茶道: The Way of Tea


Sadou: The Way of Tea

This guest post was written by Brett Middleton, a second-year ALT working in Anamizu. This post was originally part of a document Brett prepared for a group of Noto JETs who attended a somewhat more casual tea ceremony.

Tea Utensils. Photo by Brett Middleton.

For those of you who have had the chance to experience a formal tea ceremony, I’m sure you will remember how special, technical (and a little stressful) it can be.  But it is important to remember, that it is not just a tea party.  It is, first and foremost, a form of art.


Tea and Sweets. Photo by Brett Middleton.

Every detail within the room has been carefully thought of and prepared with the utmost care by the host to convey a message or even a feeling.  It is only natural then that each guest conducts him/herself accordingly to show the proper respect for the host’s efforts and to give thanks for the experience received.

The following information is presented with the intention of giving you some idea of what to expect at your first tea ceremony or to help you better show your appreciation to the host at future gatherings.

A room set up for ochakai. Photo by Brett Middleton.

Traditional Japanese Culture

The traditional ceremony involves a number of formal sequences, each containing a specific set of actions and etiquette to follow.  First is the ‘Arrival’, followed by ‘Entering the Tearoom’.  After being seated, it will be time for ‘Taking the Sweets’ and finally, ‘Drinking the Tea’.  The following guide has been grouped into these categories for easy reference.  In each section, please refer to the vocabulary lists for useful Japanese words.

Some of these steps may be slightly different or may not be required depending on the formality of the gathering you are attending.  For example, you may be seated at tables rather than kneeling on the floor or you may be served meals at the beginning followed by the sweets.  The important thing is to remain calm and relaxed at all times, and try to take in all of your surroundings so you can get the most out of the experience. You most likely will not be the shōkyaku at your first chakai so you can always copy the person in front of you.

Some Useful Vocabulary

Attending a Tea Ceremony
茶会 chakai tea gathering kyaku guest(s)
茶事 chaji formal tea gathering 正客 shōkyaku main guest
亭主 teishu host 次客 jikyaku second guest
半東 hantō host’s assistant 三客 sankyaku third guest
末客 makkyaku last guest

Entering the tearoom

  1. While kneeling, place you sensu in front of you, place your hands on the tatami and look into the tearoom.
  2. Move your sensu forward and then edge yourself forward into the tearoom.
  3. Take your sensu with your right hand and stand from your right foot.
  4. Walk to the tokonoma and kneel down in front of it.
  5. Make a formal bow and then take a moment to view and appreciate the hanging scroll, then the flowers, and finally the flower vase (or incense container).
  6. Bow again and then stand from your left foot.
  7. Cross the room and approach the tea utensils (be careful not to step on the tatami edging).
  8. Kneel in front of the kama and appreciate the utensils.
  9. Finally, you may return to your place along the outer edge of the room.
  10. Sit down placing you sensu on the tatami behind your back.

Viewing the Alcove
床の間 tokonoma alcove 薄板 usuita board for flower container
掛け物 kakemono hanging scroll 香合 kōgō incense container
茶花 chabana flowers for tea 拝見する haiken suru view/appreciate
花入 hanaire flower container 扇子 sensu folding fan

A full set of tea utensils. Photo by Brett Middleton.

Viewing the Tea Utensils
台子 daisu original tea utensil stand 水次 mizutsugi water pitcher
tana tea utensil stand 茶杓 chashaku tea scoop
kama kettle 茶入 chaire container for thick tea
風炉 furo brazier natsume container for thin tea
ro sunken hearth 柄杓 hishaku ladle
水指 mizusashi fresh water container 茶筅 chasen tea whisk
建水 kensui waste water receptacle 茶巾 chakin linen cloth

Taking the sweets:

  1. Shortly after the host has begun preparing the first cup of tea, he/she will ask the guests to take the sweets.
    「お菓子をどうぞ」Okashi o dōzo – “Please take the sweets”
  1. The shōkyaku will respond to the host’s request and make a bow.
    「お菓子を頂戴いたします」Okashi o chōdai itashimasu – “I will partake of the sweets”
  1. Before taking a sweet, one should bow to the next guest on their left.
    「お先に頂戴いたします」Osaki o chōdai itashimasu – “Excuse me for going before you”
  1. Take the kashibachi with both hands and raise it slightly to express thanks.  Place it back down and put your piece of kaishi in front of you (folded edge towards you).
  2. Take your sweet using the hashi provided, place it on your kaishi and then wipe the tip of the hashi with a corner of your kaishi before placing them back on the kashibachi and passing it to the next guest.
    (alternatively the sweet may come already presented on a piece of kashi with its own kuromoji, in which case simply take one set for yourself and pass the tray to the next guest)
  1. Eat the sweet using your kuromoji.  It is polite to cut the sweet into smaller pieces before eating it.
  2. If a second tray of dry sweets are presented, follow the same procedures as above, but with these it is ok to pick them up and eat them with your right hand.
  3. When you’ve finished, fold the kaishi up neatly and place it in a pocket or tucked into you kimono.

Taking the Sweets
菓子 kashi sweet(s) 帛紗 fukusa silk cloth
主菓子 omogashi main sweet 帛紗ばさみ fukusa-basami tea purse
干菓子 higashi dry sweet(s) 懐紙 kaishi paper for sweets
菓子鉢 kashibachi bowl for sweets 菓子楊枝 kasha-yōji sweet pick (metal)
干菓子盆 higashibon tray for dry sweets 子茶巾 kochakin small linen cloth
黒文字 kuromoji sweet pick (wooden) 子茶巾入 kochakin-ire purse for linen cloth

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Dry sweets. Photo by Brett Middleton.

Drinking the tea:

  1. The shōkyaku will begin again.  When you are presented with your chawan, first place it between you and the next guest on your left. Bow and say:
    「お先に頂戴いたします」Osaki o chōdai itashimasu – “Excuse me for going before you”
  1. Place the chawan back in front of you, bow to the host and say:
    「お点前頂戴いたします」Otemae o chōdai itashimasu – “Thank you for the tea”
  1. Pick up the chawan with your right hand and rest it on your left palm, then bow your head slightly.
  2. Turn the chawan clockwise twice so that its front (usually the decorated side) is facing away from you.
  3. Drink the tea to the last sip, finishing with a slight slurp to let the host know you’ve finished every drop!
  4. Wipe the place where you drank from with your right thumb and index finger and wipe your fingers on your kaishi (it’s is good to use the used kaishi from the sweet).
  5. Turn the chawan back anti-clockwise so that the front once again faces you, and place it down in front of you, outside the tatami edging.
  6. Place your palms on the tatami and take a closer look at the chawan.  Then pick it up with both hands (while resting your elbows on your knees) and admire its design.
  7. Finally, turn the front of the chawan to face away from you once more and place it down again.  The host’s assistant will come to take it away from you.  Bow to each other.

Drinking the Tea
sencha regular leaf green tea 茶筅 chasen tea whisk
抹茶 matcha powdered green tea 茶入 chaire container for thick tea
濃茶 koicha thick tea natsume container for thin tea
薄茶 usucha thin tea 茶杓 chashaku tea scoop
茶碗 chawan tea cup 茶巾 chakin linen cloth

For more in-depth information please check out the following site:

Omotesenke Fushin’an Foundation Website – http://www.omotesenke.jp/index.html

(click on the English title at the bottom to view in English)

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