Tea, especially green tea, is a beverage associated with Japan and rightly so for there drinking green tea developed over 800 years into the artist discipline known as Chado, the Way of Tea.

Tea, however, is not native to Japan but was first introduced in the 9th century from China. More important to the development of chado was the introduction in the 12th century of a new form of Buddhism, Zen, and a new form of tea known as 'matcha' or powdered green tea. Both Zen and matcha were intoduced by Eisai Zenji upon his return from study in Chinese monasteries.  He also brought tea seeds and from these sprang the famous tea fields of Uji.

At first the preparation of matcha was confined to the monastic rituals of Zen temples where it served a symbolic ceremonial function.  Rich in vitamins and minerals, matcha was valued as a medicine and a mild stimulant that helped to stave off drowsiness during long periods of meditation.

In the 13th and 14th centuries, the ruling and noble classes took up the offertory tea ritual and gave it a distinctly secular character. Matcha drinking became part of the elaborate entertainment of boisterous social gatherings that included the display of rare, imported Chinese arts.

By the late 15th century, artistic pastimes such as Tea came to be regarded as paths to salvation. Chado took form influenced by the aesthetic considerations of the elite and the spiritual practices of Zen monastic life designed to empty one of self-centered thoughts. The 13th century Zen master Dogen Zenji summarized the purpose of these practices saying "To empty one's mind is to forget the self. To forget the self is to awaken to the world. To awaken to everything in the world is to be enlightened." 

As Chado evolved, the aesthetic of "wabi" emerged which eschews extravagance and wastefulness. It is characterized by simplicity, naturalism, profundity, imperfection, and asymmetry. It emphasizes restrained, unadorned objects and architectural space, and celebrates the beauty of natural materials given expression through skilled craftsmanship. 

By the 16th century, tea drinking had spread to all levels of society and merchants and wealthy farmers joined the now more sober samurai. From the ranks of the mercantile families came the seminal tea master, Sen no Rikyu, whose many contributions are still revered today. Under his influence new forms of architecture, landscaping and applied arts came into being.

Rikyu set forth the guiding principles of harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility. Under his influence Chado fully blossomed as a transformative art with the preparation and serving of tea the discipline. The host himself cleans the garden, sweeps the tearoom, draws the water, builds the fire, selects and displays works of art, prepares the meal and tea, and serves his guests. By observing everything that makes up a tea gathering the guest comes to understand the host's consideration for him and a genuine appreciation of their relationship arises.

Chado continues to evolve as times change and new artistic forms find expression under the influence of wabi. Practicing chado provides calm in a turbulent world and focus amidst distractions by emphasizing the larger patterns of relationships that connect us to one another, to society, and to nature.



Although the Japanese Art of Tea, or chanoyu, is difficult to analyze in terms of conventional art forms, three broad categories can be used to describe the nature of this unique artistic activity. These three categories are: 1) aesthetics, 2) discipline and 3) social interaction. The aesthetic considerations of chanoyu, of course, deal with those elements of a Tea Gathering which involve sensory experience: the shapes, sizes and textures of the various utensils and how they are combined; the appearance of the garden and the architecture of the tearoom; the fragrance of incense; the tastes of various foods and sweets, and of the tea itself. The discipline, for both host and guest, is as rigorous as any martial art, perhaps even more so considering the extreme refinement of details involved in the limited space of a few tatami mats. As for social interaction, though it may be possible to sit alone in a cabin in the woods and quietly enjoy a bowl of tea, it is the society of host and guest which occasions the gathering and without which the aesthetic concerns and the discipline lose all relevance.

There is an expression in Japanese whose origin lies in the Tea experience of the early Tea masters. It is ichigo ichie: one time/one meeting. If aesthetics, discipline and social interaction are the physical aspects of chanoyu which can be readily perceived even by the casual observer, one time/one meeting is the spiritual thread which runs through the Art of Tea at every turn. For the practicer of chanoyu it is the constant effort to hone aesthetic sense, to refine discipline and to experience the encountering of host or guest that will eventually lead to an understanding of one time/one meeting.

I would like to consider each of the three aspects of chanoyu in terms of how it contributes to the realization of one time/one meeting.

I. The Aesthetics of Chanoyu

The practice of chanoyu as we know it today developed five centuries ago in an atmosphere of extreme cultural refinement. Think of the court of the Ashikaga shoguns with its love of the Noh theatre and its appreciation of art works from the continent. In a way it can be said that the love of the beautiful in chanoyu was born out of the sensibilities of the ruling classes of fourteenth and fifteenth century Japan. However, with the emergence of a few key figures such as Murata Shuko (1422-1502) and Sen no Rikyu (1522-91), a new sense of beauty developed. With emphasis on the beauty of the imperfect, and the appreciation of wabi and sabi, a whole new visual and tactile culture of Tea evolved. This is the "Tea world" which we inherit today when we take up the practice of chanoyu, and the aesthetic which informs this world, from the selection of utensils to the placement of flowers in the tokonoma, is conveyed almost exclusively through silent example. However, what may not be apparent from simply viewing the physical paraphernalia of Tea is that along with the change in the types of utensils used, a fundamental change in attitude toward the coming together of host and guest also evolved. Whereas the lavish tea gathering of the Ashikagas took the appreciation of rare and valuable pieces from China as an end in itself, the new Tea of Shuko and Rikyu, the so-called "tea of the grass hut," took the meeting of host and guests to be of equal, if not greater, importance. In this way the feeling of one time/one meeting came to the fore as the spiritual basis of the Tea Gathering. Every preparation made by the host for a particular Tea Gathering would be made with the understanding that such a gathering would never happen again. Even if the host were to call the same guests to meet at the same time of year and use the same arrangement of utensils, the gathering would be an entirely other moment in the lives of all involved, not to mention in the life of the tearoom and its own particular environment. One time/one meeting then means that each moment is a unique set of variables that come together for that time only and can never be repeated. In selecting the utensils for a Tea gathering, therefore, the host must first of all take into consideration the two critical questions: who are the guests? and what is the occasion of their meeting? To disregard these factors would be to reduce the entire event to nothing more than a show.

Perhaps even more than in Rikyu's day this is the emphasis of today's Tea gatherings. It is not simply to evoke pleasant images of flowers in spring and coloured leaves in autumn that seasonal references are so valued in the modern Tea gathering. These references serve as anchors which keep us focused on the particular moment in time at which we are sitting with a particular group of people, a moment which only comes once.

II. The Discipline of Chanoyu

The first thing one notices in learning the Way of Tea is that nothing is done arbitrarily. There seems to be a rule for every movement of the hand or foot, and a lesson, especially in the early stages, consists largely of a series of cut-and-dry commands on the part of the teacher: "left foot - right foot - place that three lines from the edge - elbows out - fingers together...." The student is forced to become aware of every move he makes and of each placement of a utensil. And awareness is the aim here, the means and the end; for once awareness extends beyond the utensil mat to the guests, and a reciprocal awareness is extended on the part of the guest, the truly profound spirit of one time/one meeting is realized.

There is a great beauty in concentrated effort. Who can fail to appreciate the beauty of the intense drama which unfolds when the pitcher in baseball stands ready to wind up? Pitcher, catcher and batter have nothing in mind but the next pitch. This nothing in mind is called mushin in Japanese, and it is the state of mind of the tea person who is making tea with no other thought in mind than to carry on with the task at hand. There is no thought, however, of making tea; there is only the performing of what one has trained so hard to do. Needless to say, this is not something which comes easily. It takes many years of practice to assimilate the rules so that they operate naturally in one's tea making. And yet, as wonderful as this state of naturalness may be, if it remains contained within the practice of one individual, it is a very low form of tea making compared to the true ideal of Tea based on one time/one meeting.

The rules involved in making tea according to the procedures of chanoyu always include host and guest. Even though concentration may bring the individual to a state of heightened awareness and abandon to the moment, the rules involved have as their fundamental purpose the union of host and guest in the common experience of the Tea Gathering. It is the same with any game involving several players. The game cannot exist apart from the rules, for once the rules are removed you have neither the game nor the common spirit generated by the playing of the game. In the case of the Tea Gathering, the common spirit which ideally arises out of the union of discipline and mutual consideration is the spirit of wa-kei-sei-jaku (wa-harmony, kei-respect, sei-purity, jaku-tranquillity). It is especially important for the guest, whose role is seemingly passive, to approach the tea gathering in the spirit of one time/one meeting if the framework of the gathering laid out by the rules is to achieve its purpose.

III. Social Interaction

As indicated in the discussion on aesthetics and discipline in Tea, the meeting of host and guest is the event around which the practice of chanoyu revolves. I have referred to this meeting as the Tea Gathering (Jpn. chakai). In this context it should be pointed out that the idea of the "encounter" has always played an important part in Japanese culture. Even chance meetings are taken as having some kind of significance which is not apparent to the eye, while in the heightened awareness shared in the tearoom the mere fact that the host and the guests are meeting takes on a quality of great wonderment. Because it is an extra-ordinary event, because one is removed from the everyday world, because one is following the etiquette peculiar to another world, the Tea gathering assumes a special significance which contributes to the feeling of one time/one meeting.

Each meeting is a unique meeting in that it never happened before and it will never happen again, which is, of course, the nature of all things which exist in time. The Japanese appreciation of impermanence (in the Buddhist sense) and the physical manifestations of impermanence in the form of the natural world's changes is well known. In the Way of Tea, with its setting aside of a special time and a special place for which truly special arrangements have been made, we see an art form which perhaps more than any other has the potential of bringing its participants to a realization of the uniqueness of the moment and a corresponding appreciation of the succession of moments called life.

Keith Snyder is director and main tea instructor for the Urasenke Foundation of Vancouver. He lived in Japan for many years and apprenticed with the Grand Master Sen Soshitsu XV, in the Urasenke Midorikai program.


TEA ...

Frank Miller, Seattle
adapted by Bonnie Mitchell

Whether you call it Cha, Chai, Tey, or Tea, the world's most popular beverage comes from camellia sinensis, an evergreen camellia plant that was discovered in Yunan, China. The Chinese were the first tea drinkers and culitvators. The British spread its use around the globe.

Tea is most often made by infusing dried tea leaves in boiling water. It contains the gentle stimulant theine which is equivalent to one-third to one-half the caffeine found in drip coffee. In addition, it has powerful phytochemicals, including antioxidants, that are known to promote human health.

The fresh tea leaf is processed into three main types: black, semi-fermented, and green, depending upon the degree of oxidation.

To produce black tea, fresh plucked tea leaves are partially dehydrated (withered) and then crushed to expose leaf enzymes to the air. They are then oven-dried, sorted and packed into wooden chests. With oxidation, also known as fermentation, the tea leaf color turns warm brown or black. Black tea produces a dark amber or reddish-orange infusion, with fruity, malty, or even flowery aromas.

Semi-fermented tea comes from the same plant, however, the leaf is only partially fermented. It varies from greenish grey to almost black. Oxidation is halted by steaming. An infusion of a semi-fermented tea, often called oolong, ranges from very light to dark amber, with a flowery, toasted or spicy aroma. Oolong teas are wonderful on their own or taken with rich, spicy foods. They complement desserts, especially chocolate. Depending on quality, these teas can be resteeped.

Green tea is steamed then dried to preserve the vivid green leaf color and flavor. Unoxidized green teas often have a vegetal aroma with hints of grass or sea mist. Green teas can be delicate and sweet when brewed in hot, not boiling, water. They go well with low-fat, delicately seasoned foods and desserts. White teas, a sub-group, consisting mostly of unopened leaf buds, produce an almost colorless liquor with an extraordinarily delicate flavor.

Only green teas are produced in Japan, half of which comes from Shizuoka Prefecture. Chanoyu enthusiasts however, recognize the Uji region as the premier producer of powdered green teas since the 13th century. There are five types of green teas produced in Japan: matcha (powdered tea), gyokurocha (treasure dew tea), sencha (high-grade tea), bancha (lesser-grade tea), hojicha (roasted bancha), and genmaicha (bancha mixed with roasted brown rice).

Matcha and gyokurocha are the highest quality teas from the choicest tender shoots of mature tea plants. They are protected from harsh spring sunlight with blinds during the final weeks of cultivation to add flavor, aroma, and color. The leaves selected for matcha undergo a special drying process that prevents them from curling, so that they can be ground into a fine, uniform powder. Unlike other Japanese green teas that are brewed by steeping, hot water is added to the powder and then rapidly beaten with a bamboo whisk to produce a frothy beverage. In this method the whole tea leaf is consumed.




the Way of Tea

One Time/
One Meeting

Tea, Briefly

seattle branch
the living art of Chado,
the Way of Tea,
to affirm our common humanity through harmony, respect, purity and tranquility.
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