Let´s Try Maccha – Japanese Tea Ceremony

December 5, 2011 Juju Kurihara Culture, History, Vocabulary Tags: 0 Comments

chashitsuTea ceremony is one of the Japanese traditions that attracts many foreign people. Tea ceremony is often called ocha kai (お茶会) in Japanese and when you learn it, you learn sadou (茶道). Dou in Japanese means way. Perhaps you´ve heard the word, juudou (柔道), kendou (剣道),  aikidou (合気道) or kadou (華道). They are Japanese martial arts and Japanese traditional arts. Japanese people consider that learning them as a way to achieve the higher level. But in theory, there is always something to learn, so you´ll never achieve "the highest" level and that´s why Japanese martial arts and arts are very deep to learn, way too deep that you can probably reach the other side of the globe.


The tea room where the ceremony is held is called chashitsu (茶室/ tea room) and usually it has the size of 4.5 tatami mats, about 7.29 m². Inside the chashitu there is a small stage-like space called tokonoma (床の間) where you can see on the right side in the photo. There, usually a calligraphy or a flower is placed and they are changed depends on the guests or the season.


The entrance is tiny and usually a level higher from the floor so that you need to bow  to enter irresistibly.

Many of shougun (将軍) enjoyed tea ceremony and I´ve read somewhere that some of shogun went to chashitsu to discuss with tea master about war strategy.

Imagine how important to have an isolated small tea house where only two or three people can fit. And at the same time, you can imagine how much influence the tea masters had politically in that era.

For example, the famous tea master in the 16th century, Rikyuu (利休) was deeply trusted by the shogun Hideyoshi Toyotomi (豊臣秀吉), although Rikyu somehow infuriated Hideyoshi and was given a penalty of seppuku (切腹).

Those who are interested in the history of tea, I recommend to read Kakuzou Okakura (岡倉覚三) which I´ve known as Tenshin Okakura (岡倉天心)´s "The Book of Tea".


But this time, I´d rather talk about our tea ceremony session I had yesterday.

After all the hassle we had, we arrived at the tea master´s house, ONLY 40 minutes late! First we learnt a theory of the tea ceremony and did a little bit of practice, from how to enter the chashitsu to how to leave there. Every movement has its meaning and you always need to contemplate each art work and instrument we use.


You appreciate the calligraphy work and the flower at tokonoma.


Bow and show your appreciation.







"Read what it´s written and contemplate the art", the tea master explains.




This is the pot the master makes hot water.



And this of course you need to contemplate it.

Ah, sensei where are you going?




We learnt how to pick up the tea bowl and turn it to avoid to drink the tea from the front part of the bowl. Because usually tea bowls have beautiful drawings and it´s considered that part is the front of the bowl, so you shouldn´t blot it with the tea.

You pick the bowl up, put it in your left palm and with the right hand, you turn the bowl twice clockwise, then drink in tree times.



During the session, you have to sit seiza (正座). As I mentioned in other article, I can´t do seiza even for two minutes. And neither of my students.

After 20 minutes of practice, the last part was contemplating those beautiful bowls. When you do it, you have to lean your upper half of the body towards the floor but keep sitting seiza. contemplation


Like this photo.

What will happen if you do this after sitting seiza for 20 minutes?

There was a big guy sitting at right angles to me. When I leant forward, which that was I thought, POOOOOOOOOM! I flew 20 cm to my right.

Poor Antonio san couldn´t hold himself and fell down forward instead of leaning forward to watch the bowl. Then as he fell, he thrusted me like a bull at the bullfighting. It cracked everyone out.

So the tea master gave us little bench like the photo above to sit on for the real session. Oh, what a relief!


This is the sweet for our ceremony the master made.

To pick up the chopsticks, there is a manner for it. Every movement is very logic and elegant. Before you pick one, you bow to your next person "osakini (お先に / I go first)" then the next person says "douzo (どうぞ / go ahead)". Everything you do, you have to ask permission.


Nowadays, not many people have problem managing chopsticks. Thanks for the invasion of Chinese takeaway.

The sweet you eat before the tea to maintain your mouth sweet for the bitter green tea.

While we are struggling remembering the word "osakini", the master makes tea.

In the quiet chashitsu, only the sound of water echos, and it was really relaxing.



Now your tea is made, you have to drag your seiza body to where your tea bowl is. Pick it up, bring closer to you, then drag yourself back to where you were.

This tea is commonly called maccha (抹茶) and it comes in powder. You mixed with hot water and drink. To mix it, you use a whisk made of bamboo.

The taste is bitter, it´s very different from the green tea you usually drink. The first taste for me is powdery water. I remember I didn´t like it much when I practiced in my secondary school. I don´t like anko (あんこ / azuki paste) either.


Before drinking the tea, you again ask for a permission to the next person, "osakini" then to the tea master, "otemae choudai itashimasu (お点前頂戴いたします / I´ll receive your tea)".

This phrase was impossible to remember so I had to whisper for everyone and I saw the tea master was silently giggling while making tea seriously.

So the tea, you have to drink in tree times. The froth stays at the bottom of the bowl, you have to suck it loudly. Yes, do you remember how Japanese people eat noodles?

It was very quiet in the chashitu and Verónica san sucked it ZZZ. We couldn´t hold the laugh. Antonio san covered his mouth and yet the laugh leaked. The tea master smiled, "oh how good the sound was!"


We laughed a lot. Maybe we should´ve been a little more serious but I personally think that Japanese tradition can be more relaxed, at least to give more people to have an experience. It´s OK to follow the manner and cortecy strictly when they want to learn and deepen that "way-dou".

I´m glad that we enjoyed the tea ceremony in this Saturday afternoon. Thank you for you who came with me and thank for the tea master, Fumi san.

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