Traditional Culture of Japan - Traditional crafts and culture

Building relationships with the tea ceremony: the meaning of “Japanese-style service”


There are people who think that learning temae (the procedures for preparing matcha tea) is all that is involved in learning the Way of Tea. But being able to prepare tea in accordance with the principles of temae is not the end point.


Those are indeed the basics of the tea ceremony, but beyond learning about temae, it is necessary to be able to select a hanging scroll suitable for the ceremony, arrange flowers in keeping with the season, and develop an eye for quality in ceramics, lacquerware, and utensils. In addition, one needs to be versed in the construction and architecture of the tea house.


Considering all this, one soon realizes that there is a huge amount to learn in order to master the Way of Tea. It is said that the Way of Tea is a composite art, and that is because all aspects of traditional Japanese culture are embodied in it.




  Relations between people, an important concept of the Way of Tea
So, if one learns the information presented above and puts it into practice, does this mean one has mastered the Art of Tea? Of course not.


No doubt, you would not trust people who simply show off their knowledge, and in the same way, it isn't enough to just study the Way of Tea. It must be understood that the etiquette and the artistic elements of tea ceremony are ultimately about human relationships.


One might almost go as far as to say that when you hold a tea ceremony party, if you create a setting in which people can enjoy coming in contact with each other, then you have done all you need to do.


In fact, this way of thinking is incorporated in the Way of Tea. When you perform a tea ceremony you need to do various things such as cleaning the area outside the tea house before your guest arrives, and thinking about your guest and the purpose of the tea ceremony party as you prepare suitable food and find a hanging scroll to decorate the room. Your aim is to provide just what your guests would wish for, without being told by them.


The Way of Tea is not about acquiring knowledge. Rather, its purpose is to provide a framework within which you can figure out what you can do to please your guests.


  Japanese-style service has no limits
If we observe the Way of Tea, we can understand the nature of “service” as it is understood in Japan. First of all, there are no hierarchical relationships in the Way of Tea. The host and the guests are on an equal footing.


Normal, everyday services are standardized, and there is an unequal relationship in which the customer is placed above the supplier. A store will do its best to respond to a customer’s request, and customers have the right to complain because they are paying money for goods or services.


Because there is an exchange of money, there is a limit to what will be provided. For example a customer may have to pay an additional charge if he wants a particular service. The service you receive depends on the amount of money you pay.


A good example of this is the tip (gratuity). At a hotel in the USA or Europe, a tip is expected when someone performs a task such as carrying your luggage or cleaning your room. However, one can't call these sorts of things substantive services.


Really, this sort of tip can be considered a reward for doing the job well. However, in Japan, there is no such notion of a tip because, right from the start, it is taken for granted that the highest level of service is to be provided for a customer.


In tea ceremony, communication occurs in silence, and one does what others wish without any wishes being expressed in words. In the same way, when you stay at Japanese lodgings such as a ryokan, your luggage is carried to your room, and the room is cleaned and tidied. These tasks are done willingly because it is thought that the customer will appreciate it.


What is different from Western countries is that, when these tasks are performed, a tip is neither requested nor expected. In Japanese-style service, such things are done because it is felt that the guest will be glad, and there is no thought given to any exchange of money.


Because this is so, there are no limits in Japanese-style service. For example, if a student at a tutoring school doesn't understand some point, it is the Japanese way for a tutor to remain with that student as long as necessary until he or she can understand.


In Japan, there are many teachers at tutoring schools who are prepared to stay with their students into the night. Both the students and the parents are happy about this. There is no charge levied for the extra time. This sort of thing can also be observed at other places where the tradition of Japanese-style service is strong, such as ryokans and ryōtei.


Observing the manner in which services are performed in Japan, it can be seen that there is a deep connection with the Way of Tea. As a traditional art that has been practiced for centuries, the tea ceremony is deeply connected with the character of the Japanese people and their culture.

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