Existentialism in traditional Japanese tea ceremony

By Urvashi Verma

The Japanese tea ceremony, called “Chanoyu” “Sado” or “Ocha,” is a traditional ritual that dates to 9th century Japan. For both the host and guests, it is less about drinking tea and more about having an existential experience, or preserving the sanctity of the moment.

Japanese teahouse in the ancient city of Kamakura, 50 miles southwest of Tokyo. Teahouses are often beautifully landscaped and created for contemplation and connecting with nature, or “shizen”. Guests walk through the “roji,” or small garden that leads to the teahouse and is designed to create a connection to nature as guests enter the house.
The relationship between the guests, or “kyaku,” and host, or “teishu,” is a sacred one. “Aisatsu” means greeting in Japanese and is deeply rooted in the culture. When the guest enters the teahouse, greetings are exchanged.
Japanese tearooms have shoji screens. These screens are found in traditional Japanese homes to provide privacy and light. Moveable sliding doors give guests a view of the Zen garden outside.
The ceremony begins with the host serving traditional Japanese sweets called “wagashi” to balance the slightly bitter taste from the tea. The host will sit in front of the guest and place the dish in between them. The host will bow and verbally indicate when the sweets are ready to eat. Guests are expected to bow back and with both hands demonstrating their gratitude prior to eating.
The preparation ritual of tea appears very simple. However, every step is intricately designed and predetermined. A special mat called “tatami” is used to prepare the tea and utensils are placed with precision at prescribed locations.
The “koicha matcha,” or thick tea, is made by mixing hot water and macha green tea. While sipping the tea the guests are instructed to remain in the moment and consider that they may never experience it again. Oftentimes the tea cup is shared between guests. Guest should drink about three medium sips and wipe the rim before passing the cup to the next recipient.

The proper way to drink koicha matcha is to place the cup in the palm of the left hand, holding it above chest height. The cup should be turned clockwise two times so that the “shomen,” or front of the cup, is to the left. Then the chief guest, or “shokyaku,” must nod and acknowledge gratitude toward the host and drink the tea.
When the chief guest asks the host to finish, the host acknowledges the wish with a small bow in recognition. The host then properly bows and announce that he or she will finish the tea ceremony.
Kyakus departing the teahouse after the ceremony has been completed.