Like many japanese cultural activities, preparing and drinking tea has become a formal ritual and given a place of cultural importance with layers of social meaning. In Japan the tea ceremony – or, the way of tea – is a ritual that holds a degree of fascination for westerners, as the ritual transforms tea drinking and preparation to essentially an art-form.
The Japanese Tea Ceremony
The Japanese ‘Way of Tea’, describes the ceremonial preparation and offering of ‘matcha’ – basically powdered green tea. The Japanese word for this is ‘chanoyu’, or ‘chado’. In contrast to the straightforward process that normally charcterises making a cup of tea, the way of the tea is a performance of artistic expression called. The evolution of the tea ceremony was primarily influenced by Zen Buddhism and this may be seen in the minimalist style of movement employed by the tea master, as well as the calm atmosphere that is required and strived for in the rite.
In traditional Japanese culture there are two distinct forms of the tea ceremony – one being longer lasting and more formal than the other. The shorter and less formal gathering is known as ‘chakai’, or ‘chaji’ and refers to a simple act of hospitality and includes the presentation of sweets, weak green tea and, usually, a light meal. The ‘Chaji’ is a more formal exercise and can consist of a full-course meal (kaiseki), followed by light dessert, a strong green tea, along with the weaker green tea which is also taken at a Chakai tea occasion. Incedibly a chaji may last for over four hours!
The Origins of Japanese Tea Culture
Like many expressions of culture in Japan,the tea ceremony and the ritualised drinking of tea drinking was imported from China and was introduced to Japan in the early 9th century by Buddist monks. The tea ceremony developed as a “transforming ritual and developed its own rules and practices, most notably that of ‘wabi’. ‘Wabi’, meaning ‘quiet’, ‘sober refinement’, or ‘subdued taste’, “is characterized by humility, restraint, simplicity, naturalism, profundity, imperfection, and asymmetry [emphasizing] simple, unadorned objects and architectural space, and [celebrating] the mellow beauty that time and care impart to materials.”
The Emperor of Japan became the first to experience the delights of the newly imported tea ceremony and over the next 500 years ‘the way of tea’ became a staple of Japanese society at all levels.
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How to buy A Japanese Teapot
In case you think that you need to clear a full morning should a Japanese friend ask you to visit for tea , it should be highlighted that Japanese people drink tea regularly without any ritual or ceremony. In day-to-day life the preparation and consumption of tea takes place just as it does in the West – without too much thought or fanfare.
There is then a long history and cultural expression behind a simple cup of green tea in Japan, but the important thing from our point of view is that green tea is both delicious and very healthy and the taste is actually enhanced by using authentic, ceramic, Japanese tea pots to prepare the brew.
Fortunately it is not necessary to visit Japan to get an authentic Japanese tea pot as thanks to the wonders of modern technology and the internet it is easy to purchase authentic Japanese tea pots.