ceremony
The most illustrative example of a tea ceremony can serve a tea ceremony in Japan. The ceremony takes place in a teahouse called “sukia”. It can be translated as “home of emptiness”. As Kakuzo Okakura said in his “Book of Tea” written in 1906, “each participant knows that the ceremony is something more than idealization of a tea drinking act itself, this is religion of the art of objective reality”. That is why participants must strictly follow the ritual established by Chinese lamas in the sixteenth century. Either tea .matcha. or “liquid jade foam” is used for the ceremony. The latter is green tea, which is not brewed, but stirred in a cup with a bamboo hisk, called “sheizen”.
Yasunary Kavabota wrote that a tea ceremony is a common feeling when good friends gather together at a suitable period of time, following the corresponding conditions. Actually, the ceremony is simple, but thought up in minor details. Before entering “the home of emptiness”, the guests must go through a garden along the path laid by stone. Its name is “rodzhy”, that means “the ground wetted with dew”. They are moving silently, leaving sounds of the world behind them. Trees, moss, and birds singing assist to come in the state of estrangement and concentration. Establishment of harmony with the nature is an inalienable prelude of a tea ceremony. The waiting lounge decorations, where some flowers are put into a bamboo vase, answer the same purpose. Sometimes, before leaving the garden, the host, speechlessly greeting his guests, invites them to perform the rite of cleansing. That is to rinse a mouth and to wash hands in a small washbasin made of stone. The central room where the guests are sitting is decorated with a hanging on the wall manuscript or a painting in accordance with the day, season or subject of the meeting. Through the sliding door the host is coming.
He is serving exclusively light Japanese food “kaiseki” to each guest who is sitting on a floor-mat and assuming a Turkish pose. Each dish is served on a simple and at the same time refined china, is a donation of the Sea or Mountains. According to Soshitsa Sena food should be “flavoured” by three components. They are “eyes, tongue and heart”. The guests are using fresh cut green bamboo sticks and it makes the taste of food more pleasant. At the end of the meal the host offers soaked in syrup biscuits or cottage cheese with beans (“namagushi”) to each of the guests. After that, the guests can go outside into the garden in the open air, before taking a seat at the table again to drink some strong tea. The host is carefully placing the tea-things like a teapot with “matcha”, a spoon and “sheizen”. The water is heated in a kettle on a stove lit by coal placed in a hollow of the floor in the middle of the room. According to the tradition, the guests must drink from the same bowl in turn. The host, who does not take part in the ceremony, never forgets to welcome the guest who wants to take the bowl to drink the tea. The guests must hold the bowl in both hands in such a way that the host might see the picture of the cup. Therefore, the tea of a nice avocado colour with a slight taste of starch will be drained in three draughts. After that, each of the tea-things is thoroughly washed and put into the alcove on its place. Then the host comes back and offers some biscuits to each guest. After that, weaker tea is served. Everyone drinks it from his own cup. The final stage of the tea ceremony is contemplation of the fire and of everything, that surrounds the guests. The host sees his friends to the door, then puts everything on its place, takes away the flowers, and puts his house in cleanness and order.
Soshitsu Sen says “in an uninitiated observer’s eyes nothing at all supernatural is going on. Nevertheless, the host and his guests feel that this forms the microcosm of the life itself”. It takes a long time to teach someone how to conduct a tea ceremony. Japanese children are taught how to do it after school classes, as they are taught music or dances. An instructor must take a lot of lessons before he becomes a qualified tutor. Disregarding the fact whether women belonged to the families with strong tea traditions or not, they were aloud to participate in a tea ceremony only at the beginning of XX century. Though tea ceremonies are still being conducted today in Japan, they undoubtedly come into collision with some difficulties, which is the result of the modern life. To have such a ceremony may be possible only in a small private teahouse, made of a special material. It must be of a definite shape and surrounded by a garden. Nevertheless, owners of an ordinary house can also conduct such a ceremony if there is a room intended for this purpose. They invite guests, sending them a written invitation three or four weeks before the fixed day. The ceremony can be devoted to different kinds of events. For example, to a friend’s visit, to cherry trees blossoming, or its purpose may be a wish to admire the moon.