The Values of the Japanese Tea Ceremony


Megan Liu


In Japan, tea ceremonies are an integral part of the cultural heritage. Matcha green tea is savored at the tea ceremonies and the performance of the ceremony is in itself a celebrated art. Following a strict set of rituals, Japanese tea ceremonies may be difficult to fully comprehend for those unfamiliar with it. Aside from simply being at the ceremony and drinking the tea, tea ceremonies require a unique mental state for its participants. Originating with roots in zen Buddhism, the tea ceremonies are spiritual in nature. So to fully appreciate and enjoy the process of a Japanese tea ceremony, it’s important to be aware of the beliefs and principles behind the practice. Through a Buke Sadou tea ceremony experience I had in Tokyo, I learned a few key principles to truly be immersed in the practice and tips that I can offer you in your preparation for a Japanese tea ceremony.


1. Enjoy the time

When we sat in the waiting room, going over instructions of what to expect for the ceremony, I was told to take off my watch and jewelry. I thought perhaps this was to protect the fragile bowls, and while this is true, there was a greater reason behind it. Taking off my jewelry symbolized leaving behind the materialistic world, and removing my watch meant committing to being in the present. The tea ceremony requires that you become completely mentally present. Leave your worries about the past or the future behind. Inside the tea room, there is no space for thoughts of the outside world.

Aside from just being aware of the details of your surrounding, you are encouraged to find beauty within it. Listen to the stones beneath your waraji (草鞋: straw sandals) , as you make your way through the garden to the tea room; appreciate the sound of the running water from the water basin outside, as you partake in this purification ritual; enjoy the sweet aroma of the matcha as it is whisked with hot water by the tea master. There is so much to appreciate and show respect for, both inside and outside the tearoom! It is a humbling experience to notice and be thankful for all that is around you. In our busy lives, we often forget to appreciate everything that has played a role in bringing us to the present moment.


2. Enjoy the taste

The tea ceremony emphasizes the enjoyment of taste as one of its values. In the tea ceremony, tea sweets are enjoyed before each serving of tea. The sweetness of the beautifully-made, seasonal wagashi (和菓子: Japanese confections) offer a complimentary contrast to the bitter tea. Aside from just what the food or drink tastes like in your mouth, what you see and smell also affects its taste. Pay attention to the intricate details of the wagashi, the bright (or dark) green of the matcha tea, and the aroma that envelops you as you bring the tea bowl close to you


3. Enjoy the aesthetics

During the tea ceremony, you can find Japanese aesthetics reflected in every corner of the tea house, including Japanese principles like wabi-sabi(侘び寂び), yuugen(幽玄), and shibui(渋い).

Wabi-sabi refers to the appreciation of the imperfect and the temporary. Things that do not last or have imperfections can tell a story and this is celebrated in Japanese culture. During the tea ceremony, you get the chance to appreciate the tools used in the tea course. You will find many chipped and cracked bowls repaired with kintsugi or gintsugi (金継ぎ), the art of repairing ceramics with gold or silver, respectively. Tea masters take great pride in their ‘imperfectly perfect’ pieces and enjoy conversations about their treasures. Another principle, yuugen refers to the beauty of mystery. ‘Less is more’ is a common belief in Japanese culture, meaning that the less you reveal, the more you’re conveying. This can be see from fashion, to food, to architecture, to everything in between. During the tea ceremony, you will see it in the ikebana (生け花) flower arrangements chosen for the room, in the clothing of the teamaster, in the garden before entering the tea room, and everywhere else your eyes rest. Lastly, shibui refers to the beauty of simplicity. Through a quick look at Japanese architecture and fashion, you will notice the attention to minimalism. These preferences come from a long history of minimalistic traditions stemming from Zen Buddhism and can be seen in both the tangible and intangible.

At the end of the day, Japanese tea ceremonies are about enjoyment and their main purpose is to welcome guests. Just relax, let your worries go, and find zen in this practice.

Try out our Buke Sadou Tea Ceremony Experience and find for yourself the values of Japanese tea ceremonies.