Experience the Beauty of Sado, the Japanese Tea Ceremony
In a peaceful moment, imagine the design of an elegant kimono, the asymmetrical beauty of a flower arrangement nearby, the contrast of light bamboo implements and the dark cast iron water container, the tea bowl is at the ready and the tea master takes up his whisk to create the perfect zen bowl of bitter matcha, the purest form of green tea. Such are the scenes of Sado, the art of the Japanese tea ceremony. Read on to explore the ancient origins of this practice, learn some basic etiquette, and discover where you can experience the tea ceremony in Tokyo.
History and Philosophy of Sado
The Japanese tea ceremony is known as Sado or Chanoyu. It is essentially a choreographed and artistic ritual of preparing and serving green tea. The Chinese brought the first tea seeds to Japan during the Tang Dynasty (619-907). At first the tea was prepared and drunk by Buddhist priests and noblemen. In the thirteenth century the samurai noble warrior class became enamored with tea preparation and tea parties of various types became popular. Eventually, the art of Sado came to be enjoyed by people of all classes.
Murata Shukou, hailed as the father of the tea ceremony, devoted his life to Buddhistic understanding. After receiving a diploma signed by the renowned Chinese monk Yuanwu, he spent the rest of his days in his tea room in Nara to perfect the philosophy and etiquette of Sado, giving lessons and instilling within his students the true spirit of zen-inspired tea.
Shukou always made sure to serve his guests, never holding himself above them. He preferred the intimate setting of a five to six person room, a design aimed at creating the most peaceful atmosphere possible. This way, both ceremony master and attendees alike can focus on the principles of zen and enlightenment. Inner harmony, tranquility, purity and respect are four ideas basic to the Sado tea ceremony even today.
Japanese Tea Ceremony Etiquette
The best way to truly understand Sado is not to read about it in dusty history books, but to attend a tea ceremony yourself. To feel confident when you participate in this beautiful expression of culture, keep in mind these expectations and guidelines of Japanese tea ceremony etiquette.
Preparing for Sado
- ● Be on time. This is a rule that is always important in Japanese society but even more so for a special event like a tea ceremony.
- ● Remove your shoes and put on the slippers provided by your host. (Make sure you choose clean and nice socks for the event to avoid holey-sock embarrassment.
- ● Dress nicely. the traditional clothing for Sado is kimono but western conservative clothing is also fine.
Once inside a tea room, there are a few additional rules that apply.
- ● Let the host seat you. They will let you know where you should sit as the arrangement is predetermined.
- ● Enter on your knees to show humility. The door to the room is often quite low to encourage the act of kneeling or bowing to enter.
- ● Be in the moment. Ask permission before taking any photos, and of course, refrain from social media posting, texting or similar during the ceremony itself. The idea of Sado is to appreciate the elements brought together to create the event. You cannot experience the beauty around you if you are focused on twitter or instagram. Experience now, post later!
- ● Somewhat like the religious passing of the cup in some Christian churches, turn the tea cup slightly when it is passed to you to avoid drinking from the same spot as the last guest. This action may have a ceremonial air to it, but it is mostly necessary for hygiene.
- ● Eat what is given to you. This is not the time to be a picky eater. You will be given a small sweet treat, called wagashi. These are handmade, seasonal Japanese confections that add a perfect element of sweetness to balance the bitterness of the green tea. A metaphor for life itself which is both bitter and sweet.
- ● Everything in a tea ceremony, from the flowers, and pottery, the wagashi and the art in the tea room are chosen specifically by the host and tea master. Take time to appreciate everything in the room. Topics of discussion should center around the tea and the ceremony elements. Chatting about the flavor of the tea, the history of the tea bowl, the flowers in the room are all ways of showing your appreciation.
Places to Experience the Sado Tea Ceremony in Tokyo
Now that you know a bit of history and some sensible guidelines for attending Sado, where can you go and try this ancient art form? There are a variety of places to enjoy a tea ceremony in Tokyo. Each of these spots offer you a deep cultural experience. Prior booking is usually required so explore this list and then rsvp for one of these amazing locations.
Seisei-an (Hotel new Otani)
Toko-An (Imperial Hotel Tokyo)
International Chado Culture Foundation
Urasenke Tea Ceremony Shotoan
Kudan Institute of Japanese Culture
The Japanese Tea Ceremony Awakens your Spirit
Sado opens your heart and mind to Japanese culture and aesthetics. For visitors or newcomers to Japan, this experience can help you understand and appreciate art, Zen philosophy and put you in touch with the deep wellspring of traditional culture. Sado can be the starting point or the culmination of many aspects of traditional Japan, flower arranging, or ikebana, calligraphy, the art of wearing Kimono and of creating beautiful seasonal flavors and experiences are all a part of the beauty of Japan and the richness of the tea ceremony.