Traditional Culture of Japan - Traditional crafts and culture

Ryūrei, tea ceremony using a table and chairs


In tea ceremony, participants normally sit in the seiza posture (kneeling with the tops of the feet flat on the floor and sitting on the soles). But there is a variety of tea ceremony in which one sits on a chair while drinking the tea. This is called the ryūrei style.


Traditionally, in Japan, people didn't use chairs. They sat on the floor to eat meals. In contrast, people in the West sit on chairs at a table to eat meals. Ryūrei was created as a way of making tea ceremony more accessible to Westerners.


  How ryūrei originated
Although the seiza is the basic sitting posture for tea ceremony, it is very uncomfortable for people who are not used to sitting in that manner for long periods of time. After sitting in the seiza position for ten minutes or so, their legs go to sleep, making it difficult for them to walk after they stand up. For this reason, it is a posture that is quite unpleasant for people who are not used to sitting in the seiza posture on a daily basis.


  *Performing the tea ceremony seated in the seiza posture


Even Japanese people, who use the seiza posture much less than in the past, embrace the ryūrei style of tea ceremony because it places less of a burden on the legs.


The ryūrei style of tea ceremony was created by Gengensai Seichū (1810-1877), the 11th head of the Urasenke school of tea ceremony. There are more people learning tea ceremony at the Urasenke school than at any other school in Japan.


The first time a tea ceremony was performed in the ryūrei style was at an exposition held in 1872 in Kyoto. Many foreigners visited Japan at this time, so the government requested that an effort be made to accommodate them by modifying the traditional form of tea ceremony. It would have been unacceptable to make overseas guests sit in such an uncomfortable fashion as the seiza posture.


Other tea ceremony schools thought that the tea ceremony should not be changed so much, but Gengensai presented a tea ceremony concept with table and chairs.


The main feature of ryūrei style is that both host and guests sit on a chair. The seiza posture is no longer used, but utensils are used in the same way as in a normal tea ceremony. Although this one aspect of the ceremony is altered, the ryūrei style is otherwise the same as a tea ceremony performed using the seiza posture.


  Ryūrei style, an accepted form of tea ceremony
Tea ceremony is associated with tradition, so there is a tendency to stick to the way things have been done in the past and reject new ideas. For this reason, the ryūrei style was not readily accepted.


However, the ryūrei style retains the fundamental aspects of the older tea ceremony styles and is beautifully consistent in the way it uses the same framework and procedures. It doesn't use special new procedures at all. It has been created in full accordance with the traditional tea ceremony.


That is why other tea ceremony schools too have now incorporated the principles of the ryūrei style developed by the Urasenke school.


As a matter of fact, there are some schools in Japan where the facilities are set up with chairs for the ryūrei style of tea ceremony. At these schools, the tea ceremony rooms are designed to be used for drinking tea while seated at a chair instead of sitting in the seiza posture.


Even the most traditional of customs must change with the times. After the ryūrei style was developed, tea ceremony became more accessible and could be performed readily by foreigners. In this way, tea ceremony evolves, combining old traditions with modern concepts.

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