13 May 2024

MUSUBI KILN Chado Series:

A Journey Through the Chabako Tea Ceremony

The chabako temae "chabako tea ceremony," an exquisite blend of tradition, art, and mindfulness, invites participants into a world where every detail matters and every moment is a step towards inner peace.

As a foreigner, this was my first time participating in a chabako tea ceremony. Throughout the process, I encountered emotions I had never felt before. In this article, I will show you my explorative journey into the heart of the chabako tea ceremony, unveiling its history, significance, and the profound experience it offers.


  • The Prelude to the Tea Ceremony Experience
  • Harmony in a Box: Chabako
  • Step-by-Step Elegance
  • Reflections

The Prelude to the Tea Ceremony Experience

On an early April day, I accompanied Umehara-san to participate in the special experience of a chabako tea ceremony. As a foreigner unfamiliar with Japanese tea ceremonies, this was the first time I had heard of the chabako, a type of tea ceremony equipment. I embarked on this journey with a mix of nervousness and slight apprehension.

After a 30-minute drive from our company, we arrived at Mita, a very quiet area, and soon found the tea ceremony classroom. From the outside, it looked no different from the ordinary residences nearby. Upon ringing the doorbell, the teacher opened the door for us.

Even before stepping inside, I was greeted by a scent of woody fragrance. This aroma was distinctly different from the damp, somewhat oppressive scent of early spring in the city. It was a dry and composed scent that gradually enveloped me as I entered the tea room, easing nearly half of my initial anxiety. 

Harmony in a Box: Chabako

The tea ceremony master, Ishikawa-sensei dressed in a pale green kimono, embodied the vibrant colors of early spring. With a gentle and even tone, she clearly and slowly introduced us to the origins and components of the chabako.

The term chabako refers to a box that has been used since the era of Sen No Rikyu (1522 CE-1591 CE), the tea master, for travel and portability. It contains the essential tools for preparing matcha, all compactly arranged within. Later, the eleventh generation Gengensai (1810 CE-1877 CE) innovatively created the chabako temae, a specific method of tea preparation using the chabako.

Before the tea ceremony began, Ishikawa-sensei showed us the components of the chabako: within a beautifully crafted lacquer box, a matcha tea bowl was placed, inside of which lay a folded silk cloth called a kobukusa. Resting on this silk cloth was a natsume, a matcha container used to store powdered green tea. At the top, a chashaku, the tea scoop, was positioned. A furidashi, the container for sweets, was placed in the left corner inside the chabako. The chasen, the tea whisk, needed to be set inside its holder known as chasenzutsu, which was positioned at the top right-hand side of the tea box. Below the tea whisk, the chakin, a tea linen cloth, was placed inside the chakinzutsu, the cloth holder. The red fukusa "silk wrapping cloth," was placed on the top of the tea scoop.

These utensils are smaller compared to those typically used in a regular tea ceremony, allowing the charm of the tea ceremony to be experienced anywhere through this compact box.

Step-by-Step Elegance

Before the formal start of the tea ceremony, the instructor distributed a beautifully embroidered cloth pouch to each of us. Inside was a kaishi, a type of washi "Japanese paper," that is somewhat thick and has a textured feel to it. Its purpose is to serve as a small plate in the hand while enjoying nerikiri, a type of Japanese wagashi, and it can also be used to wipe the mouth after eating. Another item in the pouch was a relatively wide toothpick, used for cutting and picking up the nerikiri.

Afterward, the teacher brought us a beautifully shaped light blue bowl, in which pale yellow nerikiri was arranged. The combination of the yellow sweets with the blue bowl created a refreshing and vibrant look, deepening my appreciation of the significance of seasonal awareness in Japanese culture.
Nerikiri is a traditional Japanese confectionery that is meticulously shaped and colored to represent seasonal themes, often depicting flowers, animals, and other natural elements.

Then, the moment finally arrived for the demonstration of tea-serving. Ishikawa-sensei, holding the chabako, entered the room slowly from the doorway, each step deliberate and precise. She meticulously removed each utensil in sequence and carefully wiped them with a fukusa, demonstrating her respect for each item as if they were not merely tools but partners in creating the welcoming atmosphere of the tea ceremony.

Next, she gently rinsed the tea bowl and chasen with water, the sound of flowing water making it feel as though I was sitting in nature, accompanied by the woody aroma of the tea room. The previous anxiety and tension had completely dissolved.

Matcha powder was then placed into the tea bowl, followed by a precise amount of hot water. Afterward, the chasen briskly stirred the mixture in the bowl, thoroughly blending them and creating a delicate, mousse-like foam on the surface.

Finally, the teacher presented the freshly prepared matcha before us, with the aroma of the tea mingling with the moist steam, spreading throughout the room. After taking a moment to admire the matcha tea bowl, we slowly savored it. Afterward, the teacher methodically and calmly packed away the chabako. Following a mutual exchange of bows, she slowly exited the tea room.

Due to our keen interest in chabako, Ishikawa-sensei kindly and meticulously introduced us to her collection of chabako, each with different styles and materials. Every time she opened one, it was like unveiling a treasure, with each piece possessing its unique characteristics and story.


The serenity of the ceremony was palpable, enveloping all participants in a space of peace that felt removed from the chaos of the outside world. The act of observing various chabako, each with its distinct characteristics and history, was like viewing a living museum of art and culture. The emotional resonance of the chabako tea ceremony was unexpected. The quiet focus and repetitive motions facilitated a meditative state that was both calming and energizing.

The chabako tea ceremony experience offers a unique window into the soul of Japanese tea culture, inviting participants to immerse themselves in its rich traditions and timeless values. By engaging with this practice, one not only experiences the art of tea ceremony but also embraces the four fundamental principles espoused by Sen No Rikyu — Wa "harmony," Kei "respect," Sei "purity," and Jaku "tranquility." 

It is truly wonderful that just this one small box, equipped with all the tools needed for a tea ceremony, allows one to experience the it anywhere. I am now eagerly looking forward to owning a chabako of my very own.

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By Zhao Minyi