Posted in Kafevend Blog

In today's blog we're returning to the theme of the Japanese tea ceremony, an occasion which can last up to four hours. That's an incredibly long time to sit drinking tea by even the most devoted tea drinker's standards, so what else might be taking up all that time?

The tea ceremony is also known as Chadō- the Way of Tea, which underscores the fact that the ceremony is more than just a social occasion. Playing a significant role in Japanese cultural tradition and deeply influenced by Zen Buddhism, the tea ceremony requires a meditative state of mind and total commitment to the present moment. Within a typical tea house is a tokonoma, or alcove, where objects relating to the chosen theme of the tea ceremony are displayed. These are accorded due consideration and respect by the guests and help to focus their minds.

In the alcove there will usually be two items. Firstly, a kakejiku or kakemono- a hanging scroll, which might feature a poem written by a tea master perhaps, or a Zen saying written by a monk; the writing is always in calligraphy. Alternatively, the scroll may feature a painting. Scrolls are handed down from generation to generation and some are highly valuable heirlooms written by monks, tea masters and court nobility, emperors even, of centuries past.

Secondly, a simple flower arrangement will have been carefully composed and, like the scroll, will convey the theme of the tea ceremony. The art of flower arrangement is called ikebana in Japan, although the style used in a tea ceremony is chabana, which literally means 'tea flowers'. It's a minimalist style fitting in with the graceful simplicity of the wabi-cha aesthetic. While we tend to think of a flower arrangement as being comprised of a host of beautiful blooms, this one will contain only a few blooms at most, accompanied by leaves and branches or twigs which are just as important as the flowers themselves. The arrangement is generally placed on the left and will be in either a standing or a hanging vase.

The display in the alcove sets the tone for the whole occasion and as such it's given plenty of attention by the guests when they first come in and shows that they appreciate the thought and consideration that the host has put into the ceremony beforehand. Discussion doesn't stop at the display though; as the ceremony progresses many of the implements used to prepare the tea will be passed around for the guests to view and appreciate. These could well be antique or made by well known artists. Guests bring a silk cloth with them, tucked into their kimono if they're wearing traditional dress, with which to hold precious items as they examine them.

The intricacy of the tea preparation and pouring itself also takes up a certain amount of time, but there's no sense of urgency in the Japanese tea ceremony, just a commitment to full appreciation of the moment, even though that moment may extend to a full four hours!

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