Traditional Culture of Japan - Traditional crafts and culture

Tea ceremony’s decline and its development as a subject of study in the education of women


Tea ceremony’s decline and its development as a subject of study in the education of women

During the Edo period (1603-1868), Japan adopted a national isolation policy and all foreign trade was halted. As a result, Japanese culture developed independent of outside influences.


When the Edo period ended and the Meiji period (1868-1912) began, trade with other countries started to thrive. In this period, Japan rapidly adopted aspects of American and European culture.


Samurai, people who had had an enormous influence until then, disappeared. No longer could people be seen walking the streets wearing swords, and the country was no longer governed by a designated ruler.


Tea ceremony and other traditions were also in decline. Tea ceremony had been performed in a society of warriors and was protected by samurai families. With this support taken away, the Way of Tea was now looking for a new way forward.


  Tea ceremony sponsored by business enterprises
Until the end of the Edo period, Japan was governed by rulers of the samurai class. Each lord was served by a master of tea ceremony who held tea ceremonies and taught the Way of Tea. In other words, masters of tea ceremonies were employed to do a specific job, just as we find employment in our modern society.


But, as Japan entered Meiji period, this society of warriors was dismantled and masters of tea ceremony literally lost their jobs. Along with this Westernization, traditional arts like tea ceremony were considered to be old-fashioned. It is said that most tea ceremony schools experienced financial difficulty at that time.


In this situation, many schools were sponsored by entrepreneurs who ran large businesses. For example, Omotesenke, the school established by the person who perfected the Way of Tea, was sponsored by an immensely wealthy company, Mitsui.


* Omotesenke and another two schools, Urasenke and Mushanokōjisenke, are referred to as the “san-Senke” (the three Senke schools). These three schools are considered to be the schools which are closest to the origins of the Way of Tea.


Mushanokōjisenke was also receiving financial support from entrepreneurs. Urasenke was the only school that didn't receive any support from companies and it developed a style that differs from the other Senke schools.


  Tea ceremony as a form of cultural training for young women
In the beginning, tea ceremony was performed by men belonging to the upper class. There were no well-known female masters of tea ceremony during the era of the samurai. That is because tea ceremony was performed only by men.


However, in modern Japan, the tea ceremony is mostly performed by women. Urasenke was the school that created this trend.


It is said that tea ceremony spread among the common people in the latter half of Edo period. As we have seen, when the Edo period ended and the Meiji period began, many tea ceremony schools were in dire financial straits. As a way forward, the Way of Tea became a subject in which young women were trained as part of their education.


In learning the procedures of tea ceremony, one comes to understand the importance of considering the feelings of others and being restrained in one's behavior. For this reason, tea ceremony was seen as ideal as a subject of study in the education of young people.


Therefore, the Urasenke school energetically promoted the incorporation of tea ceremony in school education. For this reason, the tea ceremony taught in club activities at elementary schools in present-day Japan almost invariably follows the Urasenke tradition.


With tea ceremony popularized in this way, the number of women who perform tea ceremony rapidly increased. At the same time, the number of people who performed tea ceremony in Urasenke style also increased. As a consequence, about half of the people who perform tea ceremony now follow the Urasenke style.


It is only since the Meiji era that women dressed in kimono have performed tea ceremony. We have seen how historical circumstances led to Urasenke becoming the mainstream form of tea ceremony.


As we go into its history, we can understand how much tea ceremony has been transformed over time. Even today, the Way of Tea is gradually changing and developing as a part of Japanese culture.

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