Drinking tea is an essential part of Japanese culture. In Japan, tea is more than just a refreshing beverage: the drink itself is believed to have restorative and curative properties, and the ceremony of preparing tea represents the typically Japanese virtues of respect, harmony, purity, and tranquility. 

Partaking in an authentic tea ceremony experience in a traditional Japanese tea house is an absolute must-do during any tour of Japan. When building your tour, make sure to ask your specialist for their recommendations! 

To whet your appetite we’ve put together our overview guide to all things tea in Japan. Read on below…

Tea ceremony in Japan

History and origins of the Tea Ceremony

Japanese tea ceremonies have their roots in Zen Buddhism, dating back as far as the 9th century when traveling monks brought the first crop over from China. Due to expense, tea was a drink for the upper classes, and over time came to symbolize purity and sohpsitication. 

The chanoyu (way of tea) really took shape under the care of tea master Sen no Rikyu (1522 – 1591), who perfected the art of preparing and serving tea, laying down instructions for procedures, utensils, and even the surroundings. Rikyu’s works are evident today in the teahouse architecture and landscaped gardens which form an intrinsic part of any tea ceremony.

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Tea ceremony in Japan

Key elements

A formal tea ceremony requires specific tea tools. The obvious starting point is fresh matcha green tea leaves, a mix of thick and thin depending on use and status. Hot water is of course essential too – the purer the better. 

Next you’ll need a series of tea bowls (chawan), and a large bowl and whisk (chasen), to intricately prepare your brew. Tea is taken in delicate china cups, with equally delicate linen or hemp cloth (chakin) used to wipe and clean the bowls.

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Tea ceremony in Japan

Common practices

The best tea ceremonies take place in refined, traditional settings: tatami mats on the floor, sliding shoji screen doors, ikebana flower arrangements, and intricate gardens to look at outside. 

Each guest is welcomed with a silent bow, then invited to wash their hands before entering the tea room. The host then enters and begins slowly boiled the tea and prepared the tea bowls. They will also display and use their fukusa (silk cloth), believed to represent the host’s spirit, to handle the hot kettle. 

Remember to rotate your bowl by 180 degrees when given to you – ensuring you do not drink from the decorative side – and wipe your bowl clean after use. You’ll also typically enjoy wagashi sweets to complement the tea.

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Tea ceremony venue, Kyoto

Where to experience a tea ceremony

Tea ceremonies are such an ingrained part of Japanese culture –  and equally an often requested tourist experience – that they can be found all over Japan. Regardless of your routing or itinerary, your consultant will be able to find a tea ceremony along the way. 

However, if we had to choose we’d recommend including a tea ceremony during your stay in Kyoto. As the cultural heart of Japan, Kyoto is a truly be-fitting location to experience this most Japanese of traditions. 

Ceremonies can be arranged on a private or shared basis. They’ll typically last for around an hour at most – leaving plenty of time left in the day for exploring historic sites and other activities. You can also turn the ceremony into a half-day experience if paired with other cultural activities such as flower arranging, kimono-wearing, bento cooking classes, or calligraphy.

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Ready to start planning your next trip?

Get in touch with our Japan specialist, Luke, to start planning your luxury Japan safari and adventure today.

+44 208 004 2345OR

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