The Japanese Tea Ceremony-an elite artistic pursuit since the 16th century
Updated: Dec 10, 2018
The tea ceremony is an important part of Japanese culture and involves the consumption of a delicious powdered green tea known as Matcha. However, while the ceremony seems to center on the tea, its more about the social ritual than anything else. You see, the tea ceremony originally began as an art form practiced by the elite of Japanese society as a way to bond socially and further their status. Every action is focused on how the guest would see things.
The ceremony usually involves only four to five people at a time. The tea is usually served with sweet snacks to complement the Matcha green tea. While the ceremony is considered very important in Japanese culture, it takes a very long time to achieve full mastery.The tea ceremony as it is known today emerged in the sixteenth century.
It was an elite artistic pursuit that provided a forum for the rulers of Japan, the warrior elite, and wealthy merchants to forge and reinforce social ties. The first ceramic utensils appreciated in this context were ancient ceramics from China that had been handed down in Japan for generations. Imbued with the potency of age and the glamour of ancient Chinese civilization, which the Japanese had long revered as a source of culture, these objects were treasured in Japan. A shift occurred in the mid-sixteenth century, pioneered by influential tea masters such as Sen no Rikyū (1522–1591). These tea masters began to incorporate rustic ceramic vessels from Korea and Japan and found beauty in unrefined, natural, or imperfect forms. By the authority of their recognized connoisseurial abilities, the leading tea men of the time elevated these objects to the same level as the ancient Chinese treasures. This aesthetic, which celebrates austerity, spontaneity, and apparent artlessness, is known as wabi. Source: https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/jtea/hd_jtea.htm:
Chanoyu for Matcha
Although the Japanese word for the tea ceremony, chanoyu, literally means “hot water for tea,” the practice involves much more than its name implies. Chanoyu is a ritualized, secular practice in which tea is consumed in a specialized space with codified procedures. The act of preparing and drinking matcha, the powdered green tea used in the ceremony, is a choreographed art requiring many years of study to master. The intimate setting of the tea room, which is usually only large enough to accommodate four or five people, is modeled on a hermit’s hut. In this space, often surrounded by a garden, the participants temporarily withdraw from the mundane world.
In the tea room, the emphasis is on the interaction between the host, guests, and tea utensils. The host will choose an assemblage of objects specific to that gathering and use those utensils to perform the tea preparations in front of the guests.
Each tea gathering is a unique experience, so a particular assemblage of objects and people is never repeated. The guests are expected to abide by tea room etiquette with regard to the gestures used to drink the tea and the appreciation of the utensils. When presented with a bowl of tea, a guest will notice and reflect upon the warmth of the bowl and the color of the bright green matcha against the clay before he begins to drink. The ceramics used in this context—tea bowls, water jars, flower vases, tea caddies, and so forth—are functional tools valued for their practicality as well as artworks admired for their aesthetic qualities. A key element in this practice is the host’s connoisseurship skills; the host acquires a collection of objects that conform to a shared aesthetic standard and selects which objects to use in a particular gathering.