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The Chado (Chanoyu, Sadô or Chaji) Japanese Tea Ceremony

Text & Images - Copyright © 2009 Kevin Hulsey

The Chanoyu ('hot-water tea'), Chado, or Sadô ('way of tea') tea-ceremony epitomizes the discipline, focus, and tranquility of the Japanese culture. Kyoto is at the epicenter of the tea ceremony's history, and the culture that surrounds it.

The tea ceremony has its ancient roots in the development of Higashiyama Culture during the 1400s, with Higashiyama Bunka being rooted in the Zen Buddhist concept of wabi-sabi, or "beauty in simplicity." The Japanese were originally introduced to the concept of tea drinking by Chinese author Lu Yu, and his treatise on tea cultivation and preparation called Ch'a Ching, or the "Classic of Tea."

Japanese Chado Tea Ceremony
Chado Tea Ceremony

The values and aesthetics of 'Higashiyama Culture' had a significant impact on the sado tea ceremony, as well as other aesthetic disciplines such as ikebana flower arranging, noh drama, and sumi-e ink painting. The Sado tea-ceremony was a way of expressing 'wakeiseijaku,' meaning thoughtfulness and mutual respect.

Sen No Rikyu & Furuta Oribe

The tea ceremony was formalized and perfected by Japanese tea master Sen No Rikyu (1522-1591) also known as Sen Soeki, who raised it to the level of a national art-form. Originally, the Sado was performed exclusively by men, and the Geisha element was added much later.

Geisha Tea Ceremony
Geisha Tea Ceremony before the Miyako Odori at Gion Corner

After Rikyu's forced 'suicide' under the orders of Warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1591, Furuta Oribe (aka Furuta Shigenari) became the leading tea master in all of Japan. Furuta Oribe (1544-1615) was feudal lord in charge of Kyoto's Fushimi Castle, and a favorite pupil of Sen Rikyu. It was Oribe who had the greatest influence on the tea ceremony itself, and on teahouse architecture, tea-garden landscaping.

The tea ceremony was further refined under Kobori Enshu (1579-1647), who was a student of Furuta Oribe. Enshu developed a chado style know as "refined austerity," which melded styles from the classical imperial court, and that of the new military elite.

Urasenke Konnichi-an

Even today, the study and mastery of the Sado tea ceremony can take years to complete, and the studying of the finer nuances may take a lifetime. The master practitioner of the Sado must also be familiar with other disciplines that are interrelated, such as calligraphy, flower arranging, and the art of the kimono.

The 'Urasenke Konnichi-an,' or 'Rear of the Sen house' and Omotesenke Fushin'an are two of the main schools for the tea-ceremony in Kyoto. The 16th generation Grand Tea Master Zabosai Genmoku is the head of Urasenke.

Step-By-Step Chado Tea Ceremony

The host, or temae performs the ceremony while seated in seiza, or kneeling position, and every movement or gesture is carefully choreographed. The water is heated with a cast iron pot that is placed over charcoal burner that is buried into the floor of the teahouse.

Sado Tea Ceremony

Wet ash is sprinkled around the charcoal to prevent heat from spreading to the outer edge of the chamber. After cleaning the lip that holds the floor replacement, the pot is placed onto the lip.

Chanoyu Tea Ceremony

The correct water temperature would be around 176 degrees F (80ľ C). This would be the equivalent of taking a boiling teapot off of the fire, and letting it sit for around 1 minute.

It is customary for the guest to bow when entering the teahouse or room, and bowing is also performed by the practitioner or temae before the ceremony begins.

Matcha Tea Ceremony

The matcha should be put through a sieve to break up any clumps that may have formed. After straining, the matcha is placed into a small lacquer tea-caddy known as a chaki.

Chado Tea Ceremony

Put the powdered matcha tea into the empty bowl, then use a bamboo ladle to add water. For a thick, strong-tasting tea referred to as 'Koicha,' use two heaping servings from a bamboo matcha spoon, or approximately one level teaspoon of matcha per 4 to 6 ounces (60 ml) of water.

For a weaker-tasting tea which is called 'Usucha,' you would use half of the amount of powdered matcha tea. The tea should fill the cup only 1/3 full.

Matcha Tea Whisk

Using firm wrist action in the shape of an 'M,' the tea is whipped into a froth using the 'Chasen' bamboo tea-whisk. There should be a uniform film of froth, with no visible air bubbles.

When the tea bowl is presented to the guest it is rotated 180 degrees, to present the more decorated side of the tea-bowl to the viewer. The rotation of the bowl is done in quarter turns.

Wagashi at Chado Tea Ceremony


Sweet rice cakes known as 'wagashi' were a traditional gift between samurai, and are served during the ritual Chado tea-ceremony to compliment the bitter Matcha tea. Wagashi has a spongy texture and semi-sweet flavor that can be an acquired taste. Traditionally, wagashi made from mochi (glutinous rice), red bean paste, and fruit sweetened with mizuame and suikazura.

In keeping with the ritualistic nature of the tea ceremony, bowing is customary for both host and participants upon entering or leaving the teahouse.

The 'Choshin-tei' Sado Tea Ceremony

The Chado tea ceremony is also combined with several other favorite pastimes, such as the kaiseki meal, or with cherry-blossom viewing, whenit is held under a cherry-blossom arbor, or 'Choshin-tei.'

Books on the Sado Japanese Tea Ceremony

The Tea Ceremony by Seno Tanaka

The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura

Purchasing Matcha Tea in the U.S.

Koicha Matcha Supreme Green Tea

Matcha Green Tea Powder

All Matcha Teas

Tea Ceremony Bowl and Whisk Set

Sadô Bunka-kai 'Tea Ceremony' Schools in Kyoto

Enshu Sado Tea School - Seasonal Flowers for a Tea Ceremony

Omotesenke Fushin'an Foundation.

Urasenke Konnichian


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