Tea ceremonies have been practiced in Japan for over one thousand years now. The practice is believed to have been brought in from China by a Buddhist monk (who else) at some time during 9th century AD. Today, tea ceremonies are still popular among the higher classes as a kind of status-establishing ritual.
Tools of the Trade
There is a whole arsenal of accessories available on the Japanese market designed, as they say, to enhance the tea ceremony experience. The most important of these is, of course, the tea bowl, which is changed according to the season.
Pay attention to the tea caddy, or Natsume, which stores the tea before use; there is also a scoop and a tea whisk. Do not drink from Natsume, please! Use your host’s teacups, instead!
It’s Tea Time
The first guest, it may be you, accepts the tea bowl full of koicha with a bow to the host and to the second guest, before rotating the bowl and taking a sip. After enjoying a few more sips, the guest wipes the rim of the bowl clean with the white chakin and passes it to the next guest. This continues until all the guests have had a chance to enjoy the tea. Pray none of them is sick, though!
The bowl is then returned to the host, who cleans all the utensils and prepares for the second, more casual part of the ceremony. Conversation flows more comfortably at this time, but do not be tempted to speak your mind, please! On occasion, the host may serve light snacks.
During a tea ceremony, do not forget to compliment the host on their tea, tools, and utensils. During the koicha part, you can only exchange a few words with the other participants, apart from praise of the host and their hospitality, provided that your Japanese is good enough.
When the ordeal is over, do not forget to once again express your admiration of the tools used.