Friday, January 30, 2015

Trying a tea ceremony in Japan

Public tea ceremony

The best places to try Japanese tea ceremony are the casual ones which are held as a city event or monthly gatherings at a local tea house. They are often reasonably priced. Maybe it is around 500yen and you get to have one sweet confectionery and a bowl of matcha. Those places usually welcome anybody even those who are not familiar to the tea ceremony. You can tell its causality by the admission. The formality is often proportional to it. The downside is that they are held only on certain days. Check the city information where you are going to visit. The monthly gathering of tea houses can be a bit formal. In that case, it is better to go with a person who is familiar to The Way of Tea. 

Otemae and tatedashi

A tea-ceremony workshop can be another place where you can try it. However, it costs more, probably a couple thousand yen.  Some temples in tourist sites or some cafés also serve matcha (500-1000yen), but they are not usually in a ceremonial style. The tea is just served from the back and you don’t see the host preparing in the room. However, some tourist sites might serve it in the traditional fashion. Useful Japanese terms for you to remember are “temae” and “tatedashi”. In Japanese, we call the procedure or performance of preparing the tea otemae or temae. On the other hand, the way of serving the tea prepared from the back is tatedashi. You can ask if the tea is served in otemae or tatedashi style.

The main guest

I sweated at the tea ceremony that I attended this weekend. In the session that I was in, there were some elderly ladies wearing kimono and looking obviously experienced. However, unexpectedly I got to be the main guest. I get stage fright easily. In the ceremony, I could have talked about the weather as a greeting. Also I could have asked about the hanging calligraphy scroll or the amorous water container with a brown luster glaze. Fortunately, the host was friendly and led the conversation. I didn’t make a big mistake but I could have done better. I don’t remember much about the taste of sweets and tea. After the ceremony, one of my co-guests came to me and told me that she had a good time. I realized again that it is important to simply enjoy it, which I could not do myself. 

What to enjoy

Feel the light from paper screen or listen to the sound of boiling water. You might find the contrast interesting between the primitiveness of bamboo scoop and the smooth glossy finish of urushi tea container. Greeting the guest next to you is simply heartwarming. You will see the host purifying and checking the whisk somberly but with heartfelt actions. While drinking the tea, you might feel and enjoy the texture and weight of the pottery bowl. What I needed to do was to savor the atmosphere. If you have a chance to join a Japanese tea ceremony for the first time, don’t worry too much about the manners and try to sense and appreciate these simple things in the tea room. It will make your experience profound and delightful. This is a lesson which I learned this time.

Related links

Tea ceremony manners for guests 1
Tea ceremony manners for guests 2

The tea ceremonies around my city

- Links are Japanese.
- There are off months, check the schedule before you visit.

500yen, Few times a year
At the tea room in Seto Culture Center

250yen, The second Sunday of the month
At Koshoan in Iroganeyama Park

500yen, The second weekend of the month
At Bosetsuan in Oribenosato Park

400yen, The second Sunday of the month
At Shunshuan in Culture Forum Kasugai or at another place


  1. Sounds like fun, even if you were nervous! The links look interesting. Because they are all inexpensive, does that mean they are all 'tatedashi?'

    1. Hi, Tea Apprentice-san,
      Even though they are inexpensive, you will see “otemae”. These are the public ceremonies that I mentioned in the first paragraph. They are casual and inexpensive. Now, you understand why I recommend these kind of place to try the ceremony, don’t you?

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  3. I've never experienced a true Japanese tea ceremony myself. I'm Chinese, and I've seen lots of tea ceremonies, but the Japanese ceremonies are way more refined.

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