The Japanese Tea Ceremony (Chaji)
Preparing for the Ceremony
Chaji is a full tea presentation with a meal. As in virtually every tea ceremony, the Japanese host may spend days going over minutiae to insure that this ceremony will be perfect. Through tea, recognition is given that every human encounter is a singular occasion which can, and will, never recur again exactly. Thus every aspect of tea must be savored for what it gives the participants.
The Japanese ceremony takes place in a room designed and designated for tea. It is called the chashitsu. Usually this room is within the tea house, located away from the residence, in the garden.
The guests (four is the preferred number) are shown into the machiai (waiting room). Here, the hanto (assistant to the host) offers them sayu (the hot water which will be used to make tea). While here, the guests choose one of their group to act as the main guest. The hanto then leads the guests, main guest directly behind, to a water sprinkled garden devoid of flowers. It is called roji (dew ground). Here the guests rid themselves of the dust of the world. They then seat themselves on the koshikake machiai (waiting bench), anticipating the approach of the host who has the official title teishu (house master).
Just before receiving the guests, the teishu fills the tsukubai (stone basin), which is set among low stones with fresh water. Taking a ladle of water the teishu purifies his hands and mouth then proceeds through the chumon (middle gate) to welcome his guests with a bow. No words are spoken. The teishu leads the hanto, the main guest and the others (in that order) through the chumon which symbolizes door between the coarse physical world and the spiritual world of tea.
The guests and hanto purify themselves at the tsukubai and enter the teahouse. The sliding door is only thirty six inches high. Thus all who enter must bow their heads and crouch. This door points to the reality that all are equal in tea, irrespective of status or social position. The last person in latches the door.
Inside the Teahouse
The room is devoid of any decoration except for an alcove called a tokonoma. Hanging in the alcove is a kakemono (scroll painting), carefully selected by the host, which reveals the theme of the ceremony. The Buddhist scripture on the scroll is by a master and is called bokuseki (ink traces). Each guest admires the scroll in turn, then examines the kama (kettle) and hearth (furo for the portable type and ro for the type set into the floor in winter to provide warmth), which were laid just before they were greeted by the host. They then are seated according to their respective positions in the ceremony.
The host seats himself and greetings are exchanged, first between the host and principle guest, then the host and other guests. A charcoal fire is then built if it is ro season and after the meal if it is furo season. In ro season kneaded incense is put in the fire and sandalwood incense in the furo season.
Each guest is served a meal called chakaiseki. Served on a tray with fresh cedar chopsticks, the meal consists of three courses. On the tray is cooked white rice in a ceramic bowl which will be eaten with other dishes, miso soup which is served in covered lacquer bowls and raw fish, plain or pickled, or pickled vegetables in a ceramic dish.
Sake is served. The first course is called hashiarai (rinsing the chopsticks). Nimono (foods simmered in broth) in separate covered lacquer dishes. Yakimono (grilled foods) are served in individual portions on ceramic plates. Additional rice and soup is offered each guest. At this course the host may eat, if he chooses. The palate is then cleared with kosuimono, a simple clear broth served in covered lacquer bowls.
The next course derives its name from the Shinto reverence of nature. It is called hassun which is also the name for the simple wooden tray that is used to serve this course. This course consists of uminomono and yamanomono (seafood and mountain food respectively) which signify the abundance of the sea and land. The host eats during this course, and is served sake by each guest. The position of server is considered a higher position and, to insure equality of all in the tea room, each acts as host if only momentarily.
Konomono (fragrant things) are served in small ceramic bowls, and browned rice is served in salted water in a lacquer pitcher, representing the last of the rice. Each guest cleans the utensils they have used with soft paper which they bring. A omogashi (principal sweet) is served to conclude the meal. The host then invites his guests to retire to the garden or waiting room while he prepares for tea.
Once the guests have departed, the host removes the scroll and replaces it with flowers. The room is swept and the utensils for preparing koi cha are arranged. Over thirteen individual items are used. Each is costly and considered an art object.
The Spiritual World of Tea
In tea ceremony, water represents yin and fire in the hearth yang. The water is held in a jar called the mizusashi. This stoneware jar contains fresh water symbolizing purity, and is touched only by the host. Matcha is kept in a small ceramic container called a chaire which is in turn covered in a shifuku (fine silk pouch) which is set in front of the mizusashi. The occasion will dictate the type of tana (stand) used to display the chosen utensils.
If tea is served during the day a gong is sounded, in evening a bell. Usually struck or rung five to seven times, it summons the guests back to the tea house. They purify hands and mouth once again and re-enter as before. They admire the flowers, kettle and hearth and seat themselves.
The host enters with the chawan (tea bowl) which holds the chasen (tea whisk), chakin (the tea cloth) which is a bleached white linen cloth used to dry the bowl, and the chashaku (tea scoop), a slender bamboo scoop used to dispense the matcha, which rests across it. These are arranged next to the water jar which represents the sun (symbolic of yang); the bowl is the moon (yin). Retiring to the preparation room, the host returns with the kensui (waste water bowl), the hishaku (bamboo water ladle) and futaoki (a green bamboo rest for the kettle lid). He then closes the door to the preparation room.
Using a fukusa (fine silk cloth), which represents the spirit of the host, the host purifies the tea container and scoop. Deep significance is found in the host’s careful inspection, folding and handling of the fukusa, for his level of concentration and state of meditation are being intensified. Hot water is ladled into the tea bowl, the whisk is rinsed, the tea bowl is emptied and wiped with the chakin.
Lifting the tea scoop and tea container, the host places three scoops of tea per guest into the tea bowl. Hot water is ladled from the kettle into the tea bowl in a quantity sufficient to create a thin paste with the whisk. Additional water is then added to so the paste can be whisked into a thick liquid consistent with pea soup. Unused water in the ladle is returned to the kettle.
Preparing for Departure
The fire is then rebuilt for usa cha (thin tea). This tea will rinse the palate and symbolically prepares the guests for leaving the spiritual world of tea and re-entering the physical world. Smoking articles are offered, but rarely does smoking take place in a tearoom. This is but a sign for relaxation.
Zabuton (cushions) and teaburi (hand warmers) are offered. To compliment usa cha, higashi (dry sweets) are served. Usa cha and koi cha are made in the same manner, except that less tea powder of a lesser quality is used, and it is dispensed from a date-shaped wooden container called natsume. The tea bowl is more decorative in style; and guests are individually served a bowl of this frothy brew.
At the conclusion, the guests express their appreciation for the tea and admiration for the art of the host. They leave as the host watches from the door of the teahouse.
by William Woodworth (1994)