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Cofftea said

My 1st Japanese Tea Ceremony!

Anyone who as seen my tasting notes or comments on tasting notes, select items, or the forums knows that I love matcha. Someone (forgive me, I can’t remember who) has even coined me the “Steepster Matcha Ambassador”- a title that I take seriously and as a huge complement. I will be going to Seattle, WA next month and just saw this http://www.teamuse.com/article_100501.html article in Adagio’s May TeaMuse (written by fellow Steepster member gongfugirl!) so I’m hoping to go to my very first Japanese Tea Ceremony with my best friend while I’m on vacation. What do I need to know before going? I know the Japanese Tea Ceremony demands, and deserves, a great deal of respect and I’m absolutely terrified of doing something stupid lol. Tips based on personal experience is prefered, but any website/book suggestions are much appreciated as well.

21 Replies
Garrett said

Just from personal experience they all seem to be really chill for being the formal ceremonies that they are. They understand that the ceremony is something most people aren’t used to and are not familiar with, so it’s not like they scold you or feel disrespected if you do something wrong (unless you’re purposely being obnoxious or something). The tea master will go through the steps of taking and eating the wagashi (japanese sweets), then preparing tea, serving the tea, drinking the tea a few times before s/he has all of you do it on your own. They’ll explain all the intricate ways to hold things and perform certain actions. If you get something wrong, they’ll simply show you what you did incorrectly and you can do it again the proper way. You’ll also have to repeat phrases in japanese during the ceremony. They usually have cards or such with the phrases in rōmaji (romanization of the japanese words) so they should be somewhat easy for most people to repeat if they don’t speak japanese.

There really isn’t much one needs to know before going to one. Just try not to sweat it and you’ll do fine.

Cofftea said

Haha too late, always sweating it:) I love learning about new cultures, and tea is a culture in itself… but I’m ubberly afraid of making a huge cultural faux pas. What about a certain dress code? Are pants ok/not ok for women? Dressy? Casual? I’m especially careful of this one after going into almost every cathedral from London to Rome on a school trip lol.

Garrett said

The ones I’ve been to have all been casual, no certain dress codes required.

When I went to a tea ceremony with a friends host family in japan i had to wear a kimono. but i doubt you’ll have to wear one. I wasn’t really expected to do much in the actual ceremony though so it was not that nerve wracking, and like Ewa mentioned, they sort of expected me (and the few other foreigners there) to mess up. My friends host mom was specifically looking for foreigners to just give an idea as to how a tea ceremony works.

Britt☮ said

A couple of things to keep in mind about Japanese culture — It’s polite to use two hands rather than one whenever you are passing or receiving the cup/anything, and if you’re sitting on the floor, women are supposed to sit seiza-style (in general it’s okay for men to sit cross-legged, but for tea ceremony I think they’re supposed to sit seiza-style too).

The one I went to was at a ryokan in Tokyo. Everything was explained step-by-step, and like Garrett said, the atmosphere was very casual. In fact, the tea master (who we thought didn’t speak any English, since there was a translator), ended the ceremony declaring with a grin, “I like coffee!”

Don’t worry! From personal experience, you get a LOT of leeway for being a foreigner. Small mistakes will be overlooked, and bigger mistakes will simply be politely pointed out.

Have fun, and let us know how it goes! :)

Garrett said

Yeah, that tea master at the ryokan in Tokyo was really funny, it just kinda came out of nowhere… lol..

Like Britt said, you get a lot of leeway being a foreigner. I’m sure there will be even more leeway since it is actually here in the states compared to actually being in Japan.

Cofftea said

Britt- no problem, I’d be afraid of dropping it if I only used one lol. What is seiza-style? It doesn’t really apply to me since I’ll be in my wheelchair, but just curious.

Britt☮ said

It’s a really uncomfortable way of having your legs folded under you and sitting back on your heels :x http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seiza

It’s only for sitting on the floor. I have heard of table-style tea ceremony where seiza doesn’t apply.

Cofftea said

Oh, ok. That’s very similar to how I sit on the floor so hopefully my body will be cooperating that day so I don’t have to sit in my chair.

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Ewa select said

Well all of my tea ceremony experience has been in Japan, where I was the Foreigner On Display, and therefore expected to provide entertainment by messing up, but I’d still say that it’s nothing to worry about. Just remember that as the recipient of the tea ceremony, your job is about a billion times less complex than that of the person performing it. I personally could never remember the order of things, but just remember: you can’t go wrong with bowing! In general, most Japanese recognize that this is a stupidly complicated thing and are very willing to correct/remind you.

As far as dress code goes, bear in mind that this was Japan where women tend to wear skirts most of the time anyway. Most of the time people dressed nicely for the ones I went to, but on the other hand, most of the time they were also coming straight from work and therefore wearing their business clothes by default. I’d say wear something slightly nicer and make sure to have socks. Perhaps you wear socks all the time anyway, but I’m just saying if it seems like a nice sandal-y day, take socks with you.

Cofftea said

Foreigner On Display? Wow. That sounds really rude. LOL I’m not sure why “make sure you have socks” struck me as funny, but it did:) Not a problem as I always wear them.

Ewa select said

It IS a little rude, but they’re always so nice about it that I can’t stay mad! It’s like they’re a character in an old sitcom. “Oh Japan, you so RACIST!” * cue laugh track *

Cofftea said

I hope they don’t do that in Seattle or I’m gonna be really angry.

Ewa select said

That is the kind of situation that really only arises when you’re a foreigner surrounded by Japanese people who have little experience with foreigners. It’s kind of hard to fault them in those cases, since this probably IS only the Nth time they’ve hung out with one. (I lived in the countryside while I was there in case you can’t tell) I seriously doubt that’s gonna be the situation in Seattle.

Britt☮ said

Ewa, I know exactly what you mean. I’ve been living in rural Japan for nearly a year and I’m still not used to being the “FOD”…

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Lori said

Where will the tea ceremony be in Seattle? I may end up in Seattle later this year…

Cofftea said

The link in the subject has great info. From the little research I’ve done they appear to be all year round.

Lori said

ok-duh- I will check the link…

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Cinnabar said

If you are attending one of the ceremonies at the Japanese Garden, you should read all of the suggestions on protocol on the Urasenke site (http://www.urasenkeseattle.org). They don’t expect members of the public to show up with the knowledge level of 15-year Chanoyu practitioners, though, so you don’t need to worry that you won’t know what to do. Visitors attending the ceremonies are treated as guests (since they are). Specific rules from the event descriptions are, “Dress for indoor seating: Business attire or kimono are customary; jeans, bare feet, strong perfume, and rings are avoided.”

i find the rings part interesting – any idea where this custom comes from / signifies?

Cinnabar said

Yes, it’s just a practical matter to make sure that the teaware doesn’t get scratched. Rings could easily damage some of the more delicate glazes on a tea bowl.

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