The Way of Tea: The Japanese Tea Ceremony

Posted by Sooz on Monday, March 10, 2014 | 3 Comments


In 1889 an American ship, the Cheseborough, was wrecked on the coast of Shariki, Japan. The villagers of the town worked furiously to saved those shipwrecked. They attempted valiant rescues, provided medical care for survivors, built memorials, and commemorated the event with a yearly service even during WWII. The lost ship had been built by the citizens and commissioned from Bath, Maine where I now live.

One hundred years after the tragedy, the town officials from Shariki came to Bath to propose a Sister City relationship. Each year students and chaperones from Bath become the guests of Shariki (now Tsugaru) where they enjoy local hospitality and tour this area of Japan.  Our Sister City friends also travel to Mid-coast Maine to enjoy time in our homes and city. It is a rich and rewarding relationship for all.

The first weekend in March, Bath holds a Japanese Celebration Weekend where we have live events and activities that educate and inform about the Japanese way of life. This year I was able to attend a Japanese Tea Ceremony with several of my close friends. I was excited because it was a chance to be with people I cherish and learn something new. I was not prepared for the profound experience in store for us.

Our Japanese Tea Master was a woman who had studied the art of the Japanese Tea Ceremony as a young girl in Japan. She had been trained in the ritual which requires complete attention and focus to detail. She began by explaining the purpose of the ceremony, also called “The Way of Tea.” The ceremony is centuries old and follows strict protocols and intentional movements to express four principles: Harmony, Respect, Purity, and Tranquility.

tea 1In each movement the master makes there is great meaning and intention. Each procedure emphasises the importance of Purification. Each instrument is cleaned and presented with purpose. The mind of the presenter must be very focused on the order, timing, intention, movement, and sound of the ceremony. This focused intention coupled with the silence and attention of the guests creates Harmony between the people, between the objects, and between the people and the objects. In the tea ceremony everyone and everything is equal without the distinction of status or rank. All respect each other. Only when Harmony, Purity, and Respect are achieved can Tranquility be manifested. In this space there is a common respect for the moment in time being created. The heart of the process is embodied in the phrase, “Ichi go, ichi e” meaning “one time, one meeting.” The  idea is that this sacred moment will never be repeated in time. It stands alone and should be respected.

The Tea Master can only make one bowl of tea at a time so the guests sit silently together and wait for each person to receive their tea. When you receive your tea you are to bow then turn your bowl twice before drinking. This motion turns the face of the bowl inward as a sign of humility and respect. You can hear the sound of the boiling water in the iron kettle, the pouring of the water, the whisking of the “Matcha” which is powdered green tea, the click of the ladle on the kettle – each sound creates the peaceful ambiance of the tea ceremony. It is a profound experience if you let yourself enter into the moment.

For me, it was transcendent. It lifted me out of the “normal” daily human experience to a place of peace and introspection. I took hold of the concept “Ichi go, ichi e” and found myself so grateful to be with THESE dear women, at THIS exact time, in THIS tranquil place. It was an honor to experience this moment with people I love and to feel so present with them. We seldom sit in silence together in American culture. We seldom participate in a ritual that is meant to cause us peace and harmony. I found myself overwhelmed with the Goodness of it. I also found myself very grateful as my friends’ bowls of tea were made and a little uncomfortable when mine was being prepared. In this stillness with myself, that old feeling of worthlessness appeared. I have often felt unworthy of attention or love. I was taught not to need or require anything and that old feeling showed itself when someone was doing something so intentional for me. It helped me see that I still have work to do in that place. I still need healing there. I enjoyed watching the process of purifying the bowls and took that to heart as well, a reminder of the importance of cleansing and purifying my mind of thoughts that are not healthy.

The whole process was full of meaning and heart for me. I encourage you, if you ever have opportunity, try to attend a Japanese Tea Ceremony. It gave me so much to think about and left me reflecting on the Goodness of such a ritual. I have started to think about simple sweet rituals I might employ in my own life to enhance the peace and tranquility that is ours to enjoy if we just take time for it. Prayer is one place I find this. I also enjoy the solitude of nature. I encourage you to think about the rituals in your life. Do they bring you peace or joy? Can you create some moments that stand still for you? Make a place in your life for transcendent moments. Look for the Goodness around you and embrace it wholeheartedly.  There is magic and meaning in the moments that we fully embrace.

“Ritual is necessary for us to know anything.” Ken Kesey

Enjoy a taste of a Japanese Tea Ceremony via the video below:

A "Good" Idea:
Do you have rituals in your life that help you? Learn about the Japanese Tea Ceremony and all the Goodness it holds.

Back Camera

3 Responses

  1. traci bailey says:

    I have only seen this ritual represented in movies and I always “feel” how special the real deal is but never thought about the sounds…thanks for sharing your special experience with us.
    You know me Susan so you won’t be surprised to learn that some of my favorite “rituals” involve walking along any kind of watersource listening to the water chatter over the rocks…
    Sitting or walking through the woods listening to the wind breathe through the trees…
    Or just sitting on a cliff feeling the wind and sun on my face and listening to the hawks careening through the air…
    Nature and it’s sights and sounds have always brought me my greatest peace and joy

  2. sooz says:

    T. I know exactly what your nature rituals are because you have shared a few with me. Your words are living proof that you are a practicing believer in the power of nature. Beautifully said.Thanks for being here.

  3. Emily says:

    What a gorgeous recounting of what was clearly a holy moment. Incredible that this relationship, between cities, has been made and sustained. And incredible, too, for a see-er like you to be able to bring us all there. Thank you, friend.

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