Mastering the art of Japanese tea
February 6th, 2012
01:30 AM ET
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During a Japanese tea ceremony, remember to slurp the last drops of tea from the bowl.

Among all the etiquette and quietude of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, the slurping might seen out place, but it’s a more than acceptable way of saying thank you.

“Nosily drinking the last of the tea means that the guest has enjoyed it,” says Shirai Yayoi, a tea master for over 50 years.

Over that period she has perfected all the elements of “chado” that when translate to English is closer to “tea-ism” than tea ceremony. It’s more apt, too, as all the training of a tea master and the rituals of the ceremony date back to Japan’s medieval samurai society and are underpinned by four principles from Zen Buddhism: harmony, tranquility, respect and purity.

So while the experience should be relaxing and spiritually balancing for the guest, they have an active part to play in the experience, says Shirai-san that includes appreciating the taste of the “matcha” (green tea from ground tea leaves), holding the tea bowl correctly and even taking time to examine it (properly done by placing elbows on knees and bending forwards).

The daughter of tea master, Shirai-san followed in her father’s footsteps after university by training at a school for five years in the Tokyo tradition of tea ceremonies.

Each region of Japan has its own form of chado, a legacy of Japan’s feudal system; women were only allowed to train in the way of tea after the Meiji Restoration in the mid-19th century that ushered in gradual social change.

Today, tea masters in training in Japan are fewer than twenty years ago, but away from the dedicated academies, many high schools in the country still offer courses as extra curricular activities. There they can learn skills and manners that are still appreciated in modern society, says Shirai-san.

But for Shirai-san it has been a lifetime’s vocation. For the last year has practiced her skills in a glowing paper orb - a radically minimal but modern-designed tea room located in Macau’s Okura Hotel.

Shoes are left outside, but within it every tiny element is considered, from the choice of flowers (depending on the season or mood) to the position of the kettle and bowl. Each ritual by Shirai-san is executed with a grace and precision – the way she crisply snaps a napkin produced from insider her kimono before wiping the top of the tea jar is quite mesmerizing.

If you think it all sounds a bit too formal, the health benefits of a cup of green tea are worth remembering; it’s an excellent source of antioxidants and touted as helping to prevent all manner or ailments, including lowering cholesterol. It also has a lower caffeine content than coffee, so a better choice for to if all you want is a refreshing cuppa. If that doesn’t convince, mediate on the words of wisdom from Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: “Tea is the elixir of life.”

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Filed under: Asian • Culture • Feature • Japan • Japan Eats • Japanese • Rituals • Sip • Tea

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Art Japan

    Tea is like Art of life.

    November 27, 2013 at 5:44 am |
  2. Modern Tea Ceremony

    Thank you for such a delightful description of the Japanese Tea Ceremony. I doubt I will ever have the opportunity to visit a proper tea establishment and enjoy a proper tea ceremony (I'm already in my mid 60s), but your description inspires me to fantasize about a modern tea ceremony. My daughter loves teas of all sorts, and has yearned to learn Japanese. So I suspect I can induce her to brew one of her favorite teas. I suspect we will be religated to ordinary American mugs rather than lovely cups. Nevertheless, I think we can 'make the world' stop a bit for a nice cup of green tea and just relax for a while.

    February 9, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  3. Dianna

    I took Tea Ceremony as a college course for 2 years at Florida International University. We learned the Urasenke style of Tea Ceremony. Very engaging class!

    February 8, 2012 at 9:56 am |
  4. Teresa Chen

    I would like to take a deep slurp of the last drop of the tea if I have chance to taste tea in Japan, and it must be worthwhile memory.

    February 7, 2012 at 2:36 am |
  5. ngc1300

    The Japanese are a really delightful people. Having lived there for 4 years time ago, I have great respect for their culture and traditions.

    February 6, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  6. Dark Yoru

    thanks for all ur efforts in writing this, it waz helpfull =3

    February 6, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  7. Arturo Féliz-Camilo

    I'll make sure to slurp as hard as I can. Nothing like being polite and culture conscious!! ;)

    February 6, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  8. Bianca

    The Morikami Museum in Delray Beach does a beautiful, traditional Japanese tea ceremony several times a year. A must see. Very serene.

    February 6, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  9. Keisha

    Someone told me about this a few years ago, and I was so excited to see what you wrote about it. I would definitely take a course in this. It's a tradition that shows a great sense of pride for the tea maker.

    February 6, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  10. Mildred

    I've had the privlige of being in a tea ceremony at a convention... it was a short form ceremony and the first guest (husband of the lady making the tea) taking time to explain to people what we needed to do on our end! It was really helpful.

    February 6, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  11. Truth™


    February 6, 2012 at 11:52 am |
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