Traditional Culture of Japan - Traditional crafts and culture

The significance of the hanging scrolls and flowers used in tea ceremony


The significance of the hanging scrolls and flowers used in tea ceremony

When a tea ceremony is performed, a hanging scroll is displayed in the tea room. The room is also decorated with flowers. The hanging scroll is chosen according to the tea ceremony's theme, while the flowers vary according to the season.


When the tea ceremony is performed, there are some procedures such as bowing before the hanging scroll. What is the reason for doing this?


Flowers are not presented in an extravagant arrangement. Often, just a single flower is displayed. Why would something as simple as one flower be favored for the flower arrangement? There are definite reasons for these things.


  Paying respects to the spirit of the person who wrote the message on the hanging scroll
There is a place in the tearoom called “tokonoma” (alcove). It is in the tokonoma that the hanging scroll is displayed and flowers are arranged. The tokonoma is elevated slightly higher than, and set apart from, the main area of the room used for everyday activities.




Japanese homes that have a traditional Japanese-style room generally have a tokonoma in that room. However, as the number of homes with a tokonoma decreases, there are fewer people who understand the significance of the tokonoma.


The tokonoma is considered to be a sacred place. For this reason, it is decorated with items that are beautiful or otherwise worthy of attention.


Therefore, to display a hanging scroll or arrange flowers in the tokonoma is very much in keeping with its character. Bowing before an exquisite hanging scroll displayed in this sacred place is one part of the etiquette of tea ceremony.


Many of the hanging scrolls that are displayed in the setting of a tokonoma are works created by monks studying at a temple. Bowing before such a hanging scroll is a mark of respect for the spirit of the person who created the scroll and dedicated many years of his life to study. It is not simply a sign of thanks, but rather a way of honoring that person’s spirit.


In that light, it can be understood that to place a hanging scroll created by oneself in the tokonoma is regarded as unseemly behavior. Essentially, this would be saying to people “I am somebody who has done something marvelous, and I deserve your unqualified respect.”


If you know the significance of the tokonoma and understand the idea behind bowing before a hanging scroll, you would not consider displaying a scroll that you created yourself. This is why it is so important to understand the significance of the various aspects of tea ceremony.


  Flowers are presented as they are in nature
We typically prefer gorgeous and splendid things in the arts. A characteristic of Japanese arts is to prefer plain, modest things. In other words, simplicity is valued.


In Japan, this concept of preferring simple things is called “wabi-sabi.” This is a term that originated in tea ceremony, and the same concept is applied in flower arranging.


In tea ceremony, extravagant floral arrangements composed of many flowers are not used. Instead, it is usually something simple made from one or two flowers, because this is the sort of thing that comes from the underlying principle of wabi-sabi. In this way, one is able to appreciate the genuine forms of flowers as they appear in nature.


It is wonderful to see a gorgeous display made from many flowers, but that is not their natural state. In tea ceremony, the natural state of flowers is taken as the ideal, and one seeks to discover the beauty in those natural forms.


The idea is not to make something new from some existing material. Because it is felt that the original forms are to be valued, one does not make extravagant floral decorations for tea ceremony. Because this concept of simplicity has been applied since ancient times, and modesty is taken as a virtue in Japan, it can be said that a love of nature is a strong element of Japanese culture.

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