Traditional Culture of Japan - Traditional crafts and culture

Important points to remember when attending a tea ceremony for the first time


Many people feel nervous when they are invited to a formal tea ceremony, as opposed to drinking tea informally with friends, because they have no idea about the proper procedures.


But if you have some minimum knowledge of tea ceremony, you will have no trouble at all. You can prepare yourself up to a point, and beyond that, simply observe what other people are doing and do likewise. Here are some points you should keep in mind when attending a tea ceremony for the first time.


  1. Dress appropriately
In Japan, during festivals, at places such as department stores and temples, arrangements are made for serving matcha (powdered green tea), and there you will be served with tea for around 500 yen. For these occasions, you need not be concerned at all about procedures and formalities. You can simply enjoy drinking the tea.


On the other hand, there are tea ceremonies where you must have a minimal knowledge of tea ceremony. In particular, there are two types of tea ceremonies where you need to know the basics: “ōyose no chakai,” a tea ceremony where large numbers of people gather (sometimes hundreds), and “chagoto” a formal tea ceremony with only a small number of participants.


In these cases, you should confirm what sort of clothing you are expected to wear. Are Western clothes acceptable? Or is it necessary to wear traditional Japanese garments?


If you are permitted to wear Western clothes, make sure you wear subdued colors. If you don't have a suit, it should be fine to just put on a jacket. However, participants are expected to wear white socks, and to take off watches, rings, and other accessories.


  2. Take along kaishi paper and a skewer for sweets
Guests should bring along with some kaishi paper and a special skewer for eating sweets. Kaishi is a type of washi (Japanese paper) used in the tea ceremony to wipe the part of the cup from which one drank the tea, and to serve as a napkin on which Japanese-style sweets are served. The skewer is used when eating sweets so that one’s fingers do not become sticky.




At some tea ceremony parties, kaishi paper and skewers are provided for inexperienced participants. It’s a good idea to check in advance with the person organizing the event. If you go along with a friend, he or she may share items such as kaishi paper with you. If you want to buy them, you can find these items in department stores in Japan.


  3. Check your seat and do what other people do
In a tea ceremony, certain seating positions are reserved for particular roles. There are three seating positions to avoid. The first belongs to the shōkyaku (guest of honor), the second one is for the jikyaku (second guest of honor), and the third is for the makkyaku (last guest of honor).


The role of these three people is to converse with the host, assist with putting away the tea bowls, and to ensure that the ceremony proceeds smoothly. It’s a good idea to tell other participants that you are attending a tea ceremony for the first time, and they will look after you, and see that you do not sit in one of the three special positions.


Apart from these three, there are no other places associated with important roles. With that matter out of the way, all you need do is note what other people around you are doing, and follow their lead. It’s no big deal if you make a few mistakes. Just enjoy the experience of participating in the tea ceremony.




There are two kinds of tea served in tea ceremony: koicha and usucha. Koicha is a thicker form of matcha with the consistency of pulp. A single bowl of koicha is passed around and shared by the participants at a tea ceremony.


On the other hand, it is typically usucha that is served in the tea ceremony. Usucha contains more water, so it is more liquid and is easy to drink. Unlike koicha, it is not passed around from person to person. Instead, each person drinks from their own bowl.


Tea ceremony is a traditional Japanese cultural form. When you enter a tea ceremony room without knowing the etiquette and procedures, you have to be prepared for anything. But you can get through without any serious problems by familiarizing yourself with what has been mentioned above.


There is something special and unique about the tea ceremony, so please approach it with a positive attitude. You will find it quite different from anything you have experienced before.

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