Tea Ceremony Glossary: Unveiling the Language of Tea

The Japanese tea ceremony, also known as “chanoyu” or “sado,” is a traditional cultural practice that involves the preparation and serving of powdered green tea, known as “matcha,” in a highly ritualized manner. This ceremony has its own unique vocabulary and terminology. To better understand and appreciate the art of tea ceremony, it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with key terms commonly used in this practice. In this glossary, we will explore some of the essential terms associated with the tea ceremony. Let’s begin:

Aisatsu: The Art of Greetings in Japanese Culture

Aisatsu (挨拶) (greeting): Aisatsu is a fundamental aspect of Japanese culture and refers to the act of greeting others. In the context of a tea ceremony, greetings play a significant role in establishing a harmonious atmosphere. The first Aisatsu occurs at the entrance gate before the ceremony commences, followed by exchanges of greetings when the Teishu opens the sliding door. Greetings are accompanied by a respectful bow directed towards the person being greeted. Inside the tea room, during the initial Aisatsu, the Sensu (folding fan) is placed in front of the knees, creating a space to rest the hands behind it. Additionally, during the final greeting by the Shokyaku, expressing gratitude to the other guests for their participation, the Sensu is once again placed on the Tatami in front of the knees during the exchange of greetings.

In everyday Japanese life, Aisatsu is a common practice. The term itself can be broken down into four syllables: A-I-SA-TSU. “A” represents “Akarui,” signifying brightness or liveliness. “I” stands for “Itsumo,” meaning always. “SA” refers to “Saki ni,” conveying the notion of doing something before others. Finally, “TSU” represents “Tsuzukeru,” emphasizing the concept of continuity or ongoing action.

Chabana: Graceful Floral Displays for the Japanese Tea Room

In the realm of Japanese flower arrangement, Ikebana reigns supreme as an art form that emphasizes the arrangement of numerous flowers in vases or bowls. However, when it comes to the tea ceremony, a more minimalist approach is taken, giving rise to a unique art form known as Chabana (茶花). Chabana focuses on the use of only a few carefully selected flowers or tree branches.

Flower vases used in Chabana can be crafted from ceramics or bamboo, and they find their place in the Tokonoma, a decorative alcove within the tea room. Ceramic vases are positioned on the floor of the tokonoma, placed beneath the Kakejiku hanging scroll, slightly off-center. On the other hand, bamboo vases often grace the Tokobashira supporting pillar, adding a touch of elegance to the tea room ambiance.

Chado: Embracing the Way of Tea

Chado (茶道), also known as the “way of tea,” is a profound practice deeply rooted in Japanese culture. The term Chado encompasses the essence of this art form, as it combines the preparation and enjoyment of tea with a spiritual and philosophical journey.

Originally pronounced as Sado, the term underwent a change in pronunciation to avoid any misinterpretations and misconceptions. As the tea ceremony gained recognition beyond Japanese borders, the association with an unrelated and less favorable meaning of the word led to an unintended negative perception. To preserve the true essence of this subtle and elegant art, Chado became the preferred pronunciation, reflecting the purity and harmony inherent in the way of tea.

Chadou Sentei: An Essential Tea Manual of 1816

Chadou Sentei (茶道筌蹄) is a significant book on tea that holds immense value in the world of tea ceremony. Published in 1816, this comprehensive work spans multiple volumes, each offering unique insights and knowledge about the art of tea.

The initial volume of Chadou Sentei delves into the intricacies of performing the tea ceremony, providing detailed instructions and guidance. Subsequent volumes explore various aspects of tea culture, such as renowned tea masters, exquisite tea rooms, and essential tea utensils. The book also delves into the specifics of important tea items like Chawan (tea bowls), Natsume (tea caddies), Chashaku (tea scoops), and much more.

With its wealth of information and meticulous exploration, Chadou Sentei serves as an indispensable resource for tea enthusiasts, offering a deeper understanding of the tea ceremony and its associated elements.

Cha-e: The Early Stage of Tea Ceremony

Cha-e (茶会), an early name for the tea ceremony, translates to “tea meeting.” In the earlier periods, green tea or powdered green tea consumption was primarily enjoyed by feudal lords and aristocrats as a form of entertainment. However, with the influence of Sen Rikyu, the practice of consuming powdered green tea underwent a significant transformation, adopting a more spiritual and religious essence.

As the purpose and philosophy of tea evolved, so did the name associated with it. The term Chado emerged, which better reflected the refined and profound nature of the tea ceremony. Chado encompasses not only the act of drinking tea but also a way of life, emphasizing the importance of embodying the correct spirit and principles of tea.

Through this transition from Cha-e to Chado, the tea ceremony became more than a mere social gathering; it became a profound and contemplative practice, inviting individuals to embrace a specific lifestyle and cultivate a deeper connection with tea.

Chaji: A Complete Tea Gathering with Meal

Chaji (茶事) refers to a comprehensive tea gathering that includes not only the serving of Koicha and Usucha but also a full meal. It encompasses various ceremonial rituals, including the changing of charcoal known as Sumidemae. The entire Chaji experience typically lasts between two to three hours, allowing for a deep immersion in the art of tea. Let’s explore the simplified order of a Chaji:

  1. Arrival and Waiting: Guests arrive at the tea house and proceed to the Machiai waiting arbor. From there, they enter the tea garden and follow the stepping-stone path to the Koshikake, where they await the host’s arrival for the initial exchange of greetings.
  2. Purification: Guests proceed to the Tsukubai, a stone basin, to cleanse their hands before entering the Chashitsu through the Nijiriguchi, a small entryway.
  3. Kaiseki Meal: A traditional Kaiseki meal is served, allowing guests to savor a carefully prepared and harmonious combination of seasonal dishes.
  4. Charcoal Changing: During the Shozumi ritual, the charcoal in the brazier is replaced, ensuring the optimal heat for the tea preparation.
  5. Sweets: Delicate Wagashi sweets are served to cleanse and sweeten the palate, enhancing the enjoyment of the tea.
  6. Koicha: The guests temporarily leave the Chashitsu and gather at the Koshikake in the tea garden. Upon hearing the ringing of a bell, they return to the tearoom for the serving of Koicha, a thick tea.
  7. Charcoal Procedure: After Koicha, the spent charcoal under the Kama (kettle) is burned up, and fresh Sumi charcoal is added during the Gozumi procedure, ensuring a continuous and controlled heat source.
  8. Usucha: Following the charcoal procedure, Usucha, a thinner and lighter tea, is served, allowing for a more tranquil and reflective moment.
  9. Closing and Farewell: Aisatsu, which includes final greetings and expressions of gratitude, takes place with bows exchanged between the guests and the host. Finally, the guests are seen off from the Nijiriguchi by the host, concluding the Chaji experience.

A Chaji offers an immersive journey into the art of tea, providing a memorable and contemplative experience for all participants.

Chakai: A Welcoming Tea Gathering

Chakai (茶会), a tea gathering, resembles Chaji in many ways, but with one key difference: it is open to all, rather than being limited to a select group of guests. Throughout the day, several servings of green tea are offered, filling the tea room with guests lined up along the walls. However, only the first three guests, known as Shokyaku, Jikyaku, and Teishi, receive a bowl of green tea directly from the host (Teishu). The remaining guests are served Matcha by the Hanto (assistant) after the initial servings.

During a Chakai, guests have the opportunity to visit multiple tea rooms, where tea teachers proudly display and utilize their unique tea utensils. These gatherings may even involve several highly esteemed teachers, who organize the Chakai and have their own students prepare the tea in different rooms. Some students take on the role of Hanto, distributing bowls of tea and sweets to the guests, while the teacher sits behind their student, ensuring a smooth and error-free experience. The teacher also engages with the guests, sharing insights about ceramics, Kakejiku hanging scrolls, Chabana (flower arrangements), and other tea utensils.

In essence, a Chakai embodies a warm and inclusive atmosphere, where anyone can partake in the tea gathering. It offers multiple servings of tea, the opportunity to explore various tea rooms, and a chance to appreciate the expertise and craftsmanship of tea teachers and their students.

Cha-no-yu: The Way of Tea

Cha-no-yu (茶の湯), also known as the Japanese tea ceremony, encompasses various names in Japanese. In modern usage, Chado or Sado is commonly used to refer to the practice and study of the tea ceremony under the guidance of an experienced teacher. Chado no Keiko signifies engaging in the act of practicing the tea ceremony. On the other hand, Chanoyu is a term predominantly employed among individuals who are actively studying this intricate art form. When people are invited to or attend a tea ceremony, they often refer to it as a Chakai, a gathering centered around tea.

Chashitsu: The Tea Room

Chashitsu (茶室) refers to the room where the tea ceremony takes place. It can also denote a standalone house or hut specifically constructed for tea ceremonies. In the past, esteemed tea masters had dedicated spaces solely intended for the practice of the Japanese tea ceremony. These spaces were solely devoted to the art and held no other function. Nowadays, individuals who do not possess a dedicated tea house often designate a single room within their home for teaching and conducting tea ceremonies.

Ideally, a Chashitsu should consist of sliding doors, Tatami flooring, a Tokonoma (alcove), and a fire pit for the winter season. It is preferable to have separate sliding doors, one for the guests and another for the host (Teishu).

Daimedatami: Short Maru Tatami

Daimedatami (台目畳) refers to a shorter Tatami size compared to the standard dimensions, as it accounts for the width occupied by the Daisu (utensil stand) and Byobu (folding screen). Not every tea room or Chashitsu utilizes Daimedatami, but when present, there may be one or occasionally two in use. Measurements for the Chashitsu are determined based on the sizes of Tatami and Daimedatami.

Dairo: The Rectangular Firebox

The Dairo (大炉) is a rectangular firebox located in the Mizuya (preparation area). Its purpose is to warm the water in the Kama (kettle) before it is transported into the Chashitsu (tea room) for the Keiko (practice) of a Chaji tea ceremony. The Dairo contains fine white sand where charcoal can be burned. Charcoal is ignited in the Dairo and then transferred to the Ro or Furo (portable brazier) to further heat the water in the Kama. Some of the charcoal is also placed in the Taboko-Bon (smoking box) for guests to light their cigarettes. Additionally, the Dairo can be used as a safe cooling area for charcoal after it has been used in the Ro or Furo.

Ganro: The Small Cylindrical Firebox

A Ganro (丸炉) is a small cylindrical firebox used to warm water in a kettle before it is poured into a Kama. The Ganro is specifically employed in the Mizuya and is not shown to the guests. In the past, charcoal was used to heat the water in the Ganro, but nowadays, electric Ganro are often utilized for convenience and fire safety. Some public tea rooms have strict fire safety regulations that prohibit open flames, so electric Furo and Ro are also available.

Haiken: The Viewing of Utensils

After a proper tea ceremony (Chaji or Chakai), guests have the opportunity to request Haiken (拝見), which involves viewing the utensils used during the preparation process. When the host is about to clean the utensils and return them to the Mizuya, the Shokyaku (chief guest) can request Haiken of specific utensils. Utensils that can be displayed by the host during Haiken include the Natsume (tea caddy), Chaire (ceremonial tea container), and Chashaku (tea scoop). Another form of Haiken occurs when the Teishu (host) presents the Mizusashi (water container), Hishaku (bamboo ladle), and Futaoki (lid rest) on the Tana (shelf). In some cases, the Tana has two shelves, one at the bottom and one on top. The Mizusashi is displayed on the bottom shelf, while the Hishaku with Futaoki is displayed on the top shelf. The display of utensils on the Tana can vary according to the season, type of ceremony, and type of Tana. Another form of Haiken takes place when the Teishu uses two Chawans (tea bowls) to serve Usucha (thin tea). The guest seated to the left of the Shokyaku can request Haiken. Once the Shokyaku has finished their Haiken, the Chawan is passed down to the next guest, and the process continues until the end when the Hanto (assistant) collects it and takes it to the Mizuya for cleaning.

Hantou: The Host’s Assistant

The Hantou (半東) serves as an assistant during Chakai or Chaji tea ceremonies. In a full tea ceremony, the teacher’s most skilled student takes on the role of performing the Temae (tea preparation). The teacher sits behind or near the student, offering guidance and answering any questions posed by the Shokyaku (chief guest). The Hantou sits by the sliding door and ensures a smooth flow of the ceremony. They bring an extra Chawan (tea bowl) from the Mizuya (preparation area) when needed and deliver the Chawan filled with Macha (powdered tea) to the guests, allowing them to remain seated without the need to stand up.

Hakogaki: Box Inscription

Hakogaki (箱書き) refers to inscriptions written on boxes containing tea utensils. The Hakogaki provides information such as the name of the craftsman who created the utensil, the name of the utensil itself, and details about its origin, including the prefecture, city, and lineage. Utensils that come with a Hakogaki box are often considered of high value, either due to the materials used or the reputation of the skilled craftsman who made them.

Ichi-go-ichie: Every Moment Is Unique and Will Never Come Again

Ichi-go-ichie encapsulates the concept that each moment in life is unique and will never be repeated. It emphasizes the importance of cherishing every encounter and experience, recognizing their fleeting nature. In the context of tea ceremonies, it reminds participants to fully immerse themselves in the present moment and appreciate the beauty and significance of the ceremony unfolding before them.

Iemoto: Founder or Grand Master of a School of Art

During the tea ceremony’s historical development, different styles and approaches to tea preparation emerged under the guidance of experienced tea masters. To safeguard and promote their particular approach, these masters established their own schools. The head of such a school, known as the Iemoto (家本), assumed the role of instructing students and guiding the school’s growth and prosperity. Traditionally, the role of Iemoto was passed down within a family, with the son inheriting the position to continue the family tradition. In cases where the Iemoto didn’t have a bloodline successor, the Iemoto would select their most accomplished student to carry on the school’s legacy.

Jikyaku: The Second Guest

Following the Shokyaku (chief guest), the Jikyaku (字客) is the next guest in line during a tea ceremony.

Junbi: Preparation

The term Junbi (準備) is a common Japanese word used in daily life. In the context of tea ceremonies, Junbi refers to the process of preparing all the necessary utensils, the Furo or Ro (hearth), and the sweets that will be served to the guests. This preparation takes place in the Mizuya, the room where utensils are stored on shelves or in boxes. There is a specific order to Junbi, and the teacher will likely begin by teaching the proper preparation procedures before students learn how to prepare tea in the Chashitsu (tea room).

Kaiseki: Tea Ceremony Meal

Kaiseki (懐石) meals are specially prepared for guests who are invited to a Chaji tea ceremony. Great care and consideration are given to the choice of ingredients, taking into account the season and the type of gathering. The Teishu (host) may spend several days, sometimes with the assistance of a Hanto (assistant), to meticulously prepare a Kaiseki meal.

Kamaeru: Holding Something in Front

Kamaeru refers to the act of holding something in front of oneself. In the context of the tea ceremony, it may involve holding utensils or objects in a particular manner for presentation or during specific procedures.

Kashi: Sweets Served Before Drinking Green Tea

Kashi (菓子) refers to the traditional Japanese sweets served to guests before the consumption of green tea. Examples include Omogashi (moist cakes made with jelly and Anko sweet-bean paste) and Higashi (dry, hardened sweets). Before drinking Koicha (thick green tea), guests are offered Omogashi to balance the palate with sweetness before experiencing the bitterness of the tea. Higashi is typically served before Usucha (thin tea). It is customary to wait until the Teishu has warmed the Chawan (tea bowl) and discarded the water into the Kensui (waste water container) before enjoying the Kashi. In a Chakai where multiple Hantos bring in Chawans with tea, the Teishu or Teacher may invite guests by saying “Okashi wo doozo,” which means “please go ahead and have the sweets.”

Keiko: Practicing Tea Ceremony with a Teacher

Keiko (稽古) is a Japanese term that encompasses the idea of practice, study, and training. In the context of tea ceremonies, Keiko refers to the regular lessons that students undertake with a teacher. It is often given the honorific “O,” as in Okeiko, to indicate respect.

Koicha: Thick Tea

During a Chaji tea ceremony, Koicha (濃茶) is the first type of Matcha offered to guests (Kyaku). Koicha is a dense mixture of Matcha powder and hot water. Typically, a Chawan (tea bowl) filled with Koicha is shared among three guests. Each guest should be able to enjoy about three medium sips before passing the Chawan to the next person. Before passing the Chawan, it is customary to carefully wipe the rim with a Kaishi paper to ensure cleanliness since the next guest will drink from the same spot. It’s important not to wipe too deeply into the Chawan as the Matcha used is precious and limited in quantity.

Kyaku: Guests

In Japan, the title “Kyaku” (客) is commonly used in various establishments to refer to customers or guests. It may be followed by the honorific “San” to address someone politely, similar to “Sir” or “Madam.” Therefore, “Okyaku-San” can be understood as a term of respect meaning “dear guest.”

Matcha: Powdered Green Tea

Matcha (抹茶) refers to finely ground powdered green tea. It is used in the Japanese tea ceremony and has a vibrant green color and distinct flavor.

Machiai: Waiting Room/Hut

When guests arrive at a tea house for a tea ceremony, they are usually asked to wait in the Machiai (待合), which serves as a waiting room or hut. It is often a simple structure located in the garden, providing shelter in case of rain. During a full tea ceremony, guests are requested to step outside briefly to allow the host to clean and prepare the tea room for the next part of the ceremony, which includes Koicha and Usucha. To ensure guests’ comfort during the recess, a small bench with a roof is provided for them to wait until the host calls them back inside.

Mizuya: Preparatory Kitchen for the Tea Ceremony

The Mizuya (水屋) is a preparatory kitchen specifically designated for the tea ceremony. It is where various utensils and supplies are stored and prepared before the ceremony takes place. The Mizuya serves as a practical space for the host and assistants to organize and handle all the necessary items.

Mizuya Gatte: Various Tools Used in the Mizuya

Mizuya Gatte (水屋勝手) refers to the assortment of tools and equipment used in the Mizuya. These tools aid in the preparation and organization of utensils, sweets, and other items required for the tea ceremony.

Nagashisunoko: Slatted Drain Board

Nagashisunoko (流し簀子) is a slatted drain board commonly found in the Mizuya. It is used to drain excess water and liquids during the preparation and cleaning processes, ensuring a tidy and efficient workspace.

Nakadachi: Short Recess

During a Chaji full tea ceremony, after the Kaiseki meal and before the serving of Koicha and Usucha in the second round, guests are asked to wait outside in the Machiai. This period is called Nakadachi (仲立). Meanwhile, the host (Teishu) takes the opportunity to clean the room, change or remove the Chabana flower arrangement, and replace the Kakejiku (hanging scroll) to create a refreshed ambiance.

Nijuudana: Double Hanging Shelves

Nijuudana (二重棚) refers to a set of double hanging shelves. These shelves are commonly used in the tea room to display and store various utensils and items related to the tea ceremony.

Okimizuya: Portable Assemblage of Tea Ceremony Utensils

Okimizuya (置水屋) is a portable set of tea ceremony utensils. It is assembled and arranged to ensure all the necessary items are conveniently accessible during the tea ceremony. The Okimizuya allows for flexibility in different tea ceremony settings.

Omogashi: Japanese Moist Sweets

Omogashi refers to traditional Japanese moist sweets. These sweets are usually offered to guests before serving Koicha, as they help prepare the palate for the rich and bitter taste of Matcha.

Oyu: Hot Water

Oyu (お湯) simply means hot water. In the context of the tea ceremony, it plays a crucial role in preparing Matcha and cleansing utensils.

Shoukyaku: Principal Guest

Shoukyaku (正客) is the term used to refer to the principal guest during a tea ceremony. This guest holds a significant role and is accorded special respect and attention throughout the ceremony.

Teishi: Third Guest

Teishi (停止) is the term used to describe the third guest in line during a tea ceremony, following the Shoukyaku and Jikyaku.

Teishu: Tea Ceremony Host and Teacher

Teishu (亭主) refers to the host and teacher of the tea ceremony. The Teishu plays a central role in conducting the ceremony and guiding the guests through the rituals and procedures.

Temae: Ritual Preparation of Tea

Temae (手前) is a general term used to encompass the ritual preparation of tea and the specific procedures involved in making tea during the ceremony. It refers to the precise techniques and actions carried out by the host.

Tsume: Last Guest

Tsume (詰め) refers to the last guest attending a tea ceremony. This guest holds a significant position as the final participant in the ceremony.

Usucha: Thin Tea

Usucha (薄茶) is a type of Matcha preparation that results in a thinner and lighter consistency compared to Koicha. It is commonly served in the latter part of the tea ceremony, following the Koicha.

Wabi: Aesthetic of Quiet Elegance

Wabi (侘) refers to an aesthetic principle in Japanese culture characterized by the beauty of simplicity, tranquility, and understated elegance. It is often associated with the tea ceremony, emphasizing a sense of peaceful refinement.

Wagashi: Japanese Traditional Sweets

Wagashi (和菓子) is a collective term for various types of traditional Japanese sweets. These sweets are typically made using ingredients native to Japan and are often enjoyed alongside Matcha during the tea ceremony.

Zen: Meal Tray

Zen (膳) refers to a meal tray used to serve food during the tea ceremony. It is designed with simplicity and functionality in mind, reflecting the Zen aesthetic of minimalism and harmony.

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