Traditional Culture of Japan - Traditional crafts and culture

The procedures for preparing tea, and the nature of the Japanese people

 

The procedures for preparing and drinking the tea (matcha) in the tea ceremony are called temae. Learning the Way of Tea begins with learning temae.

 

The details of these procedures vary according to the school. However, there is a general principle that is common to every school. When you grasp that “consideration of others” is of prime importance at every step of the tea ceremony, you will naturally understand the rationale of each procedure.

 

     

 

  How to handle the tea cup
Suppose that you, as a host, offer a bowl of tea to a guest. Suppose also that the tea bowl is one that you have long treated as very special. How would you feel if your guest took the bowl in one hand, gulped down the tea noisily, and then put the bowl down on the tatami floor?

 

No doubt it would be unpleasant to see someone handle your valued tea bowl in such an offhand way. The relationship of mutual trust would be broken, and you would wish that you had not served tea using your finest ceramic ware.

 

If, on the other hand, your guest appreciated that you served the tea in a very fine bowl, and treated the bowl with respect, holding it in both hands, how would you feel then? You would surely be glad to have invited that person to your home to have tea with you.

 

If you think about it in this way, you will naturally understand how to behave when you drink tea at a tea ceremony.

 

For example, if the tea you are served is close by, you take the bowl in your hand and place it in front of you. But if the tea bowl is some distance away, it would be awkward to reach over from where you are sitting to take the bowl, and there is also the possibility that you might spill the tea.

 

Therefore, you should stand up and go to where the tea bowl is, then sit down and take the bowl. Finally, as you return to your place, you should hold the bowl in both hands.

 

In tea ceremony, the guest is entrusted with the host’s own tea bowl. This is why the guest must handle it with care. The guest will naturally know how to behave if he or she considers the feelings of other people. This is the fundamental principle of temae in tea ceremony.

 

  Communication in tea ceremony
The Way of Tea has many rules of etiquette and people tend to focus on learning these rules, but more important than whether rules have been followed is the question of whether communication has been established.

 

However, this is a form of communication based on silence. The tea ceremony proceeds without any unnecessary sounds, so for the most part there is stillness and quiet. By being sparing with one's words, one is able to judge the feelings of one's guests from their manner and body language.

 

Of course, there is not total silence. Amid the quiet, one may hear the whistling of the kettle as the water boils. Or the sound of water trickling out in the garden may be heard. It is because the tea ceremony is so quiet that sounds such as these can be distinctly heard.

 

In this sort of quiet space, you practice a form of wordless communication by paying attention to sounds made by your guest, as well as the sounds of nature. In other words, you must do what your guest desires, without any words being spoken. As a matter of fact, this tea ceremony concept is a key aspect of the true nature of many Japanese people.

 

For example, in Europe and North America, it is regarded as a good thing to express your thoughts directly. If you do not put your feelings into words, they are not conveyed directly to other people.

 

In Japan, on the other hand, the concepts of honne and tatemae are ubiquitous. Tatemae refers to acting in a manner that contrasts with one’s true feelings and desires (honne).

 

For example, suppose that after a date, you say “Let’s go out for a meal again.” Even if your date doesn’t want to go out with you again (honne), he or she will typically say “Yeah, sure!” (tatemae). Your date will most likely respect the mood of the moment, and won’t reveal his or her true feelings.

 

The Japanese are a people who do not express their opinions openly and directly. On the other hand, they are skilled at judging, without using words, what others are thinking and feeling, from their mood and manner.

 

It is the same in tea ceremony. As described above, you pay attention to what your guest wants as you proceed, and communicate without words. That is why this characteristic of the Japanese people can be said to be connected to the Art of Tea, which has flourished in Japan for centuries.


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