A Walkthrough of the Japanese Tea Ceremony

The tea ceremony played an important role in the development of tea culture throughout Japanese history, and even today there are tea ceremonies conducted all throughout Japan. In this article, we’re going to walk through the tea ceremony, and break down each important step. 


When we visited Uji in the fall of 2019, we were lucky enough to get the opportunity to film a tea ceremony at Taihoan teahouse. A special thanks to the Uji department of tourism for allowing us to give everyone a glimpse of this special experience. If you are ever in Japan, I highly recommend visiting Uji and taking part in a tea ceremony yourself.


First, the guest will approach the tea house. The gardens around the tea house serve as a way to quiet the mind, especially if the tea house is in the middle of a city. The guest will first purify their hands at the Tsukubai outside of the teahouse. 


When entering the teahouse, the first thing you will notice is that the interior is modestly decorated with a small flower arrangement and a scroll, to set the intention of the ceremony. This scroll and flower arrangement is also used to establish a theme in the tea ceremony. 


First, the tea master will present their guests with a type of sweet, also called wagashi. These sweets can vary depending on the season and also change with the theme of the tea ceremony.


In this particular tea ceremony, there was a second tea master who would be preparing the tea. The tea master bows before entering into the room, at which point the guests are expected to bow back. At this point, she will bring the tea utensils into the room, set them down and then bring in the hishaku or bamboo ladle. The tea bowl is then placed in front of her, along with the natsume or tea caddy. She will then pull out the special cloth called a Fukusa, which will be folded a certain way, and then used to purify the tea utensils. She starts by purifying the natsume, and then she will fold up the fukusa once more and move on to the next utensil


The second utensil she purifies is called the chashaku and it is the bamboo spoon used for scooping matcha from the Natusume into the bowl. She will set these utensils down next to the bamboo tea whisk or Chasen and then use the fukusa to purify the hishaku or bamboo ladle.


She will use this bamboo ladle to scoop hot water out of the iron pot or Kama. The water is then poured into the tea bowl or chawan in order to preheat it. The water is also used to prepare the bamboo tea whisk. The bristles of the tea whisk are quite fragile when they are dry, so many tea masters soak the whisk before using it so that it does not break while whisking the tea. It also helps to keep the bowl warm so that it doesn’t cool the tea off too much. 


The tea master will then pour this water out into the kensui or waste water bowl, as it will not be used to make the tea. She will then use a separate cloth to clean off the bowl called a chakin. 


After all the utensils have been purified and prepared, she will then use the chashaku to scoop matcha powder into the tea bowl. For this, she uses 2 large scoops of the chashaku. 


She will then add hot water from the Kamo to the chawan and begin to whisk up the tea. First she will start by scraping off the sides of the tea bowl, and then she will begin whisking up the tea in zigzag motions. This process will take about 30 seconds to thoroughly mix the powder into the water and also create a foam on top of the tea. 


After the tea has been whisked, the tea master will then turn the bowl so that the design faces the guest and then the bowl will be offered to the guest.


During some tea ceremonies, the bowl of tea will be passed from guest to guest, but in this tea ceremony, two bowls of tea are prepared. The second one is whisked up using the same technique. After the guest finishes the bowl of tea, they will put it on the opposite side of the tatami mat to signify they are finished with the tea ceremony.


Just as a refresher, the hishaku is the bamboo ladle, the Kama is the iron pot, the kensui is the water bowl, the netsume is the tea caddy, the chashaku is the tea scoop, the chasen is the tea whisk, the chawan is the tea bowl, the chakin is the cloth used to clean the bowl and the fukusa is the cloth used to clean the other tea utensils. 


While it may take a lot of time, hopefully this has inspired you to slow down your tea ritual. Take a little bit of extra time in the morning to really appreciate all the work that goes into producing the tea and Teaware that you are enjoying. Also try and quiet the mind so that you can enjoy something as simple as a bowl of tea in silence. I hope you get the chance to participate in a tea ceremony in person some time soon, but until then I hope you enjoy the articles and videos. Please let us know if you have any questions in the comments below. Until then, we’ll see you next time!