The Chado, the way of tea is conceived as a real way of life intended to discover the true beauty of things. The ceremony is extremely regulated and very simple at the same time. Certain variations exist in relation to different schools, but they are very subtle. Depending on the type of ceremony, the ritual can last from 45 minutes up to 4 hours.
The ceremony takes place in the tea house, the cha-shitu, a modest cottage at the far end of a garden, the roji. The guests, maximum 5, will have taken great care to dress themselves according to the type of ceremony, formal or informal. They walk through the garden up to the interior fence near which they will find a bench where they will wait for their host to come and greet them. To welcome them, the portal is half-opened, the path is clean and cleared out of dry leaves and sometimes even sprinkled with water.
Once the ceremony's preparations over, the host comes inside to meet his guests at the garden's house. He greets them with a simple nod of the head and guides them towards the house. At a certain time, he stops near a hollow stone containing fresh water. The guests will be able to draw water with a bamboo ladle to wash their hands and their mouths as a mark of purification; each guest will go through this ritual and then rince the spoon'a handle before giving it to the following guest.
The house's entrance being very low, the guests can only go through it by bending themselves as a mark of humility. Shoes and samourai's arms are left outside. Inside, the lights are dimmed, incense is burning and a kettle has been placed over the fire. The atmosphere is cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
The guests proceed towards the tokonoma, the alcove, to admire the suspended roll (the kakemono), the season flowers vase and the utensils and then sit down. The host arrives with a light meal, the kaiseki, served in black lacquered plates and composed of season products disposed with art. The guests must admire the food's sophistication and its presentation. The food will thus be savoured 3 ways: with the eye, the tongue and the heart.
The host can then proceed to the preparation of the tea. He places the utensils and, symbollically, wipes the tea box and the spoon with a silk cloth. With the ladle, he draws a certain amount of water from the jar and puts it in a bowl. the whip is rinced and examined carefully. The water is then throwned in the recipient for it. Then, with the spoon, the host takes a small amount of green tea powder (matcha) which he puts in the bowl and then adds quivering water taken from the kettle. With the whisk, he wips the mixture, adds fresh water to it and whips it again.
Once the tea is ready, the bowl is offered, with a salutation, to the principal guest who first puts it between him and the following guest, excusing himself for drinking first, then puts it back in front of him and thanks the host. With his right hand, he holds the bowl, puts it in the palm of his left hand and bows slightly. The bowl having been given to him its principal side towards him, the guest will turn it so that when he is finished drinking, its principal side be face the host again. To do so, the guest will first lift the bowl up to his face, turning it 90 degrees towards the right while pulling it down and then lift it up again to drink and make it turn 90 degrees while pulling it down again. At the last sip, one must pull one's head back while making a light sound with the throat so as to demonstrate satisfaction.
After drinking, the guest wipes the side of the bowl with his fingers (which he will wipe with a paper tissue afterwards), admires it and gives it back to the host who will prepare another mixture and serve it himself to the following guest in the same manner.
Once everyone is finished drinking, it is appropriate to examine the tea container and the spoon and to question the host about them. The host then takes back the utensils, puts them away, opens the house's door and bows to take his leave. the ceremony is over. In formal ceremonies, people first drink a heavy tea, then a second, light, one.
The Japanese do not go through this ceremonial every time they wish to drink a cup of tea. In fact, the ceremony of tea has become high-class activity designed for well-classes, but which every well-off girl must learn. The Japanese, like all the world's amateurs drink (green) tea, oocha; "cha", a Chinese word meaning tea preceded by the ceremonial "o". It even constitutes the Japanese's national drink.
©1996: Centre d'histoire de Montréal
Picture source: Centre d'histoire de Montréal