Japanese Tea CeremonyJapanese Tea Ceremony

Introduction to the Japanese Tea Ceremony

(First, we would like to pay homage to a great man, Tenshin Okakura (1862 - 1913), who was a Japanese novelist and a manager of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. He published "The Book of Tea" in the US in 1906 and introduced Japanese tea culture and Asian spiritual culture to the West. Quoting his writing partially, we would like to pass along an introduction to the Japanese tea ceremony as simply and comprehensibly as possible.)

Tea began as a medicine and grew into a beverage. In China, in the eighth century, it entered the realm of poetry as one of the polite amusements. The fifteenth century saw Japan ennoble it into a religion of aestheticism - Teaism. Teaism is founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence.

Teaism is connected with Zen. The tea ceremony was a development of the Zen ritual. The whole ideal of Teaism is a result of the Zen concept of greatness in the smallest incident of life. In 16th century Japan, Teaism was indurated by Rikyu Sen (1522 - 1591) as the Wabi Cha style, which emphasizes nature and simplicity.

Teaism encourages the appreciation of tea, art, flowers, the subtleties of the four seasons, and so on, and is best practiced in quiet surroundings, far from crowds of people. Teaism made an enormous impact on Japanese architectural style, habits, costume and cuisine, porcelain, lacquer, painting, and literature.

Konnichi-an and Yu-in, which are both the consecrated Tea-Room of the Japanese Tea Ceremony.

Kabutomon at Konnichi-an



The Tea-Room

The tea masters completely revolutionized classical architecture and interior decoration, and established a new style which to whose influence even the palaces and monasteries built after the sixteenth century have all been subject.

The tea-room does not pretend to be other than a mere cottage - a straw hut. The tea-room consists of the tea-room proper, designed to accommodate not more than five persons, an anteroom (midsuya) where the tea utensils are washed and arranged before being brought in, a portico (machiai) in which the guests wait until they receive the summons to enter the tea-room, and a garden path (the roji) which connects the machiai with the tea-room. The tea room is unimpressive in appearance. It is smaller than the smallest of Japanese house, while the materials used in its construction are intended to give the suggestion of refined poverty. Yet we must remember that all this is the result of profound artistic forethought, and that the details have been worked out with care perhaps even greater than that expended on the building of the richest palaces and temples. A good tea-room is more costly than an ordinary mansion, for the selection of its materials, as well as its workmanship, requires immense care and precision. Indeed carpenters employed by the tea-masters form a distinct and highly honored class among artisans, their work being no less delicate than that of the makers of lacquer cabinets.

The roji, garden path which leads from the machiai to the tea-room, signified the first stage of meditation - the passage into self-illumination. The roji was intended to break connection with the outside world, and to produce a fresh sensation conductive to the full enjoyment of aestheticism in the tea-room itself. One who has trodden this garden path cannot fail to remember how his spirit, as he walked in the twilight of ever greens over the regular irregularities of the stepping stones, beneath which lay dried pine needles, passed beside the moss-covered granite lanterns, become uplifted above ordinary thoughts. One may be in the midst of a city, and yet feel as if he were in the forest far away from the dust and din of civilization. Great was the ingenuity displayed by the tea-masters in producing these effects of serenity and purity.

Thus prepared, one will silently approach the sanctuary, and, if a samurai, will leave his sword on the rack beneath the eaves, the tea-room being preeminently a house of peace. Then he will bend low and creep into the room through a small door not more than three feet in height. This proceeding was incumbent on all guests, - high and low alike, - and was intended to inculcate humility. It makes all guests put aside any authorities, celebrities, or fortune in real world to creep into the room through the small door.

Even in the daytime the light in the room is subdued, for the low eaves of the slanting roof admit but few of the sun's rays. Everything is sober in tint from the ceiling to the floor. However faded the tea-room and the tea equipage may seem, everything is absolutely clean. Not a particle of dust will be found in the darkest corner.

In the tea-room the fear of repetition is a constant presence. The various objects for the decoration of a room should be so selected that no colour or design shall be repeated. If you have a living flower, a painting of flowers is not allowable. If you are using a round kettle, the water pitcher should be angular. A cup with a black glaze should not be associated with a tea-caddy of black lacquer. The pillar of the tokonoma should be of a different kind of wood from the other pillars, in order to break any suggestion of monotony in the room.

The simplicity of the tea-room and its freedom from vulgarity make it truly a sanctuary from the vexation of the outer world. There and there alone can one consecrate himself to undisturbed adoration of the beautiful.

Toyobo Tea-Room at Kennin Temple in Kyoto

The Roji, Garden Path of the Tea-Room

This garden path which leads from the machiai to the tea-room, was intended to break connection with the outside world, and to produce a fresh sensation conductive to the full enjoyment of aestheticism in the tea-room itself. One who has trodden this garden path cannot fail to remember how his spirit was uplifted above ordinary thoughts.

In this connection there is a story of Rikyu which well illustrates the ideas of cleanliness entertained by the tea-masters. Rikyu was watching this son Shoan as he swept and watered the garden path, "Not clean enough," said Rikyu, when Shoan had finished his task, and bade him try again. After a weary hour the son turned to Rikyu: "Father, there is nothing more to be done. The steps have been washed for the third time, the stone lanterns and the trees are well sprinkled with water, moss and lichens are shining with a fresh verdure; not a twig, not a leaf have I left on the ground." "Young fool," chided the tea master, "that is not the way a garden path should be swept." Saying this, Rikyu stepped into the garden, shocked a tree and scattered over the garden gold and crimson leaves, scraps of the brocade of autumn! What Rikyu demanded was not cleanliness alone, but the beautiful and the natural also.

The tea-masters enormously impacted garden design too. All the celebrated gardens of Japan were laid out by the tea masters.

The Roji at Yu-in

The Roji at Shohka-do in Kyoto


Surely with mankind the appreciation of flowers must have been coeval with the poetry of low. The primeval man in offering the first garland to his maiden thereby transcended the brute. He became human in thus rising above the crude necessities of nature. He entered the realm of art when he perceived the subtle use of the useless.

Anyone acquainted with the ways of our tea-and flower-masters must have noticed the religious veneration with which they regard flowers. They do not cut at random, but carefully select each branch or spray with an eye to the artistic composition they have in mind. They would be ashamed should they chance to cut more than were than were absolutely necessary. It may be remarked in this connection that they always associate the leaves, if there be any, with the flower, for their object is the whole beauty of plant life. In this way, their method differs from that in Western countries, where we often see only the flower stems and heads, without any leaves, arranged in a vase.

When a tea-master has arranged a flower to his satisfaction he will place it on the tokonoma, the place of honor in a Japanese room. Nothing else will be placed near it which might interfere with its effect. It rests there like an enthroned prince, and guests or disciples on entering the room will salute it with a profound bow before making their addresses to the host. When the flower fades, the master tenderly consigns it to the river or carefully buries it in the ground. Monuments even are sometimes erected to their memory.

The tea-master deems his duty ended with the selection of the flowers, and leaves them to tell their own story. Entering a tea-room in late winter, you may see a slender spray of wild cherries in combination with a budding camellia; it is an echo of departing winter coupled with the prophecy of spring. Again, if you go into a noon-tea on some irritatingly hot summer day, you may discover in the darkened coolness of the tokonoma a single lily in a hanging vase; dripping with dew, it seems to smile at the foolishness of life.

A solo of flowers is interesting, but in a concerto with painting and sculpture the combination becomes entrancing. Sekishyu once placed some waterplants in a flat receptacle to suggest the vegetation of lakes and marshes, and on the wall above he hung a painting by Soami of wild ducks flying in the air. Shoha, another tea-master, combined a poem on the Beauty of Solitude by the Sea with a bronze incense burner in the form of a fisherman's hut and some wildflowers of the beach. One of the guests has recorded that he felt in the whole composition the breath of waning autumn.

Tea Ceremony Equipment and Art Appreciation

All tea ceremony equipment was originally classified as craft objects as well as art objects - functional art, which is beautiful as well as useful. They have a characteristic feature that they first create an aura of beauty when they are appreciated while they are used well. In order to use tea ceremony equipment well and receive the beauty of them, people are required to build up exquisite five senses (touch, taste, hearing, eyesight, and smell) through mature exercise.

Rikyu Sen, who indurated teaism, said "In order to keep the exquisite five senses always, one should constantly train oneself in everyday life." Another way of saying, he said "If you would like to receive the beauty of anything existing in the natural world (including art objects) you have to ennoble your individuality and moral character on a regular basis."

Rikyu Sen, who indurated teaism, asked a craftsman living in Kyoto to make matcha bowls only for the tea ceremony. It was the beginning of Raku-Yaki and of all matcha bowls. There is Kuro (black) Raku and Aka (red) Raku, and both of them complement the green color of matcha much more than any other colors. Raku-Yaki has a feature of being very soft and warm to the touch by hands or mouth, and is the highest grade matcha used for the tea ceremony.

All of the ceramics and earthen ware made in Kyoto is called Kyo-Yaki. Raku-Yaki is also classified as Kyo-Yaki. There are many multicolored overglaze painting ceramics in Kyo-Yaki. Supported by aristocratic culture and court nobles, sophisticated decoration became one factor of Kyo-Yaki features.

Hagi-Yaki is made in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Taiko Hideyoshi, kanpaku (powerful ruler) in Japan, who supported Rikyu Sen, sent ceramics craftsmen from Goryeo (now a part of Korea) to Japan, and asked them to begin to make matcha bowls. It was the beginning of Hagi-Yaki. It is soft to look at Hagi-Yaki. Hagi-Yaki has a water-absorbing property. Used for a long time, the surface color changes. It is called "Cha-Nare" which means "conformed to matcha" and is prized.

At the end of the 16th century, a Japanese craftsman invented white glaze like that of white porcelains. It was the beginning of Shino-Yaki. It was the first white color earthenware and enabled Japanese artisans to draw patterns on the white glaze. Until then, patterns on color earthenware were made only by line engraving or imprint. After this white glaze was invented, various pattern techniques were developed.

Three Great Ancestors of Raku Yaki

As above, Raku Yaki was developed under the general originality of Rikyu Sen who indurated Teaism. Raku Yaki has been central to the Japanese tea ceremony for many hundreds of years. In the history of Raku Yaki, three great ancestors are especially respected and admired: Chohjiroh Raku, Kohetsu Honami, and Kichizaemon Raku (alias: Nonkoh).

Chohjiroh Raku (circa 1500 to 1589):
Chohjiroh Raku is the father of Raku Yaki. In the late 16th century he began to create Raku Yaki in Kuro (black) Raku and Aka (red) Raku under the supervision of Rikyu Sen who indurated Teaism. His matcha bowls were called the Rikyu Form, clearing away all embellishment and hyperbole in the pursuit of true beauty. His simple formative style was unique in the world of 16th century pottery. He inspired the ideal Zen spiritual culture into pottery.

Kohetsu Honami (1558 to 1637):
Kohetsu Honami was not only an exquisite pottery artist but one of three great calligraphers in Japanese history. He was born to the Honami family whose business over many generations was finishing swords. He took delight in elegant pursuits throughout his life and uninhibitedly created his art by his own true feelings and desires.
His art which is characterized by free thinking and uniqueness of form has mesmerized audiences in Japan and around the world for hundreds of years.

Kichizaemon Raku (alias: Nonkoh) (1599 to 1656):
Kichizaemon Raku was third generation in the Raku family of artisans. Today, he is known as the greatest craftsman of that family. He added yellow or vermilion color glaze to the traditional Raku world of only black color. It is said that he was inspired by the creativity of Kohetsu Honami, and the features of his art was light and colorful Raku. He is especially known for perfecting the technique of glazing Raku.

"Ohguro" by Chohjiroh Raku

"Muichimotsu" by Chohjiroh Raku

"Fujiyama" by Kohetsu Honami

"Amagumo" by Kohetsu Honami

"Chidori" by Kichizaemon Raku

"Zeshiki" by Kichizaemon Raku

About Raku Yaki

In Japan, Raku Yaki is the highest grade matcha bowl used for the tea ceremony. Raku Yaki helps to create a relaxing atmosphere while encouraging concentration and contemplation. Raku Yaki is a very unique ceramics technique that was developed only for matcha bowls in Kyoto about 400 years ago.
There are two types of Raku Yaki: Kuro (Black) Raku and Aka (Red) Raku. They both feel very soft and warm to the touch by hands or mouth. Though Raku Yaki is thick, it is very light, and given thick coats of glaze.

1. Historical Background

In the late 16th century, Rikyu Sen, who indurated Teaism, asked a craftsman, Chohjiro Raku to create matcha bowls for the tea ceremony. Until that time, there were tea cups for general use, but there were not special bowls specifically for matcha. Chohjiro Raku started to create Raku Yaki in Kuro (black) and Aka (red) under the supervision of Rikyu Sen. His Raku Yaki cleared away all embellishment and hyperbole in the pursuit of true beauty, following the Zen spiritual ideal.

Kohetsu Honami broadened the beauty of Raku Yaki. Kohetsu's unique style was one of free thought and creativity which perfectly balanced with Chohjiro's pure and simple classic style. Then Kichizaemon Raku (alias: Nonkoh), third generation in the Raku family of artisans, perfected the foundation of Raku Yaki. He integrated the styles of both Kohetsu and Chohjiro, while perfecting the technique of glazing Raku. It took about 100 years from started to create Raku Yaki by Rikyu and Chojiro to perfected by Kichizaemon (alias: Nonkoh).

Raku Yaki was developed and perfected by these artisans and historical figures, the three great ancestors of Raku Yaki and Rikyu Sen.

2. Production Process and Features

Raku Yaki is pulled into shape only by hand or by woodturning. Highest grade Raku Yaki is pulled into shape only by hand. The artisan uses a special paddle to finish creating the shape.

The ceramic bowl is then coated with glaze and burned (baked) in the kiln. Kuro Raku is burned at a temperature of 1,100C to 1,200C (2,012F to 2,192F) for approximately 10 minutes. A small hollow is made when Kuro Raku is taken out by pincers from the kiln. Only Kuro Raku has this small hollow and this serves as proof that the item is authentic Kuro Raku.

The glaze for Kuro Raku, made from Kamogawa river stone which is kneaded and then melted down by heat, creates the traditional atmosphere. And even now only the highest grade Kuro Raku is made with glaze from Kamogawa river stone.

Aka Raku is burned at a temperature of 800C (1,472F) which is lower than Kuro Raku and other general ceramics. Aka Raku is coated with glaze and burned once or several times in the kiln. (Highest grade Aka Raku is coated and burned 5 to 8 times.) The black pattern on Aka Raku is called "Fu", which is made by putting charcoal on the matcha bowl while in the kiln. It adds atmosphere to the simple and natural look of Raku Yaki.

It is said that Kuro Raku's black color brings the bright green color of Matcha out into prominence. And it is said that Aka Raku's red color along with the green color of Matcha is fascinatingly elegant.

The shape from the bottom to the side and top reminds you of the artisan's deep consideration for this bowl to comfortably fit your hands and mouth. The light weight and thickly coated glaze of Raku Yaki also helps to create an extremely soft feeling. The simple and traditional look of Raku Yaki creates a WABI SABI atmosphere in the quiet tea room.

3. Directions

- Raku Yaki has a water-absorbing property, so it is possible for this ceramic to retain and "sweat" small amounts of water.
- Before using Raku Yaki for the first time, please soak in lukewarm water for one or two minutes. Before reusing after it has been stored long term, please soak for thirty seconds. This process helps to keep Raku Yaki strong and durable as well as clean and stain-resistant.
- It is best to wash the Raku Yaki using only tepid water.
- If necessary, you may occasionally use a mild chlorine-free dish washing detergent.
- Do not sterilize by boiling, washing with chlorine detergent, or in a dish washing machine.
- In case of using this as a dish, don't serve foods that have been made with sweetened vinegar. The vinegar may damage the glaze.
- Take care not to hit the bowl against a hard surface or give it a strong shock.
- Before you store Raku Yaki in its wooden box for long tem, dry off fully in the shade for 4 to 7 days. Otherwise, if the clay remains wet while it is packed away in a box, there is a possibility for the Raku Yaki to take on an unusual earthy odor or even for mold to form.
- If Raku Yaki takes on an unusual earthy odor, you can remove the odor by continuing to use Raku Yaki every day for a week.

Confectionery of the Tea Ceremony

There are two types of confectionery for the Japanese tea ceremony. One is omogashi, unbaked cake, and another one is ohigashi, dry confectionery. Both of them are made in the motif of nature or scenery, customs of the four seasons, historic literature, or traditional arts.
Especially omogashi is often designed and made to meet each tea ceremony's specific needs and to be in harmony and balance with the tea ware. Artisans tried to express subject and concept as much as possible by omogashi.
In addition, a long time ago, there were not any refrigerators. So in summer, omogashi must be expressed only with visual effects. It is very poetic. Through the above processes, Japanese confectionery techniques have been cultivated and developed.

Heaving to rock: clear blue color agar rolling up centered bean jam. It reminds us of a cool feeling.

Chute: Omogashi featured centered clear blue color kudzu. Exterior white expresses Chute. It reminds us of a cool feeling.

Confederate rose

lmy ice and balloonflower

Reed and ice

Little waves and paper fan

The Contributions of the Tea-Masters

Manifold have been the contributions of the tea-masters to art. They completely revolutionized the classical architecture and interior decorations, and established the new style to whose influence even the palaces and monasteries built after the sixteenth century have all been subject. All the celebrated gardens of Japan were laid out by the tea-masters. Our pottery would probably never have attained its high quality of excellence if the tea-masters had not lent to it their impression, the manufacture of the utensils used in the tea-ceremony calling forth the utmost expenditure of ingenuity on the part of our ceramists. Many of our textile fabrics bear the names of tea-masters who conceived their colour or design. In painting and Lacquer it seems almost superfluous to mention the immerse service they have rendered.

Great as has been the influence of the tea-masters in the field of art, it is as nothing compared to that which they have exerted on the conduct of life. Not only in the usages of polite society, but also in the arrangement of all our domestic details, do we feel the presence of the tea-maters. Many of our delicate dishes, as well as our way of serving food, are their innovations. They have taught us to dress only in garments of sober colours. They have instructed us in the proper spirit in which to approach flowers. They have given us the beauty emphasis to our natural love of simplicity, and shown us the beauty of humility. In fact, through their teachings tea has entered the life of the people.