Japanese Tea Ceremony: Summer Season Tea Preparation

During the summer season, the Kama (iron kettle) is placed on a Furo (brazier), while in winter, it rests in a sunken hearth called Ro, which is a square cavity embedded within the Tatami flooring.

Embracing Seasonality: Tea Ceremony and the Changing Seasons

In the world of tea and tea ceremony, the appreciation of seasonality and the transitions between seasons holds great significance. Tea practitioners traditionally divide the year into two main seasons: the sunken hearth (炉, ro) season, which encompasses the colder months (typically November to April), and the brazier (風炉, furo) season, which encompasses the warmer months (typically May to October).

Each season brings forth its unique characteristics, influencing the temae (tea procedures) performed and the utensils and equipment utilized. The ideal arrangement of tatami mats in a 4.5 mat room also undergoes changes to align with the spirit of the season. This harmonious integration of seasonal elements enhances the overall experience and appreciation of tea and its ceremony.

Hakobi: The Ritual of Carrying in the Japanese Tea Ceremony

In the realm of the Japanese tea ceremony, Hakobi, meaning “to carry,” holds significant importance. It refers to the style of tea preparation where all the Dougu, or tea utensils, are brought into the room rather than being displayed on the Tana (shelf) in the Chashitsu (tea room).

Every step within the Japanese tea ceremony carries profound meaning and aesthetics that trace back centuries. As we delve into a detailed explanation, one may be surprised by the multitude of small details, gestures, and prescribed movements that contribute to creating an enjoyable tea ceremony for the guests present in the Chashitsu. At times, it may appear contradictory to the essence of simplicity, which lies at the core of the ancient philosophy of the Japanese tea ceremony. This philosophy of simplicity was advocated by Sen-no-Rikyu, the revered figure regarded as the grandfather of the three major tea schools in Japan.

Now, let’s delve into a more elaborate explanation of how Usucha tea, a light and frothy tea, is prepared within the tearoom once the guests have arrived. It is important to note that the Teishu, or host, has already completed extensive preparations in the weeks leading up to the tea ceremony.

The preparatory steps include:

  1. Sending invitations to the guests.
  2. Cleaning the garden surrounding the teahouse.
  3. Selecting the appropriate utensils for the tea ceremony.
  4. Conducting a meeting with the Hantou (assistant) and Shokyaku (main guest).
  5. Cleaning the tearoom, which involves changing the Shoji paper on the sliding doors and replacing old Tatami mats.
  6. Commencing the preparation of the Kaiseki meal from early morning or the previous day.
  7. Planning for any unforeseen events or sudden changes that may arise during the ceremony.

By adhering to these meticulous preparations, the host ensures that every aspect of the tea ceremony is carried out with utmost care and attention to detail, creating an immersive and memorable experience for the guests.

Opening the Door

To open the door, you need to use both hands and push it open in two stages. If it slides open to the left, use the left hand to push it two-thirds of the way and the right hand to push the final third while crossing it in front of the body. While doing this, the other hand should be resting on the lap while sitting in Seiza position. Before opening the door, the Teishu should place the bowl or dish with Higashi sweets in front of the knees on the Tatami.

Presenting the Sweets

When the door is opened, the Teishu lifts the bowl with hands on either side and stands up in one smooth movement (Issokutachi) without touching the heels of the feet. The Teishu walks into the room, leading with the left foot, and approaches the Shokyaku without stepping on the edges of the Tatami. After arriving in front of the Shokyaku, the Teishu sits down and places the bowl close to the Shokyaku. Then, the Teishu says “Okashi wo doozo” meaning “Please have these sweets” while bowing. The Shokyaku usually bows back silently.

The Arrival of Tea Utensils and Their Placement

In the Japanese tea ceremony, each tea utensil is carefully brought into the room and positioned with precision. Let’s explore the process in detail:

  1. The first utensil brought into the room is the Mizusashi, held with both hands on the left and right sides. Before entering the room, the Teishu (host) sits down and places the Mizusashi in front of their knees at the Sadouguchi (entrance). At this point, the Teishu announces that Usucha (thin tea) will be prepared.
  2. The Teishu walks into the tearoom and places the Mizusashi next to the Furo (portable brazier).
  3. Next, the Chawan (tea bowl) and Natsume (container for powdered tea) are carried into the room. The Chawan is held in the left hand, while the Natsume is held in the right hand with the palm on top and fingers in front. They are simultaneously placed in front of the Mizusashi. The Chawan contains the Fukin (silk cloth), Chasen (bamboo whisk), and Chashaku (tea scoop).
  4. Lastly, the Kensui (waste-water container) with Hishaku (bamboo ladle) and Futa-oki (lid rest) is carried into the Chashitsu (tea room) with the left hand. When walking through the Sadouguchi, the Teishu turns and sits down diagonally, facing the sliding door. The Kensui with Hishaku is placed in front of the knees, with the Hishaku parallel to the Sadouguchi.
  5. The sliding door is closed using the same two-stage method: two-thirds with one hand and one-third with the other hand.
  6. Standing up while balancing the Kensui requires caution to avoid dropping the Hishaku.
  7. Sitting down in the middle of the Temaeza (preparation area) before the Furo, the Kensui is placed beside the body.
  8. With the left hand, the Teishu lifts the Hishaku and takes the Futa-oki from the Kensui using the right hand. The Hishaku is brought in front of the chest and turned up (Kamaeru) to enable visibility into the cup of the ladle, holding it with the thumb on top just under the Fushi (knot).
  9. The Futa-oki is placed to the left of the Furo using the right hand, and the Hishaku is positioned on top of it. The handle of the Hishaku should point between the knees.

These meticulous actions, performed with care and precision, contribute to the serene atmosphere and attention to detail that characterizes the Japanese tea ceremony.

Greetings and Clothing

Teishu begins by greeting the guests with a bow. The Shokyaku and other guests reciprocate the gesture silently. Teishu then takes a moment to adjust their clothing, ensuring that everyone will be comfortable throughout the tea ceremony. They take a deep breath, entering a state of silence and meditation, ready to prepare the finest bowl of green tea. Once fully prepared, Teishu gently moves the Kensui forward, aligning it with their knees.

Cleansing the Natsume

Once Teishu has settled comfortably, pick up the Chawan (tea bowl) with your right hand, transfer it to your left hand, and place it back down in front of your knees with the right hand. Ensure there is enough space between the knees and the Chawan to accommodate the Natsume (tea container).

Using your right hand, pick up the Natsume and position it between your knees and the Chawan. With your left hand, remove the Fukusa (silk cloth) and fold it neatly. Hold the folded Fukusa in your right hand and grasp the Natsume with your left hand, using four fingers at the back and the thumb at the front. Gently wipe the top of the Natsume in the shape of the Hiragana syllable ‘こ’ (Ko), then move your hand down to the left side. Finally, place the Natsume in front of the Mizusashi (water container) on the left side.

Cleansing the Chashaku

Open the Fukusa that is still in your right hand and fold it once again. (For men, make a sound while folding the Fukusa, known as ‘Ototateru’ or simply, making sound. Women should fold it silently.) Hold the Fukusa in your left hand this time and pick up the Chashaku (tea scoop) with your right hand. Place the Chashaku on the Fukusa held in your left hand, positioning it in front of your body at heart level. Hold the Chashaku at its end and use your left hand to slide the Fukusa forward, cleaning the top and bottom of the Chashaku. Slide back to the starting position and then wipe the sides of the Chashaku. Slide back up once more and then down again, cleaning the top and bottom. Place the Chashaku on the Natsume.

Next, take the Chasen (tea whisk) from the Chawan (tea bowl) and place it next to the Natsume. (For men, you can now fold the Fukusa and attach it to the Himo of the Hakama. Women should place it behind the Kensui and use it later to remove the hot Futa from the Kama.)

Using your right hand, bring the Chawan closer to your knees.

Removing the Futa from the Kama

Using your left hand, pick up the Hishaku (bamboo water ladle) and hold it at chest height, allowing you to see the cup of the ladle (Kamaeru). With your right hand, remove the Futa (lid) from the Kama (kettle) and place it on the Futa-oki (lid rest). (For women, it is advisable to use the Fukusa to handle the Futa as it may be hot. With your right hand, pick up the Fukusa, which was placed behind the Kensui after wiping the Chashaku, and place it on the knob or handle of the Futa. Slide the Futa slightly backward before lifting it off.) Take the Fukin (cloth) from the Chawan (tea bowl) and place it on the Futa. Now, hold the Hishaku in your right hand and scoop a full ladle of hot water into the Chawan. Rest the Hishaku on the Kama.

Cleaning the Chasen (Tea Whisk)

Using your right hand, hold the Chasen (tea whisk) and gently stir the water in the Chawan (tea bowl) from the right side, moving it down to the left and back. Place the Chasen down, facing to the right. Keep the Chawan steady with your left hand. Lift the Chasen with your right hand and slowly bring it up, turning it at the same time to inspect all the tines of the whisk. Take a close look to ensure that the Chasen is clean and in perfect condition. Lower it again and stir the water once more from right to left and back. Set the Chasen down on the right side for a moment and repeat this process two more times. Next, whisk the water to warm it up and soften the tines, preventing them from breaking when whisking the powdered green tea later. Finally, create a の (No) shape in the water with the Chasen and place it next to the Natsume once again.

Warming the Chawan (Tea Bowl)

Hold the Chawan with both hands and rest it on your left palm. Slowly rotate the bowl counterclockwise three times to warm it up. Then pour out the water into the Kensui using only your left hand. Return the Chawan to chest-level and pick up the Chakin with your right hand. Lay the Chakin over the edge of the Chawan and wipe it to the right three times, returning to the starting point. Place the Chakin on the bottom of the Chawan and wipe it in a “yu” shape. Finally, remove the Chakin and put it back on the lid of the Mizusashi. Take the Chawan with your right hand and place it back in front of your knees.

Scooping Macha into the Chawan

Using your right hand, take the Chashaku from the Natsume (tea container) and hold the Natsume with your left hand from the side. Bring the Natsume in front of your chest, gripping the Chashaku with your little and ring fingers to free up your other fingers and thumb. Set the lid of the Natsume next to the Chawan on the right side. Move the Natsume closer to the Chawan and carefully scoop one-and-a-half spoons of powdered Macha into the Chawan. Bring the Natsume back towards your chest. Level the powdered Macha in the Chawan and lightly tap the Chashaku twice on the edge of the Chawan to remove any excess Macha. Place the lid back on the Natsume, return it to its original position near the Mizusashi, and rest the Chashaku on top of it.

Removing the Lid from the Mizusashi

Before adding hot water to the powdered Macha in the Chawan, it’s important to remove the lid from the Mizusashi (water container). With your right hand, lift the lid and bring it closer to your body, flipping it so that the top is facing to the right, creating a vertical position. Using your left hand, grip the lid with your thumb on the right side, and then with your right hand, grasp it above the left hand. Place the lid upright against the Mizusashi on the left side.

During the Japanese tea ceremony, there are many delicate movements involved in transferring utensils from one hand to the other, which may initially seem unnecessary. However, as you become more familiar with the Temae (tea preparation), you’ll come to appreciate the simplicity and beauty of these actions.

Scooping Hot Water into the Chawan

To retrieve the Hishaku (bamboo ladle) from the Kama (kettle), use your index and middle finger to lift it from underneath. Slide these two fingers slightly forward and bring them around to hold the ladle like a pen. Dip the Hishaku into the Kama and scoop a full cup of water, taking care to do it slowly and gracefully. When pouring the water into the Chawan, it’s important to pour a little more than half of the cup to achieve the perfect balance with the powdered Macha. Achieving this balance of Macha and Oyu (hot water) requires years of experience and practice.

If there is any leftover hot water in the cup, it should be returned to the Kama. Gently place the Hishaku back onto the Kama, ready for future use.

Whisking Macha and Oyu

Hold the Chasen (bamboo whisk) in your right hand and ensure the Chawan (tea bowl) is securely held with your left hand to prevent it from tipping over during whisking. Using a brisk yet gentle motion, whisk the Oyu (hot water) and Macha (powdered green tea) together until a frothy layer forms, covering about half of the Chawan. Be mindful of the texture of the Chawan; if it is rough, take extra care to prevent the Macha from scattering. Aim for a well-mixed froth that is evenly distributed throughout the tea.

To complete the whisking process, gracefully draw a の (No) shape with the Chasen in the Chawan, ensuring the foam gathers in the center. Once finished, place the Chasen back in front of the Mizusashi, ready for the next step.

Serving Green Tea to Guests

With the Chawan prepared, it is time to serve the green tea to the guests. Hold the Chawan in your right hand and place it on the palm of your left hand. Gently rotate it two times, approximately one-quarter turn in an anticlockwise direction, ensuring that the Shomen (front side) of the Chawan faces the guest who will receive it. Using your right hand, carefully position the Chawan on the opposite side of the Tatami border, within easy reach of the guest.

Note: For women, it is recommended to turn about forty-five degrees toward the guest, allowing for a more comfortable placement of the Chawan on the other side of the Tatami border. After setting down the Chawan, women can turn back to face the Furo (hearth) again, maintaining an appropriate posture.

Engaging in a Conversation with the Shokyaku

Now is the moment when the first guest, known as the Shokyaku, will step forward, either crouching or walking, to initiate a dialogue. It is the role of the Shokyaku to ask questions or provide comments regarding the tea and other Dougu (utensils) within the Chashitsu. To learn more about the dynamic interaction between the Shokyaku and Teishu, as well as the appropriate etiquette for guests during the Japanese tea ceremony, please refer to our guide.

Cleansing the Chawan

Once the Shokyaku has completed their tea, they carefully return the Chawan to its original position, ensuring that the front, known as the Shomen, faces the Teishu.

The Teishu then takes the Chawan and positions it in front of their knees. They once again retrieve the Hishaku and pour approximately half a scoop of Oyu from the Kama into the Chawan. With the right hand, the Teishu lifts the Chawan and places it on the palm of the left hand, held at chest height. Slowly and gently, they tilt the Chawan in an anticlockwise motion three times to rinse its interior. The used water is gracefully poured into the Kensui using the left hand. – At this point, the Shokyaku may indicate that all guests have had sufficient tea and request the Teishu to conclude the tea ceremony. If no such announcement is made by the Shokyaku, the Teishu will proceed with preparing further tea.

Continuing the Tea Preparation

Once the waste water has been poured into the Kensui, the Fukin is picked up and carefully positioned inside the Chawan. Unfolding it, the Fukin is draped over the rim of the Chawan, with half of it resting inside and the other half outside. Using the thumb on the inside and the four fingers on the outside, the Teishu wipes one-third of the rim at a time, circling the entire Chawan until reaching the starting point. (The Chawan is held by the left hand and turned with the right hand). With the rim now clean, the Fukin is smoothly lifted off and set aside.

Next, using the thumb, index finger, and middle finger, the Teishu uses the Fukin to wipe the inside of the Chawan, tracing a graceful ゆ (Yu) shape. Both the rim and the inside of the Chawan are now clean, allowing the Fukin to be placed back on the Futa. The Chawan is then returned to its original position in front of the knees. At this point, the Teishu can proceed to prepare the next bowl of tea by scooping powdered Macha into the Chawan once again.

Read more: Concluding the Tea Ceremony: Step-by-Step Guide

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