Traditional Culture of Japan - Traditional crafts and culture

You don’t need to wear a kimono when you perform tea ceremony


Many people think that, because tea ceremony is a part of traditional culture, we must wear traditional Japanese clothing, such as a kimono, while performing it.


In fact, however, it is usual not to wear a kimono when training for the tea ceremony, and furthermore, tea ceremony experts wear Western clothes more often than not.


The very formal style of tea ceremony is not the only kind. A more relaxed, informal kind of tea ceremony is widely practiced.


  The modern lifestyle is different from the lifestyle of former times
It is only natural that lifestyle changes with the flow of time. People in Japan don't often wear traditional Japanese attire while walking on the streets anymore. Almost everyone wears Western clothes.


Hundreds of years ago, however, everybody wore traditional Japanese clothing all the time. It was nothing unusual back then. Rather it was a normal part of everyday life.


If you could go inside a house of those times, you would see that many households had a tokonoma (an alcove where works of art or flowers are displayed). This alcove is a recessed space at the edge of a Japanese-style room, raised a little higher than the tatami mat flooring. In this alcove, flowers were arranged and a hanging scroll was displayed. Naturally, the flowers and the hanging scrolls were replaced as the seasons changed.




In tea ceremony, traditional Japanese clothing is worn for more formal occasions. Also, the room used for the tea ceremony is decorated with a flower arrangement and a hanging scroll to suit the season.


From the modern perspective, these details of etiquette seem like a nuisance. However, in former times these rules were all taken for granted by everyone in Japan. One might say, then, that the Way of Tea is to enjoy drinking tea in the sort of circumstances that one takes for granted.


  Modern-style tea ceremony
However, the Japanese lifestyle has rapidly become more Westernized, especially since the Second World War. Now that Western-style housing is common in Japan, many homes do not have a tokonoma. Hardly anyone wears traditional clothing such as the kimono.


For these reasons, we should not be bound by tradition. We need to be a little flexible in thinking about the format of the tea ceremony.


There is now a form of tea ceremony called “ryūrei,” in which the participants are seated on chairs. In the past, it was usual for Japanese people to sit on the tatami floor, so chairs were not used in tea ceremony. However, what was normal back then is no longer universally observed. Nowadays, people frequently sit on chairs during a tea ceremony.


Of course, you don’t necessarily have to wear a kimono. Wearing a kimono is appropriate for participating in a more formal style of tea ceremony but, as previously mentioned, people often do not wear traditional attire when they are training for the tea ceremony or when they are performing the ceremony with their friends.


This doesn't mean that simply maintaining traditions in this manner is sufficient. It is important to adapt the tea ceremony to the modern way of life, just as the people of former times adapted the ceremony to their own lifestyle.


That is not to say that there is no need for any rules. With sports, having a set of rules is what makes the game enjoyable for the players. A game without any rules, where anything goes, isn’t really a sport.


The same is true of the tea ceremony. It’s important to respect the principles that lie at the basis of things that come to us from far in the past. For example, matters such as looking after one’s guests and emphasizing the importance of good manners are among the fundamental principles of tea ceremony. Without these, the gathering becomes an unconstrained dinner party between friends.


Taking into account these principles, we can incorporate tea ceremony in the modern lifestyle. Performing the tea ceremony seated on chairs is one example, mentioned above, of how this can be done. Even drinking tea during a break can be regarded as a simple form of tea ceremony.


Tea ceremony is not an activity where one needs to assume an attitude of readiness. Really, it is something that is meant to be comfortable and familiar. Surely it is a good thing to drink matcha (powdered green tea) in a relaxed atmosphere, just as coffee and tea are drunk as part of the daily routine in Europe, and become familiar with the Way of Tea.

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