8 June 2023
My First Chado Experience: Learning about Japanese Culture and the Essence of Hospitality
I have always held a great interest in chado*, “the way of tea.” Chado not only teaches the intricacies of how to serve matcha tea, but also entails many aspects of Japanese culture such as etiquette, art, and traditional crafts, all of which have always intrigued me. But despite my curiosity for chado, I had yet to experience it firsthand. So when I was given the opportunity to participate in a chado lesson and tea ceremony, I eagerly seized the chance.
It was an incredible experience to take part in a tea ceremony for the first time with my colleague, Shirata-san. Let me share with you how we gained new insight about our culture and how we were welcomed with true hospitality.
*In Urasenke, “chado” is the word used to describe the way of tea or the Japanese style tea ceremony.
As a loving mother of two sons, she adores earthenware dishes that provide a comforting touch.
Meal planning and cooking well-balanced meals are also passions of hers, while yoga and mindfulness are part of her daily routine.
- Our Chado Sensei
- Kimono Dressing for a Tea Ceremony
- A Quick Lesson on Chado Etiquette
- The Tea Ceremony
- A Special Treat
It felt as though our lesson began the moment we arrived at the “Yanagisawa Residence,” a National Registered Tangible Cultural Property which spans a vast 600 tsubo (2,372 square yards) and features a beautiful garden. The tea ceremony room “Ohara-an” was located in one of houses built in this old Japanese residence. The lush towering trees and calming chirps made us forget that we were standing in the middle of a bustling metropolis.
Also, as a platform to deepen the understanding of traditional Japanese culture such as kintsugi and Japanese calligraphy, gatherings under the name “Gigeijuku” are held at this same venue and provides opportunities to participate in various cultural lectures and events.View more Gigeijuku
Our Chado Sensei
Our chado sensei was Ms. Ritsuko Kitajima (tea name Sori). She is an associate professor of the Urasenke school, one of the main schools of chado and has studied chado for over 15 years. With her experience living abroad and knowledge from Urasenke English courses, she also teaches chado in English.
For today’s lesson, she invited her colleague Tanaka sensei to help with our kimono dressings and other preparations before the tea ceremony.
Sensing our slight anxiousness, both were extremely welcoming and kind, helping us feel more relaxed. I knew that we were in good hands.
Kimono Dressing for a Tea Ceremony
The proper attire for a tea ceremony is a kimono. The colors and designs of kimonos are uniquely traditional. Selecting the colors of accessories was an enjoyable moment as we tried different sashes and belts to match our kimonos. In about 40 minutes, we were dressed for our first chado lesson.
While helping me with my kimono, Tanaka sensei mentioned that with proper care, a kimono could be worn for many years, even passed down from generation to generation. The kimono she was wearing was actually a gift from a senior chado sensei.
A Quick Lesson on Chado Etiquette
With both of us having absolutely no knowledge of chado etiquette, Kitajima sensei gave us a quick lecture on a few items used during a tea ceremony and some proper etiquette pointers to follow.*Etiquette and rules differ according to each school.
-Sensu (small folding fan) : A sensu is considered as a visual representation of a boundary known as "kekkai" in the world of chado. Positioning the fan in front of you is a sign of respect to others as it signals that you will not infringe on their individual space.
-Fukusa : A cloth used to wipe tools during a tea ceremony. In Urasenka, women carry a red fukusa. It is placed in the collar of the kimono.
-Kaishi: Folded Japanese paper napkins used as a dish when eating sweets, and as a napkin. It is also placed in the collar of the kimono with the fold facing outwards.
Prior to our lesson, teacher Kitajima sensei showed us her most treasured tea scoop. Three Chinese characters of "consider others above self" were handwritten on the lid of the tea scoop’s box. These words serve as a reminder to always bear in mind the needs of others and represent the philosophy of Kitajima sensei’s chado class.
In the Tea Room
-Njiri: The proper way to move within a tea room is by maintaining a kneeling position and moving by pushing with one’s knuckles.
-Tatami-beri (the rim of tatami mats): It is considered proper etiquette not to step on or sit on the fabric rims of a tatami mat.
Kitajima sensei explained that back in the Edo period (c.1603-1867), families of samurai warriors would display their esteemed family crest on the fabric rims known as "Mon-beri" (crest-rims). This crest signified the power of the family, and colors and patterns of the mon-beri held specific meaning. Thus, stepping on it was perceived as a major affront. As a result, any action that involved treading on the rims of tatami mats was strictly forbidden.
People may no longer share such values today, but it was interesting to discover the past significance of tatami-beri and learn about another aspect of chado tradition.
-Admiring the decorUpon entering the tea room, guests move to the alcove to see the decorations set up by the host. Guests admire its beauty and feel the hospitality of the host.
Although light conversation is allowed during a lesson or after a casual tea ceremony, the tea room is essentially wrapped in peaceful quietness.
The Tea Ceremony
Slight tension filled the air as soon as the “fusuma” sliding door was closed to start the tea ceremony. Our nerves were on edge, but our sensei offered us comfort with reassurance that all would be fine: "I'll explain everything as we go along," she said.
Shirata-san quietly opened the fusuma with both hands. She placed her sensu infront of her and slowly proceeded forward in nijiri style. After proceeding to the alcove, she admired the scroll, incense burner and the yellow iris flower. She then positioned herself infront of Kitajima sensei as the “sho-kyaku,” the main guest. At a tea ceremony, there is always a “host” and “guests.” I followed suit and entered the tea room, taking my spot to the left of Shirata-san.
Tanaka sensei placed the Japanese sweets in front of us. Sweets are always served before drinking matcha tea to enhance its flavors. Usually the sweets would be placed on a kaishi, but for our tea ceremony, the traditional sweets made in designs of seasonal flowers were served on cedar plates.
Drinking Matcha Tea
Next, Kitajima sensei made matcha tea for us. We were transfixed by Kitajima sensei’s graceful mannerism. Every movement, every step was so exact and fluid, it was an absolute pleasure to watch. Nothing seemed rushed nor forced; each step flowed elegantly into another. The angle of the “hishaku,” the bamboo ladle used to pour hot water, was on an exact angle on the pot, the soft swooshing sound of the “chasen,” bamboo whisk, was pleasant to the ear and the delicate froth of the matcha tea rested gently in the matcha tea bowl we had brought.
Next, we were taught how to “receive” and drink matcha tea.
First, bow before drinking the matcha tea.
The host will place the matcha bowl’s front side facing the guest as a gesture of hospitality. Receive the bowl with your right hand and place it on the palm of your left hand. The right hand should be opened on a right triangle like an L-shape and placed on the right side of the matcha bowl. The matcha bowl is turned slightly clockwise twice to avoid drinking from the front side of the bowl. Once in the correct position, enjoy the matcha tea in several sips.
After you have finished, gently wipe the matcha bowl and turn the matcha bowl back to its original position.
The tea prepared by Kitajima sensei was completely different from any matcha tea I had ever had. The fineness of the froth, its lightness, the aroma of the matcha, its sweetness, its smoothness as it passed down my throat - everything was a first-time experience.
A Special Treat
A tea ceremony would usually end after drinking the tea, and the host commenting on the decor of the tea room. But for our lesson, Kitajima sensei asked if we wanted to try our hand at making matcha tea.
As guests, we were privileged to receive delicious matcha tea from our host, Kitajima sensei. But to partake in the making of matcha tea as a host was a special chance to really appreciate how hospitality was shared through chado. We were also able to observe mindfulness as it was invoked in the gestures and movements of making matcha tea.
Kitajima sensei taught us the basic steps such as how to correctly hold a hishaku and how to properly place the matcha into the matcha bowl. Each gesture is carried out to make the guests feel comfortable and welcomed.
As the host of a tea ceremony, you feel that all eyes are upon you. Kitajima sensei expressed that she still gets nervous when preparing tea, at times. But went on to explain that focusing on each movement and being fully present in the moment helps her calm her heart and clear her mind.
There is actually a step where the host holds the hishaku as if it were a mirror. This is called “kagami-bishaku” meaning “mirror ladle.” The host focuses by finding the reflection of his or her heart in the hishaku, and is one of the many steps used to find clarity during a tea ceremony.
We both tasted the matcha tea we had each made, but as expected, our matcha tea was nothing like the tea Kitajima-sensei had made. But it was truly special to experience all the steps of preparing matcha tea.
Learning about the most basic aspects of Japanese culture such as the symbolism of a sensu fan or how to properly move on a tatami mat was a valuable experience.
But at the same time gave us the realization that these traditions were slowly being lost with the passing of time.But the most memorable aspect of our lesson was experiencing Japanese hospitality through chado. During our time at Ohara-an, Kitajima sensei graciously welcomed the two of us into her world of chado. I recall how she added a small scoop of water to the pot of hot water before she started her tea-making. It was a slightly hot day and we were both feeling a bit flushed. Her attention to detail to make us feel comfortable was truly inspirational. We discovered that chado puts its emphasis on hospitality, where the host strives to create a warm and welcoming environment for the guests.
If you ever have an opportunity to try chado, I strongly recommend you give it a try. Chado can serve as a gateway to understanding the essence of Japanese culture and the art of hospitality. Enjoy a tasty cup of matcha tea with Japanese sweets, and experience firsthand the warm welcome and comfort of chado.