The Japanese Tea Ceremony is a cultural icon that easily boggles the western mind. A tea ceremony is not a host and a bunch of her friends sitting on the porch eating biscuits and gossiping. Everything is precisely planned with precision. This is a social event, and as such it promotes the cultural ideals of the Japanese and provides a glance into a very complex culture.
It is also about imagery and how image is very important to the Japanese. A special room or house is often built, such as the one in Reflections of a Tea House. Cleanliness is constantly maintained. They beat the tatami mats (reed mats placed on the floor for sitting); sweep the wooden floors and replace any damaged Shoji (paper wall) screens. Gardeners trim the garden bushes, weed the plant beds, and finally, remove dead leafs. Interestingly, some of the leafs are left so that it maintains the image of the garden being a living thing. Even the art displayed during the ceremony is important to the image and must follow specific rules.
The tea ceremony is not the place to find the gaudy or outrageous “in your face” style of art. It is a traditional form that has developed rigid rules on how things proceed. Those rules differ slightly depending on the style or school where the host learned and practiced. However, socially prescribed rules will still exist for just about everything. Including a particular way to light the charcoal, stacked in a particular way to heat the water. Every aspect of the ceremony has a purpose and an artistic yet meditative and deliberate movement.
The host chooses utensils for the ritual with the utmost care. The style of utensils depends on the theme for that particular ceremony. Some of the utensils are intricate and ornate, obviously of great cost or value, while others are of a simple plain artistic taste, but never “cheap”. Balance with the theme and style of the ceremony remains vital to the idea of the ceremony itself.
Indeed, every aspect of the tea ceremony remains planned to not upset the natural balance in the surroundings according to the chosen theme. For instance, the carefully arranged and picked flowers in a vase only serve to enhance the natural beauty of the room.
However, the floral pattern displayed on the vase does not mirror the flowers themselves. The pattern provides an artistic and pleasing flow with the flowers, but neither the flowers nor the vase detract from one another.
Further, the use of a wall hanging is often seen in tea rooms. This wall hanging follows the same principles as the flowers or vase. You want nothing that would detract from the other items in the room. So, if a wall hanging displayed shows chrysanthemums then you would neither find the same pattern on the vase or in it.
The tea served is Japanese matcha tea. It is an astringent, somewhat bitter, green tea pounded to a powdered form. Placed into a cup, hot water is then poured and finally whipped using a wooden or bamboo whisk.
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