Tea Ceremony Etiquette: Expressions and Gestures

During the tea ceremony, Japanese is predominantly used regardless of the guests’ native language. Various prescribed expressions are employed in different situations, and it is important for both the Shokyaku (main guest) and Teishu (host) to be familiar with their appropriate responses. The language used throughout the ceremony is characterized by utmost humility and politeness. Conversation is kept to a minimum, with only essential questions being asked. Both the Teishu and guests avoid discussing topics unrelated to the tea ceremony, creating an atmosphere distinct from our daily lives. In most cases, particularly formal ceremonies, only the Shokyaku is permitted to communicate directly with the Teishu. If other guests have questions or comments, they convey them through the Shokyaku.

Expression: “Okashi wo dozo” (These are the sweets / Please have some sweets) At the conclusion of the kaiseki meal and just before commencing the preparation of Usucha, the Teishu offers sweets to the guests. Seated in front of the Shokyaku, the Teishu places a bowl or dish with sweets between themselves and the Shokyaku, while bowing and saying “Okashi o dozo.” In response, the Shokyaku bows back and sets the bowl or dish aside to their right, patiently waiting for the appropriate moment to consume them.

Expressions between Host and Guest

Host: “Ippuku sashi agemasu” (I would like to serve you a bowl of tea) While seated at the door, the Teishu announces their intention to prepare a bowl of tea, accompanied by a bow to the guests. This expression is primarily used before serving Koicha (thick tea), as this type of tea involves the passing of a single bowl instead of individual bowls for each guest.

Guest: “Otemae chodai itashimasu” (Thank you for making tea) Once the Shokyaku has received their bowl of tea, they express gratitude to the Teishu for preparing it. The bowl is placed in front of the guest’s knees on the Tatami mat. While thanking the Teishu, the guest lightly touches the floor between their knees and the bowl with their fingertips.

Guest: “Osakini shitsureishimasu” (Pardon me for going ahead of you) After the Shokyaku has expressed gratitude to the Teishu, they place the tea bowl between themselves and the second guest (kyaku), and then apologize for drinking before the second guest. Later, when the next guest receives a bowl of tea, they will repeat the same apology to the following guest in line.

Guest: “Mo ippuku ikaga desuka” (Would you like to drink (one) more?) This question is directed to the second, third, fourth, and so on guests. When receiving a bowl of tea, it is polite to ask the previous guest if they would like to have another serving. This is asked when the tea bowl is placed between the guest and the preceding guest.

Guest: “Kochira wa juubun itadakimashita” (We have had enough) Only the Shokyaku can use this expression when addressing the Teishu. After everyone has had a bowl of tea and the bowl has returned to the Teishu, the Teishu will proceed to clean the bowl as usual. At the moment when the Teishu disposes of the waste water from the Chawan (tea bowl) into the Kensui (waste water receptacle), the Shokyaku informs the Teishu that everyone has had enough. This expression is usually followed by “Dozo oshimai kudasai” (Please conclude).

Guest: “Dozo oshimai kudasai” (Would you please conclude) The Teishu has been informed that all the guests have had enough tea (“Kochira wa juubun itadakimashita”). Now the Shokyaku requests that the Teishu concludes serving tea.

Host: “Oshimai ni itashimasu” (I will conclude) Upon hearing that the guests have had enough to drink and wish for the tea serving to stop, the Teishu responds with “Oshimai ni itashimasu” to acknowledge the Shokyaku’s request.

Guest: “O natsume to chashaku no haiken wo” (May I have a look at the natsume and the chashaku?) Once the Teishu has cleaned the utensils, the Shokyaku expresses a desire to examine the Natsume (tea container) and the Chashaku (tea scoop). The Teishu places these items within reach of the Shokyaku for them to take back to their seat.

Host: “Shitsurei itashimashita” (Please excuse me) As the tea ceremony nears its end, the Teishu sits outside the sliding door facing the guests and offers their apologies. This is also an opportunity for the guests to express gratitude to the Teishu by saying “Gojisou samadeshita” or “Arigatou gozaimashita” (Thank you for your hospitality).

Host: “Okashi wo dozo, meshiagari no ue de. Koshikake machiai de nakadachi wo dozo.” (Please have the sweets, and then retire to the waiting arbour.) After the guests have finished their meal during a chakai (full tea ceremony), the Teishu places a bowl or dish of kashi (sweets) in front of the guests and provides instructions on what to do next. Typically, after enjoying the sweets, the guests move to the Koshikake Machiai (waiting arbour) in the garden while the Teishu prepares for serving koicha (thick tea). The guests wait (nakadachi) until the Teishu is ready.

Guest: “So sasette itadakimasu. O narimono de” (We will do that. Please call us back with a noise maker.) When the Teishu instructs the guests on how to proceed after having the sweets (“Okashi wo dozo, meshiagari no ue de. Koshikake machiai de nakadachi wo dozo”), the Shokyaku acknowledges the instructions. Furthermore, the Shokyaku asks the Teishu to notify them using a bell or other noise-making device when the room and Teishu are ready to continue.

Host: “O-fukukagen wa ikaga de gozaimasuka” (How is the tea?) After the first sip of Koicha, the Teishu asks the Shokyaku (main guest) about the taste of the tea. Koicha uses the highest quality Macha (green tea powder) made from new leaves that have been shielded from direct sunlight before harvesting.

Guest: “Taihen kekko de gozaimasu.” (It is excellent) As mentioned earlier, only excellent Macha is used to prepare Koicha. Therefore, when asked about the tea’s taste by the Teishu, the Shokyaku responds that it is excellent.

Guest: “Taihen oishiku chodai itashimashita” (The tea was very delicious.) After the second guest takes the first sip, the Shokyaku compliments and praises the Teishu before asking a follow-up question regarding the name and origin of the Macha.

Guest: “O-Chamei wa” (What is the name of the tea?) Following the compliment on the delicious tea, the Shokyaku continues by inquiring about the name of the tea. Sometimes, organic materials used in the tea ceremony are given Buddhist or poetic names.

Guest: “O-tsume wa” (Where is the tea from?) Once the Teishu has provided the name of the tea, the Shokyaku can also ask about its place of cultivation. Certain areas and regions are renowned for producing high-quality tea leaves.

Guest: “Zenseki no okashi mo taihen oishiku chodai itashimashita. Gomei wa” (The sweet we had previously was also excellent. What is it called?) During the Koicha session, after the Shokyaku has asked about the name and origin of the Macha, it is polite to inquire about the sweet that was served before Nakadachi. Most likely, the Teishu will mention that they are handmade and provide the poetic name or disclose the shop where they were purchased.

Host: “Tesei de gozaimasu” (They were hand made) When the Shokyaku asks about the sweets (“Okashi no gomei wa”) they had received earlier, the Teishu confirms that they were indeed handmade and may share the poetic name associated with them or mention the shop where they were crafted.

Guest: “Kyou no O-hana wa” (How about today’s flowers, what kind are they?) While the other guests are enjoying their Koicha, the Shokyaku continues to ask questions about various elements in the Chashitsu (tea room).

Guest: “O-hanaire wa. Go-mei de mo.” (How about the flower vase? And what is the name of the vase?) Teishu has the freedom to use a variety of vessels to display the flowers. Depending on the level of formality, the Teishu can showcase their uniqueness through the choice of the flower vase. It could be a Kensui, Kama, or even something more unusual like a Yakan.

Guest: “Sakihodo no narimono wa” (How about the bell you used to call us back?) Guest: “Ochawan no haiken wo” (May we take a closer look at the tea bowl?)

Host: “Ichio, oshimai ni itashimasu” (I will finish for now.) This signifies that there are still many other aspects to be enjoyed and that there will be more tea. It is said when the Teishu cleans up after Koicha and starts preparing for Usucha (thin tea). In this case, the Shokyaku doesn’t need to say anything because it is understood in the course of the Chakai that after Koicha, Usucha will be served.

Host: “Ousu wo sashiagemasu” (I will prepare thin tea for you) The Teishu, sitting at the door opening, bows to the guests and informs them that the final round of Usucha will be served.

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