Guest Etiquette in Japanese Tea Ceremony

A tea ceremony can accommodate several guests, typically ranging from four to five for a small gathering. Among them, the first guest or guest of honor holds the title of Shokyaku, while the second guest is known as Jikyaku, and the rest are referred to simply as Kyaku. The final guest has a special designation called Tsume. Each guest has a specific rank and a designated seating order within the Chashitsu, or tea room. Based on their seating order and rank, they have assigned responsibilities during the ceremony.

For instance, the Shokyaku, as the principal guest, plays a crucial role in communicating with the Teishu, or tea host. The Shokyaku may inquire about the origin, craftsmanship, and significance of various tea utensils. It is important for the Shokyaku to adopt a humble language, speak clearly, and choose the right moments to avoid causing any inconvenience to the tea host. Expressing gratitude for the Teishu’s answers is also customary.

Wagashi Serving Ritual in the Tea Ceremony

One of the initial items brought into the Chashitsu is typically a bowl or dish of Wagashi, traditional Japanese sweets. The Teishu, or tea host, sits in front of the Shokyaku and places the dish between them. With a bow, the Teishu indicates that the sweets are meant for the guests to enjoy. In response, the Shokyaku reciprocates the bow and, using both hands, moves the bowl to the right. It’s important to note that these sweets should not be eaten immediately, but rather after the Teishu warms the Chawan by pouring hot water from the Kama and discards the waste water into the Kensui.

When the Hachi containing Wagashi, whether moist or dry, is brought in, it is carried in front of the knees with both hands. Kaishi paper, which is typically a stack of square washi paper sheets folded in half, is used. The outer sheet is removed from the pile and placed on top, then positioned in front of the knees. When serving Omogashi (moist, main sweet), it is often accompanied by Kuromoji, which are sweet picks resembling chopsticks with a distinctive wooden appearance. Before removing the lid of the Hachi, the Kuromoji should be placed on the Kaishi. The lid is lifted with both hands, with the right hand gripping it above the left hand (in a vertical position). The left hand moves underneath to support the lid, which is then placed upside down beside the Hachi. The right hand picks up the Kuromoji, with minimal assistance from the left hand, and transfers a piece of Omogashi onto the Kaishi paper. Since the Kuromoji may have some sticky jelly or Anko paste from the Omogashi, it should be wiped with the Kaishi before being returned to the Hachi. Half of the Kuromoji is placed on the corner of the Kaishi, and the corner is folded over the Kuromoji, allowing the paper to remove any sticky residue. The lid is returned to its original position on top of the Hachi, following the reverse order, and the Kuromoji is placed on the lid. The Hachi is then slightly lifted with both hands and moved as far to the left as possible. The Jikyaku and subsequent guests will take the sweets in the same manner.

Drinking Koicha

Serving and Preparation

To begin the Koicha tea drinking ceremony, the Chawan (tea bowl) is presented alongside a Dashibukusa (silk cloth). The Shokyaku, the principal guest, stands up and approaches the Chawan. With the right hand, the Dashibukusa is placed on the palm of the left hand, and then the Chawan is carefully positioned on top of the Dashibukusa. The Shokyaku returns to their seat, placing the Chawan in front of their knees, with the Dashibukusa positioned on the left, but not on the same Tatami mat. Before proceeding, the guest adjusts their kimono or clothes.

Apologies and Gestures

The Chawan is picked up once again and placed on the same Tatami mat, but this time to the left of the Shokyaku. The Shokyaku expresses apologies for drinking before others and bows respectfully. They then pick up the Chawan and position it in front of their knees, bowing to the Teishu (host) and saying, “Otemae chodai itashimasu” (Please allow me to partake in this ceremony).

Ready to Drink

The Dashibukusa is placed on the palm of the left hand, and the Chawan is positioned on top. At chest height, using the right hand, the Chawan is turned clockwise two times so that the Shomen (front side) faces the left. Care must be taken to lift the Chawan properly, avoiding damage to the delicate Dashibukusa. To signal their intent to start drinking, the guest raises the Chawan slightly higher and makes a subtle nod towards the Teishu. Koicha is shared among three people, so the guest takes approximately three sips, leaving enough for the next two guests. Once the Shokyaku has consumed enough, the Chawan is placed back in front of their knees.

Wiping the Rim

After drinking, the rim of the Chawan needs to be wiped using a Kaishi (paper). One Kaishi is taken from the stack, and one of the corners is folded over the rim where the Macha (powdered tea) remains. Care should be taken not to wipe too deep into the bowl to avoid wasting the precious Macha. This wiping action is more of a symbolic gesture of cleanliness than thorough cleaning. The Kaishi is folded once more, and the rim is wiped again. The used Kaishi is then placed in the left sleeve of the Kimono. Once the Chawan has been passed to all the guests during Koicha, the Tsume (last guest) and Shokyaku move closer to the Teishu, and the Tsume returns the bowl to the Shokyaku. The Shokyaku inspects the Chawan once more for any damage before returning it to the host, placing it at the same location where the Teishu had initially placed it.


During the Usucha tea ceremony, the Shokyaku engages with the other guests, inquiring if they have had enough tea or if they would like to drink more. If all the guests have consumed sufficient tea, the Shokyaku requests the host to proceed with the cleanup and conclude the tea ceremony.

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