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Let's Learn about Japanese Tea!

Yukki at a tea house in Iwate Prefecture, Japan

We have a very special event coming up at Zusetsu this month! We are so excited that our dear friend Mai from Kyoto, who is trained in the art of tea ceremony, is joining us for our first ever live online event to introduce us to tea and its connection to Hina Matsuri!

Yukki and Mai have been friends for a long time, and Yukki very kindly introduced me to Mai when I was travelling to Kyoto in January 2019 to start Zusetsu!

Cathy being invited to have a try, at Mai's tea class!

Mai invited me to go with her to her tea ceremony class, and then when I returned in October she invited me back to her class and also to a formal tea ceremony at Daitokuji temple. These were the most indescribably beautiful and wonderful experiences, and I’ll forever be grateful to Mai and Yukki! xx

There is so much that fascinates me about tea, and so much that I would love to learn. Here I’m going to try to describe a little of what I’ve seen and learned through being with Mai.


What is Japanese Tea Ceremony?

The Japanese Tea Ceremony is known as The Way of Tea, or sado. When host and guests come together to share bowls of delicious matcha tea, it is thoughtfully regarded as a special moment in time – a unique coming together which will never be repeated.

The various utensils that are used in the tea ceremony have special significance. The kettle, bowl, and other tea utensils that the host selects honour the guests and enhance the atmosphere.

Much thought and consideration is given to the scroll that hangs in the tokonoma (alcove), and the chabana (arranged flowers) that decorate it. They are chosen with care to help the guests feel welcome. The calligraphy and the flowers are often representative of the season. There may be a special fragrant incense in an incense box too.

A folded sensu (a small fan) delineates the boundary of the tatami floor area where the guest sits.

The brazier is set into the tatami flooring if it is a wintry day, so that guests will feel the benefit of it. If it is a hot day in summer, the brazier is set at the edge of the room so that the guests are comfortable.

A ro (fire pit) in the Urasenke-style. The hishaku (bamboo ladle) is held in the opening of the kama, an iron kettle for heating water.


What is Matcha, and what is the Tea Ceremony like?

Matcha tea is delicious, earthy, bitter and bright green.

Just outside Kyoto is the city of Uji which is renowned for the quality of its tea, including matcha. Matcha powder is carefully whisked to a froth, and it is served in a beautiful, rustic chawan with a sweet to complement the fresh, bright tea.

Tea ceremony sweets!

There are many important things to remember when making the tea, such as which quarter of tea in the small canister to take a scoop from. Everything is impressed with ritual.

There is a particular way to position the bowl for the guest, and a particular way for the guest to rotate the bowl and then to drink.

There is time to admire the bowl and show appreciation having drunk the tea.

The ambience at the tea ceremonies that I have attended with Mai have been warm and friendly. Time seems to slow as you are very much in the moment. Senses are heightened, and the memory of these wonderful moments stay with you – I can clearly remember the sounds of the water bubbles in the iron kettle that January; and I can remember the summer breezes in the willow tree just outside the teahouse at Daitokuji later in the year.


Sen Rikyu, the Founder of Tea

One day, Mai and I stood in the Kyoto street overlooking the hidden villa of the Founder of Tea, Sen Rikyu. Sen Rikyu was the 16th century man who perfected the art of sado, and who introduced the aesthetic of wabi-sabi – the rustic beauty that denotes the passage of time.

Sen Rikyu was a monk at Daitokuji temple, a large Buddhist complex in the northern hills of Kyoto. For this reason, Daitokuji is always associated with tea, and it is here, once a month, that a tea ceremony is held to celebrate Sen Rikyu and the founding of the Way of Tea.

Elegant zouri


The Tea House in Gyokurinin, Daitokuji

Daitokuji is composed of many subtemples, and one is called Gyokurinin.

Gyokurinin has a small simple garden and a rustic (wabi) teahouse that were established according to the principles of Zen and Tea. This tea garden serves as a boundary through which you pass from everyday life into the world of tea.

As we arrived at the temple, ladies dressed in kimono were wrapping their belongings in furoshiki and storing them on shelves in a little side room.

We were asked to sign our names in a beautiful book that was full of calligraphic writing.

We waited for out turn to walk to the teahouse in a temple room that looked out onto the garden. We gazed at beautiful decorated screens by Kano Tanyu Ichimon, a painter of the Edo Shogunate.

When we were invited to walk to the teahouse, elegant white-thonged slippers called zouri were placed on the stone for us to step into. The stepping stones to the teahouse are uneven and so it takes concentration to walk along - it is only when you reach the teahouse that you can look up, and it is in this way that you leave your everyday cares behind and pass into the special moment.

Matcha, koucha (black tea), and beautiful seasonal wagashi at Kagizen teahouse!

There are lots of places in Kyoto to enjoy matcha tea and sweets. Many temples have lovely teahouses where you can enjoy a quiet moment and refreshments. This is a delicious selection served at lovely Kagizen Teahouse near Gion, Kyoto :)


We hope that you've enjoyed reading our blog. If you've enjoyed this one, why not take a look at another of our Japanese Culture blogs, such as this one on Hina Matsuri too!

Thank you for reading,

Cathy and Yukki



Judith Clancy, Kyoto Gardens, (Tuttle Publishing, Hong Kong, 2014).

Alex Kerr, Another Kyoto, (Penguin Books, UK, 2018).

Erin Nimi Longhurst, Japonisme, (Harper Collins Publishers, London, 2018).


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