Japanese culture, since centuries, has been much adored and seen with intriguingly curious mindsets when it comes to the West. The East always has and probably will continue to fascinate the people on the other side of the world, through its customs, societal norms, arts and the way of life of the populace.
It is said that the Japanese have elevated the act of preparing, serving and drinking tea into an artwork in its own right, however the tea ceremony is not just about enjoying th taste of the tea, there is a strong philosophical element to it as well. The most important aspect is the spirit in which the host welcomes the guest, elaborate preparations take place from the layout of the tea garden to the tea room itself, also the choice of the tea complements the decorative hanging scroll, the flower arrangement even th food and the sweets that are served with the tea.
The Japanese tea ceremony – as the world knows it, has been more than a symbol of portraying Japanese culture to the outside world. The ceremony which involves the presention and preparation of powdered green tea (matcha – 抹茶),in an eloquent and alluring manner has been at the center of Japan’s sphere of cultural symbolism since many centuries. In each of these many aspects form and etiquette have been further refined over time, each becoming a mini art form in itself, although as part of the tea ceremony.
MATCHA 抹茶 ー. matcha is made from the sprouting buds of the tea plant which are then dried and ground into fine powder, to serve the tea, hot water is poured onto the powder and is whisked until it becomes frothy – in the Urasenke(裏千家) school of tea ceremony, which has the most students in Japan.
In Japanese the ceremony is called as chadou (茶道) or chyanoyuu (茶の湯) and the performance is called as otemae (お点前/お手前), while the tea gatherings are usually classified into formal (茶事) and informal (茶会) where the former can last upto nearly five hours where it includes a full course meal – Kaiseki 懐石. Before the tea is prepared, sweet confections are served to the guests, tasting this morsel of sweetness before drinking the tea helps accentuate the bitterness of the tea itself. Finally, the host prepares the tea and it is served to the guests.
There are a variety of different tea ceremonies that are held at different times of the year, the tea ceremony gatherings are held to mark the change of seasons. Usually at th start of the year – Hatsugama 初釜. is held to celebrate the beginning of the new year. In early spring, especially in the city of Kyoto, as a part of the tea gathering the tea is served to the local people by Geisha. This well known tea ceremony event is a much loved spring tradition in Kyoto. In Autumn, event known as Nodate is held in Tokyo – an outdoor tea gathering.
Then, there is the spiritual element of the tea ceremony which strongly inspired from Zen Buddhist philosophy, there is this idealized concept of how participants at a tea ceremony are supposed to deport themselves, which expressed in the Japanese phrase as – wake sei jyaku わけ静寂, implementing certain different attitudes and principles towards life – harmony, respect, purity and tranquility. During the tea ceremony, the guests as well as the hosts bear these aspects in mind the whole time. It is these intangible elements, apart form the tangible ones, that revive the soul of every tea gathering and ceremony marking both simplicity as well as profundity of the Japanese culture.