Traditional Culture of Japan - Traditional crafts and culture

Understanding the concept of tea ceremony, in which so much traditional Japanese culture is embodied

 

As a part of traditional Japanese culture, tea ceremony has been performed since ancient times, but even among Japanese people, there are few who understand the concept of tea ceremony. Many Japanese people who travel overseas are asked by foreigners “What is tea ceremony all about?” Not knowing how to answer, they hurriedly look up some information about it. This is how most Japanese people start to learn about tea ceremony.

 

Of course, you don’t have to know the ceremony in great detail, like a tea ceremony teacher. It is enough if you familiarize yourself with its history and its concepts. Even if you don't intend to practice tea ceremony yourself, it is well worthwhile to learn its main concepts.

 

Now let us have a look at the Way of Tea, a ceremony cherished by Japanese people for centuries. We will not enumerate endless detailed processes. Instead, we will consider the things a complete beginner needs to know.

 

     

 

  The connection between tea ceremony and Japanese culture
Japan is a place where many traditional arts have developed. Because Japan is an island, it developed a unique culture with few influences from surrounding countries.

 

As examples of such art forms, there are crafts like pottery and the kimono, and spiritual practices like Zen meditation. The traditional Japanese form of poetry known as tanka (also called waka), which describes a scene or conveys a thought in just 31 syllables, is another unique aspect of Japanese culture. The architectural styles of Japan are very different from those of the West, and there are also other unique art forms such as Japanese calligraphy and hanging scrolls.

 

But these art forms tend to be treated as separate from each other. For example, a beautiful piece of pottery is placed on display and that is the end of it.

 

Tea ceremony, however, is different. If you want to study the Way of Tea, you must understand traditional Japanese culture in its totality, because tea ceremony came into existence as a combination of all aspects of traditional Japanese culture.

 

The sitting posture adopted in tea ceremony is as in Zen meditation: upright with one’s legs folded underneath. There is a deep connection between tea ceremony and Zen meditation. The ceramic pots and cups used in preparing and serving the tea must be chosen so that they are in keeping with the spirit of the tea ceremony.

 

When a tea-ceremony party is held, a hanging scroll is displayed on the wall and a flower arrangement is placed in the room. The flowers used in the arrangement vary according to the season. In addition, the kimono worn must be chosen to suit the season and the character of the tea-ceremony party.

 

In other words, one must use appropriate pottery, hanging scrolls, flowers, and kimonos, taking into account factors such as the place and the season.

 

At some tea-ceremony parties, one is expected to compose a tanka (a short poem, also referred to as a waka) and recite it, so it is also important to be able to compose tanka.

 

The architectural style of tea house is also important. The Japanese way of building houses is based on the aesthetic principle of “eliminating the unnecessary,” derived from tea ceremony. If you understand the tea ceremony, you will also understand Japanese architecture, because the Japanese style of building construction developed from the aesthetic of the tea house.

 

  The Way of Tea encompasses all aspects of traditional Japanese culture
In this sense, tea ceremony can be regarded as the blending of every aspect of traditional Japanese culture. Practitioners of the Way of Tea will tell you that, no matter how much you study it, you never get to know everything about it. This is because, as mentioned previously, it involves so many traditional arts.

 

An adept of the tea ceremony, if shown a pot, will be able to say where it was made and by whom, as well as other details. It would not be possible to competently entertain guests without being well informed on such matters.

 

Even among Japanese people, the majority think of tea ceremony only as party where people eat sweets and drink tea. In fact, though, that is not what it’s all about.

 

Learning the basic actions performed in tea ceremony will not take you beyond the initial stage. But if you wish to develop beyond this level, you can progress as far as you want.

 

However, you don't have to go so deeply into tea ceremony. Making it oppressively formal will only put you off. So wear normal Western clothes, sit on chairs, gather your friends, and drink tea in a relaxed atmosphere. That sort of approach can be regarded as a modern form of the tea ceremony. What’s important is that people meet each other, appreciate the tea, and have a conversation.

 

However, this is not to say that tea ceremony is merely a gathering where people drink tea. It is essential to be aware that the Way of Tea is an art that combines all aspects of Japanese culture.


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