What Happens During a Japanese Tea Ceremony: A Beginner’s Guide

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A Japanese tea ceremony, or “chado,” is a traditional ritual that has been a significant part of Japanese culture for centuries. It is a form of hospitality, a way of showing respect and appreciation for guests by preparing and serving them tea. However, it’s not just about making matcha! In this post, we will introduce you to the basic flow of the ceremony, known as “otemae,” and the various types of “otemae” you might encounter.

Basic Flow of Otemae

Here is an example of the most basic flow:

  1. Bring out the necessary tools: When the guest sits down, the tools are not yet ready. First, perform a bow, then bring out the necessary tools from the back to make tea. Sit in the designated position and place the tools in the predetermined location, such as on the tatami mat.
  2. Clean the tools: “Clean” means to remove dirt and make it clean. Clean each tool one by one. Of course, they are already cleaned before the “otemae,” but they are cleaned again in front of the guest. The act of cleaning expresses the feeling towards the tea that will be served.
  3. Serve tea to the guest: It’s the most important and exciting time. In the case of a difficult “otemae,” it can take more than 30 minutes. After making the matcha, slowly turn towards the guest and offer it to them.
  4. Clean the tools and put them back: After all the guests have finished their tea, clean the tools again. This is the preparation for putting the tools away. “Put everything back where you found it” is the basic rule. Also, rearrange the tools as when you brought them out. Finally, put the tools away and perform a bow. “Otemae” is now over.

Additional Types of “Otemae”

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Photo by Roméo A.

There are various types of “otemae” that add elements to the basic flow above. Here are some examples from the Urasenke school:

  • Karamono-temae: The tools used in this type of “otemae” are different from the regular Japanese utensils. It is an opportunity to appreciate the beauty of Chinese tea utensils and experience the culture of China.
  • Ryurei-temae: This type of “otemae” is done on a table, as opposed to on the tatami mat.
  • Kin’indate: This type of “otemae” is performed when an important person visits. It is a way of showing respect and appreciation for the guest.

As you can see, the “otemae” process is meticulous and rational. It’s fascinating. It’s like the moment in a play when the curtain goes up and it’s about to start. The beauty and elegance of the ceremony lie in the attention to detail and the deep respect and appreciation for the guests and the tea.

If you ever have the chance to participate in a Japanese tea ceremony, we hope this beginner’s guide will help you understand what to expect during the “otemae” process. It is a rare and precious opportunity to experience the beauty and harmony of Japanese culture.

Featured image by Payoon Gerinto



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